In the liner notes to the CD of Monsoon Wedding, director Mira Nair remarks: "Unlike typical Bollywood films where all music is newly composed and in playback, the characters in our film use music as our own families and friends do -- to celebrate, mourn or honor any
occasion." She goes on to say that the soundtrack is meant to
illustrate "something ineffable and distinctive about India: the
essential inclusion of music in our everyday lives." The appeal of Monsoon Wedding's music lies precisely in how naturally the score
fits into the movie, in the same way that music naturally fits into
urban Indian existence. While in most films, the songs are deliberate
set-pieces (with the entire plot put on hold while the characters
sing and run round trees), in Monsoon Wedding the songs are part of the life and pulse of the movie.
At the same time, it would not be precisely correct to say that the
songs are used in the way Western movies use songs, just as snippets
or in the background. Sometimes, yes, this is how the music gets used
in Monsoon Wedding. More frequently, though, the movie captures the way music gets integrated into urban life in India.
In some ways this is obvious enough. The ribald songs sung by the
gathering of women at the mehndi ceremony, for example, would
certainly be sung at a Punjabi wedding, so they naturally find their
way into the movie. Likewise, when the teenaged Ayesha (Neha Dubey)
gyrates to the strains of Anu Malik's Chunari chunari, sung by
Anuradha Shriram and Abhijeet originally for Biwi No.1 (1999), it's because teenagers do in fact dance to film songs at weddings and
so-called cultural functions. These songs show up on the soundtrack
because they'd show up in those situations in real life.
There's more to the soundtrack, though. Consider the appearance of
Noor Jahan's classic "Mujh se pehlisi muhabbat mere mehboob na maang."
Originally set to music by Rashid Attre for the Pakistani film Qaidi (1962), Faiz Ahmed Faiz's nazm shows up in Nair's movie in an immediately familiar context. Anybody who has ever been to a large
family gathering can recognize the scenario: the relatives press the
musically inclined aunt to sing something, and after a show of
reluctance, she launches into an old film song. The song is rendered
with no playback, the actress simply singing in her own unaccompanied
voice. The believable situation and the absence of artifice in the
rendition by themselves make this song fit perfectly into the movie's
But the song does more. It also provides a comment on that action.
Monsoon Wedding is centered around the blossoming love of the young bethrothed couple Aditi (Vasundhara Das) and Hemant (Parvin Dabas).
For neither of them is this a "pehlisi muhabbat." Indeed, they find
common ground only when each confesses to the other that they are
recovering from broken hearts. From this perspective, Faiz's nazm
turns out to be an integral part of the movie not just situationally,
but also thematically. The entirely believable aunt sings an entirely
believable song which unwittingly turns out to have an entirely apt
relevance to the situation.
Similarly, Faiyaz Hashmi's "Aaj jaane ki zid na karo", sung by Farida
Khanum, turns out to fit both situationally and thematically into the
movie. The song plays naturally enough on the tape deck in the car
when Aditi and Hemant go out for a drive together. But hanging over
the drive is the fear Aditi has that once she tells Hemant about her
affair, he will indeed leave her. It's perfectly credible that a
Farida Khanum cassette should be playing in the car, but underlying
this credibility is a larger thematic comment.
Unfortunately, neither the Faiz nor the Hashmi song is included on
the CD. It does, however, include other well-known songs that are
used equally effectively in the film. Laxmikant-Pyarelal's "Aaj
mausam bada beimaan hai", sung by Mohammed Rafi for Loafer (1973),
plays at the beginning of the movie, suggesting at once that rain,
romance, and unpredictability will govern Monsoon Wedding: "Aanewala koi toofan hai, koi toofan hai, aaj mausam." Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's Allah hoo and Bally Sagoo's Aaja naach le also turn up, as does a remix by MIDIval PunditZ of Jaidev's superb composition from Gaman (1978), "Aaja savariya tohe garva laga loon, ras ke bhare tore nain," exquisitely sung by Hiradevi Mishra. (In a glaring omission, the CD makes no mention of Jaidev as the original composer.)
Such recycled film songs, folk numbers, and nazms make up about half
the music of Monsoon Wedding. The score also includes a rollicking
new bhangra number by Sukhwinder Singh, "Aaj mera jee kardaa." The
rest of the music is credited to Toronto-based Mychael Danna, one of
the most exciting composers of film scores in North America. Danna
has provided the music for standard Hollywood fare such as 8MM (1999, starring Nicholas Cage) and Bounce (2000, with Ben Affleck), as well as for many movies directed by the Canadian Atom Egoyan.
Danna's interest in Hindi film songs goes back a while. His brilliant
score for Egoyan's Exotica (1995), for example, "borrows" a couple of songs from Hemant Kumar and Madan Mohan. Monsoon Wedding is the
second time Danna has worked with Mira Nair. Their first outing was
Kama Sutra (1997), but not even the combined efforts of Rekha's
presence, Danna's music, and Shubha Mudgal's vocals could rescue that
movie, which remains Nair's worst to date.
The liner notes reveal that Danna and his wife Aparna underwent a
traditional North Indian marriage ceremony even as he was working on
the music for Monsoon Wedding. Apparently this was mere serendipity, and not (alas) a symptom of Danna's fanatic devotion to researching his art. Nonetheless, Danna's first-hand familiarity with the
traditional trombone-laden wedding orchestras is evident in the
joyous and appropriately raucous Baraat, which serves as both the
title music and the music of the baraat at the movie's eponymous
The melodic line established by Baraat is worked and reworked in
various arrangements and at varying tempi throughout the movie,
almost in the manner of a raga interpreted and reinterpreted over and
over again to bring out its varied facets. Danna's creativity reveals
itself in the dazzling array of orchestral arrangements, emotional
effects, and musical affinities that emerge from the reworkings of a
single melody. The same tune conveys heartbreak in the sitar,
sarangi, and flute arrangement of Banished, serenity via the
strings, piano, and flute in Love and Marigolds.
In addition, a piccolo plays the line over very softly in the brief Feels like Rain; a full orchestra including bass flute, sarod, santoor, sarangi, and tenor flute reprises the melody in Your Good Name; and part of Good Indian Girls features a synthesizer and keyboard version of the same motif. Fuse Box sounds akin to the instrumental pieces on the score of Laxmikant-Pyarelal's Utsav (1984), while the delicate, exquisite piano of Hold Me, I'm Falling is reminiscent of Debussy's Clair de Lune.
But the individually named tracks of the CD aren't experienced as
such on the actual movie soundtrack. While watching the movie, the
viewer hears just one theme in multitudinous variants. The
repetition begins to function not only as a background to the action,
but also a comment on it. For the same melody that accompanies the
love story of Aditi and Hemant bears witness to the very different
love story of P K Dubey (Vijay Raaz) and Alice (Tilotama Shome) and
that of Aditi and Hemant. The same melody that plays peeping tom to
the steamy, hormone-driven flirtation of Ayesha and Rahul (Randeep
Hooda) also reveals the surprisingly deep and tender bond between the
harassed patriarch (Naseeruddin Shah) and the wife with whom he's
always bickering (Lilette Dubey). The melody suffuses the entire
movie, linking the various characters and situations to each other
even when the characters themselves are too confined within their own
situations to be aware of the parallels.
The reimagining of the same melody over and over again has another,
more tactical effect. Danna not only manages to relate the various
characters and situations to each other, he also relates his own
composition to the borrowings that pepper Monsoon Wedding. His
recontextualizations of his own brand-new melody parallel the
recontextualization of an old classic like "Mujhse pehlisi muhabbat".
First off, Danna's own melody is credible as part of the story. The
presence of a typical marriage brass band concoction like Baraat is natural enough given that the movie is, after all, about a wedding.
But when that concoction recurs under various guises throughout the
movie, it takes on a resonance beyond that of mere theme music. Just
as with "Mujhse pehlisi muhabbat", something that could be taken for
granted turns out on closer investigation to be meaningful in
unexpected ways. So symbiotic is the relationship of music and
action, that the music becomes the movie, as it were; the music is
not a decorative add-on, but an integral part of the movie's shape,
its texture and flow. It is, as Nair says, an "essential inclusion"
into the life of the movie.
(The writer grew up in Mumbai and is curently at Stanford University)
Monsoon Wedding site and trailer
Music director Mychael Danna
Posted on 23 May
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