Though A.R. Rahman has had one-off English projects like the forgettable Avengers Endgame theme song, the hummable ‘For You My Love’ in Gurinder Chadha’s film Blinded By The Light and the brilliant dance number ‘You Got Me’, he’s been less prolific in Hindi films over the past couple of years. In 2015, he began work on the movie 99 Songs, and the soundtrack has finally been released.
Thankfully, the album doesn’t have 99 numbers but only 14. One often finds traces of the earlier A.R. Rahman magic, and since it uses the Dolby Atmos surround sound system, there’s an obvious advantage. Moreover, the composer has tried out various genres, from ballads, rock and rap to jazz-inflected, Indian classical and devotional tunes. Most songs have been written by Navneet Virk, who changes his style as per the song’s requirement.
Yet, because of its length and changing mood, one finds a certain monotony on initial listening, and the music takes some time to connect with. The arrangements and vocals are fabulous, and yet, some of the tunes don’t possess that hook that’ll make you hum along. Others, like ‘Humnavaa’, ‘Jwalamukhi’ and ‘O Mera Chand’, grow after a few replays.
If anything, 99 Songs is a big boost for Shashwat Singh, who sings for lead actor Ehan Bhat. He starts ‘O Aashiqa’ with a medium tempo but after the sudden build-up and transition, shows remarkable control on the higher register. The pleasant ‘Sofia’, the very Rahman-like ‘Teri Nazar’ and uptempo, rock-ish ‘Nayi Nayi’ are evidence of his vocal ability.
The other singers have their glorious moments too. Bela Shende shines on the devotional ‘Sai Shirdi Sai’ and the lullaby-like ‘O Mera Chand’. Though she’s been singing in films off and on, and has worked earlier with Rahman in Jodhaa Akbar, one wishes she gets more opportunities.
Shashaa Tirupati sounds perfect on ‘Soja Soja’, an offbeat tune that seems like a mix of gangster movie music and jazz. On ‘Humnavaaz’, she is joined by the convincing-sounding Armaan Malik. The song’s keyboard backdrop is a treat to hear.
Arijit Singh appears in his typical style on ‘Jwalamukhi’, though on the female version, Poorvi Koutish adds an unnecessary, put-on oomph factor. Luckily, the song has a strong punch line. ‘Gori Godh Bhari’, sung by Anuradha Sriram, Alka Yagnik and Shweta Mohan, is a catchy semi-classical piece in raag Bageshri.
One of the highlights is ‘The Oracle’, a neatly-constructed instrumental featuring the Budapest Scoring Orchestra. Rahman has had a flair for orchestral pieces, beginning with the Bombay theme and later in the films Warriors Of Heaven And Earth and 127 Hours. This one adds to that list.
Overall, this is clearly a comeback of sorts for Rahman. It may not be comparable with his earlier work, but to give credit where due, it has its high points. A little patient listening is what’s required.