Top 10 Bollywood Music Albums of 2016 – #2

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra has always given a lot of stress to music in his films, and it has always been of supreme quality. After teaming up with Shankar Ehsaan Loy for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, the director roped them in for his 2016 venture, Mirzya. Based on the iconic and a rather tragic Punjabi folklore Mirza Sahibaan, Mehra’s movie was all about music. If only the film itself could rise above the brilliant music and the even more breathtaking cinematography, more people would have remembered SEL and Gulzar’s genius work here. Fortunately, we didn’t forget it just because the flick turned out to be a rather mixed and unsatisfactory experience and it sits in the second spot of our Top 10 Bollywood music albums of 2016.

As soon as you look at the soundtrack, the first thing that stands out is the sheer number and range of vocalists on the album. What you’re about to witness in 35 minutes is nothing short of extraordinary. The title track of the album Mirzya is helmed by Pakistani musician Saieen Zahur, whose earthy, cracking voice merges magically well with Daler Mehendi and Nooran Sisters. Taufiq Qureshi’s percussion (used in other songs as well) and tribal sound structures and Naveen Kumar’s flute and pungi join in at the back which coupled with the strong chorus from Shankar Mahadevan, The Salvation Singers, Nikita Deshpande and Sapna Pathak, keeps you hooked from start to finish. Teen Gawah is slightly more normal in the sense that compared to the rest of the album, it wouldn’t sound new. But that doesn’t mean it’s not brilliant; it is just more approachable for the masses. Siddharth Mahadevan absolutely bosses this track while Saieen Zahoor’s voice soars whenever it appears. Not to mention, the Salvation Singers Chorus is rousing. Chakora will be proof of how different and beautiful Mirzya is. Mane Khan, Suchismita Das and Akhtar Chinnal sing this with Shankar Mahadevan contributing in the chorus. Akhtar sings the trance-like opener to the melody which sounds apt for a psychedelic music festival and somehow fit for a village “daawat” too. The concoction of folk and trance works wonders here. Aave Re Hitchki is one of the most pleasant sounding songs that has come out this year, and that has a lot to do with Shankar Mahadevan’s sweet voice. There is a moment where he stops at “hich” to give it the “hichki” effect which sounds so good! Unlike the rest of the album, this song is more about the vocals and the attention remains there but the usage of the Dholak and Sarangi by the Mame Khan Troupe is gold. Doli Re Doli is similar in taste, a folksy song but one which has more pain and angst in it. This too is sung by Shankar Mahadevan and Mame Khan. The sound of the trumpet, melodica and the Upright Bass is stunning, and the arrangement itself gives it a jazz element in the composition, which along with the use of “vikrit swars” tugs at your heartstrings. If that doesn’t do the trick, listen to Gulzar saab’s heart-rending poetry. “12 maas khilayo babul, Sawan jhul jhulayo babul, Naina raina kaati maiyya, Lori gaan sunayo babul”. This might be the most underrated song of the year.

Hota Hai, sung by the Nooran Sisters once again delves into the folk-electronic fusion and has bursts of electronic sounds and sarangi (by Delshad Khan). There is a Punjabi influence in this number and the overall result of the music, the singers, and the lyrics are highly engaging. Ek Nadi Thi is a welcome change from the rest of the album because it doesn’t overwhelm you with different sounds. It is a soothing melody rendered to the tee by Nooran Sisters and Agnee singer Mohan Kanan. Mohan’s heavy bass voice is perfect for this track, and the guitar interludes sound even better!

For students or followers of Hindustani or Classical music, nothing appeals more than seeing a familiar classical name in an album because surprisingly enough, the majority of semi-classical Bollywood songs are composed well (barring the latest Sanjay Leela Bhansali ones). It was Kalapini Komkali in Paheli and its Kaushiki Chakrabarty in Kaaga. Chakraborty’s voice is sweet and delicate, and she obviously sings the hell out of this tune set in Raag Basant Bahaar. At first, I was confused about the raag because it sounds like both derived from Thaat Bhairavi as well as from Thaat Purvi and sounds really close to Raag Puriyadhanashree, but the raag is made clear from the splendid sargam she sings. The beauty of the Basant Bahaar is that its vaadi or the most prominent note is teevra or sharp ‘madhyam’, and it’s used thoroughly in the song and especially in the higher octave. SEL’s use of synth and strings compliment her singing superbly. My only complaint here is that it’s just too short. It’s unfair to take away magic from us in just 2 minutes 49 seconds. At the same time, this raag is known for its dynamic fleeting nature, and Kaaga is just that.

The instrumental theme song titled Broken Arrows swings between beautiful and painful and features extensively in the film along with 5 Punjabi couplets sung by Daler Mehendi. These couplets are just Mehendi singing in a high pitch; nothing else is used and all of them illustrate the genius of Gulzar and feature in the background of the film.

What they have delivered here is a “mélange of sounds”, a pulsating and vibrant record and something that was long overdue from them. There is sincerity; there is intensity and after a while, I have seen an attempt put in organic processes rather than go and just expert the set formulae. This album is all heart. SEL have worn their hearts on their sleeves and unsurprisingly, what has been produced is just stunning. It is astonishing music, and the most experimental SEL have ever been. The only magic is supposed to flow out of Gulzar saab’s pen, and it happens all through the album. It’s a disappointment that people may have been so overwhelmed with how much goes on throughout the album that they may not have gone back for a second and third listen which is when you genuinely begin to appreciate the beauty of the album. It’s layered, it’s complex, it needs patience and effort to be devoured. After that, Mirzya will have you floored.

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