Film songs have to go through certain rites of passage for them to enter the Indian psyche. A song has to either boom loudest as one trundles along in an autorickshaw, or become a signature tune in an antakshari game. When Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge released in 1995, its music, bursting with simplicity in writing and melodic structures, was expected to do well. After all, it was a Yash Chopra production with Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol as the lead pair. But what one didn’t anticipate was how it ended up reinventing the music of the 1990s.
For a whole decade, before DDLJ arrived, film music was uninspiring, though there were exceptions such as Saajan (1991), Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992), Aashiqui (1990), Roja (1992), Hum Aapke Hain Kaun..! (1994) and Deewana (1992). In fact, terrible tunes in Bollywood were the reason why Indipop and ghazals flourished. Liberalisation had paved the way for the entry of MTV and Channel V, spawning a generation of pop artistes, who aspired to make music differently. Ghazal had already found a niche in the 1980s, another mediocre decade film-music-wise, filling the void for good music.
DDLJ was slightly different in terms of orchestration from Bollywood music of the time. It worked only because composers Jatin-Lalit innovated a tad more than the others. The compositions for Aditya Chopra’s directorial debut were fresh and hit the right note, despite being from the same Nadeem-Shravan template of synth-and-dholak. The songs worked, even in the face of very basic issues. For instance, Shah Rukh Khan had three playback singers — Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu and Abhijeet. Kajol had Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, though Bhosle sang just one song (Zara sa jhoom loon) for a drunk Simran. But never did we fret over Khan’s singing voice, which changed magically so many times in one film. We revelled in the extreme hummable goodness of the music. Was it only because the melodies were soft, romantic, simple and, thus, super catchy?
One song flowed into the other in the seven-song soundtrack with much ease, turning it all into a harmonic flux. Tujhe dekha could be sung as a verse for Na jaane mere dil ko, which could also be tied in with Mere khwabo mein or with Mehendi laga ke rakhna. And it would all still stick and make sense, thanks to different permutations and combinations with similar note structures. This was wondrously magnified throughout the film. Then there was the use of mandolin riffs throughout the film. When most actors were playing guitars and harmonicas, Khan was playing the mandolin, a leitmotif throughout the film. It was, perhaps, picked from the previous year’s hit, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun…! but as the story goes, Aditya’s inspiration came from the sound of Raj Kapoor’s films, which used the mandolin often.
1995 was the 25th year of Yash Raj Films, a production house that had delivered a plethora of musical hits such as Silsila (1981), Kabhi Kabhie (1976) and Chandni (1989), among others. Some of the most melodious music in Chopra’s films came from composer duo Shiv-Hari – santoor maestro Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma and flute legend Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia. It is interesting how Jatin-Lalit’s music for DDLJ were in the Shiv-Hari mould – uncomplicated, melodious and easy to hum.
The music also tied together the screenplay of the film. Anand Bakshi’s lyrics, with its uncomplicated poetry and colloquialism, entered people’s minds and lingered. He extolled love but the language was neither old-fashioned nor was it boorish. The balance was spot on.
And it was one song — Tujhe dekha toh ye jaana sanam — which would not leave our hearts and minds. It was complicated enough to speak to the most obscure corners of the heart and simple enough to be played by the flute seller at Juhu beach. At the time, it was the coolest in everyone’s orbit. 25 years later, DDLJ soundtrack remains special. Not only because it’s nostalgic, but also because it embodies a plentitude of thought and melody.
In one of the final scenes, the background has a fast version of Mehendi laga ke rakhna playing in the action sequence. With dhol. Even Jatin-Lalit were unsure that it would work. But like so many other things, even this did. The idea to compose these tunes may have come from populist thought, but they managed to bridge boundaries and appeal to the most sceptical ones across generations. As for that game of antakshari, most of the seven tunes have had quite a run and are likely to retain their pop supremacy for times to come.
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