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Monday, August 03, 2020

Gulabo Sitabo music review: Let’s break the rules

The score of Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo is tender and edgy, and looks at life’s spiritual journey through melodic structures that are quirky and full of nuance.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | New Delhi | Updated: June 11, 2020 6:46:55 pm
Gulabo Sitabo Gulabo Sitabo releases on Amazon Prime Video on June 12.

Composers: Anuj Garg, Shantanu Moitra, and Abhishek Arora
Lyrics: Dinesh Pant, Vinod Dubey, Puneet Sharma
Rating: 3.5 stars

For many years, 15th-century mystic Kabir’s wisdom has been extensively invoked through his nirgun bhajans, mostly by folk artistes and sometimes by those presenting the universality, inclusivity and secular essence of his poetry, set to fluid, hymn-like structures along a dotara and gubgubi. The social frame of reference of the poems have found relevance for years. Since oral tradition is the lifeblood of these pieces, a slew of artistes take the same lyrical style as the base to create new pieces, mostly in an independent music space.

But it’s rare for a mainstream Bollywood project to find soul and succour in Kabir’s simplicity, and format a large part of the music album in that age-old style. Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana and the story of a miser landlord and his tenant, in four songs from a 10-piece album, merges newly written poetry in the similar nirgun expression with some stylistic quirks to deliver a very interesting album that navigates a wide array of styles and moods. The piece that tops this list is Kya leke aayo jag me, kya le ke jaayega, written and sung by Vinod Dubey. He sounds like an ascetic in the street singing this piece, and that’s the best part about it. With Rathijit Bhattacharjee on the dotara, khomok and kanjira, and Ankur Mukherjee on the guitar and banjo, the piece remains one of the finest from the album. Swelling strings, in the end, are just the cherry on top of an already well-made track. It’s also one of the four songs composed by Shantanu Moitra in the album. Moitra is familiar with Baul, and one can hear the elements merging. Do din ka ye mela – its two versions sung by Rahul Ram and Tochi Raina – also use the doha-style singing with a dotara for company. This time the composition belongs to Anuj Verma, who is an absolute revelation in this piece along with lyricist Dinesh Pant. The piece has two versions – one by singer Tochi Raina and another by Indian Ocean frontman Rahul Ram. While Raina’s version is dominated by a harmonium, the Rahul Ram piece is more austere, stripped of instrumentation. What dominates both the pieces is, and very interestingly, an absolutely out of the park electric guitar interlude by Daksh Jain, which sounds as pristine as a dotara does: it’s a feat when an electric instrument manages that.

The other pieces, which are theme-oriented to the tee, atmospheric whirls, which seem like they will fit the narrative really well, but are brilliant pieces of music themselves. The film’s theme – two versions of which have been created by Moitra – there is one that is clarinet based, while the other seems to have taken a dive into the musical world of Satyajit Ray, taken those hints from him and Pt Ravi Shankar’s music, and returned to deliver an evocative piece that’s created along khomok, dotara, kanjira, and vocal percussions – all of which are by Bhattacharjee, along a simple riff on the sitar. In this list, Jootam phenk, which has been sung by Piyush Mishra and is already finding much airwaves, is significant. It may remotely remind you of the title song of Finding Fanny. Moitra opens with an acoustic guitar as Mishra takes this swing piece, and takes you back to the 30s jazz music, a lot of which is cycling between just two chords. It’s eclectic, quirky and fabulous. Lyricist Puneet Sharma of Tum kaun ho be fame is excellent here with lyrics – Jootam phenk huyi zindagi, na jaane kya mann mein aayi upar wale ne, banvaayi har ik chuhe ki, billi ek. This is composed by Abhishek Arora, who only has one piece in the album. He will be someone to look out for in the near future. Then there is Madari ka bandar, which, like all of Garg’s songs, belongs in the indie-folk music clay pot. The structure and instrumentation are spot on.

In an album, which is an endearing mix of arrangements, a couple of songs have less impact. Moitra’s Kanjoos is one such. Mika Singh’s Punjabi diction just doesn’t work in a song that’s in a film set in Lucknow. Moitra attempts a harmonium and a dholak sound along with a folk piece which melodically sounds quite nice. Sharma’s Ok wale text ko, k mein hi niptaaye, is on the money and unforgettable, but it’s difficult to get one’s mind to work with Singh’s jarring voice along a decent composition.

A pleasant and lovely composition is Budhau with lyrics that go Phati achkan me, dhaago see, latke budhau. It has been sung by Bobby Cash, a Dehradun-based singer whose original name is Bal Kishore. The singer, who once used to be the toast of Rodeo – a popular Delhi-based club in Connaught Place – has a voice which is right-out-of-a-Texas-farm, and incorporates elements of rural gospel music, ragtime, hillbilly and Dixieland jazz. It may seem strange for a song called Budhau, but it strangely works. What doesn’t work, however, is the reprise version of the song, which has been sung by Churu-based folk singer Bhanwari Devi. It’s so out of tune (she sings folk and not pre-planned pieces which are instructed to her) that it needed to be recorded again. And Devi has a Marwari accent, which again doesn’t work. A fabulous and powerful singer like Bhawari Devi seems completely wasted. The instrumentation is sparse – which is probably done to help Devi. The alaap, and everything she sings after that is difficult to hear because none of it is even remotely in tune, which is okay when a folk singer sits and records live. In this, the out of tune bit isn’t even intentional. It’s just plain jarring. Here, Garg needs lessons from Ram Sampath, who got Bhawari Devi to sing in Coke Studio @MTV and aced it even along with heavy instrumentation. Mostly because he let her be.

Overall, the album is an excellent example of theme-based music, producing the kind of tracks not usual in mainstream Bollywood. And that’s a service to music from the entire musical team of Gulabo Sitabo. Buy it for a great ride in the bylanes of UP. They will lead you to a life we have come away from.

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