After a not so successful Jab Tak Hai Jaan, AR Rahman has got his groove back with the soundtrack of Anand L Rai’s Raanjhanaa, a love story set in Varanasi. Ranging from jazz and Hindustani classical to qawwali and Sufi music, the eight tracks of the album are a musical treat. If you like the usual catchy and loud Bollywood numbers, it may take some time to grow on you, but once it does, you will be hooked to Raanjhanaa.
The first track that Rahman teased us with was Tum Tak, which sways melodiously between bhajan and qawwali. Rahman merges the two different genres of music with ease. The highlight of this song are the instruments – manjeera, shehnai, dhol – that Rahman has used. The lyrics – "Meri har manmani bas tum tak, baatein har bachkaani bas tum tak" – are simple but are sure to strike a chord with listeners. The song has been sung by Javed Ali, Keerti Sagathia and Pooja Av. Another song that sees a similar mix of genres is the title track, Raanjhanaa, sung by Shiraz Uppal and Jaswinder Singh. While the antara is very Bollywood with its dhol beats, the mukhda is a strikingly distinctive because of the way Rahman has fashioned a classical composition using the sitar and the tabla.
Usually Hindustani and Carnatic classical music keep a respectful distance from one another, but Rahman brings them together in Banarasiya and "Ay Sakhi". Aside from his inventive use of instruments, Rahman has the gift of bringing out the best in the vocalists he selects, and these two songs showcase this talent. "Ay Sakhi" sung by Madhusree, Chinmayi, Vaishali and Aanchal Sethi is a conversation between friends and Irshad Kamil’s lyrics are charming. Accompanying the melody that has strains of Hindustani classical is the ghatam, giving a Carnatic touch to the song. The sweetness of Shreya Ghoshal’s voice is beautifully complemented by the sarangi, flute, dhol and tabla in "Banarasiya", which comes across as a musical ode to the temple city.
Speaking of Varanasi, Rahman layers the sounds of the city in The Land of Shiva. He uses the sounds of the conch shells, drums, temple bells and the chanting of matras in this skillfully composed instrumental number. The other kind of devotional music that has long been a love of Rahman’s — Sufi music — makes its presence felt in "Piya milenge" and "Tu Mun Shudi". "Piya milenge" begins with Western beats and then Sukhwinder Singh’s strong voice brings out the song's melody. Heavy on bass, "Tu Mun Shudi", with Persian and Punjabi lyrics, is sung by Rahman and Rabbi Shergill and is reminiscent of Rahman’s work in Yuva.
Western musical influences are imprinted upon "Nazar laaye" and "Aise na dekho". Rahman brings a present-day feel to the album with "Nazar laaye", in which a strumming guitar accompanies Neeti Mohan and Rashid Ali’s vocals and adds a simple romanticism to the song. "Aise Na Dekho" is the last song in the album and perhaps the best one too. Sung by Rahman himself, it is a soulful, jazz-inspired number. It's the perfect song for a rainy day and it will be interesting to see how it's used in the film.