Exactly why AR Rahman’s soundtrack for Kabhi Na Kabhi (1998) didn’t receive as much love and recognition as the composer’s other albums from the 1990s is a mystery. The album is certainly among Rahman’s best from the decade.

Of course, it could be because Rahman delivered arguably stronger and better albums in the decade, from Bombay to Taal. Does it also have something to do with the fact that Kabhi Na Kabhi was a box-office flop of the blink-and-you-miss-it variety and not the honourable-failure variety like Dil Se?

Priyadarshan’s film follows two likable thugs Jaggu (Jackie Shroff) and Raja (Anil Kapoor), both of whom are in love with Tina (Pooja Bhatt). With music by Rahman, cinematography by Ravi K Chandran and art direction by Sabu Cyril, Javed Akhtar’s bland screenplay is a clothesline onto which Priyadarshan can hang striking song sequences.

Rahman’s criss-crossing of genres is echoed by the visuals. Shukriya Tera Shukriya starts in front of a church in a city. Suddenly, a bullock cart carrying some village women appears. A little later, sailors dance in the middle of what’s supposed to be Mumbai. (Watch here).

Mil Gayi Woh Manzilein is shot like a grungy industrial rock music video with Kapoor and Bhatt dressed as members of a biker gang. (Watch here). In the still-popular Mere Dil Ka Woh Shehzaada, pantomime artists appear out of nowhere in an empty warehouse of sorts.

Mere Dil Ka Woh Shehzaada is carried by a breakbeat straight out of ’80s dance music, over which there’s a mandolin riff. A couple of minutes later, there’s a synthesised bagpipe section, which is when the background dancers turn up in tartan skirts. (Watch here).

The songs of Kabhi Na Kabhi have nothing to do with the plot, which perhaps allowed Rahman to do as he pleased with the music. Tu Hi Tu, for example, is an EDM number that arrived a few years before EDM became a global musical phenomenon. The tune and lyrics (by Akhtar) are filled with desire and longing, but is packaged as a stunning electronic dance number with dollops of Indian string instruments.

Tu Hi Tu, Kabhi Na Kabhi (1998).

Kabhi Na Kabhi is quintessentially 1990s Rahman: there’s a lot of synthesiser and a lot of strings. Among its underappreciated gems is Tum Ho Meri Nigahon Mein. The beautiful melody is allowed to float over an arrangement of violins, flute, and the barest of synths, in Hariharan and Sujatha Mohan’s voice. (Watch here).

Mil Gayi Woh Manzilen is among the strongest tracks. A reworking of the hit tune Anjali Anjali from the 1994 Tamil film Duet, this song works just as good as the original. Nothing is lost in the inclusion of more prominent beats, tabla, and the works. Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik have always been great together, and this is no exception.

Even the relatively weaker tracks, Shukriya Tera Shukriya and Mere Yaara Dildara, have a lot going for them because they aren’t bad tunes at all. With Rahman’s recently released 99 Songs, now is a good time to look back at some of his albums that slipped under the radar despite being quality material.

Also read:

‘99 Songs’ music review: This amazing AR Rahman soundtrack is worth the wait

Audio master: The lasting brilliance of AR Rahman’s ‘Dil Se’

Audio master: AR Rahman’s 1990 masterwork ‘Thiruda Thiruda’ is still stealing hearts