This will be the ONLY award for JHMS this year. Just pointing that out for people who think I am blindly Shahrukh mad. It was a good interesting movie, but it is only the soundtrack that really stands out for me when I compare it with the other films of the year. Plus, it wasn’t that great of a year for soundtracks.
There’s been a lot of focus on how there needs to be a new crop of director/producers and movie stars in the industry. But I haven’t seen as much coverage about the lack of new exciting talent in the composer arena. And looking back on the films of 2017, that is where I really feel the lack.
Pritam is, as always, hit and miss and a bit derivative. But when he hits, he is brilliant. Rahman is still willing to do his one or two Hindi soundtracks a year. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, when they work, are brilliant. But they all have such busy schedules, they don’t work together often. Vishal-Shekhar are great in their own very narrow range. Armaan Malik is a good kid, but I’m not sure if he can handle a full soundtrack yet. Jasleen Royal, I love her, but she isn’t really being given a full soundtrack either.
(Jasleen Royal, sang and wrote this)
And so all the films are beginning to be more and more of the same. That is, the big films. And it is only big films, now, which are able to pay for and dedicate themselves too supporting a rich full collection of songs. In 2017, Pritam did the soundtrack for Raabta, Tubelight, Jagga Jasoos, and Jab Harry Met Sejal. Vishal-Shekhar only did the soundtrack for Tiger Zinda Hai, but they’ve got five movies coming up in 2018 and they had five movies back in 2016. AR Rahman barely counted, just the remix of his songs for OK Jaanu. The one bright new hope is Amit Trivedi, who did the songs for Secret Superstar. Tanishk Bagchi too, he did some songs for Bareilly Ki Barfi and got to do the whole album for Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, but didn’t really impress me there. Otherwise, it is all Pritam and remixes. Or hodge-podge soundtracks like Golmaal Again, where it never quite feels like they are from the same movie as each other.
Amit Trivedi and Tanishk Bagchi are, hopefully, on their way, but I want more composers! I don’t want poor Pritam to be stuck working with everybody all the time. Because it isn’t fair to Pritam. He can do brilliant work, but it is getting hidden in all the other trash he has to do.
Which brings me to Jab Harry Met Sejal. Taking out everything else about the film, this is just a brilliant brilliant soundtrack. Every song is different, and yet they all feel somehow part of the same whole. Watched in context, they are brought to a whole new level. Not from flashy visuals and clever costumes and so on, but because the music perfectly captures the characters, and the character developments. Purely going song to song can tell you the entire plot of the film.
And you don’t even need to know the lyrics! It’s in the sound of the songs. “Safar”, our opening song, is about traveling. But we don’t need the lyrics to know that, we have it from the way the song paces along with the tread of a long distance walker.
“Hawayein” is about being blown by the winds of love. And we don’t need the lyrics, we can hear that in the bouncing flying way the notes go up and down and around.
“Beech Beech Mein”, that is about having fun, being on vacation, not taking things seriously. And you know that, just because it is Disco, the sound of silliness.
“Phurr”, that’s the really remarkable one, it is unpleasant and strange to the ear when you first hear it. But when you watch it, with Anushka’s strange trancelike awakening happening as she listens, it makes total sense.
“Yaadon Main”, it’s about memories, loss, sadness. And it’s in Jonita Gandhi’s voice, and the wonderful heartbreaking cries of longing that Pritam wrote for her.
And then “Raula”. The two songs next to each other on an album make no sense, but brought together by the narrative, they do. “Yaadon” is the depths and heights of emotions, and “Raula” is the joyous relief once you have expressed those emotions.
“Ghar”, it is about the longing for home. And again, you can hear that in the music. It isn’t a deep torturous longing like “Yaadon Mein”, it is lighter than that, the small slight feeling of homesickness that wears away at you slowly.
And finally, “Butterfly”. The joyousness of love triumphant. It’s not the light sound of “Raula”, not transitory happiness, but strong and rough and deep and abiding. And most of all, with the male and female parts intricately dancing around each other, as do a couple in love.
The greatest triumph of the album is, of course, “Radha”. It is the rare song that tells you everything about the film, about the characters, without needing to see the movie. It gives you the feel of it in one 3 minute audio piece. You don’t even need to understand Hindi, it is all there in her determinedly strong and simple chorus, and his complex up and down and changing response, that finally gives into her.
So, that’s the best soundtrack of 2017. It just is. And it is also a soundtrack from poor overworked Pritam, and for a big star film. But I really really hope that the best soundtrack of 2018 is from someone who isn’t Pritam or Vishal-Shekhar or AR Rahman even, and I hope it isn’t for a big budget film. I hope it is for a small gem of a film that invested the money in building a real legitimate soundtrack and took a risk on an untried composer, and helped to prove that you don’t need to have a 100 Crore budget to have good songs.