It has been a great year for Indian film music. Top composers such as Santhosh Narayanan, Anirudh Ravichander, and Sachin-Jigar delivered quality soundtracks. Rising talents such as Arivu (Master, Sarpatta Parambarai, Jai Bhim) and Justin Prabhakaran (Meenakshi Sunadreshwar, Navarasa) displayed their mettle. T-Series alum Sachet Tandon was solid as both playback singer (Shiddat) and singer-composer (Jersey, co-composed with Parampara Tandon).

O Aashiqa (99 Songs) was AR Rahman’s best tune from his home production, which was released earlier this year. Far better than Rahman’s serviceable soundtracks for Mimi and Atrangi Re in 2021 were his scores for House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths and Navarasa.

All-out romantic films can always be trusted to produce melodious soundtracks. In Tamil, there was Vishal Chandrashekhar’s Oh Manapenne!. Telugu cinema produced Pawan Ch’s Love Story and Devi Sri Prasad’s Uppena.

In Hindi, Pravesh Mallick composed Bailgadi, a cute duet featuring Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik. It was among the many good songs buried in the direct-to-streamer Kaagaz.

Another example is the lovely Sudeep Naik-composed Gustakh Mausam from Nail Polish. In fact, the magnificent multi-composer soundtrack in the Zee5 web series Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam went unheralded, more so because much of the music isn’t out on any streaming platform or YouTube.

Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam title track, composed by Ali Sethi.

Here are the songs and albums that made the cut in our yearender playlist.

Uttradheenga Yeppov, Karnan
The song works as a bridge connecting revolutionary feeling across the past, present and future. Santhosh Narayanan’s juxtaposition of rousing folk and electronic music is complemented by director Mari Selvaraj’s lyrics, written as a manifesto from the ancient goddess Kattupecchi.

Uttradheenga Yeppov, Karnan (2021).

Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui soundtrack
The Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui album has everything going for it, from fun Punjabi pop to pensive Hinjabi ballads. Like AR Rahman infused fresh blood into the item song this year with Param Sundari (Mimi), Sachin-Jigar added fresh-sounding beats and energy to the template.

Tumba Te Zumba, Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui.

Master soundtrack
All eight tunes in Anirudh Ravichander’s Master album are interesting spins on conventional soundtrack formulae. Andha Kanna Paathaakaa, for example, is a tribute to the hero played by Vijay, but instead of having the usual anthemic quality, it’s a peppy torch song sung by Yuvan Shankar Raja.

Andha Kanna Paathaakaa, Master.

Bandar Baant, Sherni
Bandish Projekt’s folktronica ably supports Hussain Haidry’s allegorical lyrics about two cats fighting over bread until a monkey appears claiming to be a peacemaker but then steals their food. The cats run from pillar to post for justice, but get lost in a whirlpool of political solutions from different animals.

Bandar Baant, Sherni.

Barbaadiyan, Shiddat
Sachin-Jigar’s super-groovy dance number carries the spirit of a pensive Geeta Dutt song about doomed love.

Barbaadiyan, Shiddat.

Rangule, Rang De
It’s easy to forget just how amazing Devi Sri Prasad is with melodies. His tunes for the romances Uppena and Rang De also reminded us of his versatility. Rang De’s contemporary rom-pop is more interesting than Uppena’s syrupy ballads.

Rangule, Rang De.

Ranjha, Shershaah
Voice-casting a song correctly does wonders. Romy’s rustic voice eases the transition from composer Jasleen Royal’s school-girl vocals about longing to B Praak’s baritone holding forth on the lovers’ plight in the chorus.

Ranjha, Shershaah.

So Baby, Doctor
A love-at-first-sight song that’s Indian classical over uptempo beats. Like Uttradheenga Yeppov, Anirudh Ravichander’s So Baby is a cross between electronic music and an Indian music form. The distinct contrast between two styles makes the combination unique.

So Baby, Doctor.

Polladha Ulagathiley, Jai Bhim
Why did you create me in this cruel world, lyricist Yugabharathi asks god in the opening line. Composer Sean Roldan sings the film’s best tune, in which a person condemned to lifelong pain questions his fate.

Polladha Ulagathiley, Jai Bhim.

Ollulleru, Ajagajantharam
Here’s another inspired fusion track. Composer Justin Varghese shows that psychedelic trance music and the festive Ollulleru, a traditional folk tune of Kerala’s Mavilan tribe, swing to the same beat.

Ollulleru, Ajagajantharam.

Pagglait soundtrack
There’s plenty of beauty, angst, romance and sorrow in Arijit Singh’s skillful debut as soundtrack composer. The 93-minute album brings together Singh’s ear for melody, music production skills, and the influences of his close collaborators AR Rahman, Amit Trivedi and Pritam.

Dil Udd Ja Re, Pagglait.

Tittar Bittar, Meenakshi Sundareshwar
Justin Prabhakaran’s 11-track Hindi-language debut shows the need for Hindi filmmakers to travel South for fresh music. In a top-notch album, the whimsical Tittar Bittar stands out for entertainingly illustrating the protagonists’ cross-cultural aspirations from childhood to adulthood via their teen years within four and a half minutes.

Tittar Bittar, Meenakshi Sundareshwar.

Minnal Murali soundtrack
Minnal Murali’s eclectic soundtrack by Sushin Shyam (Kumbalangi Nights) and Shaan Rahman (Godha) fit well with the kaleidoscopic tone of the Malayalam superhero movie. Novelist Bijou Antony’s excellent English subtitles for the Netflix film helps the non-Malayali with Manu Manjith’s lyrics.

Thee Minnal, Minnal Murali.

Navarasa soundtrack and score
AR Rahman, Santhosh Narayanan and Vishal Bhardwaj are among the nine composers of the Tamil anthology series Navarasa. Rahman’s Navarasa theme is fabulous, Justin Prabhakaran has a lovely wedding song.

Govind Vasantha’s Yaadho is haunting, but the star composer is singer Karthik with multiple entries for Gautham Vasudev Menon’s segment.

Navarasa soundtrack and score.

Neeye Oli, Sarpatta Parambarai
Not the Tamil-only version sung by Santhosh Narayanan, but the end-credits version featuring Tamil Canadian rapper Shan. Coiling around Shan’s superb English rap and Arivu’s Tamil lyrics rapped by another Tamil-Canadian, Navz-47, are crunchy guitars and majestic horns that create a solid workout song.

Neeye Oli, Sarpatta Parambarai.

Also read:

The Santhosh Narayanan way: ‘Stay original and don’t fear how people will react’