Not a single tune from AR Rahman’s score for Majid Majidi’s Beyond The Clouds is likely to stay with the listener beyond five minutes, forget a day. Neither would you feel inclined to give the score a second try despite the belief among fans that you don’t get a Rahman album the first time. This isn’t because Rahman’s work in Beyond The Clouds is bad, but because nothing in the score sticks. With Rahman helming a project, there is always good musicianship at work, with top-drawer musicians and production values. But there is hardly anything memorable either.
The score for the April 20 release is Western classical music, for the most part. The few snatches of local music that exist to capture the film’s Mumbai milieu are half-spirited simulations of Indian film music.
The first two tracks, Ala Re Ala and Ey Chhote Motor Chala, exist to essentially root the film in India. Ala Re Ala consists of a steady 4/4 beat, packed with a volley of Indian street percussion over which singer Dilshad Shabbir Shaikh sings the title over and over again and rapper MC Heam drops a couple of lines.
Ey Chhote Motor Chala, a different mix of which is heard in the film’s first trailer, has MC Heam rapping about riding a motorcycle in fourth gear. It is like something that would play in the head of local thug Salim from Slumdog Millionaire (2008) every time he stepped out of his house with a raised collar and a toothpick in his mouth.
The movie’s theme is undoubtedly a beautiful composition. Beyond the Clouds begins with Nikhita Gandhi humming the theme for a little more than a minute before the song segues into a sombre piano-and-strings piece suggesting tragic developments. The track moves on to the happier theme tune soon and ends with a crescendo.
The rest of the album is replete with orchestral pieces, save for the last track, and features the thematic tune as a leitmotif. You hear it again immediately in the next track, Son of Mumbai, for example.
The Game of Life begins with a frenetic tabla solo before an equally fired-up sitar jumps in. It is mildly reminiscent of Rahman’s Mausam and Escape from the soundtrack of Slumdog Millionaire, but like all the other tunes, it does not build up into a proper song. Most of the tracks – the average length of them being close to two minutes – appear to exist as cues for the narrative.
Majidi is hardly the first filmmaker outside India to use Rahman for instrumental music. Rahman delivered an eclectic multi-dimensional score for Slumdog Millionaire for Danny Boyle and followed it up with the more sublime score for Boyle’s 127 Hours (2010).
Majidi’s cinema, in contrast, has never been recalled for its music. If anything, Rahman could only spice it up, coming from a tradition of genre-bending and genre-blending Indian commercial film music. But the score for Beyond The Clouds is as conventional as it gets. The last track, titled Holi, is 90 seconds of dhol, tasha and shehnai, tying up the journey that began with the similar-sounding Ala Re Ala.