Things are looking grim for the world of Hindi film music, thanks to a single recording label calling the shots on a majority of the produced albums. Among the top 10 most viewed videos on Bhushan Kumar’s T-Series, the most widely watched YouTube channel on the planet with 122 million subscribers, five are remixes, giving us an accurate picture of Hindi cinema’s less-than-memorable music in 2019. And even though 2019 itself has sounded an alarm about the endangered species that Bollywood music albums have become, this past decade has seen a lot of good and some truly great work.
Apart from the usual suspects like Amit Trivedi, Vishal-Shekhar, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and the omnipresent (in such lists) AR Rahman, there are a bunch of interesting new names. Here’s a list of 15 of the greatest Hindi film albums to have come out in this decade between 2010-2019:
1. Karthik Calling Karthik
At a time when Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy were comfortably set in the Dharma/Excel mould of composing the typical song for the sangeet ceremony and disco songs, the trio came up with this surprise! At first glance, Karthik Calling Karthik might look like any other Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy from that time with a free-flowing date song like Hey Ya (sung by Clinton Cerejo), the typical disco song Uff Teri Ada something the trio had patented with It’s the Time to Disco, the separation song Kaisi Hai Yeh Udaasi (sung by Kailash Kher)… and yet it is only in the title song (sung by Suraj Jagan, Shankar Mahadevan & Caralisa Monteiro) does the true class of the album reveal itself. Showcasing their indie elements, the song’s ominous melody adds a deliriousness to the film something the film’s writing fails at.
*Special mention for the Karthik 2.0 theme composed by the Midivial Punditz & Karsh Kale, which coats this album with one more layer of greatness.
It’s well known how AR Rahman saves his best for Mani Ratnam, the man who gave him his first break in 1993’s Roja. In Ratnam’s retelling of the Ramayan set around an adivasi leader, Rahman’s score for the film is largely atmospheric and has a wild energy to it. Like the dense backing vocals accompanying the percussion in Beera, making it sound like an instrument unto itself. The heavy use of drums and xylophones in Behne De, and the rustic folk of Kata Kata gives the album a rich flavour, but it’s Jaa Re Ud Jaa Re (sung by Rahman himself) that becomes the fulcrum of the score. Rahman’s signature mumbling vocals with an accordion and some light percussion, make it one of the most haunting Rahman melodies of his career.
Vikramaditya Motwane’s quiet underdog of a film was accompanied by a champion score & album by Amit Trivedi. Unlike Trivedi’s earlier films Aamir & Dev.D which had a complex variety of influences and an edge, this one was comparatively more straight-forward. The Udaan album had a romantic idealism, almost reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s early music. Trivedi’s affecting melodies and Amitabh Bhattacharya’s compelling lyrics spoke for the film’s 17-year-old protagonist, where the world is full of possibilities, even though the reality is always starkly different.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s debut as a music composer had quite a few cynics rolling their eyes. And then, the title song (sung by KK & Shail Hada) dropped on our heads, and some of us realised that Bhansali wasn’t just playing around. Known to be obsessively involved with his film’s music, Bhansali pulled a rabbit out of his hat with the title song’s beautifully complex melody, even using lines from Romeo & Juliet in the song’s interludes. Bhansali also provides the perfect stage for Hrithik Roshan to move fluidly, in keeping with the melody of Tera Zikr (sung by Shail Hada & Rakesh Pandit), as shows us his magic tricks. The gypsy influences of Udi Teri Aankhon Se (sung by Sunidhi Chauhan & Shail Hada), in which Aishwarya Rai’s character cuts loose, gave Chauhan her best song in a while. All in all, Guzaarish announced Bhansali’s arrival as a legitimate music composer.
Sonam Kapoor’s Bollywood adaptation of Emma, turned a significant number of heads because of Amit Trivedi’s hip, urbane music. The title track (sung by Amit Trivedi & Ash King) sounded as fresh as AR Rahman’s Kabhi Kabhi Aditi. In Gal Mitthi Mitthi Bol (sung by Tochi Raina), Trivedi reinvented the song for the sangeet ceremony by integrating the Punjabi dhol with the Nadaswaram, accompanied with periodic bass drops. However, it was with Behke Behke (sung by Anushka Manchanda, Samrat Kaushal & Raman Mahadevan) that the album really comes alive. Using a vintage 50’s Bollywood tune and giving it a gypsy treatment, along with a few electronic elements.
6. Stanley Ka Dabba
Amole Gupte’s fantastic film was accompanied with Hitesh Sonik’s brilliant and criminally-overlooked soundtrack. The album begins with the childlike playfulness in Life Bohot Simple Hai (sung by Shaan) and Dabba song (sung by Sukhwinder Singh). It all comes full circle with Shankar Mahadevan being the voice of the album’s best song, Nanhi Si Jaan, that employs Sonik’s familiar rock influence to tell the story of a child’s limitless spirit. However, it is with Tere Andar Bhi Kahi (sung by Vishal Dadlani) and Thirsty (Stanley’s theme music) that the album really goes off the charts. Dadlani’s bluesy vocals in the song don’t patronise the film’s pint-sized lead, and the song soon begins to sound like a conversation between two grown ups.
Imtiaz Ali’s film about a tortured musician, got half its legitimacy from AR Rahman’s stupendous album. Contrary to what the name might suggest, the album had a variety of influences apart from ‘rock’. The album had the anti-establishment anthem, Sadda Haq, where Mohit Chauhan goes ballistic, and ‘Jo Bhi Main’ (also sung by Chauhan) which seemed to have a big Jim Morrison influence. However, what sets the album apart is the sheer variety of genres on display in the album, outside the rock ballads – a qawwali in Kun Faya Kun, a dark love song Aur Ho infused with elements of Czech opera, the near-parody of the Hindi film song Shehar Mein. And what puts a cherry on top are the three instrumentals – Dichotomy of Fame, Tango for Taj and The Meeting Place.
Much before multiple composers became a mandate on a majority of Bollywood films, Bejoy Nambiar’s directorial debut featured names like Prashant Pillai, Ranjit Barot, Anupam Roy, Bhayanak Maut & Mikey McCleary. Whether it was Bali – The Sound of Shaitan, which had chants (in Malayalam), fused with electronic and hip-hop elements. Songs like Josh and Nasha have a similar edge to them, however, the dark horse of the album is O Yaara featuring one the finest guitar solos in a Hindi film from this decade. Mikey McCleary’s recreations of Hawaa Hawaai and Khoya Khoya Chaand were the chemical X of this album, rarely have remixes sounded this good.
9. Gangs of Wasseypur I & II
Sneha Khanwalkar’s hipster two-part soundtrack with 27 songs, quickly became a style statement of sorts. You were either on board with Khanwalkar’s genre-tearing experiments or you weren’t cool enough. Much like the spirit of the two-part crime saga set around two sets of families, even Wasseypur‘s music was committed to being authentic. Bringing her discoveries of rural folk to light as host of MTV Sound Trippin’, she fused the rustic folk elements with her electronic sensibilities. And while the likes of Keh Ke Lunga, Womaniya and Hunter went on to become the famous songs, even others like Soona Kar Ke Gharwa, Kaala Rey and Taar Bijli Ke have their own fan-base.
10. Detective Bymokesh Bakshy!
Dibakar Banerjee’s period thriller set in 1940s Calcutta, had one of the most eclectic soundtracks of the decade. The sensibility of the film didn’t feel dated, probably emerged from the film’s contemporary album. Featuring artists like Peter Cat Recording, who bleed through the film’s opening sequence in Janam, the soundtrack even had the likes of Madboy/Mink, who recreated one of their famous tracks as Calcutta Kiss. The film’s love ballad Byomkesh In Love was composed by Mumbai-based band, Blek, and it was unlike anything we had ever heard. While Bangalore-based band, Mode.AKA, composed the track Chase in Chinatown and Akshay De’s Joint Family contributed to the score with the heavy-metal song, Life’s A Bitch. This was as close to Bollywood getting a hand-stitched soundtrack as it was ever going to be.
11. Bombay Velvet
Amit Trivedi’s magnum-opus soundtrack for Anurag Kashyap’s most ambitious film, was absolutely it’s best part. Kashyap’s choice of going back to the club jazz of the 50s meant that Trivedi spent a reported two years perfecting his 14-track album. The film’s disastrous failure spilled on to its music too, as the audience refused to ‘acquire a taste’ for jazz. However, the album features some of Trivedi’s career-best work. Whether it is Aam Hindustani, Mohabbat Buri Bimaari, Sylvia or Naak Pe Gussa, they all had an overwhelming O.P Nayyar influence in them. Even the relatively contemporary-sounding tracks like Dhadaam Dhadaam, Darbaan or Behroopia, were reminiscent of early Hindi cinema. However for Bombay Velvet, the meat of the soundtrack lies in the instrumentals – The Bombay Velvet theme, Conspiracy & Tommy Gunn (which was picturised on Kashyap’s rather lame tribute to Scarface).
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s tepid adaptation of Mirza Sahibaan featured arguably one of the finest albums of this decade. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy reaffirmed themselves as one of Bollywood’s greats given how craftily they put together this 9-track album. Featuring influences from EDM, Jazz, Blues, Retro fused with Rajasthani folk, the album boasts of voices of varying textures ranging from Sain Zahoor (Pakistan), Akhtar Chanal (Balochistan), Nooran Sisters and Daler Mehendi (Punjab) to Kaushiki Chakraborty (West Bengal) and the more familiar Bollywood names like Shankar Mahadevan, Mohan Kannan and Mame Khan. Each song from Daler Mehendi’s title track to Kaushiki Chakraborty’s Kaaga Re is a revelation by itself, and it’s impossible to shower praise on all songs. Masterful stuff!
Vishal Bhardwaj’s music is a beast in its own right, which add an unmistakable texture to his films. In spite of delivering memorable albums like Saat Khoon Maaf and Haider, one got the sense that it was with Rangoon that Bhardwaj peaked as a musician. His most ambitious film where Bhardwaj tried to marry a film about Fearless Nadia, India’s freedom struggle, and a passionate love-triangle, giving himself every opportunity to showcase his versatility as a composer. Whether it is Bloody Hell (sung by Sunidhi Chauhan), Mere Miyaan Gaye England (sung by Rekha Bhardwaj), or even the dowsed-in-passion love songs by Arijit Singh – Yeh Ishq Hai and Alvida, Bhardwaj comes up with trumps all the way. The multi-hyphenate even goes old school with Tippa, which is reminiscent of the Maachis song, Chappa Chappa. Unfortunately, like with Bombay Velvet, even Rangoon‘s fabulous soundtrack was forgotten shortly after trade called it a flop.
Anurag Kashyap’s take on love was imbued with a terrific Amit Trivedi soundtrack. Featuring 14 tracks, this album charted all moods and stages of love… that begins with the carefree flirtation of F For Fyaar, the tender romance of Chonch Laadiyaan, the heartbreak of Daryaa, the betrayal of Halla, and making peace with heartbreak from Jaisi Teri Marzi. In a year, where Bollywood was starved of great songs… let alone albums, Manmarziyaan greeted us like the first rays after a really long night.
15. Gully Boy
Zoya Akhtar’s film about Mumbai’s gully rap subculture wasn’t as potent or searing, as one might have hoped. But the soundtrack, featuring over 54 collaborators for an 18-track album under the supervision of Ankur Tewari, was everything a music aficionado could have hoped for. It had urgency, vigour and it acknowledged the harsh truths of 2018. Sometimes too directly, like in Dub Sharma’s Jingostaan “2018 hai, desh ko khatra hai”. However, not just the rap or the hip-hop, the heart of this album were also the other songs like Raghu Dixit’s Train Song, Jeene Mein Aaye Mazaa (sung by Tewari) or Kab Se Kab Tak… that sounds like a Beyonce + Jay-Z collaboration.
Special mention albums:
Baar Baar Dekho