Bhojpuri songs with double meaning lyrics work like a two-sided knife. One impales the singer who is using the track as a weapon of choice, while the other takes a stab at the listener who is paying attention to the words.

In the March 24 release Anaarkali of Aarah, Swara Bhaskar plays a street singer whose risqué songs are scintillating and scathing at the same time. She raises her voice to challenge a politician (Sanjay Mishra) who has physically assaulted her. Her musical partner Rangeela (Pankaj Tripathi) stands by her in her moment of crisis. Avinash Das’s debut film has music by Rohit Sharma and lyrics by Prashant Ingole, Ravinder Randhawa and Ramkumar Singh. Flashy as item songs, the tunes have a razor-edge sharpness underneath.

The soundtrack begins with the mofussil sounds of Dunaliya Mein Jung, sung rapaciously by Swati Sharma. It sets the rustic tone for the rest of the album. The zingy track is bodacious and raunchy and is punctuated with great rhythm and lyrical riffs to animate any boring party in dire need of a local flavour. Dunaliya Mein Jung has the zest of Ek Do Teen (Tezaab, 1988) in a small-town setting.

Indu Sonali keeps pace with the racy tempo in Lahanga Jhaanke, describing the mesmerising effects of a moving skirt in the eyes of men. Sharma’s other solo, Mora Piya Matlab Ka Yaar, is about the same men making false promises.

The sexually suggestive lyrics of Aye Sakhi Ooh borders on sadomasochism: “Kas ke woh dharta hai, kuch toh ragadta hai, bahinyaan mein bandh ke pheeta (He grabs me violently, rubs something, ties my hands with strings). The bawdy tune is sung with tantalising efficacy by Pawni Pandey. The song works as a seductive number with a moral whiplash.

Dunaliya Mein Jung from Anaarkali of Aarah (2017).

The nuanced melody of Rekha Bhardwaj’s thumri Badnaam Jiya De Gaari is in the great tradition of the dirge of the nautch girl who is loved, ditched, and disgraced by a patron. Bhardwaj’s sonorous vocals beautifully convey the anguish of the fallen woman, grieving over the loss of her relationship with her mentor who is also her lover. Ravinder Randhawa’s lyrics equate the loss of love with the woman’s fears of being branded as a social outcast.

The soundtrack’s ballad, Mann Beqaid Huva, written by Prashant Ingole and sung by Sonu Nigam, is out of place by design. The composer uses lush musical arrangements, mixing the violins with the sarangi and the drums with the keyboard. It works as a standalone number in a big-budgeted musical with its inherent, modern Bollywood sound, but it does not quite fit into the hinterland milieu of Aarah.

By the time we hear the first strains of Sa Ra Ra Ra, in which Swara Bhaskar introduces herself as Anaarkali, it becomes evident that this track is more than just a catchy melody. Anaarkali interrupts the tune midway with an inflammatory passage about her status. Singer Pandey follows it with a quick tempo stanza sung in a rebellious tone.

Sa Ra Ra Ra is a salvo fired from the defiant heroine’s vocal chords – the only kind of weapon that empowers her in her profession. All of Anaarkali’s titillating songs are a commentary on how men have a misplaced sense of ownership over a woman’s body and mind. She addresses the politics of power through her entertaining revue.

The three bonus tracks, Mere Balam Bambaiya, sung by Pandey, Hamre Jobna Pe, by Indu Sonali, and Laal Laal Cheekwa, in composer Sharma’s voice, add to the album’s buoyant spirits, because one can never have enough when the party is in full swing.

Anaarkali of Aarah jukebox.