This week the Aamir Khan Productions' film LAGAAN... Once upon a Time in India is 8 years old. Each year the highly informative and insightful BollywoodFan blog celebrates the film's anniversary. Cinema Hindi joins them in wishing the best known Indian epic throughout the world a very happy anniversary. Long live Lagaan!
Lagaan… The sheer sound of the word expresses the substance and the magnitude of Ashutosh Gowariker’s film, and truth be said, the soundtrack is as magnificent as the viewing experience.
Yes, thunder never sounded so human and humans never sounded so thunderous. The opening Ghanan Ghanan sets the tone for the film plot as clouds start to gather much to the joy of Champaner villagers, while an all-star rainbow of vocal hues makes its appearance on the music canvas: Alka Yagnik’s smoothness, Udit Narayan’s radiance, Sukhwinder Singh’s warmth, Shankar Mahadevan’s poignancy, Shaan’s zest. Considering myself a voice maniac, I never tire of savoring this song as a particularly luscious treat. However, concentrating solely on the voices would be a pity. Ghanan Ghanan also introduces a playful dafli, a droning synth, pounding drums and crystalline strings. This is the next best experience to actually feeling rain droplets falling on our ears!
Following such a magnificent opening, a rhythmic Mitwa progressively conveys courage and hope through the growing and exuberant use of bass drums, a deliciously folksy violin, a subtle ghatam and the lively use of wind instruments, an ektara and synth strings. Alka Yagnik’s deep voice and Udit Narayan’s uplifting timbre accurately reflect the song’s mood, adding strength to the respective scene in the film.
Radha Kaise na Jale is a particularly eloquent example of how A. R. Rahman’s orchestration talent can make listeners travel through time and space. With eyes closed, where else could this song take us? Well… the countryside, during Holi of course, where Krishna, Radha and the beautiful Gopis dance with the birds whistling in the background. Asha Bhosle’s teasing vocals particularly shine against bells galore, tabla, dandiya stick and a flute that guides her through the song, culminating the lovers’ mischievous interaction with a beautiful display of bhimpalasi raga.
O Rey Chhori features the film’s main trio, each singing their respective declarations of love and I must confess that I have rarely found a musical love triangle so interesting. The song’s forte lies in the transitions between an Eastern upbeat theme strewn with the sound of dry bells and light drums and a Western honey-sweet tune, complete with harp, violins and operatic voices. Javed Akhtar’s lyrics are equally expressive in both languages, with a noteworthy portrayal of Elizabeth’s romantic fantasies, making Vasundhara Das’ transparent interludes blend in beautifully with the main couple’s sweet talk.
What is left to be said of Chale Chalo, a classic that is capable of stirring the blood of any listener throughout the world, regardless of whether they understand Javed Akhtar’s otherwise brilliant lyrics? Humming, stomping, snapping, clapping, banging… even the cello and the dulcimer sound like percussions, chiming in to build up the Lagaan team spirit. The catchy song curiously seems to echo what the epic Lagaan film making experience must have been by reflecting the powerful magic of a joint belief in one goal, with A.R. Rahman himself giving this hymn its main voice.
The album suddenly moves into a softer note, mirroring Elizabeth’s prior declaration of love with a brief Waltz for a Romance. The track sounds exceptionally authentic, making us reminisce some of Hollywood’s most memorable Western classical and baroque-style film compositions.
The previous Western track gives way to its Indian counterpart as A.R. Rahman’s talent for devotional songs gives birth to the gem O Paalaanhare. Lata Mangeshkar is a brilliant choice for the song, given the purity of her voice. (The version of the song in the film includes Sadhana Sargam providing vocals for Gauri.) The bhajan builds up softly with a measured use of the tabla, cymbals and temple bells, ultimately falling into Udit Narayan’s soulful rendition of part of the Lagaan theme chorus. The moving melody elevates the soul in prayer, leading the listener to sympathize with the villagers’ plea.
The Lagaan main theme crowns this scintillating soundtrack with a perfect mix of grandeur and serenity… of East and West combined. I have no qualms in saying that I believe this track somehow captures the universal essence of music itself. Its brain stimulating melody, the combination of seemingly improbable instruments together in the same piece (sitar, cymbals and church organ, anyone?) nevertheless achieving amazing harmony... It is simply magnificent. R. Prassana’s spine tingling string arrangements deserve a special mention as they transport the listener to unprecedented heights. Anuradha Sriram’s voice gently brings us back to tranquility with her earthy and melodious hum, closing an absolutely monumental soundtrack.
The film Lagaan: Once upon a Time in India was certainly meant to become a landmark in Indian cinema. The challenge of composing an equally brilliant music was successfully achieved when the Mozart of Madras concocted this “sound feast”. Lagaan’s music contributed to make the film shine and vice versa, therefore both the film and its music are bound to continue gathering applause from viewers and listeners alike, regardless of their cultural and musical background.
This timeless tour de force by A.R. Rahman and his outstanding musical team (a special mention to the late H. Sridhar, sound engineer, who worked not only on the soundtrack but on the film’s sound in general) may be put up there with the very best soundtracks of all time, even several years after its release.