A good song is a good song is a good song. Same goes with a film song. Technically, it wouldn’t exist without the film. A song from a film belongs to that film. The director jammed with the composer-lyricist and that process resulted in the song. By that logic, the idea that a song deserves a better film seems strange–although it would seem fair to say that a particular movie deserved better songs. It’s a film song, not a nice person stuck in a bad marriage with a douche. Technically. But we don’t listen to a Hindi film song by logic. Our response to a film song is often, independent from our response to the film. The film song can transcend the film and live on. We may hate the movie but love that one song from it. We could even be indifferent to the film (Do you, for instance, remember which film “Baby Doll” is from? Ans: Ragini MMS 2). In this list we look at it the other way. We love these songs; the films they belong to failed them. They deserved better. 

Mere Naam Tu (Zero)

It starts with a simple, solo flute, almost as if it’s a devotional number; by the time “Mere Naam Tu” climaxes, it has reached operatic heights. Waving the baton is Ajay-Atul, whose control over the symphony orchestra is as masterful as it was in SairatThe stage was set: The greatest lover on the Hindi film screen declares his love for the leading lady. The composer duo delivered exactly what was ordered for the occasion. Too bad the film didn’t.

Yaadon Mein (Jab Harry Met Sejal)

Even the worst Imtiaz Ali film can bring out the best in Pritam, who outdoes himself in this exquisite composition that borrows from the musical style of Fado, a traditional form of song from Portugal, where the film is set. There is a European flavour in it, best evident in Jonita Gandhi’s singing, which assumes the mournfulness of a songstress in a pub. But wait till the brilliant Mohd Irfan joins in. His heartfelt singing gives the song a soul-shattering depth. With lyrics by Irshad Kamil. 

Haminastu (Fitoor)

Made at a time— not so long ago—when Pakistani musicians were still collaborating with their Indian counterparts, “Haminastu” gets so much out of Zeb Bangash that it’s hard to imagine the song with any other singer. This is Kashmiri folk territory, and her tone and accent feels just right. If the song were a wild, galloping horse — free, fresh — it’s as if Bangash has the reins to it, like a gypsy woman. The cosmetic visualisation — with Katrina Kaif riding a stallion no less — feels like a betrayal to the imagination. 

 

Kill Dil (Kill Dil)

Also a stand-in for the more obvious Jhoom Barabar Jhoom album, another Shankar Ehsaan Loy creation in another Shaad Ali misfire, this one song is more evocative of what Ali was after in Kill Dil than the film itself: A buddy movie in a spaghetti Western landscape with its Hindi film roots intact, its title an obvious nod to the man who once famously said that ‘Everything is a Remix’. Here, it’s an irresistible cocktail of whistles that recall Ennio Morricone; joyous singing by Shankar Mahadevan and Sonu Nigam, as though Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey, in “Yeh Dosti Hum Nahi Todengey” from Sholay, yodels and all; Gulzar, as both the sutradhar and the lyricist (‘…Andhere ki naajaayez aulad hai shaayad’); and one hell of a hook.

Banjaara (Ek Villain)

Although produced by Ekta Kapoor, this is a textbook Vishesh Films song, from a film directed by Mohit Suri, whose schooling has been at the hands of the Bhatts: sentimental piano, a bit of Sufi, and so on. Mithoon weaves a beautiful, intricate melody around it, drenched in a kind of melancholy; Mohd Irfan’s singing is delicate, tender. It’s incredibly mushy if you pay attention to the lyrics too much, but I fall for it every time. 

 

Hello Hello (Jhootha hi Sahi) 

A song that describes a midnight call to a lover that goes on ringing, the singing (Karthik), the tune, the arrangement (punctuated by digital sounds of a telephone), all convey one thing: the unbearable pain of a certain kind of loneliness. AR Rahman teamed up with Abbas Tyrewala after Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na in his failed sophomore outing. Where the director failed, Tyrewala, the lyricist did very well, keeping it conversational and pithy: ‘Mujhse zara, baatein karo; Halki zara, raatein karo’. 

Khanabadosh (London Dreams)

It’s not easy to weave in a phrase like London Dreams as effortlessly as in this song does it. That’s how tight the collaboration is between composers Shankar Ehsaan Loy and lyricist Prasoon Joshi, in top form here, in Vipul Shah’s ill-conceived film about a bunch of desis rocking it in the UK. I was half-tempted to swap this with “Barso Yaaron”—the whopper of the album—but I choose “Khanabadosh” for its lively energy and capacity to surprise.  

Fiqrana (Blue)

Another conflict: This, or the bizarrely fun Blue Theme song? The latter’s crazier in terms of form, but this one’s more underrated. And who said every AR Rahman song has to be pathbreaking? This is far from pathbreaking, trashy even, with phrases following the predictable pattern of repeating themselves in regular intervals. But then it’s got the sublime Rahman touch, especially around the chord transition where it segues into the hook. I can listen to it on loop.

Tere Naina (Chandni Chowk to China)

Dreamy, and filled with melody, the song has beautiful touches: Shankar Mahadevan’s subtle classical flourishes; Shreya Ghoshal’s rapid-fire sputtering of words—like South Indian film playback; the interlude music, that resembles Oriental folk music; and the gorgeous antara: “Tere Naina” marks Shankar Ehsaan Loy at their prime. The song feels as if it was conceived in slo-mo. The sequence is great—Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone floating with an umbrella in the sky over a nighttime Shanghai; the film, not so much.  

 

Manmohini Morey (Yuvvraaj)

The only thing you might remember about Subhash Ghai’s Yuvvraaj is that one of its album ‘rejects’, “Jai Ho”, won the goddamn Oscars. Partly maybe because it had better songs, such as this bandish, based on raag bhimpalasi, that’s laid over a track of electronic beats, superbly sung by Vijay Prakash (who nails the complex embellishments and aalaps). Part of the pleasure is also the top notch production. Only AR Rahman can turn Hindustani classical into Easy Listen. 

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