It has been a polarizing year for Hindi film music, with only a few from the large number of music releases above par. The reason why, for the very first time in five years, this list was reduced from ten to nine, was because there were too many average contenders for the tenth spot. Do you give it to Padmaavat, which might have had some good songs with a mass appeal, but everything could be replaced for something better in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s repertoire? Or do you give it to Veere di Wedding, which boasts a truly modern OST, so much so that most of the songs would work a lot better as shorter versions to be used as the background score? Or a laudable attempt from Jasleen Royal who helmed a mainstream YRF film’s soundtrack in Hichki?
Eventually, we were left with albums that didn’t evoke a second thought. The good and great albums of 2018. Let’s hope that in 2019, we’re spoilt with a choice — in an encouraging way — for all the spots.
9. Multi-composer — Daas Dev
Reminiscent of the sound of peak Emraan Hashmi era is Daas Dev, an effort of five composers. Sandesh Shandilya’s ‘Challa Chaap Chunariya’ is the pick of the two songs he has composed. Rekha Bhardwaj’s idiosyncratic vocals sound great layered on top of an electro-pop background. Vipin Patwa too impresses with his two songs. ‘Sehmi Hai Dhadkan’, sung by Atif Aslam progresses quite well, like a rock anthem but it is Patwa’s other track which showcases the composer’s abilities. ‘Tain To Uttey’ is rendered beautifully by Javed Bashir and one can almost mistake it for a Coke Studio song because of the singer and the rock-folk composition. Arko and Shamir Tandon’s songs don’t really prosper like the rest of the album.
It is Anupama Raag who makes an indelible mark with her lone song ‘Azaad Kar’! It sounds rustic and earthy, and Swanand Kirkire’s vocals are perfect here. It is unarguably the most cohesive and well-done track on the album. Here’s hoping she gets more chances to show her promise in 2019.
Daas Dev is a good old-fashioned Bollywood album (ironically delivered through five composers) that came as a breath of fresh air considering every film was making the listener go “oh god, one more remix”.
8. Ajay-Atul — Dhadak
Last year AR Rahman’s OK Jaanu, a remake of Tamil OK Kanmani featured on this list. This year, we have Ajay-Atul’s album for Dhadak, the remake of Marathi hit Sairat. Unlike the film, which is misguided, the Dhadak music album is quite good. The duo remakes two songs from Sairat and adds a couple of originals to this album.
The stunning ‘Yad Lagla’ doesn’t lose its charm in the remake. Ajay Gogavale sings ‘Pehli Baar’ to a blooming soundscape filled with the same beautiful orchestration that haunted us in Sairat. The change in lyrics does make a difference, even for a non-Marathi speaker. The sense of flow in lyrics that was apparent in ‘Yad Lagla’ lacks slightly in ‘Pehli Baar’. The punchy ‘Zingaat’ retains its name in the remake, with the rest of the lyrics changing. Again there is a little bit of an awkwardness with the lyrics but that might be getting too pedantic.
The Dhadak title track immediately charmed its way into the hearts of Hindi film music lovers. Ajay-Atul create an original song here which boasts a strong and classic filmy melody. Ajay Gogavale and Shreya Ghoshal deliver this haunting melody with the precision you expect. It tugs at the heartstrings, in a great way. The lush orchestration in the second Dhadak original ‘Vaara Re’ is quite nice, and the song grows on you. There’s a certain tenderness here, accentuated further because of Ajay Gogavale’s gentle voice. The background vocals and harmonies in the chorus, the mild humming towards the end along with the sitar really create a beautiful soundscape.
While the original fares higher, the Dhadak is a pretty solid album on its own.
7. Multi-composer — Karwaan
Road trip and coming of age stories have often been the canvas for some of the finest composers to showcase their music. Karwaan’s music would certainly be on many driving playlists, and wouldn’t be one-dimensional either. Anurag Saikia delivers an electro-pop song in ‘Chota Sa Fasana’, with industry constant Arijit Singh behind the mic. Prateek Kuhad stays true to the kind of intimate songwriting he has become famous for. ‘Saansein’ is a road trip song archetype and a rather good one at that. The piano is easily the most enriching part of the track. ‘Kadam’ is a fine acoustic guitar number holding a more wistful mood. Another indie act, Madboy/Mink features on the album with ‘Bhar de Hamaara Glass’, the pick of the soundtrack. It stands out for the dream-pop sound, and the exuberance vocalist Saba Azad brings in through her sultry vocals.
Unlike the rest of the album, Anurag Saikia’s ‘Heartquake’ and SlowCheeta and Shwetang Shankar’s ‘Dhaai Kilo Bakwaas’ are enjoyable more with the visuals, than standalone.
Karwaan is an excellent case study of the advantages of having a multi-composer line-up – different, varying styles with decently engaging content.
6. Rachita Arora, Nucleya, Vineet Kumar Singh — Mukkabaaz
The January release (for which the music came out in late December last year), boasts a really great soundtrack. Anurag Kashyap continues to put trust in young composers – Rachita Arora delivers five songs. Like ‘Haathapai’ and ‘Saade Teen Baje’, ‘Mushkil Hai Apna Meil Priye’ could be called situational too, but the composition based on Dr. Sunil Jogi’s hilarious poem is endearing. ‘Bahut Hua Samman’ has a ‘Haanikaarak Bapu’ feeling. But Rachita’s incorporates subtle electronic sounds, that when mixed with a folksy vibe that singer Swaroop Khan brings in, make the track sound fresh.
‘Bahut Dukha Mann’ is hauntingly good! The composer comes in to deliver the beautiful classical flavoured melody alongside Dev Arijit. ‘Chhipkali’ is the other stand out song from Arora in this album. The brilliant culmination of lyrics and melody results in a retro and jazzy track that describes a lizard’s crawling presence in a room. Polymath Vineet Kumar Singh composes and writes ‘Adhura Main’, a soulful track set only to a harmonium, completely dependent on Deepak Thakur’s vocal prowess. Boy, is it good.
‘Paintra’, perhaps the only song that really caught on from the album, is exactly what was needed in the film. This Nucleya and Divine number, penned by actor Vineet Kumar Singh, is scintillating. A training montage is set to this song, and it works superbly. DIVINE’s tight rap, Nucleya’s trademark style of trumpets, horns and Ravi Kishan’s commentary make this an inch-perfect track.
5. Amit Trivedi, Raftaar, Girish Nakod — Andhadhun
Music played an important part in Sriram Raghavan’s Andhadhun, where Ayushmann Khurana’s character played the role of a blind pianist. Consequently, it was pianist Jarvis Menezes, who truly shone on the album, and his expertise on the keys was illustrated through the two themes. With ‘Woh Ladki’ and crowd favourite ‘Nainon Da Kya Kasoor’, Amit Trivedi crafted an engaging album.
The album starts getting a bit repetitive and ‘Aapse Milkar Accha Laga’, ‘Laila’, ‘O Bhai Re’ all have a heard-before feel. While this can be justified on the screen, having another set of composers in Raftaar and Girish Nakod compose the title track freshens the album up further, and provides a nice variation to proceedings.
Andhadhun is a quality soundtrack which despite carrying a lingering feeling, still manages to sound energetic and fun in most places. The piano is the hero and the two instrumental themes — ‘Theme 01’ even more so — are fantastic.
4. Niladri Kumar, Joi Barua, Alif — Laila Majnu
One of the year’s best albums was delivered by three composers you don’t often see in Bollywood — Assamese singer/composer Joi Barua, sitarist Niladri Kumar and Kashmiri band Alif. The album certainly comprises few of the best songs of 2018 as well.
‘Aahista’, sees Jonita Gandhi and Arijit Singh render Niladri Kumar’s melody with precision, but it is the mellow, almost electronic-rock arrangement that is the hero of the track. The soundscape of ‘Aahista’ also permeates ‘Tum’ slightly, but doesn’t linger throughout. Atif Aslam and Javed Ali both sing their versions, set to a scintillating instrumental arrangement, effectively and with command. Shreya Ghoshal hasn’t been getting great songs in Hindi films lately, and ‘Sarphiri’ remedies that. The melody is the hero here, and the song becomes more beautiful progressively. Babul Supriyo’s brief outing adds to the charm. ‘Hafiz Hafiz’, Kumar’s final song, picks up the pace once the children’s chorus singing the famous Kashmiri folk Hukus Bukus. Mohit Chauhan then takes over and sings the theatrics track with conviction. Niladri Kumar enjoys a fine outing in Laila Majnu, with each track of supreme quality.
Joi Barua shakes things up in ‘Gayee Kaam Se’, where the rock-qawwali themed track veers to a gentler side towards the end. Barua uses a disco sound for ‘Lala Zula Zalio’, which keeps things interesting but it takes Sunidhi Chauhan to step in after the minute mark for the song to soar. Both these songs are innovative and interesting in their own right, but not those you’d necessarily go back to. The pick of Barua songs would have to be the Atif Aslam and Jyotica Tangri sung (and very addictive) ‘O Meri Laila’, which has one of the best hooks in Bollywood this calendar year. There is a mix of Kashmiri and European sounds and, it all comes together very well. The ‘radio version’ sees Barua step in behind the mic and beside that, everything else works.
Kashmiri band Alif has made a name for itself for its towering performative ability at festivals. That comes across just listening to ‘Katyu Chuko’. Lead singer Mohammad Muneem’s vocals soar over minimal music as he renders the evocative piece, and this closes the album fittingly.
It’s quite normal that when the movie fails, the music too fails to get the deserved attention which was, unfortunately, the case with Laila Majnu, one of the best soundtracks of the year.
3. Sneha Khanwalkar, Raftaar — Manto
This year marked the return of Sneha Khanwalkar who had been absent from Hindi film music for a while. If there was ever a slight doubt whether her return would live up to expectations, it was nicely quashed in Nandita Das’ Manto. Owing to the era the film is set in, the composer uses old styles to deliver her four tracks.
From Rekha Bhardwaj’s more Bollywood classical flavoured, erstwhile Bollywood sounding ‘Ban Titli’ to Shubha Joshi’s jazzy ‘Ab Kya Bataoon’, Khanwalkar uses different styles and prospers. Shankar Mahadevan sung ‘Nagri Nagri’ also carries an old sound, though sometimes (the steady percussion), apart from Mahadevan’s intentional vocals, the sound veers away from the era.
‘Bol Ke Lab Aazad Hain’ is one of the songs of 2018. Khanwalkar creates a beautiful melody for Rashid Khan and Vidya Shah to render this emotional and inspirational nazm written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Standing out from the rest of the album, is ‘Mantoyiat’, composed and performed by Raftaar. Raftaar raps about contemporary societal issues in colloquial and arguably questionable lyrics, which are followed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Manto voice and dialogues. It’s a nice change from the rest of the album to have a contemporary song, but hasn’t been clubbed together on any platform, due to the very different styles.
Manto lives up to the high bar Khanwalkar has set for herself. It’s a lovely, bite-sized album with a lot of character.
2. Amit Trivedi — Manmarziyaan
2018 has been Amit Trivedi’s most prolific year, but there was a lot of average music that he churned out. True to expectations, Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan broke that rut and saw Trivedi return to his best. A big soundtrack at 14 songs, Manmarziyaan boasts some really beautiful melodies and excellent penmanship from Shellee. ‘Jaisi Teri Marzi’, ‘Sacchi Mohabbat’, and ‘Chonch Ladiyaan’ are all melodious, filmy and gentle tracks that though, repetitive, each very beautiful. Tracks like ‘Dhyaanchand’, ‘Sherni’ (which saw the extremely talented Delhi-based rapper Prabh Deep make his Bollywood debut) and ‘F for Fyaar’ showcased the excellent production team Trivedi has become synonymous with. The likes of ‘Daryaa’, ‘Grey Walaa Shade’ and ‘Halla’ were a mix of both, strong and unique melodies, coupled together with excellent lyrics and top-notch production. It was, more than anything, the usage of music in the film that made the soundtrack come alive. Kashyap has always been excellent at that, and once again, it came through in this film. There’s no definition of what a perfect Indian, especially mainstream Bollywood film album should be but Manmarziyaan is a good archetype of that massy soundtrack. It is exactly the stuff you want from a film that is written for the masses. Different styles, different skills, which make the 54 minutes spent listening to, a joyride.
1. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy — Raazi
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy got Bollywood out of its misery back in April with the release of Raazi. The soundtrack is just four songs long. It might raise a few eyebrows after knowing that there are two versions of the same song present as well. But no album in 2018 came close to this tight, nineteen minutes of pristine music. Arijit Singh performs ‘Ae Watan’, a deeply patriotic track. Gulzar’s verses, SEL’s music and a stirring sound leave the listener with goosebumps. The Sunidhi Chauhan version incorporates lines from ‘Lab pe aati hai dua’, the famous ‘Bachche ki Dua’ written by Allama Muhammad Iqbal. This is even better than the Arijit version, thanks in part to the children’s chorus (Shankar Mahadevan Academy Children’s Chorus) and the folksy arrangement. Sunidhi sings the prelude, and the song closes with a fantastic solo by 13-year-old Satyajeet Jena, the Odisha singing sensation (with 2.6 million YouTube subscribers).
Vibha Saraf, Harshdeep Kaur and Shankar Mahadevan sing ‘Dilbaro’, a beautiful track that is set in the Indian context of bidaai—of the father-daughter relationship. Gulzar adapts the Kashmiri couplet ‘Khanmaej Koor’ (dear daughter) to Hindi/Urdu in the song, which is perhaps why some lines sound deliberate as well, but the song doesn’t lose its charm in the process.
The title track illustrates Arijit Singh’s vocal prowess spectacularly. ‘Raazi’ has an alluring quality from start to finish. Be it the repetitive ‘Agar Dil’ that takes the listener back to the stunning soundscape of Mirzya, Arijit Singh’s beautiful break invoice that we last heard in Rangoon’s ‘Yeh Ishq Hai’, or even Tapas Roy’s captivating bouzouki and mandolin. Lest we forget, Gulzar’s poetry is masterful here.
Raazi leaves you wanting more. It also is a good example of restraint shown by Meghana Gulzar. The filmmaker makes crisp films and uses the available music judiciously. Why have six average songs when four great ones can do the job? Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are at their flawless best here.
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