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The chimera of the fairytales has remained one of the oldest ways of depicting desire in a large number of populist Bollywood films, especially through the phrases used in its songs. Swara Bhaskar-starrer Anarkali of Arrah, the story of an erotic singer, abstains from any of this, does not runaround the situation on most occasions, and delivers playful allusions to sexuality and sex, with much elan. The music of the film, which releases next week, takes on the bawdy in an interesting and mostly uplifting soundtrack. Arrah’s Anarkali in Avinash Das’s upcoming film is presented as a paan-eating, innuendo-slinging folk singer who will not bow down to the misogynistic world she lives in. She tries to elevate puffed up flamboyance of folk music into an art form and is proud of that. Bhojpuri folk has varied meanings, it exists and it’s interesting how Das has brought it to the mainstream.
The opening piece Aye daroga tu naliya main jang laaga ho, begins with a fantastic banjo prelude by Ravindra Jadhav that is served up with a never-ending stock of innuendo. Sung by Swati Sharma, the jaunty music is set to lyrics that aren’t exactly Bhojpuri, considering the film is based in Bihar, but their treatment is like the one given to Bhojpuri songs. The jolts, the thekas on dholak and the harmonium and banjo combinations transport one to a village in Bihar where a folk troupe, with Anarkali leading it, leaves little to imagination. The metaphors may sound crass but what works is the quintessential folk flavour and the power-packed voices, which are at times off-key too, an attempt at following the blueprint of the film.
Lehanga jhaake, sung by Indu Sonali, captures exactly what the film aims to. Sonali is fantastic in her rendition of the double entendre as the thump pounds are offered by the extremely talented Sachin Sawant. Aye sakhi ooh touches loosely on raag Pilu and gives a glimpse into the gyrations — sexual and otherwise — of Anarkali’s psyche. The interludes and preludes are intricately crafted. Pawni Pandey has done a decent job in the piece but one wishes the composer had used one female voice for Anarkali and not four different ones. The fourth belongs to Rekha Bhardwaj, whose voice does not suit Bhaskar, but as a composition, it is the finest piece in the album. The lilt in the thumri Badnaam jiya de gaari owes a lot to the sombre and melodious raag Patdeep. It’s a melancholic song describing the pain of the protagonist. The mediocre sarangi and fine sitar interludes take you to the antaras. The scale changes to Khamaj and a bit of Miyan ki Malhar and then Pilu. The best part about the piece is that Bhardwaj’s rendition is effortless and the piece sounds complicated only when one writes about it. One raga flows into another as Bhardwaj sings Do paat kiya, mohe baant diya, ye kaisi milan ki gaanth piya. It’s non-derivative and one of Bhardwaj’s finest renditions since D Day.
Sonu Nigam gets behind the microphone for Man beqaid, which is the only “modern” song here. Sometimes a violin and sometimes a sarangi accompanies the interludes and Nigam’s voice in a simple, soft ditty. Mora piya sticks to the basics of raag Pahadi to deliver a harmonium and dholak piece, which is pleasant but forgettable. Sa ra ra begins well but loses the plot later. It’s the lehanga song sung by Pandey, but faster. More balam begins with the tune that forms the antara of Rang barse. The only notable part of the song is the dholak section.
Rohit Sharma isn’t well-known in the music industry. His association with projects such as Ship of Theseus and Buddha in a Traffic Jam has gone unnoticed. This one is likely to stand out for Badnaam jiya and the fact that he can stick to a film’s brief like a pro.