For all the buzz and hype surrounding the cast of Vipul Shah’s London Dreams, perhaps inevitable for any big budget film, what seems to have been lost is the idea the film is actually going to be a “musical” in the Western sense rather than a typical Bollywood film. London Dreams, the story of two best friends Arjun (Ajay Devgn) and Mannu (Salman Khan) who take different paths in life, is rooted in music – all types of music. And those masters of fusion, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, proved to be just the right songwriting team to tackle the challenge.
The album opens with a raucous rock song that shouldn’t surprise anyone who was blown away by SEL’s work on the Rock On!! soundtrack. Magik would be right at home wailing away on Barson Yaaron. The standard rock sound on the opening verses gives way first to sweetly harmonized choruses and a couple of desi bridges that will probably make more sense in the context of the film where they will, I assume, united the warring spirits of Mannu and Arjun (sung by Vishal Dadlani and Roop Kumar Rathod). But, even without that context, ‘Barson Yaaron’ is pretty rocking and a killer opening to the album.
Man Ko Ati Bhavey, sung by Shankar Mahadevan is a rather twee affair coming after ‘Barson Yaaron’. The candy floss, village fair sound of the instrumentation is aided by the chirpy melody in making a fun but substance-free song. The remix takes all the charm of the original and smothers it in bad Euro-pop synthesizers and should be avoided.
The same sounds are harnessed again for Tapkey Masti, but with a darker element to them – the base dhol beat is layered with distorted electric guitar and some minor key synth strings. Feroz Khan’s plaintive vocals add to the general air of melancholy emotion. It’s an interesting little track, especially when the pre-chorus kicks in and a male chorus almost seems to be chiding Khan with his own lyrics. Again, there is remix, but like the ‘Man Ko Ati Bhavey’ remix, it takes the organic emotion from the original and buries it with cheesy techno sounds.
Moving to the next song, from the dhol-driven to drum set, even if it is synthesized: Khanabadosh. This one is a grower. At first listen the 1980s feel of the beat is a bit off-putting and one might be tempted to skip past this one. But for all the outdated drum sounds, ‘Khanabadosh’ has a few things working for it. For one thing, the doublings and triplings of Mohan’s vocals are an unexpected delight. Most filmi music relies on solo voices only and even in duets the two voices rarely overlap, so the multiple voices filling the track, including a nice call and response echo in the chorus give a feeling of depth and solidness to an otherwise simple melody. Along with the vocals, the alterna-rock feel of the guitar and synth-trumpet favorably reminded me of British band The Field Mice. All in all, ‘Khanabadosh’ is a nice rock effort and worth unpeeling with a few listens. The ‘Khanabadosh’ remix, on the other hand, is a cheerless and workmanlike rendering of the song and while it won’t stop you from dancing if you are already on the floor, it certainly won’t bring you out waving your hands and shouting, “This is my song”.
Slowing things down a bit is the one ballad on the album – even if it is a power ballad. Using the natural drum set sounds, soaring strings, and a pensive electric guitar, Khwab Jo should have you pulling your lighter out to wave in time with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Shankar Mahadevan’s dueling vocals.
After all the lush histrionics of all the previous tracks, the simplicity of Yaari Bina is a welcome break for the ears. The track evokes an almost qawwli-like atmosphere. Roop Kumar Rathod begins with a rhythmless preamble and lets his vocals build in intensity until an answering male chorus of singers pierces them.
Another fusion song, Jashn Hai Jeet Ka sung by Abhijit Ghoshal, is a real standout track, building on the Sufi-feel of ‘Yaari Bina’ but adding a heavy dose of rock. It’s an intense, driving song, relieved by an improbably sweet bridge in the middle.
Finally, after giving us almost every other type of music from power ballad to village fete to qawwli, SEL end things off with a dance song. Shola Shola has a bitter edge to it, but gets your feet tapping nonetheless. The dance beat is mixed with a nicely sinister organ line balanced by a syrupy flute and Zubeen Garg’s syrupy vocals.
Overall, London Dreams is a real grab bag of different styles and songs that will probably make more sense in the context of the film. But even without that context, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have given listeners an album that has some depth to it. While there are no songs that standout as immediate pop hits, the songs all stand up to repeated listens and show that film music doesn’t have to mean easy music.