Vishal-Shekhar Ra.One Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A soundtrack which takes East-West collaborations to another level.

Jaspreet Pandohar 2011

First it was Snoop Dogg, then Ludacris; now, Akon is the latest Western singer to jump on the Bollywood bandwagon. The Senegalese-American RnB star makes his debut on the soundtrack to superstar Shahrukh Khan’s highly anticipated sci-fi superhero movie, Ra.One.

It’s no ordinary first appearance. Instead of spitting gangsta lyrics or simply crooning a chorus à la Kylie Minogue on A. R. Rahman’s Blue soundtrack of 2009, Akon actually sings in Hindi. Getting to grips with a foreign language is no easy feat, but Akon manages it – he ‘smacks’ it, you might say – for the fantastic Chammak Challo. His articulation is so impressive that he could arguably put some Indian singers to shame. It’s also thanks to composers Vishal Dadlani and Shekhar Ravjiani’s clever fusion of African, north and south Indian beats, plus a flirty vocal insert from Hamsika Iyer that Chammak Challo shines on this 15-track album.

Akon repeats the feat on Criminal, but this time some hackneyed lyrics let him down. The same problem blights Right By Your Side, a sickly sweet Glee-style pop song, and Dildaara, a mushy Bollywood version of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me. While pleasant, both struggle to leave a lasting impression, and sound out of place on an album that is essentially mysterious, heroic and digitally inspired.

It’s the murkier numbers like Bhare Naina, sung by Nandini Srikar, and Jiya More Ghabraaye, featuring Sukhwinder Singh, that add genuine interest. Their combination of classical Hindi vocals with brain-scrambling techno, electro and dance vibes proves Bollywood needn’t always be about soft, romantic melodies. There’s even a touch of dubstep if you listen closely.

Where Ra.One stands out from more conventional Bollywood soundtracks is the inclusion of instrumental theme tunes. Comes the Light, I’m On and Song of the End are spectacular thanks to grand orchestral arrangements by John Stewart and a great performance by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, well regarded for its tradition of recording music for cinematic productions. Raftaarein does much the same thing but in cheeky Bollywood ‘ishtyle’, with trumpets blaring, soaring screams and thumping drum beats.

As India’s first 3D Hindi film, Vishal and Shekhar have tried to create an international soundtrack for a movie with worldwide aspirations. By daring to go dark and including contributions from chart-toppers and accomplished musicians, they have taken East-West collaborations to another level.

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