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Every language has its own unique characteristics and much can be lost in translation. But when the translator is someone like Gulzar, a man whose poetry is replete with layered nuances and unbridled lyricism, the result is grace and grandeur. Gulzar’s translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s poems in Hindustani, is delightful in most part. In others, one would rather prefer the poetry in Bengali. Gulzar has teamed up with singer Shreya Ghoshal for In Conversation with Tagore. While Gulzar has given structure and breathed life into the poetry, Ghoshal has put in the soul. She has transformed some absolutely ordinary compositions by Shantanu Moitra into shimmering pieces.
Moitra approaches the poetry like he approached songs in Parineeta or Lage Raho Munna Bhai. And therein lies the problem. While that style of composition — soft ascents and descents in notes, usage of soft guitar riffs and string sections, delicate, dreamlike songs — worked in those films, a rehash doesn’t work in this album. The words don’t seem to fit the structure of the tune well. Perhaps, an old-school ghazal approach would have worked a notch better here.
The seven track-album opens with Gulzar reading one of his poems describing what Tagore means to him. The album begins with a Singaar ko rehne do, in Yaman. A wonderful piece, the track has a man asking his beloved to meet him and not worry about looking perfect, to be just herself. Oes se bheegi matti mein, pao agar sann jaye toh/ Ghunghroo gir jaaye paayal se, Toh bhi koi baat nahi. The contrast — urgency of the lyrics in the poem paired with the softness of Ghoshal’s voice and the delicate composition — make for a lush and engaging combination. Gulzar recites again, thoughtfully, with an organ playing in the background. The tune of Main wohi hoon hints closely at Soona man ka aangan from Parineeta. Shaan sings along in this one, delivering only a lackluster performance. A heartening veena prelude opens O sakhi sun. But the composition itself just shifts gears into some other direction .The two don’t match but work well as individual entities. Moitra brings back the veena during the interludes along with a mridangam to put out a better than standard piece.
Bujh gaya tha kuch opens with a sitar, followed by a guitar riff merging into a tabla. Ghoshal tries to salvage the song but there are too many intrinsic problems in the composition. The words don’t sit well, the concepts of meter is a little lost. Maine toh kuch maanga nahi has Gulzar reciting in between Ghoshal singing the piece. By this time, the tunes are becoming monotonous and the only time we enjoy the album is when Gulzar speaks the lines. They begin to sound better as poetry and less as pieces of music.
In the times when A&R managers of music companies are constantly looking for the next new texture of voice that can sell, putting Tagore translations to tune is like refreshing disregard for what goes into the making of 21st-century music. It needed more time in the oven, to ripen more, to rise, to breathe. For now, the album is a one-time listen.