Superlatives are not enough for the music God of India at the moment. Previously I had written that when you hear Amit Trivedi is composing the soundtrack of a film, expectations automatically rise up. Needless to say, it is more when A.R Rahman is in the picture. After 2011 hit Rockstar, Imtiaz Ali roped in Rahman again to give the soundtrack to Highway, and boy, could there be a better choice for this kind of a movie? I mean, how much musical genius can there be in one brain? Lyricist Irshad Kamil’s words and AR Rahman’s sounds have blended to create a world of its own.
Patakha Guddi is the opening track on the album, and is the most liked one as well. Rahman got Nooran sisters Sultana and Jyoti to sing this song. You might have heard of these two because of Coke Studio. But they got discovered by Sneha Khanwalkar (whose soundtrack of Khoobsurat features at number nine on this list). In 2012, on an episode of Sound Trippin, Sneha went to Punjab and said she wanted to find the two sisters who she heard while discovering sounds and doing her research for Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!. Luckily, she did and the two sang ‘Tung Tung’ for the MTV show. Once they came on TV and got heard by a wider audience, the possibilities were going to be endless for the two. Opportunities and fame came knocking and in 2014, they were singing, perhaps the most popular song on AR Rahman’s Highway album. Like Sneha said, it is all about the folk touch and rawness in their voices, and the intensity and ferocity with which they pronounce each word. Exactly that is the appeal of the folk/sufi song. And it is a testament to AR Rahman’s abilities that he got the two most perfect voices singing it. Rahman has sung the male version of Patakha Guddi which is even better. He has evidently taken great pains to get the Punjabi pronunciation right. There is more of a rock element, as opposed to the pretty standard Punjabi arrangement in the female version, and there is an interesting combination of guitars and harmonium. The song shifts into a qawwali mode briefly and when Rahman begins to soulfully croon ‘Ali Ali’, you are transcended somewhere else altogether. The real twists come around the third minute and there is around a minute long electric guitar solo by Prasanna, with Rahman only singing ‘Ali Ali’ in the background. The solo gets over and the song picks up from where it left, as if nothing happened in the middle and ends the way it started with Rahman finishing the verses. This version is absolutely outstanding!
Next on the album is the four time National Award winner singing Maahi Ve. This is a bluesy melody and he sings it with perfection leaving the listeners wandering in their own little imaginative worlds. The string and key arrangements blends beautifully with the vocals and this is a track that you definitely want playing on the road with you. Indo- Canadian singer Jonita Gandhi has sung Kahaan Hoon Main and has left her mark on Bollywood through this song. It is a heartfelt rendition which reflects the inner journey of a young girl. Jonita renders emotions to Irshad Kamil’s lyrics.
‘Maine bhi toh aana tha, isi taraf; Meri bhi toh raahein hai, yahin kahin; Uljhano ki do raahein,Raaston ki ye baahein; Aate jaate poochti; Main Kahaan hoon, main abhi’
Implosive Silence also features Jonita Gandhi. Rahman commented on this one, “a musical piece that tries to capture the sounds in Alia’s character’s head”. It is basically just music (an intriguing instrumental arrangement) with Jonita’s muted humming. It beautifully illustrates the phrase that ‘silence too, is filled with music’. Many have mistaken Highway to be the female vocalist’s Bollywood debut. She actually started her Bollywood journey with Vishal Shekhar in Chennai Express and supported S.P. Balasubrahmanyam in the title track. Before that, she was a YouTube sensation as her collaborations with Aakash Gandhi on covers like Yaariyan, Tum Hi Ho, Yeh Honsla among others were huge hits (ask me, I’ve been a fan of the ’88KeysToEuphoria’ channel since its inception days). In fact, Sanam Puri and Gandhi covered Adele’s Someone Like You for the channel and the magnificent version became a huge hit. Subsequently, the two were called by Clinton Cerejo to sing on his episode in Coke Studio (Season 3).
Next up is Wanna Mash Up sung by Kash, Krissy & Suvi Suresh. It is upbeat and urban and sticks out of the album for that reason. It fits in well in the movie (if you have watched it, you would know). It seems very likeable and is a spunky track but it might not satisfy everyone’s tastes. It does tell you that Rahman is capable of just anything (he’s made a song for discotheques. Take that Honey Singh!). Sooha Saaha sung by Zeb from the famous ‘Zeb and Haniya’ duo, also has Alia Bhatt making her singing debut. It is a mesmerizing lullaby and Zeb starts singing the mother’s part in her earthy voice. Alia takes over around the third minute and her cameo is not flawless, but is fragile and endearing, which is enough to suit the mood of this song. It is soothing and the instrumental arrangement adds to the lullaby mood with the soft flute strains and light ukulele-strumming by the other half of ‘Zeb and Haniya’, Haniya Aslam. This one, for me, is the best song in this incredible album. Tu Kuja, sung by Sunidhi Chauhan (the most recognizable singer on this album along with Rahman himself) is one that probably doesn’t appeal to everyone at the first listen, but after you’ve heard it twice or thrice, it is difficult to let go of. It is a simple Kashmiri folk inspired song and Sunidhi Chauhan delivers it earnestly. It has a spiritual flavour and is set in a semi-classical mode. The last song is Heera sung by Shweta Pandit who sings Kabir’s ‘dohe’ in her soothing voice. The melody is warm and there is minimal orchestration, though Rahman has fantastically used violin and santoor for the closing number
When the trailer of the movie was released, we got a short glimpse into the soundtrack of the film. As early as then, it became established that this album is going to be one of the masterpieces of the year. And it is. AR Rahman needs a good story to work with, a story with soul. Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Blue have lacked that and the end product has been mostly embarrassing for the music director. In Highway, he has a story with soul to weave his magic around, and he does it beautifully. Highway, without a single miss, is number 2 on our ‘Top 10 Bollywood music albums of 2014’.