Milliblog Monthlies – Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s Immersive Melodies

A new monthly series where I pick one composer (or composers, as this first post indicates since they are a trio!) and list my favorites from that composer(s) either within a theme or broadly across their music. With Shankar Ehsaan Loy, my focus is on their melodies. The list here is from their repertoire across 1999-2015 (which is why you see the extraordinary music of Mirzya missing).

Playlist on Apple Music | Saavn | YouTube
(Saavn doesn’t have the soundtrack of Shortkut and Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai? in its catalog, so it’s a 28-song playlist. Apple Music and YouTube are full 30-song playlists)

Khaabon ke parindey – Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, 2011
Even without being influenced by the phenomenal scene that leads to the song and the incredible visuals of the song, the song in itself is a treat! This ranks right on top of the trio’s repertoire when it comes to their melodies. The gentle bossa nova sound accentuates the dreamy nature of the song as much as Alyssa Mendonsa’s delightful vocals. And when Mohit Chauhan enters with ‘Roshni mili’ it’s almost as if he’s shining light on the proceedings with his voice! This is one enchanting song!

Aao naa – Kyun! Ho Gaya Na…, 2004
Sadhana Sargam… sigh!! It all seems like so long ago… considering the film came out in 2004, that’s actually a long time ago. This is my favorite song from the trio that has a lovely tinge of the classical sound, very Indian and very melodious. The way the rhythm steadily and slowly builds is worth noticing and enjoying separately, while the ‘Aao naa’ hook is absolutely addictive!

Bol na halke halke – Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, 2007
This is my second favorite song by the trio that employs the very-desi sound. Here, they use Bhimplas-raag to construct the melody. Besides the profusion of santoor, flute and sarangi, the ghatam leading and sustaining the percussion stands out as a wonderful decision. And Rahat Fateh Ali Khan sounds so fresh, far away from his stereotyped repertoire, with splendid support from the criminally under-rated Mahalakshmi Iyer.

Kaisi hai ye rut – Dil Chahta Hai, 2001
Dreamy is the one word I’d use immediately to describe this song. I don’t know how the trip zeroed-in on Srinivas, but what an inspiring choice! The tenderness in his voice adds to the song’s dreamy flow and Javed Akhtar’s lyrics showcase the feeling of identifying oneself with and being soaked in love so beautifully. Also, the vocal chorus right at the end of the song is a sign of things to come… the tune is very similar to the ‘Love will find a way’ humming from Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna’s Mitwa!

Meri zindagi mein aaye ho – Armaan, 2003
I have always associated this song with Mahalakshmi Iyer, though it is sung by Sunidhi Chauhan! Sunidhi seems way softer here, to me, and is in absolute command over the serene melody. Sonu Nigam, who enters after the first antara, is in his usual, impeccable self. The use of sitar all through, particularly for the interludes is a lovely touch.

Achchi lagti ho – Kuch Naa Kaho, 2003
The first thing that made me fall in love with this song is something seemingly very small – the distinctly Middle Eastern twang in the percussion. That tone becomes pronounced after the big interlude (given the song’s lack of antara and built around just a long mukhda). The banter-style singing between Udit Narayan and Kavita Krishnamurthy is a clear highlight. I do wonder why and how the discordantly jarring sound came about at the end of ‘Dilkashi tumse hai… taazgi tumse hai’, though!

Bolo na – Chittagong, 2010
The second the song starts with strains of the tanpura, you know this is Shankar Mahadevan’s domain. The song is almost like a preview of the trio’s music in Katyar Kaljat Ghusli. The Bhagesree raaga melody is really, really immersive, and comes out so well in Shankar’s nuanced singing. The song is also loaded with sitar almost all through. The ending, with an extended sitar and strings combo, is a brilliant way to close it.

Tere naina – Chandni Chowk To China, 2008
The song’s picturization makes me cringe massively… it is so corny. But Shreya Ghoshal’s ‘Mere dil mein jo armaan hai’ always makes me smile too! Here’s Shankar singing deeply a lengthy, patient ‘Tere naina’ with all the feels and you have Shreya impatiently going with her line that serves as a brilliant contrast! And for the last ‘Mere dil mein jo armaan hai’, she actually goes, ‘Orannnana naanaanaa paas aake zara dekho na’ like only she can! The entire song’s unhurried feel is absolutely addictive!

Aasma odh kar – 13B, 2009
Chithra… sigh!! The indipop sound in the background seems functional, but the trio’s tune really has zing. The interludes are top notch, however, particularly that harmonium’ish sound in the first interlude. The antara is a killer, deviating from the pop sound to a pure desi sound, before Chithra brings it back to the original flow. Shankar, of course, holds the song with his commanding presence.

Kal nua baje – Shortkut, 2009
This is perhaps most saccharine sweet song by the trio. The narrative by Javed Akhtar of two people in two different places looking at the moon together at the same time (appointment-based viewing of the moon!) is charming and such levels of romance perhaps demanded this syrupy a melody. But it’s a lovely tune in general that meanders into the typical 80s tabla rhythm eventually to add to the quaint charm.

Baat kya hai – One By Two, 2014
One By Two is one of the trio’s best soundtracks but its prospects were severely impaired by the mess surrounding the audio release and the film’s poor prospects. Among the songs, Clinton Cerejo’s solo, Baat kya hai is a particularly good representative of the film’s overall sound. The background music is spartan—to go perfectly with Amitabh Bhattacharya’s lines on how bleak things seem to be—with a simple musical phrase repeated all through, but the trio layer in chorus (I think I hear Shankar himself in the chorus) to go with Clinton’s vocals, to get a soul-style expression.

Achha Lagta Hai – Aarakshan, 2011
I love Prasoon Joshi’s verse in this song. Lines like ‘Jhatak kar zulf, Jab tum tauliye se, Baarishein aazad karti ho, Acha lagta hai’ and ‘Zara sa modkar gardan, Jab apni hi adaa pe, Naaz karti ho, Acha lagta hai’, completely immersed in love and in an expansively creative mood, Shreya Ghoshal retorts, almost impatiently, ‘Zara short mein batlao na, Seedhe point pe.. aao na’ as if seeking the 30-second equivalent of all that expression! That the trio’s music is spritely, with a naughty lilt adds to the song’s undeniable charm.

O Rangrez – Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, 2013
The choice of Javed Bashir to sing the song seems to work brilliantly. The rhythm builds so softly and gradually, all the while accentuated by the guitar in the background, before letting Shreya enter with her ‘Apne hi rang mein mujhko rang de’, she first does it in Javed’s own minimal sound and then does it again with the tabla in the backdrop, to complete the lovely build-up. The Indian elements in the song – sarangi, sitar, and harmonium are totally in line with how well the trio have employed it in the past.

Kuch to hua hai – Kal Ho Na Ho, 2003
When the trio finally broke into the so-called big league (Karan Johar, in this case), I was really worried and curious on how their sound will be marred by the Dharma staple, but to give them credit they have evolved it very, very well. Their strengths come out so well in this song, with the spring-in-the-step rhythm and the enchanting brass in the background, while the lyrics and melody is so very Karan Johar. This is a wonderful blend.

Tumhi Dekho Naa – Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, 2006
The other Karan-trio combo. I find the Karan influence more pronounced in this song, but the gentle mellow lilt the trio brings to this song, along with the Sonu-Alka combination is irresistible. The signature ‘Tumhi dekho na’ hook is really memorable, while it is easy to see the dholak-led background satisfying the Karan side of things.

Mast magan – 2 States, 2014
The Arijit-Chinmayi combination is a great reason to listen to the song, to start with. But then there’s the awkward tabla-mridangam mix and the synthesized nadaswaram that dots the sound eventually as a musical version of the film’s plot itself… it seemed way too simplistic and obvious to me as a musical cue, but the head-shaking lilt in the tune is a clear winner.

Agar main kahoon – Lakshya, 2004
The guitar-harmonica combo is the song’s clear highlight. The guitar, in particular, is a constant, lovely refrain. The conversational nature of the song is very similar to Dil Chahta Hai’s Jaane kyon, and the way Udit asks a question that Alka answers and vice versa is a lovely touch by Javen Akhtar in maintaining the song’s pace lyrically. Musically, of course, the guitar and harmonica do it really well.

Chup chup ke – Bunty Aur Babli, 2005
The sitar is a beautiful part of this song, particularly in the prelude and the 2nd interlude. I found the tune itself to be very filmy, but the overall scheme the film, this works to its advantage. The soaring strings add to the song’s grandness as if paving way for the lead couple to leave their room and head to the open, icy mountains and start dancing like a typical Yash Raj style. Sonu is in top form and so is the very dependable Mahalakshmi Iyer.

Dil ki tapish – Katyar Kaljat Ghusli, 2015
For Dil ki tapish, the lovely melody most probably set in Keeravani-raaga, the trio bring Vasantrao Deshpande’s grandson, Rahul Deshpande, to deliver the immediately affecting tune! It works wonders given Rahul’s prowess in getting the classical nuances right. Given the film’s nature and plot, the trio keep the music completely authentic and a lot of it is, I’m sure, owing to Shankar’s roots.

Pyaar ki dastaan – Luck By Chance, 2008
After Shortkut’s Kal nua baje, the other saccharine-sweet melody of choice for me, from the trio’s repertoire. It’s interesting that both films are about films… that is, the film industry is the backdrop of the plot in both films! In this song, it is literally a filmy song, a song in a film, inside a film… a song being directed inside the film! That explains the fluffy, but likeable sound. Amit Paul’s choice to sing the song is the biggest surprise for me here – someone like a Sonu seemed the obvious choice, but Amit’s fresh voice is a great fit too.

Ankhon mein neendein – We Are Family, 2001
A lot of people miss this song because one, the film itself was missed by many and two, this plays during the title sequence! Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Shreya Ghoshal play off each other’s strengths really well in the song. Rahat leading with the classical hum and letting Shreya take it on is a particularly nice touch. There’s an infectious and energetic bounce in the song that’s very charming.

Un azhugukku/Koyal se mili – Aalvanthan, 2001
The Tamil version is a lot better thanks to Vairamuthu’s wordplay centered around the word ‘poruppu’ (responsible), much like his wordplay in A R Rahman’s ‘Azhagu’ from Pudhiya Mugham. The melody here by the trio is sedate and flows very smoothly with no major highs or lows, though the occasional mysterious turn (in the keyboard and flute eventually) is a great touch.

Alvida – D-Day, 2013
Alvida is a song that almost sounds like a prayer. I was immediately reminded of George Michael’s Praying For Time when I heard Alvida first, but the trio has an even more minimal sound with that one-note percussion dotting the background. But it’s the voices that really carry this song very high – Nikhil D’Souza and Sukhwinder Singh, and in what I consider her finest song to date… Shruti Hassan. Shruti’s Tamil diction is laughably bad, but in Hindi, she is such a fine command over both the singing and the diction.

Aaj kal zindagi – Wake Up Sid, 2009
Despite Amit Trivedi overshadowing this soundtrack with his lone Iktara, the trio did have a great soundtrack here. Aaj kal zindagi is a favorite of mine because of its focused and very specific sound that hardly moves in any other direction. The song is also a textbook example of the trio’s working relationship with Javed Akhtar – the words just flow seamlessly and the tune, more in the Ehsaan-mode (soft rock), is delivered by Shankar with panache.

Kya yeh sach hai – Dillagi, 1999
For the 25th song, it was a toss-up between Mission Kashmir’s Chupke se sun and this song from Dillagi. In the end (pun intended), I picked this one. This was perhaps the trio’s biggest film in their early days if you ignore the ill-fated Dus. And Jatin-Lalit, with their super-plagiarized set (Haan haan yeh pyaar hai, copied blatantly from Frankie Valli’s ‘Cant take my eyes off you’ and Koyi nahi aisa shamelessly ripped off Tommy James and The Shondells’ ‘Mony mony’) completely enveloped the trio’s music. Still, I’ll always remember Kya yeh sach hai as something the trio trying to emulate A R Rahman’s music. If I hadn’t known the name of the composer, I would have guessed it as Rahman’s. That’s not a bad thing at all in 1999.

Added on January 15, 2018:
While thinking about this new series, I knew that my list would be a mere fraction of the overall repertoire of any composer(s), but I did not anticipate the amount of feedback like I received for this one! Across emails, direct messages, comments and at-mentions, I got a list of 37 songs (many, like Aasmaan ke paar and Pehli baar were by multiple people), ignoring the more uptempo songs of the trio that I had planned to keep out of this list to retain the mood. Pehli baar, from Dil Dhadakne Do, would even perhaps qualify under ‘mid tempo’, but then, so would Lakshya’s Agar main kahoon.

So, I gathered all the feedback, made a list of songs recommended that, according to me, would fit within this list and added 5 more songs from the list (based on my preference) to round it off to 30. These songs were definitely on my long list, but, for the sake of a 25-list, I had removed them. Now, thanks to the feedback, adding them.

Aasmaan ke paar – Rockford
Rockford was 1999! Literally, the trio’s 2nd or 3rd film. The sound too is very Channel V types, including an amusing music video with the trip in dhotis and Ehsaan complaining vocally at the beginning of the song. The Indi-pop sound is thoroughly endearing and so is Shankar’s steady and very dependable singing. Gulzar’s lyrics are another clear highlight.

Ye tumhari meri baatein – Rock On
I still remember the scathing reviews of Rock On’s music when it was released. I stuck my neck out and gave it a #200, despite Farhan Akhtar. This song, in particular, sung so well by Dominique, is so calming, with a memorable bass. It is also a very interesting song within the film’s narrative – it is sung by a woman, while the scenes unfolding showcase an all-male rock band’s restart.

Chupke se sun – Mission Kashmir
I always mix Hrithik Roshan in Mission Kashmir and Hrithik Roshan in Fiza. Both, ironically, released about 60 days apart in the same year (2000). I’m not a particularly big fan of the trio’s music in Mission Kashmir barring Bumbro and Chupke se sun. Chupke se, for most parts, is as peaceful and steady as the calm Kashmiri lake the shikara glides on, but the parts where Hrithik gets awkwardly agitated… where the chorus kicks in… usually makes me cringe.

Pehli baar – Dil Dhadakne Do
I thought a LOT about including this song in this particular playlist. I L-O-V-E this song, no doubt, but felt that this is more mid-tempo than most of the softer melodies in this list. But then, so would Lakshya’s Agar main kahoon be and then, this song may not fit a list of say, uptempo/party’ish songs I may make in the future from the trio’s repertoire. So, adding it here. The thrumming and steady energy in the song is highly infectious!

Yeh sama – Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai?
One of the trio’s earliest soundtracks, showcasing a different phase of their musical evolution. Given Shaan’s voice, the song has a very Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhi feel, I thought. But Shaan and Sowmya Roah’s singing retains the innocence of those early pop-music feel, though the sounds akin to bubbles in the beginning only makes me smile these days.


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