The meaning of Mohenjo-Daro is generally accepted as mound of the dead. AR Rahman’s score for Ashutosh Gowariker’s latest big-budget production Mohenjo Daro begins with a thumping sound. The song “Mohenjo Mohenjo” uses drums and pipes that are loud enough to wake up the departed.
“Mohenjo Mohenjo” features lead singer Arijit Singh backed by Bela Shende and Sanah Moidutty and a chorus making whooshing sounds. Lyricist Javed Akhtar writes “Chand aur suraj, dono ne dekha, Mohenjo Daro mein rangon ka mela” (The moon and sun have both seen the colourful carnival of Mohenjo-Daro), which is about as literal a description of the city’s resplendence as it gets. Rahman uses a plethora of musical instruments, further befuddling the listener’s sense of rhythm. The high-pitched scale stuns more than it soothes.
Rahman and Moidutty sing “Sindhu Ma”, a grating ode to the Sindhu river. The lyrics imply that the river flows gently, and the chorus should have been kept at a low decibel level. Rahman goes on a vocal rampage here, singing his portion with little regard for correct pronunciation.
“Sarsariya”, sung by Shashaa Tirupati and Shashwat Singh, is a romantic track in which the refrain “sarsariya” (flowing wind) sounds an awful lot like “sorry sorry ya”. The choice of words in the lyrics that juggle between old and new usage is equally perplexing. Words such as “mukt” (exempt) and “vaani” (speech) would have been better suited to devotional songs rather than being forced to mingle with the more upbeat rhyming of “dhadkan” (heartbeat) and “uljhan” (knot).
“Tu Hai” reaches for an ethereal sound, with both Rahman and Moidutty’s vocals echoing against a symphonic chorus.
“Whispers of the mind” and “Whispers of the heart” are chant-based tracks, featuring the voices of Arjun Chandy and members of the NAFS band formed by Rahman. The emphasis here is on vocal rhythm and live bass. These tracks have a world music feel commonly associated with such bands as Deep Forest.
“The shimmer of Sindhu” and “Lakh lakh thora” are instrumental tracks, the first one as a guitar and flute follow-up to “Tu Hai”. The use of mandolin in the second tune is captivating. It is these four-instrument based tracks that add an aura to the ruins of Mohenjo Daro.
Rahman, Gowariker and Akhtar had teamed up far more fruitfully in the past for Lagaan (2001), Swades (2004) and Jodhaa Akbar (2007). Mohenjo Daro, regrettably, doesn’t stack up.