2019 was a weak year for Hindi film music.

Great things seemed to be in store early on, with Pritam returning to work after a gap. However. none of his three albums hit the spot even though his title track for Kalank was worth the wait. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Sachin-Jigar and Amit Trivedi had a lean year as well. Vishal-Shekhar delivered in all three of their albums, and proved to be the saving grace. AR Rahman had only one Hindi film credit: the heavily delayed The Fakir of Venice.

Among the younger composers, Payal Dev, Rochak Kohli, Dub Sharma, Mithoon and Sachet-Parampara shone with a song or two. Shashwat Sachdev and Karan Kulkarni were impressive with Uri: The Surgical Strike and Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota respectively. Though he did churn out a few originals, Tanishk Bagchi was mostly busy tinkering with older hits in 2019 as well.

Is the age of the single-composer album dead? No complete soundtrack was an out-and-out success in 2019. However, both the smash hit soundtracks were meticulously assembled multi-composer albums that were in sync with the universe of their respective films: Gully Boy and Kabir Singh.

Arijit Singh once again turned out to be the star voice, but equally impressive was Jubin Nautiyal who sang the ballads Pyaar Toh Tha (Bala) and Tum Hi Aana (Marjaavaan). The always fantastic Shilpa Rao had a stellar 2019 as well, being the voice for three amazing tracks.

The best Hindi film songs of 2019

Jagga Jiteya, Uri: The Surgical Strike
Minimalism is not always understood by most Bollywood composers – pick any hit dance track this year. Shashwat Sachdev’s commitment to minimalism is, therefore, refreshing. Consider his songs Aa Jao Na (Veere Di Wedding) or Jagga Jiteya in Uri: The Surgical Strike. The latter features an exemplary adaptation of the national anthem’s tune on the bugle, a booming bassline, and a simple electronic beat. Dee MC’s rap and Daler Mehndi’s soaring vocals do the rest.

Jagga Jiteya, Uri: The Surgical Strike.

Jingostan, Gully Boy
It is hard to pick one track from the stellar 18-song Gully Boy album. Jingostan makes it to the list for producer-rapper Dub Sharma’s sharp and timely lyrics criticising the direction the country has taken in recent years and his unconventional choice of samples, right from the discordant chords in the beginning to the woman’s asthmatic gasps, which add to the eerie mood.

Jingostan, Gully Boy.

Ruan Ruan, Sonchiriya
Ruan Ruan is a beautiful song about rebirth and redemption. The song appears at the end of Sonchiriya, after its bandit hero fatally struggled to ensure the safety of an oppressed woman and a little child, thus feeling absolved of his sins of the past. The song has a beautiful tune by Vishal Bhardwaj, amazing lyrics by Varun Grover, production that is light on the ears (the cooing of the birds is a sweet touch), and finally, Arijit Singh’s winning voice.

Ruan Ruan, Sonchiriya.

Rappan Rappi Rap, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota
After giving Arijit Singh one his best songs in Beparwah (Shahid, 2012), composer Karan Kulkarni wasn’t heard much in Hindi films until Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota. The zaniness of Kulkarni’s soundtrack matches the film. Rappan Rappi Rap towers above the other songs for its amazing hook, Benny Dayal’s sassy vocals, and the sheer joy with each lyricist Garima Obrah wove into the pop culture references, which includes For a Few Dollars More, Enter the Dragon, The Jungle Book, and Nirma detergent powder.

Rappan Rappi Rap, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota.

Kalank title track
The Kalank title track is Pritam operating at his best, the only time he did in 2019. The song takes off with an A1 guitar riff, after which Arijit Singh’s trademark voice deftly carries the beautiful tune. Just about every element is magical, such as the moment the tabla enters or the synths that follow immediately after. The “Main tera” section that ends the song is the cherry on top. This is also lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya’s finest moment this year.

Kalank title track.

Ve Maahi, Kesari
Arijit Singh returns in a (gasp) original Tanishk Bagchi tune. At this point, Bagchi deserves the brickbats he gets for retooling classic Hindi tunes, but he seldom fails with his original compositions. The mukhda is a total earworm, and Singh nails it. At a time when Punjabi romantic ballads are all too common in Bollywood, this song leaves a mark because of its tune and the vocals by Singh and Asees Kaur.

Ve Maahi, Kesari.

Fakira, Student of the Year 2
Always expect at least one great song from a Vishal-Shekhar soundtrack. Between the bubblegum Hinjabi pop of Student of the Year 2, is Fakira, a super-sweet but spunky love song rendered amazingly well by Neeti Mohan and pop sensation Sanam Puri. Lyricist Anvita Dutt Guptan’s comparison of someone lost in love to a fakir is interesting. The production is sharp and intricate, the wall of strings sublime, and the dholaks never obtrusive.

Fakira, Student of the Year 2.

Slow Motion, Bharat
It is difficult to get a Salman Khan song that works as a Salman Khan song but doesn’t batter your sensibilities. The main guitar riff in Slow Motion is a winner. The song has a great hook. Irshad Kamil’s lyrics (“Pyaar hota hai to aata hai maza apne hi shoshan mein”) are great fun. Nakash Aziz’s powerful voice is apt for the track. The surprise element is Shreya Ghoshal, not the first name you’d associate with a song like this, and she beautifully complements Aziz.

Slow Motion, Bharat.

Jugraafiya, Super 30
Where are the romantic tunes that aren’t Hinjabi Speed Records rip-offs or whiny Tum Hi Ho copies from the T-Series stable? Here is one. The strings and synths in Jugraafiya take you to the kind of high that’s expected from a first-rate Ajay-Atul ballad. The lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharya tie the sincere protagonist’s personality to the song. Udit Narayan hasn’t sounded this fresh in years, and Shreya Ghoshal owns the composition like a queen.

Jugraafiya, Super 30.

Bekhayali (Sachet Tandon version), Kabir Singh
Almost all the songs in Kabir Singh are between very good and good. Almost all of them are also electric guitar-driven angsty ballads that sound similar to each other. The album’s first song, the melodramatic and operatic six-minute Bekhayali, sets the tone for the rest of the album and is its crown jewel. Singer-composer Sachet Tandon’s voice is a better fit for the composition than Arijit Singh. Irshad Kamil’s lyrics, which describe the pangs of separation, are simple and easy to sing along to but never simplistic.

Bekhayali (Sachet Tandon version), Kabir Singh.

Jake Rakho Saiyan, Batla House
If there’s a Rochak Kohli tune in a multi-composer soundtrack, chances are that it will be the best. Consider Meer-e-Karwaan from Lucknow Central, Tera Yaar Hoon Main from Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety or Bheege Mann from Khandaani Shafakhana. Kolhi is a gifted melody-maker, and the Batla House soundtrack is no different. His Jake Rakho Saiyan, rendered perfectly by Navraj Hans, is a sublime inspirational track with a touch of Sufi. Too bad it went unnoticed in a muscular action movie with no space for song sequences.

Jake Rakho Saiyan, Batla House.

Shaabaashiyan, Mission Mangal
The talented Shilpa Rao isn’t heard much these days, but she is a picky singer, as she told Scroll.in in an interview. She does pick the best songs to sing. In Mission Mangal, she is the star voice of Shaabaashiyan, with Anand Bhaskar and Abhijeet Srivastava providing support. Like Jake Rakho Saiyan, the song is an inspirational one. It’s a slow-moving track with a great tune for its opening verse and hook. The synths, in particular, are lovely.

Shaabaashiyan, Mission Mangal.

Ghungroo, War
It’s Shilpa Rao again, this time with Arijit Singh. Easily the song of the year, Ghungroo is a breezy, feathery-light dance song that has a tune not immediately associated with funk. Vishal-Shekhar adds a contemporary, stylish spin to the oft-heard words “Ghungroo toot gaye”. Warren Mendonsa’s guitar licks add verve, while longtime Vishal-Shekhar collaborator Kumaar stays away from Hinglish words, an annoying staple of contemporary Bollywood dance songs, giving the tune the timelessness it deserves.

Ghungroo, War.

Wako Naam Fakir, The Fakir of Venice
There was a time when music listeners would get two-three AR Rahman soundtracks or more in a year. These days, we are lucky if we get even one. Rahman’s only Hindi soundtrack this year was for The Fakir of Venice. The delayed release yielded Wako Naam Fakir, a lovely blues-based rendition of a 15th-century doha by the mystic Kabir. Wako Naam Fakir shows how far ahead Rahman is from contemporary composers with just one good song.

Wako Naam Fakir, The Fakir of Venice.

Tum Hi Aana, Marjaavaan
The way Tum Hi Aana begins, you wouldn’t be blamed for wondering if Nadeem-Shravan are suddenly back. But, no, it’s singer-composer Payal Dev. The tune is fabulous, almost ghazal-like. The lyrics are pathos-filled, and the harmonica-sarangi-guitars combination is aptly melodramatic for the track. Jubin Nautiyal has always been a terrific singer, but this might be the one that has finally given him star status. It is undoubtedly the best composition Nautiyal has sung till date.

Tum Hi Aana, Marjaavaan.

Also read:

‘Gully Boy’ music: Four years, 18 songs, 54 collaborators, and an ‘absolutely nuts’ Ranveer Singh

‘Kabir Singh’ music review: Likeable ballads in a booster shot of saccharine rock