Viceroy’s House/ Partition: 1947
Composer: AR Rahman
Lyrics: Navneet Virk, Hans Raj Hans
Gurinder Chaddha’s story of the Partition, starring Hugh Bonnaville, Gillian Anderson, Om Puri and Huma Qureshi, brings the times of the Raj to the fore. Chaddha’s version, however, rests on a “top secret” document she found at the British Library and an eventual conclusion that the idea of Partition was created by Churchill, while Lord Mountbatten was just a pawn in the game. For her representation of the complex story in terms of music, Chaddha has roped in Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman.
Chaddha has a knack for tunes that work. Her past films — Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice — came with music that was warm, rooted in folk and had a piece of her Punjabi heart beating through them. In the three tunes that Rahman creates for Partition: 1947, one can’t spot much of that sharpness. It works in parts — like in the case of Jindwa, which is actually an age-old Punjabi folk tune. A regular flute is made to sound like an algoza, along with a dholak, with Jindwa set to Rahman’s orchestration. We are glad that Rahman brings minimal touches to the original yet makes it palatable for the global audience. Hans Raj Hans, who had sung the same song in 2005, sounds better in this new rendition as the scale of the song is lowered by Rahman and he sets it in tightly knotted rhythm patterns.
Rahman uses Hans in another traditional piece — Dama dam mast qalandar — sung by many in the past. The challenge here was to not make it sound modern but go back 70 years to produce an older form of the piece. And Rahman sticks to Pakistani composer Master Ashiq Hussain’s version as much as possible. Hans’ rustic voice comes to the fore along with a harmonium. He is an impressive singer on most days, live and otherwise, yet the song loses its sheen soon, largely because Hans gets off key, and in a Rahman album that is unacceptable.
The album’s opening track, which has Shreya Ghoshal layering her breathy vocals over ambient, minimal tones, along with Hariharan, may work better as a background score. Hariharan’s addition to the song alongside heaving violins is interesting but the composition leaps as if out of a Jeet Ganguly film. A film on Partition can perhaps do without them. We miss the impact Rahman’s other Partition music such as 1947 Earth has had on us. The tunes of Partition: 1947 are not even a dip into that ocean which produced iconic tracks such as Rut aa gayi re.