After the great success of their sleeper hit, Vicky Donor, John Abraham and Shoojit Sircar are tackling global terrorism and the assassination plot involving Rajiv Gandhi in the late 80s in Madras Café. Spy thrillers are recently in vogue with the hit film Ek Tha Tiger and D-Day, and Sircar scrupulously researched the subject for six years before going ahead. The film also stars Nargis Fakhri as a globetrotting journalist and Rashi Khanna as John’s wife. Shantanu Moitra has created a haunting and moody album that completely fits with the tone of the film.
Sun Le Zara has Papon with the vocals, and it’s an extremely addictive track with the soft-rock sound. Papon has a distinctively gravelly and gritty voice, and the song completely suits him as he really gets to the impassioned plea of the lyrics by Ali Hayat. Moitra is often credited with punctuating his soundtracks with pianos and heavy orchestra, and that style certainly works here in creating a lovely passionate track. Keep this on repeat. The song also features a Reprise Version, which steps up the rock quotient with the heavy guitar riffs and thumping drums to punctuate the chorus, and it works well to give the song a grittier sound than the original. The guitar solos throughout are brilliant, which blend well with the softer piano and male backup chorus. Give both versions a listen
Next up is Ajnabi, which is crooned by the lovely Zebunissa Bangash of the ‘Zeb & Haniya’ group, and she completely shines in this largely acoustic track. The lyrics are simple and eloquent, and Zeb makes each verse count and stay with you. As a former clarinet player, I have to say I utterly loved the inclusion of the clarinet in the bridge and particularly in establishing a lilting and dreamy sound with the acoustic guitar and piano. When the drums kick in and the accordions sound off, it takes on a seamless jazz sound which is magical especially with Zeb’s whispery and soft vocals. The track makes you want to hear more collaborations between Moitra and Zeb, especially after this and their iconic track “Kya Khayaal Hai” for their Coke Studio session.
Papon is back with the standout track, Khud Se, which opens beautifully with the Carnatic violin and immediately draws you into the composition. The piano and guitar melody take over the rest of the track, with the beautiful vocals by Papon who conveys all the emotions with that quivery tone. Papon has such a strong voice, and that chorus of ‘Khud Se’ sticks with you throughout. The lyrics by Manoj Tapadia utilize some Urdu phrases that may confound the listener, but make sense with the tone and emotions of the song. The sarangi interlude is equally brilliant, as does the crescendo near the end of the track, which does not become too overwrought.
The rest of the album contains four instrumental tracks, which almost steal the thunder away from the actual songs. The first track, Madras Café Theme, is an amazing amalgamation of the various stringed instruments like the rabab, sitars, mandolins, and violins, which swirl together in an evocative fusion. The tune segues into darker territory as the thumping drums come in giving a very epic and heroic sound in establishing a solemn and impactful melody that haunts. When the crescendo arrives and male chorus chime in, it is very easy to be swept away by the gorgeousness of it all.
Often action films feature that wailing and evocative sounds during the key intense moments during the narrative, and Moitra ropes in Monali Thakur to do her wailing best on the Conspiracy Theme! These kind of tracks are easy to dismiss with their stock appeal, but this one creates a taut and gritty feel with Thakur’s vocals and with the sitar and electro beats punctuating the mood of the piece.
Entry to Jaffna is another string-based piece with the cellos, violins, and the orchestra creating a tense and sharp composition that feels too short to make a full impression on the listener.
The album ends on a fine note with the Title Theme that opens with a beautiful melody of harps and violins before the track interestingly goes down a dark and intense avenue. The song’s beginning sounds very earthy and with an impressive Middle Eastern sound. Once the drums kick in, the tune becomes more rousing and loud, which completely hooks you in.
Madras Café is an interesting and nuanced album, where the music and composition are the surefire winners. Shantanu Moitra has done a fabulous job in adapting his sound to tailor to the gritty and solemn aesthetic of the film. Moitra creates instrumental tracks that are haunting and fit perfectly into an action thriller where songs might not be an integral aspect of the narrative. Give this album multiple listens.