Guest post: The Sound Feast that is the Lagaan soundtrack

Aline is originally from Mexico and lives in France, where she works as a language specialist. Lagaan was one of her first Indian cinema experiences, and transformed her into an ardent Aamir Khan fan. Her admiration of the actor eventually led her to my blog and motivated her to actively participate at Aamir's. Her parallel involvement in music recently resulted in an invitation to write Bollywood soundtrack reviews for the European-based Hindi Cinema blog, where she posts regularly.

Thank you Aline for sharing your brilliant dissection and expert analysis of songs in what I agree is by far one of the greatest soundtracks of our times!

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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.

Thank you deeply theBollywoodFan for creating this brilliant space and for allowing me the opportunity to contribute to it.

25 comments:

Bhargav Saikia said...

Excellent write-up! Lagaan's OST is undoubtedly one of the best of this decade. Every song speaks for itself.

Katayoun said...

O My dear Aline!

I could hear music in your description - a symphony of words.

A. R. Rahman. The Mozart of Madras! He truly is a genius. I am no music connoisseur and have seen relatively few Hindi films. But I have noticed that every time I am enthralled by a film's soundtrack, I find only A. R. Rahman's name in the film credits.

Your post has done what such celebratory notes are meant to do. You have awakened new layers of sensibility that allow me to appreciate Lagaan even more.

I join you in saluting A. R. Rahman for this timeless soundtrack.

shell said...

I was just thinking how wonderful it would be to see a music post. I love the music from this movie. Did you know that Chale Chalo was also featured in Kal Ho Naa Ho, but it was not on it's soundtrack. I've been trying to get these songs for my ipod, but they don't seem to be available in Canada. Boo hoo.

Pushker Awasthi said...

Aline you did it again!

I am standing and saluting you, you deserve that as no one can write such a brilliant, emotional and yet honest, step by step music review,dissecting the every note and every vocal cord, other than you.

Darshit said...

A post Par Excellence !! Absolutely awesome !! Never Have I read such a great one about Lagaan's music. For a tremendous score of the movie, this dedication is just so perfect. Thanks so much Aline and tBF for such a great post. I am just so surprised by Aline's knowledge of Ragas and instruments. Btw, the folksy violin is called 'Raavan Haththa' its a Gujrati/Rajasthani instrument, many times confused with Sarangi.

It has always been special soundtrack to me. As I am mad about cine-music. I remember buying an Audio Cassette on the day of the release of its music. [yup, CDs were out of question those times]. I never have waited for a music score so passionately back then, when I was 16. This was perhaps the first album which created such curiosity all around. Just because of its first promo. I can still remember everyone talking about it. The first promo had first 30 seconds of Ghanan Ghanan with video of last portion of 'o rey chhori' where Bhuvan wraps chunri around Gauri at the sunset. It was absolutely fantastic start of the publicity.

And what great choreography!! Ahmed Khan holds everyone with his spell. Choreographing the whole village would never be such wonderful. I can close my eyes and see long shot when the line comes 'saat rango ki chunariyaa.....'. And again, concluding the song Bhuvan and Gauri dances in one take, with such enthusiasm, its just so so excellent. The orchestra is Rahman's biggest strength. One can feel goosebumps all over when the silent sound comes when clouds get over everyone, and all looks upon the sky at middle point of the song. Ahh...

All songs are just so fantastic. I can go on and on [i think it would take a blogpost for it]. But really, its Rahman who plays an integral part of the movie. Without him, thinking of Lagaan, would be out of place. His vocals in thumping Chale Chalo makes adrenaline rush in our veins. And surprisingly, no one could have assumed before the release, that this song is about Cricket. Even the whole album is designed such a way, that not a single word comes about cricket. While most of the movie has cricketing moments !!

From lively Mitwa, to 'young' Asha ji in 'Radha' . From soulful 'O Paalanhaare' to mushy mushy 'O Rey Chhori' [love the moment when all three voices dissolve in one another] eveything - I can never get tired of listening. And 'the' track I can meditate with - yes its right - I do meditate with the track 'Once upon a time in India'. I put it up and close my eyes. And the movie comes in front of me. By each sound changes, one by one scenes coming in. I see the pain when track says 'Chhute Lagaan....' and the thumps and goosebumps while 're bhaiyya chhuto Lagaan' comes up. And finally, I see Bhuvan, collapses on the cricket field and takes sand in both his hands. [moment captured so fantastically on the Book cover]. Emotions on face of Bhuvan....my my. And the track coclude with smooth humming and I open my eyes, letting a drop of tear fall from it. Just in admiration of dedication.
[I wish I could edit a video with the track, but I know I just don't know how]

Even, that track served great when I visited both shooting locations recently. I can feel movie around me while roaming on the fields as well as, visitng the great palace.

Sorry for taking up so much space. But couldn't resist, when it comes to this OST.

Darshit said...

Oops, forgot to mention abt gripping opening track of the movie. It was equally fantabulous.

theBollywoodFan said...

Shell: I remember little of Kal Ho Na Ho, and whatever little I do remember leads me far away from the film (although I did enjoy some of its music)...except that you've got me real curious about how Chale Chalo was used. Perhaps you could tell us (?) :)

Have you tried looking for the downloads at Amazon.com? Here's the link, and they have MP3 downloads of the songs. Hopefully they'll be available in your region. Transferring to any portable digital music device would be a breeze, of course.

Darshit: Glad you enjoyed the post. Aline certainly knows her music. :)

Anu said...

Wonderful post, Aline! You have brilliantly explained the technical finesse as well as the emotional impact of Lagaan's soundtrack! Exquisite analysis! Truly Lagaan's soundtrack is one of the greatest soundtracks ever...

What makes it even better is that Lagaan doesn't have unnecessary songs (the just-for-the-heck-of-it kind of songs). All songs fit perfectly in the progression of the film.

Ghanan Ghanan and O Paalanhare are heavenly! Chale Chalo is still played (and sung) everywhere, even after all these 8 years! The song - with its lyrics and powerful music - is one of the most inspiring songs ever.

Yours and others posts, further reinstate the sheer brilliance of this classic called Lagaan. Truly, Lagaan is a complete package!

Once again, Thanks Aline. :)

maxqnz said...

@Shell: I'm of one mind with our gracious and enlightened host when it comes to the merits (or profound lack thereof) of Kal Ho Naa Ho. I was more than happy to give my copy away some years ago. However, I have found three tracks from the soundtrack and would be happy to pass them on to you.

Joanna said...

Wah Aline!

I agree with many of the other posters; that was one of the best reviews on the Lagaan soundtrack that I have ever read. The Lagaan soundtrack is indeed a delicious treat to the senses!

Music is clearly a subject dear to your heart and it comes across beautifully in your write-up. I especially liked that fact that you included tidbits on the different instruments that were used in the songs. I learned a lot!

Many thanks!
Joanna

Aline Khan said...

It is a real pleasure being a part of the Lagaan anniversary celebrations with all you knowledgeable people here!

I am thrilled to read the reactions. It is such joy to be sharing about one of my all time favourite soundtracks with other people as enthusiastic about it as me!

Shell
Yes indeed, Chale Chalo pops up in Kal ho Na Ho when the family decides to make the mom's restaurant a success and I have long looked for that recorded version to no avail, so any information on that would also be appreciated here. :-)

Ayway, it just goes to show how much the song is emblematic and how it has integrated the list of classics of Hindi film music.

Puskher and Katayoun
Hello fellow Aamirians! :-) A.R. Rahman just has this magic about his talent that opens our ears to the subtleties of what goes on around us. He inspires in many of us such feelings that are beyond expression. Thank you so much for reading me... :-)

Bhargav
I am so glad you liked the review and agree with you in all your statements. :-)

Darshit
Thank you so very much for that interesting information on the 'Raavan Haththa' which I was not familiar with. I still have very much to learn about Indian music, it seems so vast that learning looks like an endless (but utterly inspiring) task.

Your insight on the promos, the choreography, the omission of the cricket theme in the lyrics (oh and how I would have loved to be able to know Hindi cinema and its music when we all used to buy cassettes!) are such a great read and it all complements the music analysis so brilliantly!

Here go my cheers to a fellow "Lagaan Main Theme" meditator. :-) It is a track capable of making us levitate, hai na?

Btw, I visited your blog recently and left a comment. I envy you very much! :-)

Kristine said...

Lagaan Music... My take on it (excepts from a way too long review). My attention goes more to the choreographer as I do that (in another field) myself:

Ghanan Ghanan (Raju Khan)
The rain song. Clouds appear in the sky and because it didn't rain for very long, everybody in the village expects rain and is very happy. What I like very much about this choreography is the "background action" (although it is very snotty to call it as such. Many of the village people (no, not the other Village People) are played by those guys who acutally built the village. Not trained actors but farmers, craftsmen, etc. from the neighbour villages. Most of those people had never acted before, even more, they had never seen a movie before and for sure they had never performed and lipsynched to a song (as most of the main cast). But despite all this, the choreographer planned a lot of wide angle shots with a lot of activities in every corner of the village. And if you look very closely, you can see here and there someone who trips over his/her own feet, waves not synchronously with the arms or looks a bit desperately... But... this is why this song is so charming. As a viewer you don't have the feeling that some "highly paied" dancers are acting on some stage in a studio. You see villagers of all ages who plain and simple celebrate the upcoming rain.

Mitwa (Ganesh Hegde)
Bhuvan, Guran, Bagha, Tipu and Gauri try to convince other villagers to join the team and support them in their fight for their right. A very inspiring song. Only limited dance steps but realisation of the wonderful lyrics of Javed Akhtar is well done. At the end the old and the new members of the team celebrate themselves (and life) in front of the other still unwilling villagers. A song which always brings a smile to my face. Not only because of the cute scenes with Bhuvan and Tipu on the roof, the dancing (and hip swing) of Bhuvan with the kids but because of the joyful, jolly atmosphere at the end of the song.

Radha Kaise Na Jale (Saroj Khan)
After the celebration of Krishnas birthday in the temple Gauri and Bhuvan dance. Gauris jealousy of Elizabeth is visable and transposed into a dance. Gauri tries to win Bhuvan over. But he is flirting with the other girls. So she has to drive them away to be able to dance alone with him. In the crowd you can observe Lakha and his growing jealousy. At the end of this scene, he offers his help to Captain Russell, betrays not only Elizabeth and her dedication to the villagers but also the village itself.... Again a lot of „background action“ and I read somewhere that it was freezing cold during the shoot of that song. So hats of for everbody who sat there for hours and hours in almost no clothes... Very well choreographed with a classical touch yet modern enough not to appear old fashioned.

... to be continued

Kristne said...

Lagaan Music...

Part two

O Rey Chhori (Vaibhavi Merchant)
Gauri and Bhuvan confess their love for each other. Very beautiful. No hopping around in the Swiss Alps, instead you have Gauri and Bhuvan as a couple in the wonderful landscape of Kuch... On a hill surrounded by miles and miles of beautiful open land, on a haystack (I want to be there, too), on an oxcart. From time to time you see Elizabeth dreaming herself into Bhuvans life and him into hers. Javed Akhtar provides very romantic lines. Again a song that is not alien to the plot but melts into it very smoothly.

Chale Chalo (Raju Khan)
The song to bolster the teamspirit up. We against the rest of the world and we will win ... if just one (finger) raises up, he will loose (break). Toghether (all 5 fingers on a hand) are mighty (become a fist) and will succeed. Again no dance number but insights into the training camp of Champaner XI. And again (like in Ghanan) Raju Khan manages to show a lot of the village and its sourrounding landscape. A truely visual delight.

O Paalanhaare (Raju Khan)
The desperation of the villagers shows in a very intense intercessory prayer at the temple first by the women and later by the whole village (yes, the whole village, not only the members of Champaner XI). You can see the depressive state everybody is in (and you really wish to help them somehow) but more important, you can clearly see the energy and motivation they draw from the prayer. Another freezing cold nightshot. And a very beautiful one.

A.R. Rahmans music is wonderful and fits perfect for a period film. Very rhythmic and intoxicating. The lyrics by Javed Akhtar are very poetic but simple enough to be understood by everybody.

Sorry for the long post (devided into 2).

Take care
Kristine

Aline Khan said...

Anu
Thank you for your encouragement! The BollywoodFan's site is a labor of love and this week he's spreading it... to all of us eager to write about our experience with the film.

I completely agree with you in terms of Lagaan having solely songs with a purpose. I think this is also one of its strong points when it comes to being so happily accepted by a foreign (Western) audience.

It is a unique piece of work, from its location to its perfect storyline and its music.

Joanna
If one day we make it to India together, we should go instrument hunting. That would be quite an experience!

Thank you for helping me contribute to the BWF's Lagaan week, writing a post beside yours is a privilege.

Kristine
Good posts about the choreography and your personal experience with how the music was incorporated to the film! It is always enlightening to read fellow Lagaan admirers. :-)

Joanna said...

Hi all!

Here is the clip of the "Chale Chalo" piece from "Kal ho Na Ho"--Very cute!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tH1ImJPq8UE

Enjoy!

Sujoy said...

Ab junta ne itna kuch keh diya hai to hum tuchh praani se kya aur kaha ja sakega? Bas, is geetmala ki prashansha ke gungaan hi gaa sakte hai, hai na?

When Capt.Russell mentioned -Dugana Lagaan dena padega, he meant it. It has exceeded Dugana though. Have been listening to the soundtrack way too many times now. The DVDs on my shelf are getting jealous.

Its almost impossible to narrow down to one favourite song from this soundtrack. Vidambana!!!!!

Anyway, did I impress ya enuff with my Hindi gyaan, or should I speak some more irrelevant crap? LOL.

To conclude, this post felt like it was ALIVE, you know what I mean. Kudos to the author, and Happy Anniversary of Lagaan to all.

maxqnz said...

I hope that this fan blog is also open to fans who do not uncritically adore everything about the film and view it as 100% unblemished perfection. I wonder if it is safe to mention here that there is half of one song from Lagaan I really don't like. I find the lyrics in the English bits of O Rey Chhori banal and the weakness of the lyrics exacerbated by the lata-esque falsetto. I respect Javed Akhtar's fantastic pedigree as a poet and lyricist and think that the combination with Rahman was a huge part of the success of the movie, but even a maestro like Akhtar stumbled with the trite clichés in the English bits of this one song. I literally fast-forward through those bits of this otherwise delightful track.

theBollywoodFan said...

Kristine: Thanks for such a fine breakdown of the choreography. Such relevant points, and again, always something new to appreciate! Seems to be the trademark of a fine film.

Joanna: Thanks for that link! I'll reserve comment on the piece, though. :)

Sujoy: Satya hai! Sada sukhi raho, aur gaate raho! LOL. (But I do truly mean the good wishes!) The journey with this soundtrack is really quite amazing, and I'll admit to liking one more than the rest (as unfair as that is) -- 'Mitwa'.

But every time I listen to the soundtrack, I find myself going through them all, from the first song to the last. No repeats, no skips. That's completeness!

theBollywoodFan said...

Maxqnz:

I hope that this fan blog is also open to fans who do not uncritically adore everything about the film and view it as 100% unblemished perfection.

Of course it is! As long as an argument is respectfully presented, there's always room for discussion. No two ways! (This one is a good example, except that I never heard back after my response!) No film is 100% 'perfect', but some come closer than others. Besides, none will ever be 'perfect', given there can never be criteria that would enable checking for 'perfectness'. (Almost like an algorithm, as geeky as that sounds, LOL.)

There's a decent amount of thought put into criticism (positive or otherwise) of the film in question, and I hope enthusiasm for it doesn't inherently imply the willingness or desire to be 'uncritical'. Then again, I really am more a 'fan' than a critic, and a week designed to celebrate the film might not be when discussions around flaws in the film might be found. (On the other hand, Aamir's been very vocal about his dissatisfaction with the character of Bhuvan not wearing a mustache! And of much more.)

On to the point you raise about the English lyrics to 'O Rey Chhori'. Fair criticism, absolutely. My opinion is that it worked well for the primary target audience, which is likely what matters most (or at least it should to any filmmaker/marketer). Thankfully, we have a rather good picturization to go with the song, which helps (me, at least) big time! ;)

Cheers!

maxqnz said...

we have a rather good picturization to go with the song, which helps (me, at least) big time! ;)

The picturisation ,especially in and around the cart, is one my favourites from the film - so sweet and carefree. Plus Gracy looks बहुत गरम!

theBollywoodFan said...

ROTFL, that she does! As does Ms. Shelley! (If it weren't reserved for Juhi Chawla, I'd say a 'Haaye Allah' right about now ;)

maxqnz said...

(If it weren't reserved for Juhi Chawla, I'd say a 'Haaye Allah' right about now ;)

I'll see your Haaye Allah and raise you a Subhaan Allah - my reaction when I heard Kajol's return would be in an Aamir film. Clearly the makers of Fanaa agreed, since they used Subhaan Allah to such great effect in the film. :)

theBollywoodFan said...

Kajol in Fanaa (2006) was something else. SubhaanAllah indeed. I think she's looked better with age, and she's always been a very good actor...

gina said...

Hey Aline!

Wow that was such a fine feast...music reviewed so beautifully it almost comes alive, in such beautiful language which makes it a double treat. Your knowledge of music is really fascinating and like wow!! thanks again Aline for this lovely treat..almost feels like drowning in the alluring colors of the zapaca (close to that!!) and I mean that as a compliment too and am not kidding around this time.

Thanks again Bollywood fan for making this happen.

The best part is the songs are apt and go with the situations and are wonderfully picturized...when you hear the song you visualize it too.

Katherine: thanks for that lovely post on the choreography part of it..enjoyed reading it.

theBollywoodFan said...

Thanks again Gina for your visit and comment. The thanks of course go to Aline. :) Spot on with the comment on the visualization of songs, and yes, Kristine has described that aspect well! Cheers.