1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 9

Devdas Soundtrack, by Various Artists
Suggested by Peet Denny

Bollywood Music? In the immortal words of Quantum Leap’s Sam Beckett… “Oh boy.”

I have very limited experience with Bollywood Music. Stereotypically, I’ve only really heard it while in restaurants or taxis, or while watching overblown Bollywood Film action scenes on Youtube for the purposes of mirth. I mean, it all sounds the same, doesn’t it? And is Bollywood Music the same as Bhangra?

I’m not saying these things to be controversial. I present them as my realistic opening position, which is much to my embarrassment. Bollywood Music and the associated culture is just absent from my scope of vision. Happily, the Devdas soundtrack is a small step towards a more enlightened stance.

Devdas is a Hindi Romantic Drama from 2002, based on the 1917 novel of the same name. At the time of release, it was the most expensive Bollywood film, with a budget of over ten million dollars. The film was a critical and box office success, and the soundtrack was one of the top three highest-selling soundtracks in India that year. So, as a strong example of the genre, all bodes well.

My first impression of Devdas soundtrack is positive. I am genuinely, embarrassingly surprised at the depth of style throughout the ten tracks. There’s nuance there, from the upbeat dance numbers to the more soulful and heartfelt slower tracks. Of course, the inimitable Bollywood sound blankets each track, with the popping percussion and jangling melodies one would expect of the genre, alongside the familiar echoing (and slightly nasal) tone effects placed on the associated singers.

There’s a sense of fun, of playfulness, that emanates from every bouncing beat, meaning it’s hard to dislike a single note, pop or twang. The vocals are expertly sung, expressive in emotion despite my own linguistic inadequacy meaning they are largely unintelligible. These are actors, singing their feelings and advancing the plot in the grand Musical Theatre style.

And here’s where I have a problem.

Musical theatre has a built-in oddity, the premise of which is that at any given moment in the dramatic dialogue, seemingly normal human beings can burst into choreographed song and dance routines. One minute we have someone looking out of a window and commenting about the weather, the next we have thirty people tap-dancing in puddles and over-enthusiastically harmonising that we should Button Up Our Overcoats. The songs are designed to bolster that conceit, and as such contain the sound of umbrellas opening to hammer the point home.

As with any Musical Soundtrack, Devdas contains examples of this. There’s one track punctuated by the sound whipping, which I can only assume happens when the titular hero is undergoing mild peril. While I can’t translate the actual words, the trademark Actor Earnestness that’s standard in musical theatre is definitely rife here. And why shouldn’t it be?

This is a Musical Theatre issue, so it’s unfair to be too harsh. Devdas is accomplished, and eye-opening, even if it is stifled by the very medium it successfully represents. I liked it all, but especially Chalak Chalak and its sense of fun. Overall, I’ll give the soundtrack 6/10, and count myself a touch more educated than when I began.

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