Mani Ratnam's much discussed penchant for duos returns as drunken parody in Ek lo Ek muft. This crazy bit of inebriated revelry is especially welcome inasmuch as it shows (for the second time this year, after Sillunu Oru Kadhal's Kummi Aadi) that Rahman's ear for "low brow" rambunctiousness remains as sharp as ever. Bappi Lahiri's enthusiastic neo-quaver is the perfect vehicle for this chattering number that takes many a detour, bringing the basti into one's living room, until one is reduced to gibbering idiotically "ye-maw ye-maw ye-maw ye-maw leeeeeeeeh". And that's not a bad thing.
Speaking of Sillunu Oru Kadhal, if you thought Machakari was a fine example of decadent globalized sound (and even if you didn't), Mayya ramps up the intensity several notches. If Ek lo Ek muft was carousing revelry, this one is drunken lewdness given form, oozing sex and overripe fruit from every second. Full marks are owed to Maryam Toller and Chinmayee for demonstrating that mere vocals can in themselves push the boundaries of the censor code. And there's a lot more in this song: in particular, the tension between the come hither vocals and Gulzar's chic lyrics makes an unforgettably stylish yet unrestrained number -- and that's even before the song erupts toward the end.
Imagine a cross between the Madan Mohan classic Lata solo from Woh Kaun Thi -- Lag ja gale ke phir yeh haseen raat ho na ho -- and A.R. Rahman's own Azaadi from Bose, then add night and solitude, and you'll get the haunting Jaage Hain. The best way to describe this song is as a lori for adults, perhaps the most private song in this film that appears to be another Ratnam take on power that is "public" in some way, shape or form. Appropriately enough, the seclusion does not last, as choral voices meld into the song after a point. Perhaps even the dreams of those whose lives are lived in the public gaze are populated by multitudes.
Is this the year for retro? For Baazi Laga (Paisa Chale) appears to be Rahman's attempt at a 1980s Laxmikant Pyarelal or perhaps Lawaaris-style number, and while it is very catchy it lacks the nuanced richness I associate with Rahman's work. Not to mention that its lyrics are far less cynical than the thematically similar Takay Takay from Mangal Pandey, the latter possibly a reflection of Javed Akhtar's own Marxist inclinations to a certain extent, but which also make the cheerfully hustling and bustling Baazi Laga a fitting anthem to an urban India that is increasingly optimistic and enthusiastic about commerce.
Barso Re is a saawan song, once a staple of Hindi films; although my first impressions of this song are not especially favorable, it is elevated from "mere" sweetness by Rahman's use of an urgent -- and rousing -- vocal refrain that insists upon the listener's attention. I doubt this will ever be a great Rahman number in my estimation, although I do expect it to grow on me with time, as Sandha Kozhi/Kabhi Neem Neem from Aayitha Ezhuthu/Yuva did.
Rahman's passion for the neo-qawwali love song remains undimmed, as Tere Bina shows: the chorus is smoother, less edgy than Bombay's Kannalane/Kehna hi kya or Alai Payuthey's Sneghidane (indeed the song is shot where Bombay's was), but Chinmayee's voice is throatier, earthier than anything Chitra managed (or was aiming for) in Kannalane/Kehna hi kya. Unquestionably, Rahman stresses the repetitive aspect of the qawwali in this song rather than the virtuosity he has explored in qawwali-ish songs in the past, and the result is less energetic and more decorous, yet heartfelt and (for me, I predict) ultimately addictive.
Ae Hairat-e-Aashiq is the most conventional song in the album, a reminder (if any were needed after Khamoshiyan Gungunaane Lageen from One 2 ka 4 and Sunta hai mera Khuda or Qismet se tum humko mile ho from Pukaar) that Rahman's command over the traditional Hindi film duet is second to none among his peers. A "classic" love song by Hariharan and Alka Yagnik, this is for me musically the least surprising song here, although its evergreen freshness ensures that it will age well, and with a wide audience.