DEVDAS (Universal, 2002). Hindi film soundtrack. Music: Ismail Darbar. Lyrics: Nusrat Badr
For perhaps the most eagerly anticipated film of the year, filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas had to deliver a score that not only met the hype but also let Ismail Darbar prove that the mega-selling Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was no one-time flash in the pan. By devising a semi-classical, once-in-a-decade, 100 percent “Indian” musical score, Bhansali and Darbar emerge victorious in baking and serving a 10-layer monumental soundtrack.
What is most groundbreaking is the powerful one-two punch of lyrics by newcomer Nusrat Badr and the from-soul-voice of first-timer Shreya Ghosal. Ghosal’s voice, reminiscent of both Suman Kalyanpur with a slightly thicker pitch and Anuradha Paudwal without the nasal monotone, is the most original singing voice since Kavita Subramaniam appeared in the Mangeshkar mold. Ghosal’s “Silsila ye chaahat ka” is a sultry tabla-dominated opening to 52 minutes of sheer musical bliss. “Maar daala” (Subramaniam, KK) is an excellent example of the use of classical ragas to complement, rather than fill-in, interludes between verses. On “Kahe chhed,” Pandit Birju Maharaj, using his own tune, adds an intoxicating opening for Madhuri Dixit’s vocals and Subramaniam to finish out a piercing song of longing.
While a combination of Ghosal and Subramaniam give life to on-screen lip-synching for Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai, on the male side Udit Narayan fronts for Shah Rukh Khan. Narayan’s on-target “Bairi piya,” a duet with Ghosal, could find company in many Lata-Rafi duets of yore. The up-tempo “Chalak chalak” again smoothly floats Narayan with Vinod Rathod and Ghosal while Subramaniam and Ghosal’s jugalbandhi on “Dola re dola” simply shakes the rafters.
Packaged in Universal’s Bombay plant, the earliest CD pressings have a cheap, paper-thin casing. Purists may consider replacing the cheap cover with a store-bought sturdier one. At a suggested Bombay retail value of about $2 and selling like hot cakes stateside for $10 a pop, Devdas is without doubt a huge profit-maker for the multinational music marketer. But buyers beware: avoid being distracted by bootleg CDs. This exceptional music and exceptionally well-recorded CD deserve unadulterated musical glory. Pop in only a properly copyrighted, original CD and let Darbar & Co. whisk you away on a magical musical ride.