The music of Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan sounds like the city it is set in. Like Banaras, where many come to die, the sound is meditative, has intricate layers and a connection so palpably personal and overwhelming that it intertwines the profound with simple and life with death. During this journey, the music strings us along, and takes us sometimes into the shadows and sometimes to a sanctuary of bright light.
At the helm of Masaan’s music is one of India’s foremost bands, Indian Ocean. The songs have its composers and lyricists play around with structure, making the tracks singable, even chant-like in parts, sometimes pulsating with exuberance and sometimes bringing to fore a simmering profundity. What’s also interesting in the three tunes is that despite not putting out a dhrupad, dhamar, hori, chaiti, jhoola, kajri or a chaturang etc — genres we identify Varanasi and its music with — the composers and lyricists have turned into seasoned players, delivering earthy tunes through guitar and drum sounds. The result is tunes that are robust, can dazzle and on other occasions, take you into a reverie.
The album opens with Tu kisi rail si guzarti hai, main kisi pull sa thartharaata hoon. A couplet from poet Dushyant Kumar’s poem, Main jise oadhta, bichhata hoon, this line, from the face of it, sounds like one of the more non-dreamy and unromantic allegory for a “love song”. However, a careful listen to this track’s adapted lyrics in Swanand Kirkire’s fantastic baritone, and the inventiveness and gentleness of its turn of phrase come to the fore. So much so that it’s not so hard to spot the brush of the first infatuation in it. The tune has a simple, straight structure and opens with an acoustic guitar prelude. As the song moves with lyrics Kaath ke taale hain, aankh pe daale hain, unme ishaaron ki chaabiyaan laga, the meandering lyricism goes to the most obscure corners of the heart. Kilam’s percussions with light touch of the cymbals and some duff seal the deal. An absolute treat.
Mann kasturi sounds as if it’s the soul of the film. After a simple beginning with a riff on the electric guitar and the first two lines, the chords change and acquire a hauntingly stunning sound. The komal (dissonant) swaras get to work here. Thirty seconds later, they go back to being pleasant. This one rests massively on lyrics by Grover. He writes, Naache hoke phirki lattu, khoje apni dhoori re. The divinity, the decay, life and death and everything in between comes together in this ditty. The song brings to the fore that imagery — of the evening aarti, the boat rides, dreadlocked sadhus and masaan— the burning pyre on the banks of Ganga. The rousing builds, melancholy fades and what remains is a meditative trance. Kilam’s voice misses the notes more often than not, which can be granted at least sometimes in a live gig, but not when a band gets into a recording studio. The choruses, as usual, are brilliant. Bhor is quite intense. It opens with a flute prelude and Kilam’s gabgubi giving the rhythm through its twangs. The band aptly uses touches of Vibhas and Bhairav and creates a song without any structure. The unpredictability of the way the song moves is its USP. But again Kilam could have done better. Ram’s vocals and chorus carry the song wonderfully. The pace is a bit of an issue and one can loose interest. Sanjeev Sharma has done a brilliant job with the lyrics.
The short yet interesting album makes one thing clear. Music created without laptops and machines can be more than capable to handle the shake-up that’s tossing the industry. A heartfelt score that takes one on an evocative journey. Buy it. You may want to find yourself. Most likely in the oldest living city – Banaras.