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Seeking a style

Meri Jaan, Vasundhara Das's first private album, shows her seaching for the right genre

Meri Jaan
Rs 65


Vasundhara: in search of a styleVasundhara Das, the Bangalore girl who's making it big in Hindi, Tamil and Kannada films, has released her first private album. It's called Meri Jaan , and features eight love songs.

Vasundhara played Kamala Hassan's second wife in Hey Ram, and also sang Shakalaka baby for A R Rahman. She is now acting in a Hindi film called Citizen, and recently recorded some songs for Neela, a Kannada film directed by Nagabharana, with music by the veteran composer Vijayabhaskar. Her singing and acting abilities make her perhaps the only serious singing actress in Hindi filmdom (Sulakshana Pandit was the last heroine who sang professionally -- do you remember Bekarar dil, her hit song with Kishore Kumar?).  
Meri Jaan moves across several genres -- qawwali, blues, reggae, salsa and even the ghazal -- all of them framed by the tones of the keyboard and electronic drums.

The title track is in the qawwali-pop mode with flourishes of raga Yaman, and features phrases where the dholak is heard quite prominently. Channel V's interviewer quizzed Vasundhara about the video with the Taj Mahal for a backdrop, a blind architect and a hunk. You've missed the whole thing, she laughed, and explained the storyline, which is about the architect hearing the song of the lovers, realising the extent of their love, and feeling as ecstatic as if he had built that monument!

The first time you listen to the title track, the unpredictability of the tune (Pravin Mani and Piyush Mishra) grabs your attention, as does Vasundhara's not-too-thin timbre. Some more listens and the gawky attitude settles in, especially in the alaap passages.

Bola re has Vasundhara singing with a Cuban band that she roped in when they were in Mumbai. The guitar and percussion are credited to Acana, the Cuban band, while the words and tune are again done by the Pravin, Piyush  and Vasundhara team.

Side B opens with Mere nishaan, with Vasundhara singing in the Arabic mode. I liked the tune, but Vasundhara probably sings in a key too high for her. She sounds nasal, and is not very convincing with the spinning phrases. The following track, Aao yaar, is faster paced.

Mera mehboob attempts the 'ghazal' style. This again is not a strong area for Vasundhara, and she doesn't manage the kind of flow that Salma Agha does in songs like Dil ki armaan aasuvon mein. Like Salma, Vasundhara tends to use nasal inflexions, but unless Vasundhara achieves a certain fluidity of expression, this may work against her.  

Sohni sohni is part Arabian-style and part bhangra. Some mridangam sounds make a guest appearance. Written by Sukhwindara Singh, this track also features a couple of lines sung by him. He is best at the Chaiya chaiya style that harks back to Sufi music, and you find a bit of that here.

Besides Vasundhara, this album boasts Pravin Mani, Sukhwindara Singh and Piyush Mishra -- star names in the music industry -- which is why expectations are high.

The interludes aren't studded with haunting phrases: the orchestra doesn't attempt anything even slightly complex. The instrumental bits just seem like chord progressions that don't really make an impression except to indicate the drift of the melody. No track on Meri Jaan  has the attractiveness of Shakalaka baby, the song in Mudhalvan that launched Vasundhara's film singing career.

Vasundhara will perhaps have to identify the kind of songs she excels at, rather than attempt genres that her voice cannot yet relate to. Usha Uthup, who like Vasundhara began with an unconventional timbre, has successfully charted her own territory. When she sings songs in genres other than jazz (which is the genre she is trained in), she sings them her way, adapting them to her voice, and stamping them with conviction. Is there a trick or two the young Vasundhara can pick up from Calcutta's star with the stylish and earthy voice?

Rajendra Bimbi

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