If there is an acid test for Anu Malik this season or in fact this decade, it has to be with 'Umrao Jaan'. The man has seen enough highs and lows in his decades old career so far but the music of 'Umrao Jaan' is something that would be scrutinized by one and all. And why not? After all the tracks from Khayyam's 'Umrao Jaan' are still being appreciated by the connoisseurs of classical Indian music and it is certainly no mean feat to match. Hence when J.P. Dutta picks up the baton to narrate the story while roping in Anu Malik and Javed Akhtar saab, one can't help but look at each and every track with keen interest. Also with Aishwarya Rai being the central protagonist along with Abhishek Bachchan, Shabana Azmi and Suneil Shetty, one can't help but have mammoth expectations from the film and its music.
So does the team deliver? Does it come close to the classic score from the yesteryears or at least form an identity of its own without worrying about the past? Will Anu Malik have another successful score after 'Jaan-E-Mann'? The answer to each of the questions is yes!
Before one starts hearing the tracks, first thing that strikes on looking at the CD cover is the name of Alka Yagnik. She is practically there for each of the tracks except for a couple and bags a biggie as the voice of legendary Umrao Jaan.
First and foremost she greets you with 'Salaam' and hooks your attention at the very onset. Is it Anu Malik's music, Alka Yagnik's rendition or Javed saab lyrics that make the song special? In fact it's the combination of each of the veterans as they come together to create a mesmerizing 'mujra' track that is in word - flawless. Whether it is a common man or the followers of classical music, the song is going to mesmerize one and all as it hooks on to you in a big way. The setting is just perfect; sets are impeccable, choreography and costumes as per the song's mood while the instruments (ghunghroo, tabla, sitar etc.) create the right ambience to keep you glued to the screen while it is on. A brilliant start to the album!
Sound of 'ghunghroo' begins 'Pehle Pehel' that lives up the class of 'Salaam' and has that lyrical beauty around it that creates such a nice rhythm that it requires a lot of persuasion to move on the next song. Alka Yagnik is extremely controlled in her rendition and at this very moment one starts wishing that 'Umrao Jaan' may just be a befitting follow-up to the National Award winning score of 'Refugee' by Anu Malik, which was again for J.P. Dutta. A love song set in a tantalizing manner (again as a mujra), it is a worthy follow-up to 'Salaam' and turns out to be a beautiful composition.
Anu Malik shows his prowess as a composer with good classical base in the way he creates the arrangements for the opening of 'Behka Diya Humein'. First (and the only) duet in the album, it is poetry all the way as Sonu Nigam pairs up with Alka Yagnik. Though the song's beginning is a trifle close to Jaidev composed and Suresh Wadekar sung 'Seene Mein Jalan' from the film 'Gaman' (which was incidentally made by Muzaffar Ali himself), it restricts itself to being an inspiration rather than a copy. The setting is changed completely for this love song that is dreamy all the way, courtesy the sound of the song that has a slight echo effect imparted to the vocals of the lead singers. Sheer poetry coupled with some honest music sans any unwanted ingredients, the album so far is for those who wish to be traversed to a different world altogether.
Alka Yagnik returns to croon a solo in the form of 'Jhute Ilzaam'. The first thing that captivates you about the song is its opening line that sets the pace for rest of the song. 'Jhute Ilzaam Meri Jaan Lagaya Naa Karo, Dil Hai Nazuk Isse Tum Aise Dukhaya Naa Karo' - once you have heard this you know that it is going to be one touching song about Umrao Jaan's feelings for her love. Appropriate for the film's setting, it does have a slight deja vu feel but one doesn't mind that at all since it is just apt for a song like this in a film that tells the story of a courtesan. In all the songs heard so far, 'Jhute Ilzaam' is undoubtedly the best penned by Javed Akhtar saab as it maintains its lyrical quality from beginning to the end.
"If I am unable to meet you again in the future, do not think about me" - that's the message that Umrao Jaan tries to convey in 'Main Na Mil Saku Jo Tumse', a song that boasts of being seamlessly integrated into the mood of the album. Never once in the entire album does a song look out of place as Anu Malik maintains a consistent tempo throughout while still managing to bring in something new in each of the compositions. 'Main Na Mil Saku Jo Tumse' also transitions well from the songs preceding it and one looks forward to check out what's next in store from this album that has impressed all this while.
'Pooch Rahe Hai' follows next which is about a woman who has found love but is apprehensive about letting it be known to others. A story is being told by means of this 'mujra' that should be making an appearance at an important point of the film. Conveying a lot through lyrics in which Alka Yagnik immerses herself completely while her rendition, 'Pooch Rahe Hai' has the usual arrangements as per the setting of the music so far and helps take the story forward.
For the first time in the album, someone other than Alka Yagnik is heard rendering a solo with Richa Sharma holding the mike for 'Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya'. Pain is exuded in the right amount with this sensitive track which is about a woman praying to God not to give her a girl child in her next birth. Anu Malik spends more than a couple of minutes to set context for the song before handing it over completely to Richa Sharma to croon the situational track that should form a part of the background score. A seven-minute track, one can expect it to be played at numerous juntures in the film.
Anu Malik's daughter Anmol Malik makes her debut as a playback singer for the same song [Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya] with a different setting as this time around the daughter herself prays not to be born again as a girl. Rawness in her voice clearly shows in this song sung in a low pitch as there are a couple of moments where her lack of experience is apparent. For the situation this shorter version may work well since in all probability this seems to be for the younger Umrao Jaan.
Another short number (just around 2 minutes) follows in the form of 'Ek Toote Huye Dil Ki' which is a slow paced sad track about the lead protagonist who is heartbroken. With lyrics and rendition holding the center stage, Anu Malik goes easy on the orchestra and keeps it just bare minimum to let the words do the talking - literally! Seeming to be a prelude for some other track to follow in the film, it is for the situation and should keep you interested in the narrative. There is a 40 seconds 'Foreword' by Javed Akhtar to come in the end that introduces the heritage of Lucknow, Umrao Jaan and her ghazals through a brief narration.
'Umrao Jaan's in undoubtedly a superlative effort by Anu Malik as he goes all out in creating a score when the world was waiting to lynch upon him if he made the slightest of errors. But to his credit, his effort shows as he immerses himself completely in the era of 'Umrao Jaan' and creates an ambience that takes one to a world of the past. In today's music scenario when a couple of albums release every week and at least one big soundtrack arrives every month, one can't claim if 'Umrao Jaan' may have enough retention to go down as a classic. But if one has to analyze some of the best albums of the year 2006, 'Umrao Jaan' would indeed go find a place in the top bracket.
A must buy for those who appreciate quality music.
Bollywood.com Rating: 2.5