Breaking Down The Music Of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi

The phrase “jaan”, which means life pressure, is written in Urdu as “ja-anh” — the “anh” as a nasal twang that doesn’t permit the tongue to fairly contact the roof of the mouth, suspended mid-air, making an attempt, however not totally in a position to produce the flatness of the sound “n”. A wierd, stretching, languorous, nasal limbo, it’s referred to as midday ghunna. Even the script used to provide form to this sound produced the empty, curved ں — like a receptacle whose objective doesn’t come from merely being, however by being helpful, to carry, to retailer one thing else. When Geeta Dutt sings ‘Meri Jaan Mujhe Jaan Na Kaho’, when Lata Mangeshkar sings ‘Meri Jaan Meri Jaan’, when KK sings ‘O Meri Jaan’, there’s an allegiance to the Urdu language which, when transliterated to Hindi after which romanized into English loses the limbo. Ja-anh typically turns into jaan, and stays so. (In Urdu, too, this distinction is slowly disappearing.)

Tune the ears, then, to how, within the very first music of Gangubai Kathiawadi, Neeti Mohan pronounces “jaan”, lending the phrase its midday ghunna, severing the finality, the flatness of “n”, bringing in her full bodied blues, respiratory loudly as she arrives on the finish of the one-syllable phrase “jaan”, with the saxophones dancing in a cool, rhythmic loop behind her. The shoulders shimmy, the center sighs. 

Her voice loops upwards whereas singing the phrase “nasha”, as if strolling up a flight of damaged, uneven stairs, drunk. Kumar’s lyrics are very a lot a playful ode to not simply the fixation in
Urdu poetry on the jaam and the paymana — the glasses and goblets that maintain each alcohol and its intoxication — however Bhansali’s fixation, too. Alcohol turns into each consolation and disaster in Devdas, in Saawariya it’s launched as that which holds and hides intoxication, the best way the physique holds and hides the soul — the hero reminds us that like hearth in a matchstick, like intoxication in alcohol, the soul too isn’t seen however why ought to that imply it doesn’t exist? In Bajirao Mastani and Ram-Leela it’s a signal of emotional tempests, in Padmaavat, it’s a ethical conclusion. 

‘Meri Jaan’ has an environment of unsteady eros, which girds the visuals he spools round it — you don’t know which kiss, which insistence turns into charming, then disarming, turns into boastful, turns into violative. All of the sudden there are horns and percussion, all of the sudden she yodels, all of the sudden you’ll be able to hear her smiling behind the mic. There’s a tough across the edges, everything-ness to this music that’s each endearing, but tough to latch onto due to its amoebic depth — transferring in lots of instructions with the complete pressure of feeling.

The music video exhibits Alia Bhatt taking part in the titular character, a sex-worker of grandiose gumption, and Shanatanu Maheshwari as her a lot youthful lover, at the back of her automotive as they marvel, in erotic anticipation, what holds subsequent. Shantanu is keen, Bhatt is unsure, trauma and unhappiness glazing her eyes, and but there’s that deadly attraction they will’t resist. When Bhansali confines his characters in a single house, with out overt choreography — just like the lovers in a room in Ram-Leela’s ‘Ang Laga De’ — the music takes on the heavy lifting. 

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The subsequent music on the album, ‘Dholida’, doesn’t want that depth or intricacy. It wants the throw of a voice, as a substitute, looping within the regular, enamel-like timber of Jahnvi Shrimankar. A throw that isn’t confected however innate — on Instagram, as a vote of gratitude, she sang this music with none of the instrumentation, layering, and post-production, and but that power is so seen, so assured, so unshaken. 

‘Dholida’ is visualized as a Bhansali trope we now have seen earlier than, in
Ram-Leela’s ‘Nagada Sang Dhol’ — celebratory garba the place the heroine jousts insouciantly with the dholida, the dhol participant, adopted by a mournful but fierce trance. This isn’t to counsel that Bhansali is working out of concepts as a lot as he retains snagging at some recurrent visible and psychological preoccupations, like the lady who’s tipped over like a bowling pin by circumstances and music. 

The musical panorama inherits that transition, then, from contained rhythmic pleasure to a extra scattered devotional refrain of ladies overlaid by a person flinging his voice at a pitch that feels one swar, one word, away from the voice cracking into mud, the tranced girl fallen to the bottom in exhaustion. This gruff, aged, masculine lone voice in a pond of female abandon with the complete throated choir and flaring materials is a Bhansali invocation that tracks from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’s ‘Nimbooda’, Devdas’ ‘Kaahe Chhed Mohe’ (Birju Maharaj, right here) to ‘Deewani Mastani’, ‘Ghoomar’, and now ‘Dholida’. 

Breaking Down The Music Of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi, Film Companion

‘Jab Saiyan’ is Bhansali’s first montage music. Alia Bhatt famous in a dialog with Shreya Ghoshal, how Bhansali was pacing on the set agitated, nervous for he has by no means accomplished the montage music so apparently in his filmography. Anybody with concepts, he was asking for solutions. The nerves are comprehensible, given how Bhansali’s music is so inextricably woven into his visuals, I’ve hardly ever listened to his albums as a lot as imagined the visuals whereas listening to it. The songs I preserve coming again to in my playlist, to simply take heed to, to whereas away the day, are songs which Bhansali hasn’t given visuals for — they both by no means make it to the film, or are used briefly as connecting tissue, like ‘Dhundhli’ from Guzaarish, ‘Laal Ishq’ and ‘Dhoop’ from Ram Leela, ‘Aaj Ibaadat’ and ‘Ab Tohe Jane Na Doongi’ from Bajirao Mastani. The montage music is a check, a tight-rope act of the composer’s restraint, as a result of the music can’t demand extra consideration than the visuals for which it’s offering an emotional bellwether. Is that why ‘Jab Saiyan’ croons musically with out the gasp, the present, the spectacle of voice? It’s nice, however by no means sweltering. We’re speaking of affection, aren’t we?

This music continues Bhansali’s invocation of the identify of the lover — one that’s in comparison with remembrance in ‘Aayat’, to fragrance and pleasure in ‘Tera Zikr’. His characters scribble the identify of the lover on partitions throughout town, like in Saawariya or insist on being referred to as collectively, not as identify and surname however as a hyphenated togetherness — Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani. We hardly ever title movies after characters as we speak (the “In And As” custom is, with out Bhansali, fairly lifeless) as a result of our character names, over the a long time, have sponged off their lyrical, suggestive heft. Gangubai Kathiawadi continues the older custom and in ‘Jab Saiyan’, even attributes the moon-like radiance of Gangubai’s identify to her lover, with out which Kamathipura, the crimson mild district of which she is the doyen, is soaking in darkness. 

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Breaking Down The Music Of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi, Film Companion

For a music crammed with mushy syllables AM Turaz’s sudden sharp lyric “Chaukhat raukhat” stings the ears. Shreya Ghoshal inhabits the music together with her vary that by no means sounds strained or stretched, transferring between the sudden modifications within the tempo of the music with out bringing consideration to it — stretching by means of one syllable, speeding by means of others. 

In ‘Jab Saiyan’ Bhansali permits for uninterrupted stretches of the sarangi and the harmonium — not as interludes between paragraphs of the “actual” music because it typically is employed in AR Rahman or Shankar-Ehsan-Loy’s compositions. In Bhansali’s music, these stretches are sometimes the centerpiece of a music, the emotive anchor, the climax the place it crescendos into pulp, like that stretch in ‘Lahu Munh Lag Gaya’ the place the bhungal, the Gujarati folks instrument, blares up the scales like a gust of scorching wind. 

From right here, we skip geographies and centuries into the qawwali, which, in Hindi movie music has been refashioned into extremities — from the techno qawwali of ‘Kajra Re’ to disco qawwali to being a mere background music in Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Veer-Zaara. What was as soon as a musical rendition of sufi abandon turns into one thing extra secular, extra accessible, much less esoteric. Rahman is, maybe, the few who retain the spiritual underpinning of the style.

Whereas there’s a lead vocalist (Archana Gore, right here, in ‘Shikayat’) who steers the music, what’s novel concerning the qawwali are the singers within the background who “take part and vie with one another because the music builds in the direction of its crescendo and sudden, abrupt finish.” It’s a style the place the refrain is all of the sudden given the highlight. Whereas melody is vital in classical Hindustani, the qawwalis are like an alternate of phrases put to incidental music — that alternate may very well be with god, with a competitor in love like in Mughal-e-Azam, only a competitor like in Shandaar, or within the case of ‘Shikayat’, with the lover himself. There’s a jostling of voices that takes place, and in ‘Shikayat’, in one of the vital sinuous stretches of music within the album, you’ll be able to hear a refrain of ladies cascading down the scales, then a soar up the dimensions, then decrease, then pushed up, then decrease, as if ladies, strapped with ghungroos, are working up and down a proscenium. That playfulness is unbroken — you’ll be able to hear it — even because the criticism, the shikayat described by lyricst AM Turaz — ‘kaleja chahiye khud ko marne ke liye’ — is lodged. To have the ability to maintain each ache and pleasure collectively? 

Kailash Patra’s eerie, haunting violin lets us into ‘Muskurahat’, which like ‘Jab Saiyan’ is Bhansali bringing us into his rehearsal rooms, as if the melody remains to be being moulded. One of many few remaining music administrators who insists on rehearsals, that is the place the singer flexes the completely different dimensions a phrase can take beneath a melody. Arijit Singh takes one line, ‘Muskurat ko bhi aane de, Mazaa aane lage’ delivering it otherwise every time — a-a-a-hat, aaa-hat, aa-a-a-a-hat — like this had been a classical live performance and he had been improvising; an unstudied, unsteady musicality. 

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Melisma is central to Bhansali’s sense of music, as has been identified by critic Baradwaj Rangan — the place normally one syllable is assigned one swar, Bhansali packs a syllable with as many swars as he can, a greed but in addition a want to supply a musical density. ‘Jab Saiyan’ doesn’t go away a syllable with out pummeling it with melody. Right here, too, prepare your ears to the aa in “muskurane” or in “nasha” or the ‘i’ in “khushi” — when he sees a vowel, he checks its tensile, musical malleability. How a lot can it’s stretched? How a lot music can a sound produce? Then, smack in the midst of the music is a second of full silence. 

And earlier than the album sends us packing off, a folks music, ‘Jhume Re Gori’, like ‘Mor Bani Thangat’ or ‘Bhai Bhai’ in
Ram-Leela, bridging what is taken into account ‘classical’ with what is taken into account, by those that carry out classical,‘folks’the merriment of people, the sobriety of classical are classes that Bhansali, to his detriment, deepens in his albums, whilst he brings them in dialog by inserting them in the identical movie, shoulder to shoulder. 

Bhansali’s artistry isn’t caught in amber, that a lot is evident. He’ll convey within the common Arijit Singh however make his voice unrecognizable. Even when he offers you a pale Shreya Ghoshal, he’ll throw in new artists, new sounds, a brand new mind-set of the virah music, the music of separation, as not one thing that may be sung simply, replicated, re-sung, re-mixed throughout the cultural panorama, however have to be soaked in. Whereas relishing his influences — Lata Mangeshkar, Okay Asif, V Shantaram, Guru Dutt, RD Burman — he’s by no means sure by his reverence, permitting for intuition to triumph. If the intuition is bluesy, then so be it. If the intuition is Arijit skating the best pitch, in what Bhansali imagines as “Oriental”, whereas most composers could be content material with Arijit merely respiratory by means of phrases, then so be it. Who offers their closely accented Gujarati protagonist a bluesy erotic music, a dholida to squirm within the streets together with her gang, and a music that reaches again to the annals of Urdu poetry?


After producing three musical paragons of what an album ought to sound like — Guzaarish, Ram-Leela, and Bajirao Mastani — even when they had been wasteful, and by wasteful, I imply crammed with cinematic music that doesn’t make it to the movie (‘Pure Chand’ from Ram-Leela, ‘Aaj Ibadat’ and ‘Tohe Jaane Na Doongi’ from Bajirao Mastani, ‘Saiba’ from Guzaarish), Bhansali is producing leaner albums, or maybe musically leaner movies. Simply 6 songs, clocking in beneath 23 minutes, the songs of Gangubai Kathiawadi transfer shortly between genres of feeling. You can’t take heed to it as a single temper piece neatly transitioning, such as you would for his longer albums. Each Ram-Leela and Bajirao Mastani, for instance, had been launched as jukeboxes on YouTube in two components, every with a separate persona. The swerves listed below are sudden, the jolts extra conspicuous, the genres extra distinct. As if the songs don’t belong in the identical universe, a patchwork quilt yanked collectively forcefully by Bhansali’s idiosyncrasy.