Milliblog Monthlies – The vibrant music of Vishal Bhardwaj

Episode 3 of Milliblog Monthlies, featuring 25 songs by Vishal Bhardwaj.

Let’s start with this song, shall we?

Now, if I did not know who composed this song, my guess would be Dilip Sen-Sameer Sen (who made their debut in 1992, with Jeena Mara Tere Sang, with songs like Chaha Hai Tumhein Chahenge and Kal Maine Khuli Aankh Se that I recall were quite popular back then). But, this cringe-worthy (in retrospect) song is composed by Vishal Bhardwaj! Vishal’s first recorded song was used eventually by Usha Khanna, it seems, for a 1985 film called Yaar Kasam (though, which of the 4 songs here is by Vishal is hard to say).

But, from Fauji’s Kabhi Aankh Milaye to what is generally considered his debut (incorrectly), Gulzar-directed Maachis… it’s a giant leap for Vishal Bhardwaj the composer. I consider Vishal an enormously talented composer-director (among the many other things he does), but not just that – I also seriously believe that he is a very intelligent composer. Why do I say that?

Let me try to articulate that in my own non-musical way.

To me, it seemed that Vishal, in Fauji, with its utterly generic masala music, was trying his hand at music to know what he could really do with it.

With Gulzar’s sensibility in Maachis, he adapted his music to a new style and paradigm… one that gave him—well deserved—the Filmfare RD Burman Award for New Music Talent in 1996.

He carried that sound till 2000, and produced largely mediocre work, with Satya being the lone spark. Then, in 2000, he produced music for Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar and this was the turn of a newer style that he thought could put him in better stead. Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar had a breezy and easily likeable set of tunes, with Vishal’s own sensibilities added to it. But unlike his earlier set, starting with this film, his films had a more confident outlook – they are much more catchy. He carried that sound in Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega too, and to some extent Chupke Se.

Then, starting with Maqbool, he turned his style in a different direction! He extended that to Omkara and No Smoking too, while also amping up the commercial value of his sound significantly, with electric masala numbers like Beedi and Phoonk De.

After that, starting with Kaminey, he has moved on to a completely different zone – the music from this point onwards is decidedly more modern, global in outlook and a lot more saleable in general. That extends till last year’s Rangoon (with Ishqiya, 7 Khoon Maaf, Dedh Ishqiya, Matru Ka Bijlee Ka Mandola, Ek Thi Daayan, Haider and Drishyam all thrown in between).

For a director, composing music for his own movies and changing his music idiom at least 5 times, based on the demands of those periods of time is remarkable and highly intelligent.

The following playlist has my favorite 25 songs by Vishal Bhardwaj. I’ve broken down the 25-song playlist into 3 sections – the first 10 are my favorite melodies from Vishal. The next 7 are ideally mid-tempo songs, while the last 8 are songs where Vishal whips up a frenzy!

Playlist on Apple Music | Saavn | YouTube

Note: The playlist on Apple Music has 21 songs and is missing: No.4 – Kehte Kehte from Chupke Se, No.8 – Kaatin Sarangi from Carbon, No.10 – Atthanisi Zindagi from Jahan Tum Le Chalo and No.25 – Jhin Min Jhini from Maqbool.

The Saavn playlist is also a 21 song list, and is missing: No.8 – Kaatin Sarangi from Carbon, No.10 – Atthanisi Zindagi from Jahan Tum Le Chalo, No.16 – Love Ke Liye from Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega and No.25 – Jhin Min Jhini from Maqbool.

The YouTube playlist is the closest to a complete list, with 24 songs. It is missing only one song – No.8 – Kaatin Sarangi from Carbon.

No.8 – Kaatin Sarangi from Carbon is available ONLY on Facebook, so I have embedded it below the entry in this post.

Kaminey – Kaminey (2009)
Kaminey is a soundtrack that’s packed with incredible music. My absolute favorite, though, is the title song. The build-up to the song is so soft and serene, but it takes on a beautifully expansive sound to wrap the lush melody inside it. Vishal’s singing is absolutely top notch, even though, I have noticed that he has a way of going awkward while singing (and is better of handing over the singing duties to Suresh Wadkar—earlier—and then to Arijit Singh). But sometimes, like this song, it just works perfectly.

Dil To Bachcha Hai – Ishqiya (2010)
Vishal nails the vaudevillian sound in this song! So good is it that the mesmerizing tune transports you straight to the Raj Kapoor era. And roping in Rahat Fateh Ali Khan to sing it is the icing on the cake – the tune works perfectly for Rahat’s range. It’s a beautifully picturized song too, incidentally.

Tu Mere Paas Bhi Hai – Satya (1998)
If I were to pick between Badalon Se and this one, I’d pick Tu Mere Paas. Yes, Badalon Se had Bhupinder singing it and is a classic Vishal-style melody, but I believe Tu Mere Paas breaks that template very well, with a breezy Latino flavor that was quite unlike what Vishal had attempted till then (though Betaabi’s Tum Mere Ho, that otherwise goes haywire, has a base tune that sounds a bit similar to Tu Mere Paas, to me).

Kehte Kehte – Chupke Se (2003)
Between Koi To Ho and Kehte Kehta from Chupke Se, I would pick the latter, though I quite like both songs. Also, as far as I know, Kehte Kehte is Lucky Ali’s first song for Vishal Bhardwaj and Lucky Ali’s voice fits extraordinarily well for the melody, a lazy drawl of a tune that flows oh-so-casually. Vishal adds some small, nifty touches in the song – my favorite is the sound that comes right after ‘Na jaane kyon’!

Bekaraan – 7 Khoon Maaf (2011)
Vishal’s own vocals in Bekaran, along with that dulcet tune and Gulzar’s love-soaked sentences bear the composer’s standard style, but I also hear a lot of A R Rahman. Vishal sings this one like someone truly possessed with another person, with an almost whispery, throaty edge and a bit high too! The 2nd interlude, in particular, is a delight!

Kya Pataa – Drishyam (2015)
Drishyam is like Fazil’s Aniyathipraavu (music by Ouseppachan), which was subsequently remade in Tamil (Kadhalukku Mariyadhai, music by Ilayaraja), Telugu (Nenu Premisthunnanu, music by Tamil composer Sirpi), Hindi (Doli Saja Ke Rakhna, music by A R Rahman) and Kannada (Preethigaagi, music by Tamil composer S.A.Rajkumar). Drishyam has 5 remakes—Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi, and a Sinhala remake. All of them have different composers – Anil Johnson (Malayalam), Ghibran (Tamil), Ilayaraja (Kannada), Sharreth (Telugu), Vishal Bhardwaj (Hindi) and Sachith Peris (Sinhala). While I love the movie, the only 4 songs I like across all of these versions (yes, I have heard all the songs) are Yeya En Kottikara in Tamil, Prathi Roju in Telugu and Kya Pataa & Carbon Copy in Hindi! Kya Pataa is a particular favorite in the way it employs Arijit’s voice and the tune is wonderfully mysterious, with a lovely jazz touch.

Dil Ka Mizaaj Ishqiya – Dedh Ishqiya (2013)
This is perhaps my all-time favorite (so far!) Rahat Fateh Ali Khan song! The melody is heartbreakingly beautiful and that dulcet tone works so well for Rahat’s voice. The way he goes ‘Mizaaj’ every time stressing on the ‘j’ (as it should be) is lovely!

Yeh Ishq Hai – Rangoon (2017)
This is a complete shocker! That it sounds *SO MUCH* like Dil Se’s title song is the shocking part! When Arijit goes on the high-pitched ‘Yeh ishq hai’ at the end of the antara, you perhaps would like to scream inside your head, ‘Dil se re!!’ too! But, once you get over that and accept it, the song sounds fantastic, though.

Kaatin Sarangi – Carbon (2018)
It’s incredibly unfortunate that the best song from Vishal’s 2nd Malayalam film (first being Daya) is still lying, without any extra credits like singer, lyricist etc., as a Facebook video! This song is vintage Vishal melody – ambient, dreamy and beautifully sung by Benny Dayal.

Kaali Kaali – Ek Thi Daayan (2013)
Besides the lovely, immersive tune that Vishal concocts here, his choice of Clinton Cerejo for singing this one pays big time. I particularly love the melody of the antara and the way they mingle with ‘katra katra’ and ‘lamha lamha’ so beautifully! The 2nd interlude is a lovely piece of imagination too!

Atthanisi Zindagi – Jahan Tum Le Chalo (1999)
To some extent, this song from Vishal’s 1999 film is a precursor to the kind of music he eventually started producing, starting with 2000’s Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar. The tunes were starting to get catchier and the music was getting decidedly more interesting, with the rapid cuts leading to the hook (Atthanisi Zindagi) closing in on the end of the antara. Given Hariharan’s voice, this could easily be mistaken for the many Indipop songs that came in that period!

Chhai Chhapa Chhai – Hu Tu Tu (1999)
Hu Tu Tu is the 2nd film directed by Gulzar, with music by Vishal. So, obviously, I was expecting a Maachis-like soundtrack, but it turned out to be completely different and a letdown, largely. The saving grace was this song, though! That antara which goes, ‘Dhunda karenge tumhe saahilon pe hum’ is a lovely touch and Hariharan pulls it off so well.

Lai Ja Re Badra – Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar (2000)
My favorite song from this new turn in Vishal’s musical style, along with Hariharan’s Swagatham. Both songs are semi-classical and Lai Ja, sung by Sanjeev Abhyankar has a fantastic fusion feel to it. Amidst all the wacky, pop tunes of the soundtrack, these 2 stand out amazingly!

Saiyaan – U Me Aur Hum (2008)
This is perhaps the most un-Vishal Bhardwaj’sh song if you ignore his early misfires like Fauji. It could fit straight into a Dharma Productions film with music by say, Jatin-Lalit! Still, there is a certain Vishal sensibility that the tune holds, like the superb antara. Sunidhi Chauhan, as usual, is impeccable with her vocals!

Yaaram – Ek Thi Daayan (2013)
Gulzar’s lyrics take center stage in this amazing song, where he gets the woman to go all out wooing a man unabashedly!
“Hum cheez hain bade kaam ki…Yaaram
Humein kaam pe rakh lo kabhi…Yaaram” and
“Ghar daftar mein le ke chalenge hum
Tumhaari filein, tumhaari diary
Gaadi ki chaabiyan, tumhaari enakein
Tumhaara laptop, tumhaari cap, phone
Aur apna dil, kanwaara dil
Pyaar mein haara bechara dil” are so very Gulzar! Vishal’s tune for the ‘Tumhaari filein’ part is a crackling idea! Sunidhi Chauhan and Clinton Cerejo have a lovely to and fro vibe in this song.

Love Ke Liye – Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega (2001)
Vishal gets the tapori-style vibe so well in this film’s title song. The song is breezy and the question-and-answer format between Sunidhi and Udit really lifts the song’s appeal. The carnival’esque 2nd interlude is a commercial cop-out, but overall, really cool song, even back in 2001.

Chappa Chappa – Maachis (1996)
The song that literally built Vishal’s appeal as a composer (along with Chhod Aaye Hum)! I recall hearing the song almost everywhere, even in Tamil Nadu where I was when the film released. It was such a massive chartbuster, cutting across states and languages in its sweeping appeal. The combination of Hariharan and Suresh Wadkar, for the singing, along with the splendid chorus and Gulzar’s sparkling verse takes the song to a new high.

Goli Maar – Satya (1998)
A killer song! Vishal has done another song like this, 3 years later, in Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega’s Aslam Bhai! But Goli Maar (or Kallu Mama), sung with affecting South Indian accent by Mano revels in its drunken stupor like very few songs before it! The inspired song picturization, led by the incredibly funny Saurabh Shukla is a delight! To a large extent, Vikram Vedha’s Tasakku Tasakku reminded me of Kallu Mama, in terms of the way it was structured and approached.

Beedi – Omkara (2006)
Beedi is Vishal taking the item song genre, pouring kerosene over it and setting it on a glorious and rousing fire! The song’s lines, by Gulzar, makes Bhojpuri Hindi go for a pan-Indian appeal with its bawdy and risque phrases that gel perfectly with the testosterone-filled format. Sunidhi Chauhan is the song’s stunning highlight, with excellent support from Sukhwinder Singh, Clinton Cerejo and Nachiketa Chakraborty. I believe the song is a massive hit in Brazil, ever since it was used in the Brazilian TV soap opera called Caminho das Índias.

Dhan Te Nan – Kaminey (2009)
The surf guitar-loaded DhanTeNan is no doubt reminiscent of Dick Dale’s legendary track, Misirlou (more popularly referred to as the theme from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction), but beyond broad, genre-influences, it stands on its own, as a hyper-enthusiastic dance track, with infectious vocals by Sukhwinder Singh! The spontaneous outburst of energy in the song is quite something!

Doosri Darling – 7 Khoon Maaf (2011)
I’ve always felt that the Kalinka-inspired Darling has an underwhelming rhythm… for such a mesmerizing tune! Usha Uthup and Rekha Bharadwaj make an incredible combo, but get their due only in the other version, Doosri Darling – the soundtrack’s magnificent highlight! This one gets an exciting and authentic Russian background, while Rekha’s vocals acquire a naughty edge. Vishal blends the original adeptly with the Indian parts he conceives plays with the song’s tempo to fantastic effect.

Horn Ok Please – Dedh Ishqiya (2013)
This may be the most respectable song Yo Yo Honey Singh has ever sung, given then it doesn’t allude to any of the mood-altering substances he is usually used to sing about. Vishal even throws in a rap portion to fit Honey Singh’s image and to be fair, he does a fantastic job with the flamboyant and funky tune!

Bismil – Haider (2014)
Continuing with the exotic world music influences in other songs like Darling, Dhan te Naan and Dil To Baccha Hai Ji, Vishal’s use of the Central European sound in Bismil is amazing! Along with the song’s picturization, set in a superb location and the theater-style narrative, the song makes a superb impact! Sukhwinder Singh and the chorus deliver Gulzar’s storified lyrics beautifully, with the ‘Mat mil, mat mil gul se mat mil… Aye dil-e-bulbul bulbul-e-bismil’ coming in to close the phrase suddenly being a fabulous highlight.

Dil Todne Ki Masheen – Hawaizaada (2015)
Much like the Bhojpuri item song, Vishal amps up the Marathi Lavani-style item song, with generous support from Rekha Bhardwaj who completely owns the song! The hook is an absolute killer, burning up the stage, much like Beedi’s hook.

Jhin Min Jhini – Maqbool (2003)
The song starts off slowly and steadily, like a standard wedding song, but just before the 2-minute mark, it simply explodes! The assortment of voices, including Sadhana Sargam, Ustad Sultan Khan, Anuradha Sriram and Rakesh Pandit make it a fantastic listen, with the song culminating to Amir Khusro’s iconic qawwali, Aaj Rang Hai.