Readers of the John Green novel The Fault in our Stars, and whoever has seen its 2014 film adaptation, will know what happens to its lead pair of young cancer-stricken lovers.
Their journey gives the Hindi remake’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed songs a wistful tone. Mukesh Chhabra’s Dil Bechara will be streamed on Disney+ Hotstar on July 24. It stars 34-year-old Sushant Singh Rajput in his final role alongside Sanjana Sanghi.
Lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya describes Rajput’s character Manny with the lines “Mera naam Manny, Manny, Manny… raahat me lipti bechaini” (My name is Manny, restlessness wrapped up in a moment of respite), which eerily capture the actor’s public demeanour as well as his acting style.
But without letting Rajput’s shadow hang over the tunes, how does AR Rahman’s second original Hindi film soundtrack of 2020 hold up?
At their best, the songs are lovable and huggable, with their themes of young love and optimism in the face of chronic illness. Some of Rahman’s hooks and mukhdas are tremendously catchy and evocative.
But some of the compositions are bogged down by overproduction, most prominently in the central stretch of Taare Ginn, where a nice melody is drowned by multiple contrapuntal harmonies stacked upon each other. Rahman, who produces his songs himself, is a technical wizard, but he perhaps needs to go slow on jazzing up songs that have strong enough melodies. This is also the case with the Dil Bechara title track after the end of the first verse.
The turn the tune takes when the lyrics go “Tu SMS bhi na kare… tu mujhe miss bhi na kare”, and the strings that enter at this point, create a sense of warmth and affability in what initially appears to be a glib college Romeo number. This feeling of harmless niceness runs through the entire album.
At least two let-go-and-have-fun songs share the same DNA as Rahman’s Matargashti (Tamasha, 2015). There’s Khulke Jeene Ka, in which Bhattacharya writes about throwing caution to the wind, and singing “filmon ki gaane” while play-acting as “heroine hero”. It’s a lovely song, and the production never comes in the way. Though it is primarily Arijit Singh’s track, he doesn’t get to hog it. Shashaa Tirupathi feels like an equal participant.
The other is Mashkari, which is a more pronounced attempt at being fun. But it’s a bit too restrained and doesn’t have the madness of Matargashti. The deliberate and studied sense of abandon and good cheer in each tune never really allow the soundtrack to reach for the stars.
Khulke Jeene Ka sounds like it’s going to be the most successful at being the sort of happy tunes Rahman-Bhattacharya have tried to deliver, but a key change near the end suggests something amiss with the song’s universe. Something like that snaps the listener out of the song.
Or take the album’s most muted song, Main Tumhara. The song is like a promise. Bhattacharya writes, you never became mine, so what, I’m yours, you are the moon and I will be your stars. The flute signals a sense of divinity.
The song begins like a solemn conversation before there’s a sudden gasp of passion. The declaration of love takes an intense turn as Bhattacharya writes “Tu hi pehli guzarish, hasrat bhi tu aakhiri” (You are my first request and final desire). Hriday Gattani’s voice reverberates with feeling. Then the song returns to its subdued state before dissipating. This middle portion felt like it was part of a different tune that didn’t share this one’s sense of renunciation.
The album also takes a qualitative dip at this point. In comes a cacophonous remix of the title track, which probably exists for no other reason than to prevent Tanishk Bagchi from doing it 10 years later.
There’s also one of those weird Rahman audio collages. This one is called Afreeda, and it’s neither as infectious as Dol Dol (Yuva, 2004) nor as amusing in its gaudiness as Wanna Mash Up? (Highway, 2014). You can add it to your playlists for belly dance, pole dance and lap dance, for sure.
The album picks up at the very end with Mera Naam Kizie, a fun jazzy number with a cheerful clarinet floating around the voices. The lyrics are all about the protagonists Kizie and Manny – sugar and sugar, and everything nice.
Poorvi Koutish, who brilliantly sang Jwalamukhi in Rahman’s previous soundtrack for 99 Songs, really has her way with compositions strongly influenced by jazz and Broadway tunes. She is accompanied by Aditya Narayan, who has never ever sounded this fresh. He is quite a revelation here.