Expectations were high from Govinda Vasantha’s soundtrack for C Prem Kumar’s upcoming Tamil drama 96. Especially since Kaathale Kaathale, the first song released alongside the teaser, had raised the bar. Unfortunately, barring a few instances of brilliance, the rest of the soundtrack does not leave much of an impression.
Starring Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha Krishnan, 96 is a romantic drama featuring two schoolmates. The title refers to the year of their graduation, and the film appears to revisit the characters at different points in their life – first at 16, then at 36.
Vasantha, also known as Govinda Menon, has scored several Malayalam films and his more popular avatar is as the co-founder of the Malayalam indie rock band Thaikkudam Bridge.
The soundtrack of 96 is dramatically different from Vasantha’s previous compositions in Malayalam cinema, which includes such films as North 24 Kaatham (2014) and 100 Days of Love (2015). There is little diversity with respect to styles or sounds in 96, which is hardly a bad thing in itself. But barring two songs – Anthaathi and Kaathale Kaathale – the others don’t stand out. All the songs also seem to embody a similar sombre and intense mood that works well only in a few places.
The earworm Kaathale Kaathale is part of Anthaathi, a seven-minute-and-14-second song written by Karthik Neta, and the soundtrack’s real outstanding number.
In an interview to The News Minute, Vasantha revealed that Kaathale Kaathale was never meant to be a separate song. He carved it out of Anthaathi because he felt it would fit the teaser, but when it started to be widely appreciated, he retained it as a separate song. There are three renditions. The first is within Anthaathi and sung by Bhadra Rajin. The others are by Chinmayi Sripada and Kalyani Menon each. All versions stand on their own because of the variety in the voices, each one bringing a fresh texture each time to the haunting composition.
The word anthaathi refers to a form of poetry in Tamil in which the last word of every verse becomes the first word of the following verse. The relay-singing in Anthaathi seems to be an allusion to this poetic form: Sripada sings half a phrase, which Vasantha then completes. The song slowly builds up tempo, reaching a crescendo that is championed by a chorus who sustain the high with their combined energy. Then comes Rajin’s version of Kaathale Kaathale, who first sings solo before the chorus joins. The portion serves as a beautiful detour before the song returns to its original route.
Premkumar too registers his presence by reciting a few lines about love – an anthaathi of his own – towards the end of the composition, stretching the song for another minute.
The other tunes don’t have as much resonance. The Life of Ram, sung by Pradeep Kumar, begins promisingly but struggles to sustain the magic. There is little variation in the arrangement and Kumar’s rendition. Despite its attempt to be jaunty, the song ends up being monotonous.
The mood dips several notches with Gowri TP’s Yaen, which begins the soundtrack’s foray into the sombre space. Yaen ends soon after it begins – two minutes and 20 seconds – barely registering its presence as a separate track.
The other three tracks – Vasantha Kaalangal, Thaabangale and Iravingu Theevai – sound a bit too much like either. There are moments of brilliance in each of them, though – the opening instrumental bit in Vasantha Kaalangal, or parts of Iravingu Theevai that scale the higher notes. In both its composition and mood, Thaabangale evokes the recent Maya Nadhi from Kabali (2016), but it isn’t quite as memorable.
That said, six of the seven songs are by Chinmayi Sripada. While the album doesn’t allow her to show her versatility as a singer, Sripada is consistently good.
An earlier version of this article misstated that 96 is Govind Vasantha Menon’s first Tamil film as composer. The error has been corrected.