Nine songs

In which I dig up 09’s finest 9, and apologise profusely for the sloppy English translations.


9. Dil Gira Dafatan

Samundar lehron ki, lehron ki chadar odh ke so raha hai,

Par main jaagu, ek khumaari, ek nasha sa, ek nasha sa ho raha hai,

Tu magar, hai bekhabar, hai bekhabar… Dil, gira kahin par, dafatan.

[The sea sleeps under a blanket of waves, but I lie awake, lost and intoxicated.

You, however, know nothing of this. It is my heart that fell somewhere, suddenly.]

Rakeysh Mehra’s slice-of-Delhi storytelling in Delhi 6 gave way for surrealism as his protagonist stumbled into love. Abhishek Bachchan’s Roshan realised, rather abruptly, that he was madly in love with Sonam Kapoor’s Bittu, and AR Rahman’s dreamily romantic song — rendered wistfully by Ash King and Chinmayee — was visually complemented by a stunning, mad juxtaposition of New York and Old Delhi, of Times Square and Chandni Chowk.

The word Dafatan is Urdu for ‘suddenly,’ and it is this that lyricist Prasoon Joshi seized on, because of its sound and precise meaning. The three duh-fuh-tun syllables force a kind of stop-go when spoken aloud, the word seeming to trip over its own feet.

‘My entire approach was a little hazy, unfocussed,’ explains Joshi. ‘I wanted to write the song with a lack of clarity. Sometimes you can’t pinpoint when something touches you, and my idea of romance for this song comes from the feeling of being intoxicated in love.’

8. Ranaji

Ranaji mhaare gusse mein aaye, aiso balkhaaye,

agiya barsaaye, ghabraaye mhaaro chein,

Jaise door des ke, jaise door des ke

tower mein ghus jaaye re aeroplane.

[My Ranaji’s livid, so stiff with anger,

so fiery, that I’m trembling within.

It’s like the fury of jets that

stormed towers in a distant land.]

A mujra track that references everything from 9/11 to America’s colonisation of Iraq to modern-day princelings buying into Western packaging, they don’t get any more gloriously oddball than this rollicking Gulaal track. Rekha Bhardwaj sings Piyush Mishra’s cruelly witty lines with an enthusiasm that ensures we end up with an immensely dancefloor-worthy song — even if it might feel weird to dance about collapsing twin towers.

Director Anurag Kashyap and writer-composer-singer Mishra set out to write ‘a current-affairs mujra,’ and it was always going to be an experiment. ‘It’s very theatrical music, if you look at it,’ says Mishra, ‘It’s a very topical song, and it excited us that nobody had done something like that before. It’s made up of newspaper headlines.’

And advertisements too, using taglines from rival cola brands as lyrics. Nice.

7. Iktara

Orey manva tu to bavra hai,

Tu hi jaane tu kya sochta hai,

Tu hi jaane tu kya sochta hai, bavre,

kyun dikhaye sapnay tu, sote-jaagte

[Oh my mind, you’re a mad one,

Only you know what you think,

Only you know what you think, o flake,

why you let me dream, asleep-awake?]

Ayaan Mukherjee’s Wake Up Sid has music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and all was in place until Amit Trivedi read the script. Hired to do the film’s background score, Trivedi felt a moment — when Ranbir Kapoor’s Sid leaves Konkana Sensharma’s Ayesha’s house — called for a song, and composed one instead of a score. The result is the best thing in the film, a soulful semi-Sufi song that stays with you, deserving looped listening.

“I wondered what Ayesha would feel,” says Trivedi, “What would she feel when Sid’s leaving the house and she’s fallen madly in love?” Deciding that her character was more mature than Sid’s, Trivedi decided on the Sufi-Punjabi mellowness the song is grounded in.

Trivedi narrated the story to lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya, who took up vocal duties along with Sufi singer Kavita Seth. It was an arrangement that worked perfectly with Trivedi’s predilection for new singers, and one that proved serendipitous to our headphones, both voices blending in an unfamiliar, striking way.

6. Masakali

Ghar tera, saloni, baadal ki colony,

dikhla de thenga in sab ko jo udna naa jaane.

Udiyo, naa dariyo, kar manmaani, manmaani, manmaani.

Badhiyo, naa mudiyo, kar nadaani.

[You belong, my lovely, in the sky,

scorn those who don’t know how to fly.

Fly, fear not, do whatyouwill, whatyouwill, whatyouwill,

Go on, don’t turn around, be a child.]

It became one of those instant buzz-generators, this overwhelming song. What on earth does Masakali mean? Nothing at all, we learnt, the song named after the pigeon perched atop Sonam Kapoor’s head as she sways irresistibly through the sights and sounds of Delhi. The song is one about freedom, about a girl defiantly trying to cling on to her soaring spirit instead of staying grounded like she’s told she should.

The pigeon itself was named by Prasoon Joshi. ‘The sound which Rahman had created had this kali-kali thing. It could have been Ali, or anything else,” Joshi says. “The song was tough to write because he had composed it in advance, so I had to fill a ta-ta-ta-ta-ta space with a manmaani-manmaani. It’s very important that the words scan completely in a song, you can’t break a word.”

And while the meter might seem whimsical, the song is more than aided by vocalist Mohit Chauhan. The Silk Route singer uses his smoky drawl beautifully, rendering the song with the lazy loveliness of a yawn.

5. Yahi Meri Zindagi

Sooraj ki kuchh boondein tapki hain peshani pe,

Saragoshi khud se karati hoon, main hairani mein:

Yehi meri zindagi hai, zindagi hai

[Droplets of sunlight have dripped onto my cloak,

I whisper to myself in disbelief:

this is it, this is my life.]

In a film full of savagely dark imagery and brutal honesty, this song comes in as the moment of morning. Anurag Kashyap makes room in his Dev D to introduce Kalki Koechlin, his Chanda, and as she skips to school, the song, dipped in sheer sunshine, speaks of nature smiling at a favoured child. It’s a song that breaks the film’s shadow-self completely, ensuring that the inkiness that comes right after hits you right between the eyes.

Twelve songs readied, Anurag called Amit Trivedi over and asked for three more. A bewildered Trivedi reacted to the shots of Chanda’s introduction. “I saw an uptown family, a firang family, a kid going to school. A happy kid and a happy family. Early morning, gearing up to go to school. The whole ambience was that,” says Trivedi, who filled the song with simple, pretty flourishes, even going far enough to include birdsong.

Trivedi strikes gold again with vocalist Aditi Singh Sharma, her unconventional vocals perfect for the idyllic track. It might not be the first track of this overwhelming soundtrack to arrest your attention, but emerges as one of the most mesmeric. And we could all do with more truly great happy songs.

4. Dhan Te Nan

Aaja aaja dil nichodein,

Raat ki matki todein.

Koi good-luck nikaale,

Aaj gullak toh phodein.

[Come, let’s wring out the heart,

Smash open the night,

Draw out some destiny,

Break into life’s savings]

Holy Pulpfiction, Batman, clear out the dancefloor. Vishal Bhardwaj takes a singlestring approach similar to Dick Dale’s Misirlou, and then kicks up a track so bloody electrifying it hurts. The Dhan Te Nan chorus is as universal as it gets, the default sound of fanfare heavily ingrained in our storytelling traditions, and Bhardwaj uses it with unrestrained fervour, making twin the catchiest song of all.

The beat is blistering, the sound saucy, and Gulzar’s words are constantly, appropriately steeped in twinnuendo — right from headlines and headstones to the simple come-come of ‘aaja aaja‘ giving way to the more immediate come-today of ‘aaj aaja.’

Bhardwaj tried the song in a much simpler form back for television in the 90s, but having Gulzar aboard this time ensured wordplay that lifted the song to a different level.

And yeah, the streets indeed resound with bang-bang.

3. Aarambh

Jis kavi ki kalpana mein zindagi ho prem-geet,

uss kavi ko aaj tum nakaar do.

Bhigati nanson mein aaj, phulati ragon mein aaj,

aag ki lapat ka tum baghaar do.

[That bard who proclaims that life is a ballad,

denounce you that bard today.

In your dampening nerves,  your throbbing veins,

inject the flames of courage today.]

Furied, frenzied and feverishly passionate, this is a marvellously stirring call to arms. Anurag Kashyap places this tremendous war cry just when his protagonists are going to election in Gulaal, and lyricist and composer Piyush Mishra takes the microphone himself to herald the return of hardcore Hindi to the world of the lyric.

The song’s rampaging narrative gains momentum like a charging elephant, stopping but for the occasional bellow, celebrating violence as manhood. It pays obeisance to the colour of blood and fury, the red of revolution, and all with the macabre, unyeilding marching beat of an approaching army. “I choose my words purely based on their sound, and meaning and connotations come much later,” says Mishra.

And suddenly, right near the end, it slows dramatically, even romantically, as if a lone soldier whistling from a relatively safe trench. And then that brief interlude is washed away by the stampeding army, its ruthless chorus followed by the sounds of bugles and drums of war. Masterful stuff.

2. Kaminey

Jiska bhi chehra chhila,

andar se aur nikla.

Masoom sa kabootar,

naacha toh mor nikla.

[Every face I scratched,

into another it turned.

A naive-looking pigeon,

to dancing peacock turned.]

In Gulzar’s 1987 film Ijaazat,  Rekha makes Naseeruddin Shah a cup of tea, a cup he cheekily holds responsible for fanning flames best-left hidden.  He calls the tea ‘kaminee,’ a female scoundrel, with much affection, and it is this romantic underscoring of the word that influenced Vishal Bhardwaj’s naming his 2009 masterpiece thus.

Only fitting, then, that Gulzarsaab be the man penning the words for Vishal’s magnificent title track — by far the best written song of the year. Poetry hits peak as the song decries life itself, speaking of how hope and love and friendship and dreams are all liars and traitors and rascals and cheats, and how even when a bond is forged with the heart, it’s an overwhelming letdown. For the heart is just another knave.

Bhardwaj himself sings of the heartbreak with extreme melancholy, his tender baritone soaking the phenomenal lyrics with sadness and yet showing us the inevitable hope: because while the protagonist might call the whole world a rascal, he still dares to soldier on. His voice is delicately, perfectly suited to the lament, and while he might sing of the world pulling the rug out from under our feet and never meeting expectations, the song itself does the opposite and exceeds everything we could hope for. Stunning.

1. Emosanal Atyachaar

Bol bol, why did you ditch me?

Zindagi bhi lele, yaar, kill me.

Bol bol, why did you ditch me, whore?

[Take my life too, man, kill me.]

Goodbye, rules.

Anurag Kashyap broke every kind of ground with his Dev D, and the arrival of the unconventional was signalled by this iconic track, one that has since broken out into the public domain and become a phrase all its own, one that speaks to a jaded generation with more fluency than anything ever has.

“It was completely his baby, his idea,” says composer Amit Trivedi, throwing all the credit Kashyap’s way as he explains how the director came up with the song’s title and very specific ideas of how to incorporate a brass-band. Lyrically, Amitabh Bhattacharya went all out funky, even as Trivedi tried hard to disguise the ‘whore’ word as a simple ‘ho‘ alaap.

Performed by the mysterious Bandmaster Rangila and Rasila, the song is used in  an unbelievably literal context: Abhay Deol’s Dev is sitting and chugging Smirnoff while the love of his life, Mahie Gill’s Paro, is breaking irrepressibly into a full-bodied jig at her own wedding. And the lyrics just mock it all, matched superbly by the insane jollity of the street-band shaadi sound.

A celebration of intense loss, this is doubtless the song of the year.


Originally published in Man’s World, December 2009


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  1. Rajesh

    Gulaal had maverick Piyush written all over it. I would have discounted come numbers for this one. Nevertheless, good one!!!!

  2. Ajai

    What about “Rehna Tu” from Delhi 6 ? One of the finest of Rehman.

  3. RamblingSoul

    Thanks for the list. I heard Delhi 6 and loved all the songs. but wasn’t really impressed with most of the songs I saw on 9XM this year. emosanal atyachar sounds like an interesting song.

  4. lj

    Hi, Dhoop ke sikkey from Sikander is also terrific!

  5. Jai

    Emosanal Atyachaar, which was very popular, or Nayan Tarse, which was class?
    And yeash, Dev D, Gulaal and Kaminey are easily the best albums of the year.

  6. Dipta

    Your translations are beautiful. Why were you apologetic about it?

  7. Zoeb

    Awesome list, with only a few complaints
    You have missed Kaminey’s Raat Ke Dhai Baje
    Gulzarsaab’s work was simply brilliant and the music by Vishal was bouncy addictive.
    Also, Zoobie Doobie was a nice song worth mentioning.
    Otherwise, a list refreshingly different from the regular charts.

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