It is a pretty common practice in the West for the music companies to release B-sides compilations of acknowledged artists. What exactly are B-sides?
B-sides, as the name suggests, are numbers that accompanied the main song on the flip side. The name came into vogue in the LP era. In today's world of CDs, B-sides can be viewed as fillers or 'Bells & Whistles' that come along with the single to fill up the digital bits and provide an extra 'bang for the buck'. While in most cases B-sides are tracks deemed 'inferior' by the producers from a commercial perspective, there are instances when they are better received than the single, as the London-based Biddu as producer of Kung Fu Fighting would attest.
B-sides can be a free form of artistic expression unencumbered by the commercial constraints that typically accompany a singles release. As the concept of singles release is alien to the Indian music industry, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham not withstanding, a B-sides compilation in the Indian context would be, to use a cliché, a figment of one's fertile imagination.
A R Rahman's success in creating hit numbers that simultaneously set the cash registers ringing and the dance floors swinging has been well documented. However, unfortunately lost in the din of Chaiyya Chaiyyas and Muqala Muqablas are unsung numbers (pun unintended), songs that can soothe you with their melody or gently torment you with their pain, tracks that never busted the charts for various reasons, tracks that are unlikely to make it to the compilation albums.
This list explores a few dark and obscure numbers that would have probably ended up as B-sides, but that nevertheless merit attention for their artistic brilliance.
1. Dholna - Thakshak/Mehboob/Sukhwinder Singh
Thakshak was Govind Nihalani's shot at success in the mainstream cinema. Songs do not fit well with Nihalani's style of storytelling as evident from the less than perfect song-picturizations. Dholna makes a brief appearance in the background, almost as though the director was making an apologetic attempt to include this wonderful composition. Penned and sung by Sukhwinder Singh, this Punjabi song takes you on a musical caravan ride. The song revolves around a simple but hypnotic flute interlude. Traces of Sukhwinder's influences on the composition are obvious. Sukhwinder's surprising talent at composing slow numbers is just about being recognized -- Chal Chal Mere Sang Sang from Astitva and Pyaar Hota Hai from Nasha Hi Nash Hai being prime examples.
2. Pyaara Sa Gaon - Zubeidaa/Javed Akhtar/Lata Mangeshkar
Rahman's score, like the film Zubeidaa, fell in the space between commercial and parallel cinema and unfairly failed to enthuse some critics, despite being rich in melody. Rahman went on to defend the score pointing to the high acoustic content that the critics had failed to notice. Maybe Rahman should have thrown in a few scratch noises that invariably accompanied LPs of yesteryears to add a more period feel! On a more serious note, Pyaara Sa Gaon, a lullaby that peddles sweet dreams with a dash of melancholy, tells the tale of a princess and a little kid through the inimitable voice of Lata. There is little doubt that Rahman reserves his best for the legend. The song, with its soothing flute and sarangi interludes, is a veritable aural delight high on melody with orchestration kept to a bare minimum.
3. Zahreela Pyar - Daud/Mehboob/Asha Bhonsle, Leena Chandra Das
Listen to this lascivious song immediately after the above song to get a feel of Rahman's dexterity in covering the diverse styles of the musical spectrum. The exotic techno-ambient sounds in the first few seconds, the heavily modulated serpentine voices, the stiletto-styled instrumentation give an indication on how far ahead of the curve Rahman is when it comes to adopting new technology. The song makes an equally powerful statement off the screen to match what Ram Gopal Varma tries on screen.
4. Ishwar Allah - 1947/Javed Akhtar/Sujatha Mohan, Anuradha Sriram
Deepa Mehta, despite her irreverence to songs, seems to extract the best out of Rahman as 1947/Earth and Fire would testify. This soothing bhajan-styled number derives its strength from the haunting tune, simple yet powerful lyrics and the sweet voices of Sujatha & Anuradha Sriram.
5. Thenmerku Paruvakarru - Karuthamma/Vairamuthu/ Unnikrishnan, Chitra
Thenmerku Paruvakarru from the Tamil movie Karuthamma is one of the few rain songs that does not seem out of place in a disco. Created almost entirely on a synthesizer, it also demonstrates why Rahman can be a musician's nightmare. Rahman reportedly had a week to finish Karuthamma but the time pressure does not seem to reflect on the quality of this song. Watch for the sound of raindrops that Rahman deftly uses intermittently to sustain the mood for a monsoon song.
6. Sengaatrea - Taj Mahal/Vairamuthu/T K Kala
Tajmahal, Bharathiraja's son Manoj's debut vehicle, did not exactly create a stir at the box office but the soundtrack did receive some attention. Sengaatrea, a throaty high-pitched dirge, grips your attention through its power-packed chorus, multi-layered percussion and voice-effects, and a Middle Eastern sounding string instrument (Iranian Santoor?) that refuses to get out of your mind. Pay attention or better still use a decent pair of headphones to notice the additional layer of T K Kala's voice that Rahman the craftsman stealthily slips in, in the background. Change the vocals a bit, and the song slides smoothly into any Dead Can Dance album. Vintage Rahman stuff this.
7. Vidukadhaiya - Muthu/Vairamuthu/Hariharan
Muthu, a Rajnikanth blockbuster had a few musical heavyweights in the form of Oruvan Oruvan Mudhalali and Thillana Thillana. Vidukadhaiya, another dirge, rendered excellently by Hariharan with minimal percussion, creates a mood of pathos that few can escape. The dramatic silences between interludes and the recurring drone of the tanpura add to the aura of the song created almost entirely with Indian instruments.
8. Poogum Vazhiyellam - Ratchagan/Vairamuthu/Chitra
A sweet short song from the disastrous Ratchagan, it begins with a sombre passage on a piano. The dance beat sets your foot tapping as Chitra's magical voice takes over. But Rahman reserves the knock out punch until the very end. As you reach for the rewind button when the singing comes to an end, a classic rock-style guitar piece -- a rarity in Indian movies -- appearing to burst right out of a Pink Floyd album, hauls you up on a roller coaster ride.
9. Roshan Hui Raat - Sapnay/Javed Akhtar/Anuradha Sriram
In spite of its commercial failure, Sapnay (Minsara Kanavu) had some wonderful compositions like Chanda Re (Vennilavae) and Door Na Ja Mujh Se (Thanga Thamrai) that fetched a national award for S P Balasubramaniam. Roshan Hui Raat, a devotional number on the lines of Ishwar Allah, provides ample proof that Rahman's strength does not just lie in technical wizardry. The soft and velvety voice of Anuradha Sriram, unsupported by any major orchestration, shines through like a beacon of hope.
10. Mel Isaiyae/Mr Romeo/Vairamuthu/Unni Menon, Swarnalatha, Srinivas, Sujatha
Mr Romeo was one of the numerous movies that unsuccessfully tried to cash in on the success of Prabhu Deva's Kadalan. A plain vanilla song by Rahman's standards, it nevertheless has some great string sections and flute interludes in addition to an ear-friendly tune. The humming by Swarnalata at the beginning and the end lightens up the mood considerably.
Too bad you cannot buy a compilation of these songs from any store. But make yourself one and believe me, with it playing on your stereo, you'd want to hit more reds than greens on your ride to work.
Write to the editor
Published on 7 April 2002
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