Rang De Basanti (RDB) is certainly not Rehman's best work - not by a long stretch, but Rehman has only himself to blame, what with the high standards he sets for everyone -and that includes himself.
But the album sure opens brilliantly! After ages one's got to savour something from the Sikhs' holy prayer, the venerated Japji Sahab, in a Hindi film. Harshdeep Kaur's 1 minute 26 second rendition of Ik Onkar is truly an apt opener for the musical album of Rang De Basanti. Even if you don't understand the meaning of the prayer, listen to it with your eyes shut and your heart open, and you will find serene peace!
But the title track, Rang De Basanti, while competent, still leaves you wanting something more. Because one always expects marvellous stuff from Rehman for title tracks - remember Roja, for instance? RDB track has a fairly hummable composition, and the music arrangement is tight as ever, though a bit too synthetic. And the overall feel of the bhangra-based song is quite earthy. But somehow, Chitra's very thin and near nasal voice just doesn't belong on this song alongside Daler's rasping, earthy and powerful voice, and that's the only slight letdown.
The best combination of music and lyrics is the hummable and well written Paathshala, sung quite well by Naresh Iyer and Mohammed Aslam. Prasoon Joshi excels in the fun lyrics that could well be the idiom of the College youth of today, and that's a high point of the song. The most popular song of RGB, to my mind, is bound to be Paathshala.
But Khalbali by Rehman, Aslam and Nacim sounds like an average youth anthem. A very average melody; nothing great overall.
Which brings us to another good track on RDB - Lata Mangeshkar and Rehman's Luka Chuppi. Even at her age, the melodious nightingale continues to serve music lovers with her melodious voice. The way she emotes the sweet simple love and anxiety of a mother in Luka Chuppi is quite remarkable. Well written too. Rehman has given the song a simple, slow melody which, coupled with Lata's plaintive vocals, serves to heighten the simple, unconditional love of a mother.
Actually the real hero of RDB is the poet in India's top ad film maker, Prasoon Joshi. What variety, and what a vast canvas of emotions captured through different songs on just one album!
Lyrically the best songs are Paathshala, with its funny, clever, urban Hinglish poetry that serves as the lyrics, and the tense, brooding ballad of rebellion, Khoon Chala. Just as the blood creeps forward in the poem, the song grows upon you with every line, and Rehman aptly dresses the ballad with unobtrusive, subtle music, so that even though Mohit Chauhan's voice lacks the power you would think was needed for the outcry of a tortured soul, it does achieve a brooding kind of grimness of purpose which is more matter-of-fact than overtly dramatic. I'd still love to hear this one in Kunal Ganjawala's voice.
In fact, Prasoon's brooding ballad, Khoon Chala evokes memories of the kind of poetry Dushyant Kumar used to write-like:
Dastakon Ka Ab Kiwaadon Par Asar Hoga Zaroor -
Har Hatheli Khoon Se Tar,
Aur Zyaada Beqaraar!
And in the same vein is the song Lalkar, which features Aamir Khan and Chorus. Aamir is competent as ever, and this track's obviously a very situational song, and should definitely be a high point of the film. One awaits the visual treatment it has received at the hands of the accomplished director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra.
So, six out of ten. And the six are: Ik Onkar, Paathshala, Rang De Basanti, Khoon Chala, Luka Chuppi and Lalkaar. That's Rehman, and that's still a First Class!