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Music review: Dangal

An unlikely, impressive turn by Pritam

A still from ‘Dangal’.
A still from ‘Dangal’.

It’s always been hard to pin down Pritam in terms of sound. Unlike A.R. Rahman, Amit Trivedi or Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, the composer doesn’t really have a “signature". While that makes him stand the risk of sounding too generic, in other times, it’s pleasantly surprising, as in, say, Barfi. Similarly, Dangal sounds unlike anything Pritam has ever done before. The fact that this album comes a month after the formulaic, but pretty and moving, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, makes it seem even more different.

You can listen to the songs of Dangal here

The first song Haanikaarak Bapu, evokes the innocence of the Doordarshan era. The singing by the cracked, sweet-voiced Manganiyar child folk artistes Sarwar Khan and Sartaz Khan Barna is a joy. But the star of the song is the lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharya. If songs are expected to make us feel happy or cathartic, this one makes us laugh. He supplies one amusing line after another, while tapping into a universal emotion no one writes songs about: the innocent complain every child would’ve had against her parents who wouldn’t let her have fun for her own sake.

In Dhaakad, Raftaar brings in the kind male aggression associated with popular Punjabi hip-hop. But Bhattacharya’s words sing another tune; it unveils the female hero as a threat to others and not the other way round. The idea here is subverting hip-hop’s inherent misogyny. The verses fit tight into Raftaar’s laidback, stubborn Haryanvi slurring. At first, it just sounds great and once you get a grasp of the lyrics, it packs a punch. There is an Aamir khan version of Dhaakad, that, of course, doesn’t have the professionalism of Raftaar’s rapping. But he gets the attitude— and the accent —right.

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The album loses some of its freshness once Pritam is back in his home-turf. Gilehriyaan isn’t bad. It’s a soft, polished, easy-listen sung by Jonita Gandhi. But you can see the design, made to offer relief and variety amid all the “rusticness". In the first few listens, the Dangal title song seems lacking in the originality of the first two songs. The punchline, especially, felt too obvious, like something anyone could come up with for an anthemic song. Over a few more listens, I bought into its rousing spirit. The opening lines, Re latth gaad doon, Re jaada paad doon, transport us in the middle of the dusty, wrestling pits of Haryana. Bhattacharya continues his impressive turn of phrases, Are bhed ki hahakaar ke badle, Sher ki ek dahaad hai pyaare, and Daler Mehndi’s charged, high-pitched rendition is perfect.

It’s almost like Naina begins where Channa Mereya ends, bridged by an aalap by Arijit Singh. It starts off like a devotional song— Mrigtrishna sa moh piya, naata mera tera, Bhattacharya writes. There is a lovely chord-change where the soft percussions kick in. This part really makes the song. It has a sublime, lingering quality that grows on you. Idiot banna is a playful wedding song of the village womenfolk, a musical version of a woman-only inside-joke with local references. The Nooran sisters— Jyoti and Sultana— gives this upbeat number the kind of flavor only they can.

Dangal strengthens the chemistry that Pritam-Bhattacharya has drummed up as a team. It is an unusually earthy album for the composer, who should take up more such projects that move away from his comfort zone.

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