Music Review: ‘Begum Jaan’

DJ Munks

Music Reviewer


The amazing screen presence of Vidya Balan is exciting to see in the trailers as she leads an all-female cast in the forthcoming ‘Begum Jaan’. Making his debut in Bollywood, Bengali film director Srijit Mukherji is remaking his Bengali film ‘Rajkahini’ (2015) and has managed to get the likes of Ila Arun and Gauahar Khan in the supporting roles set against the backdrop of the Indian partition era. This film is all about story and performance going by the trailers so there are not too many expectations from the music of this film although the setup of the film demands a few classical ‘Umrao Jaan’ (2006) style songs. Anu Malik is the man in the studio for this project along with Kausar Munir providing the lyrics.

The golden voice of the legendry Asha Bhosle opens this album with Prem Mein Tohre. The classical tonality of the song and its deeply melodic romance demands a voice like her. She brings that sweet texture to the romantic lyrics along with that period classical Indian touch that is quite refreshing to hear in 2017. The song is very simple in arrangement and instrumentation that gives it a lot of purity. Use of Tabla, Sarod and Sitar with a constant payal chime are very well performed and take one back in time to the era of the film. Bhosle’s vocals dominate the instruments in an incomparable way and she proves her greatness yet again. Although they are very emotive and nice, the lyrics lack personality that could have made this is a great song. Overall a good song to listen too for a quite afternoon. One can never go wrong with a song when you have Asha Bhosle on it!

Aazaadiyan has two great voices collaborating together with Sonu Nigam and Rajat Fateh Ali Khan coming together in a very powerful song. The lyrics talk about the irony of freedom that came at the cost of lot of lives and livelihoods lost. An interesting piece of work by Munir as he talks about the really small moments of love and friendship and material attachments to the place of birth that got lost in the partition. No wonder Malik chose to get two great singers from both sides of the border together for this and that really works. Their emotion is really strong enacted in their vocals that are well controlled over a massive range that they both effortlessly deliver. The music has an intrinsic sense of sadness and heartbreak to it but with a strong classical touch to it. The use of Shenaai is very clever with nagada drums gives a lot of depth and scale that totally depicts the scale of partition that affected millions at the time. This is a great piece of musical work that represents history although it is not a song that will get commercial listens with lot of radio or TV play.

Another set of collaboration sees the folk voices of Kalpana Patowary and Altamash Faridi come together on O Re Kaharo. A sad wedding bidai song, this is a very moving piece of musical work. The grand scale of orchestration conducted by Malik is just magnificent. There are some very good solos and minute musical instruments filling in the frequencies when one listens carefully. The vocals are by far the best on the album as this genre is super powerful in itself and Patowary is just sensational at it! Every word is so clearly and beautifully delivered that it is worth listening to repeat. Lyrics are very well written as well and have a contrasting sense of sadness and happiness together that any bride goes through at this momentous point in her life. Munir does a great job of capturing these contradictory moments well and putting them together in a simple melodic flow. Must listen song although very situational.. but a great one at it.

Holi Khelein features the voices of the beautiful Shreya Ghoshal along with Anmol Malik. A classical Holi celebration song, this is pretty must out of a 1950s movie at least in its lyrics. The Hindustani classical style is very song in the words used and the mythological setting of the festival. Ghoshal’s voice is the perfect for something like this and she does a great job at it keeping it sweet but fun. The arrangement is very clichéd though and lacks creativity. Anu Malik lays the music down well though on this song with a range of instruments laid in a slightly more modern way to make the song current even with its retro style lyrics. The song has a strong performance factor to it as if set to a stage performance in the film. The classical composition lacks creativity though.

Kavita Seth takes on the great Bhosle with her rendition of Prem Mein Tohre (Reprise) making this sound like a completely different song. The strong sufi and folk style is really soothing to hear and Seth’s voice is almost magical to listen to. Her Gwalior Gharana classical delivery is simply amazing and takes one to a whole new place of comfort and romantic calmness. The music compliments her voice very well and has both softness and grandeur at the same time. The use of Rabaab is simply amazing on the solos. The arrangement is really fresh and pure. The original lyrics are brought to life in a completely different way here that might be preferred by some compared to Bhosle’s original.

The music of ‘Begum Jaan’ is as expected highly relevant to the era and setting of the film. Set on the border of India and Pakistan in 1947, the Hindustani classical and Sufi music elements on the album are a great mix to listen to. Anu Malik does a brilliant job of balancing the tonality on the album to get a right mix of the music influences of the time but still managing to make it worth a listen in 2017. He doesn’t try to make it commercial and listenable for the majority mass audiences but that seems on purpose to keep it pure and fitting for the film and there is nothing wrong with that. It is not about big dance and romantic hits all the time and Malik with director Srijit Mukherji lead it in a nice way. Kausar Munir does a good job on the lyrics but perhaps not his best on every song. The focus of this album is entirely on the singers with some great names and amazing performances on it. The return of the amazing Asha Bhosle with the likes of Kavita Seth, Kalpana Patowary, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Shreya Ghoshal and Sonu Nigam are amazing to listen to. Prem Mein Tohre plus it’s reprise version, O Re Kaharo and Aazaadiyan are the good songs to listen to. Listen to this album if you are into classical music and care for good vocals. It’s not one of those for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.  Rating – 7/10