Twelve-year-old me came home from school one day to be greeted by my super-excited elder brother. He had the look he usually wore only when he either discovered new music or when Sourav Ganguly stepped down the crease to a leg-spinner. He fired up the Internet and minutes later (aah those good ol’ days of Dial-up Internet) a slow, groovy song started playing. And you could tell there was something… new about it. The song was Suno Na from Sujoy Ghosh’s Jhankaar Beats, and as Shaan (one of the prodigal sons of Bollywood playback of that time) began belting it out with the simplicity and assurance of someone enunciating their own name, I fell in love.
I’ve been in love with Vishal-Shekhar since that day.
When the duo found pan-India fame, thanks to their outstanding work in Sanjay Gupta’s Musafir (2004) or Anubhav Sinha’s Dus (2005) – some of us had that condescending smirk of knowing them from WAY BEFORE. The 2003 album rightfully won them the RD Burman Award for emerging music talent at Filmfare, and by then the album had a cult of their own. You either had good taste in music and knew about Jhankaar Beats, or you were just another pleb who knew them as the guys behind Dus Bahaane.
It helped that the film built around that spectacular album, also had a new, urban voice. Three guys participating in a music competition (in their free time) while working as copywriters in an ad agency, whose primary client was a condom brand – quite hip for 2003. And even though the film glazed over modern relationships/marriages and the struggles of raising a family in an expensive metropolitan, in retrospect it almost looks like a shameless way to indulge director Sujoy Ghosh’s love for RD Burman. However, it is that one element of the film that is woven around the soundtrack, which gave the film its most memorable component.
Do you remember that feeling when you heard Roja for the first time, or the opening bass line of Dil Chahta Hai, and you instantly knew that you’d never heard this sound in Hindi cinema before? That moment presented itself again when Shaan sings Duur ho kar bhi, duur kyun nahi ho accompanied by the rhythmic keys of a synthesizer, a bass doubling up as the percussion. It sounded like a garage band has successfully made their way into Bollywood.
The Jhankaar Beats album is obviously about much more. It had the ballsy Boss Kaun Hai? sung by Amit Kumar (son of Kishore Kumar, who was one of RD Burman’s chief collaborator) which the director uses primarily to educate the audience about the legend of Burman. It uses a snappy guitar riff on repeat, with the characters of Sanjay Suri and Rahul Bose taking turns to explain ‘who is Boss?’ to the newest member of the band (played by Shayan Munshi). The album also had the splendid Jab Kabhi sung by KK (another prodigal son), which sounded like an authentic composition by an underground band with a melody, most RD Burman fans will find familiar. Replicating the manic energy of Panchamda, the album had the title theme and Ruk Ruk Rukna Na – with Sudesh Bhosle raging through both songs in RD Burman’s unmistakable gruff vocals.
However, the best song of the album was Tu Hai Aasmaan Mein, a song about love and peace performed in a church, the song seemed like a contemporary reboot of Teri Hai Zameen, Tera Aasmaan (a prayer song composed by RD Burman for The Burning Train). A decade and a half later, this is the most famous song from the album (and with good reason, some might say).
Jhankaar Beats, in many ways, led the way for urban stories – where things weren’t necessarily melodramatic, but that didn’t mean the people didn’t fight with one another. This unplugged version of relationships translated into the music of the film, which remains the most memorable thing about it. While sculpting his tribute for RD Burman, Sujoy Ghosh unleashed two wild spirits by the names of Vishal Dadlani and Shekhar Ravjiani. The duo may be using their talent currently to reinvent the many Bollywood situations (item song, mehendi song etc) – but Jhankaar Beats will forever remain their Everest. The 12-year-old boy is still in awe.