Musings on Music

Skyfall (Sam Mendes)


Great movie. Sam Mendes was an unusual choice for a Bond movie considering most of his works have been dramas centred on the human condition with themes like estrangement and familial relationships. So this was always going to be interesting. After all the immediate precedent was such a boring misfire and came from a director not very unlike Mendes. But all these fears vanish as soon as the movie begins with some jaw dropping action sequences set on Turkey’s rooftops and a cross country train. As if this was not enough, Mendes comes up with the one of the finest opening credit sequences ever (Set to some great vocals by Adele) which is an explosion of elegant psychedelia. He has our full attention from thereon and this film hardly ever slips up. It is relentless in its pacing but does not do it at the expense of emotion. Every sequence is finely staged with terrific, terrific (That is not a typo but my inability to really emphasise this as much as I want to) support from Roger Deakins who with his photography surpasses what every compatriot of his has done so far. The climax, shot against a blaze in a desolate Scottish grassland, with people in silhouettes is immensely haunting; so is a cat and mouse sequence set in the garish lights of Shanghai. This is an incredibly aesthetic movie to watch and it is all the more great that Deakins has shot most of the scenes while working with low lighting and in near darkness.


The story is functional like in all Bond movies but the screenwriting is fantastic in most places. It is the right amount of poker faced seriousness (which for some is also cheesiness. Only at one point does it falter, when Bond looks at M and says “Storm is coming.” But this is again not so much the fault of the writers but simply the popularity of that dialogue from a certain Nolan movie) and cheekiness [At one point Q says to Bond “You were not expecting exploding pens are you.” This movie, like all other ageing franchises, follows the trend of poking fun at its predecessors even while grappling to find relevance for characters that were originally created with a different set of circumstances in mind (Bond for example as the agent having assignments to deal with the Communist enemy)]. It helps that all these dialogues are given to masters of not just this genre but any genre like Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem and last but not the least Daniel Craig himself. Daniel Craig is back in Casino Royale mode – gritty and resurgent – after a brief detour as the psychologically wounded and unhinged Bond of Quantum. The swagger, style and even the dissolute ways are back. Berenice Marlohe won’t be remembered a few years hence but she is competent. Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, who also kicks some ass on the side, is an interesting take on what Fleming had originally written. In fact, the Bond franchise seems to be breaking some of the resolute ideas of Fleming by first having a woman as M, a blonde hero as Bond and, now, a black woman as Moneypenny. Bardem makes for an excellent villain (How can he not?) and people who think they have seen enough of him might still be surprised by the way he plays Silva.

With Skyfall, Mendes successfully gives a new fillip to the franchise which flattered to deceive with the earlier two movies. It also marks the successful transition of Bond from an anti-Communist agent to an anti-terrorism agent, buttressing his and his agency’s relevance in a contemporary world. Skyfall has all the elements of a classic Bond movie and more. It is classy, visually stunning and a fantastic addition to the franchise.

PS: If Roger Deakins doesn’t win an Oscar for this, I would very surprised.

PPS: Best Bond movie? Speaking for myself, yes, this is indeed the best Bond movie.

Talaash (Ram Sampath)

Muskaaein Jhooti Hai reminded me of Shantanu Moitra’s Kaisi Paheli Zindagani with its seductive jazzy appeal. Suman Sridhar does a fabulous job; her girl-woman voice is a fresh change from Sunidhi’s, who any other MD would have preferred. Jee Le Zara, by a small margin, is a cut above the rest; it is easy on the ears and Vishal holds forth fabulously. The remix isn’t too bad either. Jiya Lage Na is fashionable in the way it overlays a semi-classical style over a modern orchestration template. Ravindra Upadhyay is, again, a counter-intuitive choice over Sukhwinder Singh and acquits himself well. Ram Sampath closes out the album with two numbers sung by himself – the portentous Hona Hai Kya which gets the techno sound just right and the hopeful Laakh Duniya Kahe.

All the songs have simplistic yet melodious tunes which can be a good thing and a bad thing; I wonder if this simplicity  will mean that these songs will get assimilated faster and fade out faster as is happening with every listen. Yet I like how this soundtrack retains a thematic consistency, throughout, even while sticking to the one romantic song-one sad song formula. Every song is tinged with a sense of alienation and melancholy and that counts for something. A solid album.

The Inner Self Awakens (Agam)

I am ashamed I didn’t discover Agam earlier but, damn, are they good! I have been listening to their debut album The Inner Self Awakens over the past one week and it is just scintillating to see Carnatic influences come together so well in a progressive rock format. I love the entire album but three pieces really stood out – Dhanashree Tillana, Boat Song and Malhar Jam. The Tillana is a fabulous effort at reinventing something that is already ingrained in our minds; instead of the tabla (which is also there in the interludes), the drums and guitar provide the contrapuntal and it is really something to see an electric guitar scale an alaap so majestically. The rendition by Harish Sivaramakrishnan is crisp and doesn’t lose much nuance despite the sprightly pacing. Harish’s vocals, again, stand out in Boat Song; the grand elaborate solos in the two interludes are breath taking, not just for their beauty but also, for their audacity and the substitution for vocalising is a terrific idea. Malhar Jam is more conventional but, like comfort food, pleasant in its nuanced, mesmeric repetition. Swans of Saraswati is more layered in terms of orchestration although it is more pastiche than an organic whole of a song in the way the interludes seem to float around indifferently. Brahma’s Dance spruces up the invocation nicely and also introduces the elusive violin into the mix.

When Rudra channels its Shiva’s angst through the guitar, in its obviousness lies the puzzling question – Why did it take so long for bands to figure out something so obvious? So much of traditional music is waiting to be produced in this fashion and rock, contrary to expectation, can play the perfect counterfoil. I already can’t wait for Agam’s next album.       

Help the band by buying original music here. It might seem expensive but it is worth every penny –

Barfi (Anurag Basu)


Basu, man, take a bow. You deserve it. This is hands down the best Hindi movie of the year. 

Where do I start now? This is such a gorgeous piece of filmmaking that I want to give it a hug. Can you hug a movie? I just did. The greatest thing about this movie, and there are many great things, is the exploitation of the cinematic medium for what it is and stands for. Many directors forget that they have the advantage of a visual medium where they can just show things and emotions; that there is no need to tell. This is what the director and screen writer do here. With the conceit of two disabled protagonists, Basu had his task cut out while making a two and half hour movie but it is also a necessity. And he passes it with flying colours. This is the one of the most visual of films where just the camera narrates.

Another great thing is the central dilemma in the film and how beautifully Basu realises it – the conflict between practical love and pure love. It is one of those universal ideas that screenwriters never tire from, but Barfi is an intelligent and original exploration of it. Basu encapsulates this idea in the form of Shruti (Ileana) and the recurring motif of love & regret seemingly provides the answer. It is also as life affirming and uplifting as a movie about disabled people can be, in times where Bhansali has made a business of milking tears with depressive pieces like Black and Guzaarish. This is not about the triumph of the disabled; this is not about them overcoming their disabilities. It is about them transcending all that – the disability is an immediate presence but also an afterthought – and managing to lead a graceful, normal existence and spreading more love than we can imagine. The irony is supposedly on us; for listening to the head in the matters of the heart and complicating things while Barfi and Jhilmil are blissfully unaware of such choices but lead a happy, glorious existence. That you never think of these two as being less capable than we are is a wonderful quality of this film. Basu also demonstrates this in the umpteen instances where these two communicate (also captured in Neelesh Mishra’s exquisite lines “nazar ki siyahi se likhenge tujhe hazaar chittiyaan, khamosh jhidkiyaan”); through mirrors, through lights, by throwing shoes, through fireflies – practically everything else apart from the physical act of talking becomes a mode of communication.

This movie is also an example of how a movie can create its own mood; take the instance of Barfi’s mother dying during child birth. A director can turn this into a veritable tearjerker. Basu, instead, glosses over it in the cheery Ala Barfi song with some of the most astonishing black humour seen on screen (Radio On Hua, Amma Off Hui, Toota Har Sapna). How a potential fifteen minutes sequence gets condensed into three lines! Then there is the use of troubadours as a narrative element after Life in a Metro; here too they seem to stand witness to this story at important junctures, as if they were chronicling it. There are infinite, little flourishes that add up and make Barfi memorable.

Barfi! Bollywood Movie HD Wallpapers

The performances are uniformly outstanding. Ranbir is the heart and soul of the film; what a great performance this is – purely physical and expressive. He doesn’t talk and he doesn’t need to if he can convey emotion and feeling so well. In his role as Barfi he traverses the entire gamut of emotions and never, for once, falters. Priyanka (Jhilmil) trumps everything she has done so far as an autistic girl; she is impressively restrained. Also extra marks for research on autism. Ileana, for me, was a revelation. As a woman torn between two men she is graceful and sensitive. She is also the most beautiful woman I have seen on screen and her presence lights up every frame. The importance of Shruti to the narrative cannot be overemphasised; although Barfi is the overarching presence in the film it is Shruti that lends emotional heft and credence to the film. In a crucial moment, she has to decide whether she wants Barfi for herself or let go of him, so he can go back to Jhilmil. Basu’s presentation of this conflict is almost oppressive for us, the audience, and Ileana’s reactions in those scenes confirm her talent as an actress. Saurabh Shukla, as the local policeman, balances over the top comedy with bursts of poignancy. Perfect. I am tempted to add Darjeeling and the toy train as the other protagonists; they are that important. This is a movie that reminded me of the charm of small towns again and the places I grew up in. I wonder why Basu set it in Darjeeling because, strangely, it only feels natural that something like this should happen there.

I already love the music by Pritam. It is magnificent and enhances the movie, richly, along with the quirkily dramatic background score.  

Barfi is the most magical thing I have seen on screen.      

PS: Yes, you are right. It has about five minutes of copied scenes.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan (AR Rahman)

Challa is zingy and mint fresh; Rabbi is good and a perfect choice for the song (although I don’t see how his vocals suit SRK). Also the guitar-drums combo is a complete winner. The pathos of Saans is conveyed more in Gulzar saab’s lyrics than in Rahman’s tune which has a curiously time worn 90s sound. Ishq Shava brings the soundtrack back on track; simple tune with a catchy hook which Rahman builds to a trance like effect. Heer is completely Gulzar saab’s song, the poignant meshing of Heer’s story with Mirza Sahebaan to depict the protagonist’s emotional state; Harshdeep sonorous vocals give the song great depth while Rahman is content with composing a simple, folksy tune. Jiya Re is the best song of the soundtrack, easily; Rahman comes up with a terrific tune and the orchestration with the prominent guitar and violin sound is lovely. Neeti Mohan’s singing is spunky and effortless while Gulzar saab’s lyrics capture the joie de vivre of a free spirit to perfection (I especially love the chhote chhote lamhon ko, titili jaise pakdo to, haathon mein rang reh jaata hai, pankhon se jab chhodo to..lines). This is great song. Rahman constructs Jab Tak Hai Jaan like a contemplative, background piece with alaap interludes fusing into each other. Otherwise its a song in the Chopra mould in terms of structure and orchestration. The Ishq Dance instrumental and Poem are passable.

The Chopra-Rahman-Gulzar collaboration does not reach up to the fantastical expectations I had but, again, I should have known; Rahman appears to be at his inventive best when he is freed from Bollywood’ish genre considerations (Read – with directors like Rakesh Mehra, Mani Rathnam, Gautham Menon and Imtiaz Ali). Here he appears to be reigned in by the Chopra tag and does his best within those confines. Gulzar saab has his magical touch intact, not more visibly than, in songs like Challa and Heer where he is at his philosophical best and Jiya Re. Still, a good soundtrack with songs that will last.  

Narcopolis (Jeet Thayil)

“….my knees dissolved in the anhydride rush that disconnects neurons from nerve endings, obliterates bone and tissue, and removes anxiety by removing all possibility of pain. I thought: If pain is the thing shared by all living creatures then I’m no longer human or animal or vegetal; I am unplugged from the tick of metabolism; I am mineral.”

Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis is a haze of a book where illusion and delusion wash over reality, sometimes the former consuming the latter and sometimes the latter subsuming the former, to evoke the sort of nihilistic profoundness that so many writers seek to achieve. Thayil writes in short phantasmagorical dreamscapes giving the narrative a fleeting, ephemeral quality and brings the subterranean nooks and crannies of the city to the forefront, the Shuklaji Street with its decadent opium dens and prostitute houses. This is obviously not a complete picture of the city; it is in fact about the overlooked parts of the city; the parts only few know about, most want to ignore and some want to forget.

However, around a 100 pages in, I was slightly concerned whether the book was merely a stylistic exercise, a look-how-coolly-I-will-depict-the-state-of-being-drugged sort of a book; the prose version of Kashyap’s kinetic visuals of Dev D tripping in the eponymous movie. But the author slowly builds up human relationships, fragile and subtle ones, that are as much there as they are not, but definite bonds between these addicts and suppliers (who are again addicts themselves) and those around. We start empathising with them; their problems become our own and their dilemmas our own. Towards the end of the book, the prose also acquires a elegiac quality as it quietly laments the loss of cultures swept aside by the tides of civilisation and the loss of people to nasha; these people who had festered in their hallucinations and lived by their primal instincts in their small, little world in the megapolis; a bubble like world oblivious to outside influence – except when a riot happens – and the oblivion in itself. As a pimp observes during one of the umpteen opium fuelled conversations, this book is about people who “got fucked and fucked up.By the end, each one of the addicts is dead, many for the choices they make and consumed by the vicissitudes of the life they lead, except for a couple, in the inexorable sweep of time. This book is also a lot about memory in an unassuming way, a theme it keeps playing on repeatedly, be it in the troubled dreams of the characters or their troubled pasts. All this draws us in. Some of them leap out and it hurts when characters, we develop an affinity to, pass away. When people die, their memories come alive. Narcopolis rises above its material and is a dazzling, haunting read.

Ishkq in Paris (Sajid Wajid)

I am usually loath to write anything about Sajid Wajid’s work because, let’s face it, there is nothing much to write about. If Salman Khan’s movies are critic proof, so is Sajid Wajid’s music. If memory serves me right they even won an award for Dabanng. Talk about travesty. The only good song to have emerged from this duo’s efforts till date is Caravan from the ill fated Hello. But whenever they have dabbled in melody, they have come up with some interesting results. Jaane Bhi De from this album is one of those. The tune is middle of the road; hummable but lightweight. But the composers are ingenious enough to prop it up with that relentless strumming which gives the song its much needed flesh and character. Sonu Nigam is also a nice choice. The duo almost get it right with Rahat’s Saiyaan also; the inventive mukhda is a triumph but everything else is pretty much clichéd just like the rest of this album.

Tape (Richard Linklater)

Tape is a terrific, smartly textured movie. Linklater just churns out these little gems, one after the other. The movie has shades of McEwan’s lurking unease and constantly escalating tension as a conversation between three high school friends (now adults) progresses. Much of the conversation revolves around an incident from the past that involved the three of them. It takes place in a dingy hotel room giving the movie an oppressive charge but the best thing about the movie is how the characters talk so much but convey so little; leaving much to the interpretation of the viewer. The performances are stunning; Ethan Hawke is always great; Robert Sean Leonard is excellent (Funny how these two also acted in the polar opposite Dead Poets Society) and so is Uma Thurman who takes a while to get into the groove. This is psychological violence at its best. Bravo Linklater!

Tape (Richard Linklater)

Tape is a terrific, smartly textured movie. Linklater just churns out these little gems, one after the other. The movie has shades of McEwan’s lurking unease and constantly escalating tension as a conversation between three high school friends (now adults) progresses. Much of the conversation revolves around an incident from the past that involved the three of them. It takes place in a dingy hotel room giving the movie an oppressive charge but the best thing about the movie is how the characters talk so much but convey so little; leaving much to the interpretation of the viewer. The performances are stunning; Ethan Hawke is always great; Robert Sean Leonard is excellent (Funny how these two also acted in the polar opposite Dead Poets Society) and so is Uma Thurman who takes a while to get into the groove. This is psychological violence at its best. Bravo Linklater!

Student of the Year (Vishal Shekhar)

The original hook of Biddu’s Disco Deewane carries the remix through, which for a while threatens to be all bluster and empty pop sound, and it is still Nazia Hassan’s vocals that stand out. The Shahid Mallya sung Kukkad is straight out of the Salim Sulaiman assembly line. Despite the incongruence between tune and lyrics Ratta Maar is decent. Radha has a moth eaten tune which for some reason reminded me of Rahman’s Jhootha Hi Sahi. Shekhar helms the Punju Vele well but, again, this is no great shakes. The duo, however, hit back with Ishq Wala Love; a soft, dulcet melody with great lyrics (and interesting use of tabla!) that is in the same bracket as the duo’s earlier songs Tooti Phooti and Barish Ki Boondein. Mashup of the Year (I see what you did there) rounds of the album on a pulsating note and makes the job of all the DJs out there so much easier. 

SOTY is a passable soundtrack from the duo who do as much as they can to make the music, that is supposed to be sung by college kids, interesting.