It has been a polarizing year for Hindi film music, with only a few from a large number of music releases above par. The reason why, for the very first time in five years, this list was reduced from ten to nine, was because there were too many average contenders for the tenth spot. Do you give it to Padmaavat, which might have had some good songs with a mass appeal, but everything could be replaced for something better in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s repertoire? Or do you give it to Veere di Wedding, which boasts a truly modern OST, so much so that most of the songs would work a lot better as shorter versions to be used as the background score? Or a laudable attempt from Jasleen Royal who helmed a mainstream YRF film’s soundtrack in Hichki?

1. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy — Raazi

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy got Bollywood out of its misery back in April with the release of Raazi. The soundtrack is just four songs long. It might raise a few eyebrows after knowing that there are two versions of the same song present as well. But no album in 2018 came close to this tight, nineteen minutes of pristine music. Arijit Singh performs ‘Ae Watan’, a deeply patriotic track. Gulzar’s verses, SEL’s music, and a stirring sound leave the listener with goosebumps. The Sunidhi Chauhan version incorporates lines from ‘Lab pe aati hai dua’, the famous ‘Bachche ki Dua’ written by Allama Muhammad Iqbal. This is even better than the Arijit version, thanks in part to the children’s chorus (Shankar Mahadevan Academy Children’s Chorus) and the folksy arrangement. Sunidhi sings the prelude, and the song closes with a fantastic solo by 13-year-old Satyajeet Jena, the Odisha singing sensation (with 2.6 million YouTube subscribers).

2. Amit Trivedi — Manmarziyaan

2018 has been Amit Trivedi’s most prolific year, but there was a lot of average music that he churned out. True to expectations, Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan broke that rut and saw Trivedi return to his best. A big soundtrack at 14 songs, Manmarziyaan boasts some really beautiful melodies and excellent penmanship from Shellee. ‘Jaisi Teri Marzi’, ‘Sacchi Mohabbat’, and ‘Conch Ladiyaan’ are all melodious, filmy and gentle tracks that though, repetitive, each very beautiful. Tracks like ‘Dhyaanchand’, ‘Sherni’ (which saw the extremely talented Delhi-based rapper Prabh Deep make his Bollywood debut) and ‘F for Fyaar’ showcased the excellent production team Trivedi has become synonymous with. The likes of ‘Daryaa’, ‘Grey Walaa Shade’ and ‘Halla’ were a mix of both, strong and unique melodies, coupled together with excellent lyrics and top-notch production. It was, more than anything, the usage of music in the film that made the soundtrack come alive. Kashyap has always been excellent at that, and once again, it came through in this film. There’s no definition of what a perfect Indian, especially mainstream Bollywood film album should be but Manmarziyaan is a good archetype of that massy soundtrack. It is exactly the stuff you want from a film that is written for the masses. Different styles, different skills, which make the 54 minutes spent listening to, a joyride.

3. Sneha Khanwalkar, Raftaar — Manto

This year marked the return of Sneha Khanwalkar who had been absent from Hindi film music for a while. If there was ever a slight doubt whether her return would live up to expectations, it was nicely quashed in Nandita Das’ Manto. Owing to the era the film is set in, the composer uses old styles to deliver her four tracks.

From Rekha Bhardwaj’s more Bollywood classical flavored, erstwhile Bollywood sounding ‘Ban Titli’ to Shubha Joshi’s jazzy ‘Ab Kya Bataoon’, Khanwalkar uses different styles and prospers. Shankar Mahadevan sang ‘Nagri Nagri’ also carries an old sound, though sometimes (the steady percussion), apart from Mahadevan’s intentional vocals, the sound veers away from the era.

‘Bol Ke Lab Aazad Hain’ is one of the songs of 2018. Khanwalkar creates a beautiful melody for Rashid Khan and Vidya Shah to render this emotional and inspirational nazm written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Standing out from the rest of the album is ‘Mantoyiat’, composed and performed by Raftaar. Raftaar raps about contemporary societal issues in colloquial and arguably questionable lyrics, which are followed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Manto voice and dialogues. It’s a nice change from the rest of the album to have a contemporary song but hasn’t been clubbed together on any platform, due to the very different styles.

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