Some good news for film music in 2022. Hindi audiences have jettisoned their awful addiction to recreations and remixes by Tanishk Bagchi and Co (at least for now).
Although, Sneha Khanwalkar made an inspired cover of Yeh Mahalon from Pyaasa for Chup!. This track, like many others this year, such as the Love Today song Mamakutty or AR Rahman’s excellent Kaayam from Iravin Nizhal, are terrific only in connection to their respective films and don’t work as standalone experiences. When songs become too situational, it’s going to be tough to compile year-end lists like this one.
Although movies with healthy doses of romance had the best soundtracks, there was a lot of sameness in sound, melody and texture, best exemplified by Arijit Singh’s Hindi ballads.
The growing tendency to draw from retro styles (Qala, Monica, O My Darling, Sita Ramam, Thiruchitrambalam) is a bit dispiriting. What’s the next big thing in the sound of Indian film music?
AR Rahman, followed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, pioneered digital music production and introduced international genres into film music. Amit Trivedi quirked it up a notch. Pritam added dollops of soft rock. What his generation did for Hindi, Yuvan Shankar Raja and Devi Sri Prasad did for Tamil and Telugu respectively. Santhosh Narayanan revitalised folk forms. For a while, hip-hop was the in-thing.
Genre mishmashes are nothing new in 2022. But what now? Or is retro the only way to go?
The Hey Song, Veyil
One of the problems of the romantic song today is making the tunes too rousing, as in the case of Radhe Shyam, where every tune is in a rush to reach a crescendo. Or composers dump excessive flourishes on simple tunes. Pradeep Kumar’s The Hey Song escapes these traps and is as light on the ears as Vinayak Sasikumar’s opening lyric: “I am a branch beyond reach; you, my beloved ant, crawl up to me.”
Laal Singh Chaddha soundtrack
Pritam’s album has that rare quality missing in contemporary Hindi soundtracks: an artisanal, handmade feel characterised by sufficient patience and thought invested in the tunes, lyrics and arrangements.
Sita Ramam soundtrack
The only way to get a great soundtrack nowadays is to have a romantic story or a film set in the past. Sita Raman is a period romance. Composer Vishal Chandrashekhar studiously draws from Ilaiyaraaja’s playbook.
A 45-minute soundtrack crisscrossing Indian classical, contemporary pop, and enough experimentation to sound fresh for a film encompassing coming-of-age themes, nostalgia and romantic love. The Hridayam album is a career breakthrough for composer Hesham Abdul Wahab.
Natchathiram Nagargiradhu soundtrack
Sharing the genre-hopping quality of the Hridayam soundtrack is Tenma’s album for Pa Ranjith’s Natchathiram Nagargiradhu. Celebration, provocation and introspection abound in Tenma’s tunes, Kadhalar being the centrepiece (the lyrics by Arivu and Uma Devi).
Vikram title track
Anirudh Ravichander does for Kamal Haasan what Santhosh Narayanan did for Rajinikanth with Neruppu Da in Kabali (2016): an anthem for an iconic superstar that straddles both nostalgia and contemporary hipness.
Qala is proof that the dismal quality of Hindi film music is simply because of a lack of intent. The old-fashioned album is testament to composer Amit Trivedi’s talent. (Background scorer Sagar Desai is credited with one composition).
Me Vasantrao soundtrack
Speaking of old-fashioned, try and beat the 80-minute Indian classical soundtrack for Me Vasantrao, in which singer-composer Rahul Deshpande plays his grandfather, Hindustani classical doyen Vasantrao Deshpande. While most of the tunes belong to the veteran, Rahul Deshpande composed seven new tunes for the film.
Prem Prakaran soundtrack
An Amit Trivedi album for a romantic film with themes of unrequited love, where the protagonist is a singer? Nothing can go wrong, and nothing does.
Aise Kyun (ghazal version), Mismatched season two
It’s always a delight when Rekha Bhardwaj gets tunes and lyrics that do her voice justice. Composer Anurag Saikia and lyricist Raj Shekhar craft a beautiful song about the trepidatious early days of romantic infatuation.
Drawn from the Bond movie song tradition, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s Namonishan is a slow poison of song whose killer hook can give global spy themes a run for their money.
Halamithi Habibo/Arabic Kuthu, Beast
It’s difficult to give a new spin to an overcrowded and overexploited genre – in this case, the Tamil mass kuthu song, of which you get up to 50 iterations each year. With the superb earworm Halamithi Habibo, cleverly marketed as “Arabic Kuthu”, Anirudh Ravichander is successful in mining newness. The song’s chartbusting success has no doubt been aided by the excellently mounted video featuring Jani Master’s choreography.
As wacky and fun as the film, Vishnu Vijay’s soundtrack is a khichdi of sounds held together by thumping bass. Like Santhosh Narayanan propped up gaana music in Tamil soundtracks, Vishnu Vijay does the same with mappila pattu, a Muslim folk music style from Kerala. (Dabzee and SA are credited with composing Manavalan Thug).
Mallipoo, Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu
AR Rahman’s Mallipoo, featuring frequent collaborator Madhushree’s honey-dipped voice, is the hardest kind of song to crack in pop music: a simple, hummable melody that is also beautiful and has enough spunk to endure for years and be called a classic.
Devaralan Aattam, Ponniyin Selvan: I
Primal and unpredictable weirdness abound in AR Rahman’s Devaralan Aattam. And yet, it is catchy as hell. It is, in fact, the only song in the film that truly feels not of this time (or any time that we know, actually).