4 Songs You Didn’t Know Were So Detailed & Layered

Unlike in the West, every Indian film is a musical in its own way ranging from soulful songs to party songs to romantic songs and much more. But there are a few songs that help drive the narrative of the film instead of merely focusing on selling music rights or being a promotional asset. When we are “Decoding The Song”, we take a look at some of the most meaningful songs and try to give a different perspective to the viewers about it. It can be through pointing out usage of a particular musical instrument at specific points, or sometimes the visuals that symbolize an important aspect of the film, and of web of words weaved into beautiful lyrics. Here are the top 4 songs which you didn’t realize had much detailed layers.

1. Moh Moh Ke Dhaage – Dum Lag Ke Haisha (2015)

This song is a great example of how to build a narrative. In the film, we first get to see it from Sandhya’s point of view. The film started off as a comedy – always full of people, with no space for this couple away from the society. At home, they are packed in a room like rats in a laboratory. Which is why the “spaces” of this song are stunning. The town is vacant at night, as if giving time and space to these two, and the first romantic expression is made through the song, breaking the film away from the comedy. But Sandhya’s song is snuffed out just as they are in bed and Prem shrugs her advances. We now know that there is a male version of the song and the narrative has set itself up for that version.

It is also interesting to note how this version plays out in the night, because their passion is one sided from Sandhya, waiting to emerge fully and confidently into light. Note then, how, when the male version does play in the climax, it is in daytime when Prem and Sandhya realise their well reciprocated love – now also from Prem’s point of view. Sandhya’s version had stated this nature when she had sung

“Tu din sa hai, main raat
Aa na dono mill jaayein shamon ki tarah”

There is also a sweet and witty contrast between the motion in the two songs. In the first version, they are on a scooter, a vehicle that belongs to the family, taking a ride that they are reluctant to. The male version disrupts this with a great contrast – Prem is carrying her on his back even when the race is over; as if now that they’ve accepted each other, they don’t need a social vehicle to drag them. Once again they break away from the busy populace as the film ends with this song. They kiss each other as the camera tracks back – accepting each other and their environment. The light slowly dims out in this shot – night and day have truly come together to meet like evening.

2. Pal Pal Har Pal – Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006)

This song is a great example of just how to place Hindi film songs well in a narrative. It is not to take the plot of the story forward, but to stop the plot itself. It is when in the indomitable passage of time and plot, there is a moment that stops and opens itself as an emotional gift for us, tells us something deep about us. At the beginning of the song, Munna asks Jhanvi to wait until morning for his letter, which she supposes is a love letter, but Munna knows otherwise. She can’t wait for the morning, and he’s afraid of just that. The passage of time on that night is precious to both of them for different reasons – Jhanvi wants it to speed up, Munna wants it to drag. Time is cruel to her wait, and a gift to his final moments with her, and time is what they both sing about. The film can easily cut to next morning, but a song, here in this special window of time, can enlarge the emotional dimension of these characters.

This is what explains how, when Jhanvi begins the song, the percussion of the song is ticked off to the sounds of the ticking of the clock. This is what explains Jhanvi floating in the song like she were suspended from the passage of time in a dream space. And note then how, when Munna begins to sing in the stanza, the percussion stops, as if he’s dragging the momentum behind in fear of what is to come – even his lyrics are a contrast to her energy when he sings

“Oh Humsafar, Lagta Hai Darr, Raat Kate Na, Kabhi Ho Seher”

Here are two people, looking at each other in the eye for separate reasons, and the song is taking the shape of their different states of heart.

Their energies are united in the slow, percussion-less conclusion of the song as she reads the letter – his worst fears are coming true, her faith is being shattered, and the heady passion of the song from last night is reduced to a whimpering tune in the morning light, like the final drops of a heavy rain last night. She slaps him, the song ends; life, and plot, moves on.

3. Tu Bin Bataye – Rang De Basanti (2006)

In this lovely song, AR Rahman equates the experience of love with the activity of flying, of an extra-dimensional journey rising upwards. We suggest you listen to the song (earphones recommended) as you follow.

As the song begins, he ushers gentle synth plucks from silence, summoning us quietly to begin. At 00:21, the percussion of the song emerges like the sounds of a train – he is initiating a journey. At 00:30, she begins to sing slowly, sheepishly. At 01:03, as she repeats the intro line, viola sounds emerge, spurring her vocals with energy, giving her further push. At 01:35, her voice bursts into a more affected, confident high note, and it is marked by shivering cymbal rolls and rising violins. When she says ‘Mishri Ki Dali’, the energy pauses, as if she stops mid-air to taste the experience, as a flute plays gently. From this pause, she returns to her sheepish notes, this time more sure of herself, and the drums emerge here for the first time – as if marking her new found heartbeats.

Then comes the saxophone, and a sudden shift in tone at 02:55; it appears like a sudden change in gear. We learn at 03:21, as the drum beats more fiercely, that this gear change is towards her lover’s mindscape, who begins to sing. Rahman creates magic here – he introduces the sounds of a church prayer – choir & bells which equate the reciprocation of love to an answer from God, a response to a prayer. And when he sings ‘Bheeg Jaaye..’, his voice breaks into two, as if riding too much passion for a single voice. At 04:10, he sinks to sing the same intro line to her and her voice returns with a ‘La La..’ – upon being reciprocated, she needs no more words to express, the viola sounds return with her too. It seems like the song is ending now, they’re flying downwards, but at 04:59, they blow up into one final lunge upwards, as if refusing to stop. It ends gradually, with the same starting synth plucks dying into the same silence they had initially risen from.

4. Bismil – Haider (2014)

Bismil’ is a beautiful case of “drama within a drama” in film songs. It fits right into the film’s narrative here. Haider is pushed to the point of insanity by the wedding of his mother to his uncle and he can see through the farce that it all is. But he cannot simply lay accusations at them – it would not only be mocked, but wouldn’t match the intensity of his anger. The truth that can’t be revealed in simple words, Haider laces it into a bewitching performance. He creates a farce of his own, turns their social celebration upside down by talking about the bloodshed behind this wedding.

He begins sanely, the song initially talks about a wounded bird (Ghazala) finding a love-scented flower (Khurram) when he sings “Khusbu-e-Gul Me Ishq Bhara Hai”. But it slowly grows more grave. Listen to the music at 03:00 when Haider sings about Bulbul’s dreams being polluted, how Vishal Bhardwaj gives the music itself a slowly contaminating quality. Or how the choir sounds like the ominous approach of death at 04:00, turning into a victorious chant of rebirth at 05:00!

The climax is astounding. It begins from that idea of rebirth at 05:00, and you can feel how this is a special moment for Bhardwaj the artist. Bhardwaj the musician is asking his orchestra to rack it up, the lyrics talk about the victory of truth, and Bhardwaj the director is preparing Shahid for a final leap of insanity, as the choir grips Haider. Before that leap comes one final sane plea by Haider to his mother at 05:30 – “Hosh Me Aa Jaa”. The early lyrics now finally become “Khusbu-e-Gul Me Zeher Bhara Hai”

Then a literal leap happens at 05:45 – with the music at its heaviest, Haider leaps off the stage, from his performance into real life. It is the ultimate revelation of truth by him, as he stops before Khurram, slinging mud at his face, as if saying to him “truth now buddy, this act was always meant for you”

We collaborated with Fables of Film to curate these gems from the Hindi film industry. Think you can make such keen observations from films like nobody else? Share your writings with us and get featured on India Film Project. Download the IFP app, make your profile, head to the PARTICIPATE section and start sharing your observations!