For Hindi film music, 2018 was a much better year than 2017, even though we got no albums from Pritam or Vishal-Shekhar and the only Vishal Bhardwaj-Gulzar collaboration was a sorry dud. Amit Trivedi dropped nine soundtracks this year, and that sentence does not have the ring to it as it did five years ago. Once again, Arijit Singh stood tall as the best playback singer. He either sang most of this year’s hits or the best compositions in each soundtrack.
We got decent songs from films that weren’t song-driven, which shows that filmmakers still actively look for solid tunes in the era of the remix. Unsurprisingly, films with a strong romantic core had the best soundtracks: Laila Majnu (Niladri Kumar, Joi Barua, Alif) and Manmarziyaan (Amit Trivedi). The multi-composer soundtrack for Jalebi had some lovely, if old-fashioned, music.
Among the more experienced composers, only Trivedi and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy had soundtracks this year. While Trivedi had Manmarziyaan, none of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s three soundtracks did justice to their talent, although Raazi had a couple of good songs.
The best multi-composer soundtrack was for Veere Di Wedding. Just when you thought Punjabi hip-hop and EDM in Hindi films would make you reach for sleeping pills, the album showed how it was done, creating one of the year’s best earworms, Tareefan.
This year also saw old hands Shantanu Moitra and Sandesh Shandilya creating some nice music for October and Daas Dev respectively. Sachin-Jigar had three soundtracks, which produced its fair share of hits, but nothing could hold a candle to their work in the films Shor in the City (2011) and Badlapur (2015). Meanwhile, Marathi stalwarts Ajay-Atul rose to the occasion and delivered some fine tunes, three of which have made it to our year-end list.
Paintra, Mukkabaaz The track saved the Mukkabaaz soundtrack from being a giant bore. Paintra, with lyrics by Vineet Kumar Singh, music by guest composer Nucleya and rap by Divine, dug deep into the heart of Anurag Kashyap’s film. The angst of Singh’s low-caste boxer Shravan against his oppressive environment and his zeal to sucker-punch his way out is expressed perfectly in this powerhouse of a track. Unlike the Rachita Arora-composed songs, some of which did have zing, Paintra has the quality to endure as a standalone delight outside the film’s narrative.
Binte Dil, Padmaavat One of the strongest candidates for the song of the year came in January. The Sanjay Leela Bhansali composition reiterated that Singh is the undisputed king of playback singing in Hindi films. Binte Dil is a melodramatic masterpiece. The tune is extremely catchy, and the Middle Eastern vibe is not too far removed from an accessible Bollywood sound. AM Turaz’s lyrics bolster the passionate plea for romance Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh) makes to his master Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) in a highly sensual sequence.
Tera Yaar Hoon Main, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety This Rochak Kohli composition, whose pathos comes through splendidly in the tune, mix, and Arijit Singh’s singing, could easily fit into Pritam’s soundtrack for Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016). Tera Yaar Hoon Main transcends its purpose of bidding goodbye to a friend and is one of Singh’s best songs this year. Besides the good melody, the lightness of its arrangement (the soft percussion followed by equally soft dholaks and a pop-rock crescendo) is proof that Kohli is one of the most talented new composers in Hindi films right now.
Aa Jao Na, Veere Di Wedding Who is Shashwat Sachdev? Only the young composer who impressed with his fine debut soundtrack for Phillauri in 2017. This year, Sachdev composed four songs for Veere Di Wedding. The best tune in the 10-track album was Sachdev’s Aao Jao Na which, unsurprisingly, went to Arijit Singh. With lyrics by Raj Shekhar, Aao Jao Na is a simple song that asks for togetherness amidst momentary turmoil. Instead of creating a sentimental ballad, Sachdev creates an electronic song with a contemporary but subtle arrangement. With the score of Netflix series Selection Day under his belt, Sachdev enters 2019 with the soundtrack of Uri, which has already produced a pumped-up bhangra rock track.
Manwaa, October What purpose do songs serve in the soundtrack of Shoojit Sircar’s songless October? Nothing, apart from creating material that can be used in pre-release promotional videos. But that way, we got Manwaa. Both of Shantanu Moitra’s tracks in the multi-composer soundtrack are ace. Manwaa, sung by Sunidhi Chauhan, is an excellent semi-classical composition with an interesting minimalist arrangement. Parallels can be drawn between the film’s themes and the yearning for the separated lover on which Swanand Kirkire’s lyrics are built. But just in and itself, the song is a beautiful listening experience.
Raazi title track Audiences loved Raazi and its most beloved songs became the patriotic Ae Watan and the sweet Dilbaro. It is the six-and-a-half-minute title track, though, that towers over everything else. Arijit Singh brings back the mountain wolf in his voice from Binte Dil in the opening passages. Gulzar’s lyrics describe the apprehensions as well as the determination of Sehmat (Alia Bhatt), the young college-goer who steps into the dangerous world of espionage overnight. The words, the tune, the vocals, and how the song is cut up and used by director Meghna Gulzar, come together as a fine example of economical storytelling through songs in films.
Kar Har Maidaan Fateh, Sanju We got a soundtrack with two guest tracks by AR Rahman (let that sink in, in case this is news), and the best song is by a newcomer. Vikram Montrose had composed for just one film before the release of Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju. His Kar Har Maidaan Fateh is a by-the-numbers motivational song sung by Shreya Ghoshal and Bollywood music’s go-to booster shot, Sukhwinder Singh. Where the track wins is its extremely catchy hookline and its conventional yet perfectly adequate arrangement as a pop rock song.
Dhadak title track Good for this thoughtless remake that its makers retained the original’s composers, Ajay-Atul. The superb title track adds some heft to the on-screen romance between two cookie-cutter leads trying to recreate the fiery chemistry between Rinku Rajguru and Akash Thosar from the Marathi original, Sairat. Ajay-Atul’s work in Nagraj Manjule’s film became so iconic that two key compositions were featured with Hindi lyrics. Among the new songs, the title track has a beautiful sweeping melody that comes with characteristically lush orchestration. This is possibly the one (and only) good thing that came out of Dhadak.
Aahista, Laila Majnu At one point in Sajid Ali’s Laila Majnu, Qais’s wait for Laila has started to seem endless and hopeless. The narrative is stuck in limbo because Qais and Laila’s romance is doomed. Will they get together? Is the wait worth it? Caught in a fog of uncertainty, a thousand questions run through Qais’s mind like pinpricks. Aahista communicates this state perfectly through Irshad Kamil’s lyrics. The wait seems unbearable, the future deceitful, but Jonita Gandhi sings, “Mera hona aahista aahista.” This line, in Gandhi’s syrupy voice, guides Qais up the mountains of madness. Arijit Singh voices his confusion: “Tum mere ho rahe ya ho gaye ya hai faasla?” Niladri Kumar’s melody is on point and the zitar in the end only adds to the lovers’ tragedy whose fate is known to all except them.
Hallaa, Manmarziyaan Amit Trivedi’s dull work stretched over nine Hindi films in 2018, but his spectacular Manmarziyaan soundtrack kept his reputation unsullied. This album was chock-a-block with superb songs, and even its ordinary tunes were better than other entries in our list. The best one was Hallaa, which showed that heartbreak could sound like pulsating war drums rather than a wailing shehnai. Hallaa is electronic. Hallaa is sufi. Hallaa defies definition. With lines such as “Ishq’e lafz da ei tutt ke gireya” (a syllable broke off from the word love), lyricist Shellee goes into interesting directions to describe the loss of love. The album did have other great songs, such as the anguish-filled Daryaa and the sublime Grey Walaa Shade, but it was Hallaa that was the most successfully sonic experiment.
Chaav Laga, Sui Dhaaga Joining Shellee to write about love in all its shades of grey was Varun Grover. In Chaav Laga, Grover calls the feeling of new love a curse and then a wound. Sweet melodies come naturally to Anu Malik, and with his Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015) collaborators, director Sharat Katariya, Grover, and Moh Moh Ke Dhaage singer Papon, he once again creates a song that is as comforting as the warm winter sun. Papon aces the gentle tune and is suitably supported by Ronkini Gupta, who won hearts with Rafu (Tumhari Sulu) in 2017. Grover’s lyrics, however, give the song its strength, especially when he writes about the heady first days of a romance: “Reh jaaye chal yahin / ghar hum tum naa lautein / dhoondhein koi na aaj re.” And his unique imagery to describe it: “Preet ki chaadar choti maili, humne usmein pair pasaare.” If this has started to remind you of Gulzar, well, Vishal Bhardwaj has worked with Grover for the music of Abhishek Chaubey’s Sonchiriya, which is due for release in 2019.
Bol Ke Lab Azad Hain, Manto When Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s nazm Bol Ke Lab Azad Hain Tere comes alive on screen at the end of Manto, you know that the film was building up to this moment. The poem aptly sums up the life and legacy of the film’s central character, writer Sadat Hasan Manto, whose acidic prose, sharp social observations, uncompromising political temperament and stubborn genius took him to his grave. Sneha Khanwalkar’s composition makes this a good song, but what makes it great is the arrangement, particularly of the strings section, and the layers of sounds in the mixing that demand repeat listening.
Tumbbad title track The Tumbbad title track preceded the film’s release in October. it appeared as a futile attempt to promote the film on YouTube. But the song has a purpose in the narrative beyond capturing the apocalyptic mood of Jesper Kyd’s score. Director Rahi Anil Barve uses the five-minute song across three different sequences. Each verse (lyrics by Raj Shekhar) captures a separate theme in the film. In totality, the song tells the story of Tumbbad itself. If the opening lines talk of Vinayak’s search of gold (“Dhan dhan ye ho dhanak, ye jo khanak dhara chhan liya”), another line describes the film’s visual universe (“Dhan dhan megh garje deh fir bhi jwal jiya”). One verse is about Vinayak’s greed (“Ujli thi to meri vaasana, usi se dhuli meri aatma”), while another is dedicated entirely to the monster Hastar as the embodiment of that greed (“Tuk tuk taake kabhi zaake koi laal sa / Mud mud maare, tan taade woh akaal sa”). This song represented its cinematic narrative like no other track in 2018.
Mere Naam Tu, Zero Three Ajay-Atul songs make it to the list even though the composers did not deliver a top soundtrack. Ajay-Atul’s musical sensibility when it comes to slow-paced romantic or pensive songs is distinctive as well as fresh, as can be seen in Sairat, Dhadak or the 2012 Agneepath remake (Abhi Mujh Mein Kahin). Mera Naam Tu, written by Irshad Kamil and sung by Abhay Jodhpurkar, is the kind of Shah Rukh Khan-romantic-movie-standard we once used to get by the dozen from composers like Jatin-Lalit. Mera Naam Tu is also a typically panoramic Ajay-Atul romantic song whose hookline has burrowed itself deep into the ear since it was first released.