Vishal Bhardwaj’s dual role as music composer and director can sometimes be his undoing. In the February 24 release Rangoon, Bhardwaj’s tunes carry the familiar signature of his style, but with ample help from Gulzar’s quirky lyrics, the filmmaker is able to reinvent even jaded harmony as a refreshing melody.
Rangoon is a period romance in which Kangana Ranaut plays a glamourous 1940s movie star named Julia. Set during World War II, Rangoon is a love triangle featuring Saif Ali Khan in the role of her studio boss and Shahid Kapoor as a guard accompanying her on an Indo-Burma border trip.
The soundtrack kickstarts to the jaunty rhythm of Bloody Hell, which contains the bewildering idea “Ishq kiya angrezi mein” (We loved in English). How does one love in the English language and sing about it in Hindi?
Be that as it may: lyricist Gulzar’s masterly word play in Bloody Hell is a fun-filled romp belted out with panache by Sunidhi Chauhan. Bhardwaj keeps the composition frothy. Between the sounds of the whip lash and the horns, it’s the chorus “bloody hell” that gives the number its je ne sais quoi quality.
The word “ishq” is the mainstay in the soulful track Yeh Ishq Hai. It is sung by Arijit Singh, who enunciates each word like a canticle reaching for the heavens. The melody is reminiscent of AR Rahman’s slow-burn love ballad Dil Se Re (Dil Se, 1998), also written by Gulzar. Singh’s soaring voice is backed by a gorgeous interplay of guitars and flute. Singer Rekha Bhardwaj renders another version of the track in a qawwali style interspersed with harmonium, tabla, flute, dholak and chorus refrains but it doesn’t quite add up.
In the other Arijit Singh solo, Alvida, a haunting saxophone interlude trails his vocals like a shadow. The track spirals into grunge and turns towards a melodic finish. Alvida is a hallmark of Bhardwaj’s intense musical tropes, such as Jhelum in Haider (2014), Bekaraan in 7 Khoon Maaf (2011) and the title track of Kaminey (2009). These tunes begin as placid elegies that gradually rise into a cathartic crescendo, expressing a lead character’s psychological state of mind.
The droll humour of Mere Miyan Gaye England takes its cue from Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon (Patanga, 1949) and includes the names of Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill. Rekha Bhardwaj sings a hilarious tribute to her soldier husband who has been catapulted like a loose cannon from the Eiffel Tower in Paris to a bus stand in an Indian village. The opening bars of the track have been sped up from the prelude of Rahoo Rahoo, a pop song Rekha Bhardwaj sang in the non-film album Ishqa Ishqa in 2004. Rahoo Rahoo was written by Gulzar and composed by Vishal Bhardwaj.
In Ek Dooni Do, Rekha Bhardwaj is surrounded with the chorus strains of Spanish phrases such as “baila baila” (dance dance) and “arriba arriba” (above). Chori Chori is a flirty number with coquettish lines such as “Moongphali ke daane aise phenka na karo” (Don’t chuck peanuts at me), evoking a period in Hindi film music when a paper cone filled with peanuts could trigger a romantic tug of war. Chori Chori has the vibe of an OP Nayyar melody and it gives Bhardwaj a chance to modulate her voice like the playback singers of the 1940s.
Tippa is a narrative song, borrowing elements of rhythm and lyrics from a ditty Bhardwaj and Gulzar created in the mid-nineties for the Hindi dubbed version of the Japanese animated television series Alice in Wonderland. Incorporating ambient sounds of water drops and chugging train wheels, singers Sunidhi Chauhan, Rekha Bhardwaj, Sukhwinder Singh and O S Arun turn the melody into a storytelling session, interjected by dramatic orchestration.
Julia is a balladeer’s tribute to its super-heroine, and in this case, it takes more than one: Sukhwinder Singh, KK, Kunal Ganjawala and composer Bhardwaj croon in sync. The composition jumps through styles, from vaudeville and dirge to even a dated trashy tune from the 90s where heroics were compared to a “zalzala” (earthquake) and “bijli” (lightning).
The two English tracks Be Still, sung by Dominique Cerejo, and Shimmy Shake, sung by Vivienne Pocha, are written by actress Lekha Washington. Be Still is a languid jazz number, in contrast to Shimmy Shake’s boisterous rhythm. The sharp sound of a viola is followed by a full-blown orchestra in the instrumental track Rangoon Theme, giving the score the epic scale of a Chinese opera that it deserves.
The 12 songs of Rangoon bear Bhardwaj’s indelible stamp, but are they authentic to the film’s period setting? Bhardwaj experiments with several musical styles that are often showy and eclipse the genres they encompass. Lyricist Gulzar gets a free hand with his verse. He conjures up an array of images through his words that are equally dazzling and overwhelming at times. The soundtrack requires repeat listening to catch up with the composer-lyricist duo who stridently march to their own beats.