10 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 10 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. 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.

3. 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”

4. Dil To Bachcha Hai Ji – Ishqiya (2010)

How do you create a song about a person falling hopelessly in love even when he thinks his age may not allow? You create music and lyrics that are not just about falling in love, but the curse of doing so, the lack of control over it, and the conversation that such a person has with his heart. “Dil To Bachcha Hai Ji” is a wonderful testament to the same.

Vishal Bhardwaj creates this experience by spining restlessness with each note in the song. The effect is that of a heart beginning to dance and a person reluctant to do so. The essence of love here is that theme with which the song starts, which rises and curls like spinning a web around Khaalujaan. The lyrics become a argument of this person with himself. It is this early theme that will explode into dancing in the song – listen to the feet tapping that starts at 01:40, and how wonderfully this dancing theme trails off into a worried panic as the music turns sour at 02:00 – this is Khalu getting scared at the peak of his joy. He pauses to whisper when he sings “Dil To Bachcha Hai Ji”, as if he’s warning his heart, before it explodes into the dance.

After the first stanza, at 03:18, the theme dance spins into its most heaviest, with that ‘Hey, Hey’ voice spurring it. A genius touch that follows in the second stanza where Rahat Fateh Ali Khan raises his voice to a higher pitch (as if scolding his heart now). It is also evident in the loud banging notes when he sings ‘Darr Lagta Hai Tanha…” at 4:20. The song pauses at this point for a confrontation with his heart. Then a flute starts to buzz at 04:28, as if after that fit of anger, his heart begins teasing him with a slow whirl around him, as he pleads repeatedly, defeatedly ‘Dil To Bachcha Hai Ji’, before they break into dancing one final time.

5. Nadaan Parinde – Rockstar (2014)

Almost all films on musicians end with a final performance, but none quite like Rockstar. Unlike others, it ends not with success, but on a bittersweet note of the cost of artistic expression.

The beginning of the song is the earlier suggested point of JJ’s life – he hits into loss, pain and yearning in order to become an artist. JJ pleads Khatana bhai that his heart must not break, only for just that to happen when Heer goes comatose.

The song begins there, with a deep mourning by a choir, out of which the strains of JJ’s rock song emerge. For JJ, the loss of Heer becomes the loss of his sanity, his simplicity too. He finds his artistic merit, but loses himself in the process. This is why the first part of the song is sung by AR Rahman, directed towards JJ, who is.the “Nadaan Parinda” here. Rahman is the Sufi voice from the Dargah after all, singing to JJ just like in ‘Kun Faaya Kun’. Listen to how his singing begins as JJ struggles with policemen, such beautiful tonal contrast of violence & music – JJ lost in the world, the song summoning him back home.

The song then shifts to JJ, the mourning theme from earlier now playing on the guitar at 02:25. When JJ is onstage, the song changes into a ballad of love by Mohit Chauhan- this is now in reference to the loss of Heer, where Irshad Kamil’s lyrics introduce the timeless yearning of Sufi and Bhajan verses in the ballad (“Kaga Re Kaga Re” has an almost physiological pining, that fits the degrading state of JJ)

We watch JJ howling bestially, as if he’ll break away from his agony by screaming alone – which is practically what happens as the song ends. On the highest note of screaming “O Nadaaaaan…”, as if high in the sky, JJ stops, the crowd takes over his words, as he turns to look at an ephemeral image of Heer emerging delicately out of a holy door. The voices die out, and as Heer walks closer, we hear a song that becomes an irony of JJ’s life. He who always wanted this stage, is in tears when he does have it, and the last words of the song here are “Tumko Paa Hi Liya!”

6. Uyiril Thodum – Kumbalangi Nights (2019)

This beautiful song in Kumbalangi Nights may sound to you like a regular sweet romantic number, but dig deeper and you’ll find an extraordinary secret of songs in films – how music becomes an extension of the soul of a character.

Before we see Bobby fall in love, he is mostly an idle, sleepy slacker. He entertains his constantly sleepy or intoxicated self through a bluetooth speaker that he always carries around. He is always listening to new age music with ambient electronic sounds and tipsy techno beats. “Uyiril Thodum” is set off at the beginning of his love affair. The song starts on gentle guitar strokes, sung from Baby’s POV in a sort of a whisper – “Uyiril Thodum Thalir, Viralavane Nee” (you be the finger that touches the soul). But then, the song shifts to Bobby’s POV, and behold what happens here – the music of the song accommodates ambient electronic sounds and techno beats. Through musical choices in the song alone, composer Sushin Shyam has shown us how the music that Bobby was always listening to, has become a song of his own when he falls in love. Through that earlier music given life now, the slacker has been given romantic energy.

The second half of the song begins later in the film, when Bobby & Baby have agreed to marriage and are even closer now, thus, when the second half is sung by Sooraj Santosh, the music is gentler, and more passionate. From this gentler, slower part, the earlier techno beats build into an even speedier tempo, as if the relationship is really taking flight now. Baby’s POV returns now through singer Anne Amie’s voice, and with her, the beats here settle into a wonderful dancing rhythm – what better way to suggest that she has entered his world? That these two people have become one? Baby’s lyrics tell us exactly this when it says “Melle Theeramithilolangalolangalay Nee Varoo” (tenderly, you come to my shore wave by wave)

7. Ang Laga De – Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela (2013)

Sanjay Leela Bhansali is a director who interprets his lovers as forces of nature that are marred by worldly interruptions. Here are his protagonists, in a room away from their home, going through self-doubt and looking for faith in each other. This could have very well been a sequence in a quieter coming-of-age indie film.

Bhansali gives magnificence even to this low-key tense affair between them. And it makes perfect sense. Because both Ram & Leela are more than ordinary humans – they are archetype holy lovers. And self-doubt causes them to become human like all of us. So through this song, and through Leela’s performance act, Bhansali and Leela are trying to revive the holiness of this love (which is why Leela performs it like a Pooja, as if she were looking to purify themselves of their impurities). The music design is terrific – Santoor notes beat like stings in their heart, and out of it singer Aditi Paul flows with yearning into “Ang Laga De”

The other important factor here for Ram & Leela is erotica. They are extremely sensual beings, so in times of doubt, they are trying to revive themselves by reviving their sexuality – “Ang Laga De” becomes a contrast to their earlier confident sensual exchange in “Lahu Muh Lag Gaya”

You see this revival of holiness again as they embrace, and Bhansali marks this with hymn chants and pacing bass and drums. Smoke wraps them up as they kiss – a throwback to the verse “Tu Hawa De Ise, Toh Mera Tan Jale” by lyricists Siddharth-Garima in the antara – it’s like a ritual being consummated.

Bhansali has finally purged them and made them godly again. But just then, a stone is hurled through the window – as tense silence grows and the song stops abruptly, you realise that they have been hauled down from magnificence to being vulnerable humans again. This will be their final moments together before worldly flaws take over.

8. Sooha Saha – Highway (2014)

Two voids are filled in this song, which is the first song that belongs to Mahabir in the film. One between Mahabir’s adulthood and childhood, and one between the poor, indignant Mahabir and the rich Veera. And both these voids are related – Veera ends up becoming the absent mother in his life. You see this with how the song begins – Veera drops humming notes from the rooftop, and from that emerges Mahabir’s lullaby. Some stunning imagery follows this – Mahabir, who has been running from his past, is confronted by it suddenly, with both good and bad memories crashing in (which is perhaps why the images are marked with lightning like flashes). When we see the mother singing to an infant Mahabir in the fields, the vocals are doubled – it’s like his past and present is in sudden, unexpected sync.

While all songs work with musical interludes, here we get a beautiful quiet interlude. Veera speaks to Mahabir, pleading him to seek out his mother (2). This is very relevant because until now in the song, she was merely a presence around him. Now when she’s speaking directly to him about his troubles, the song quietens down into real life. Randeep Hooda’s performance is magnificent here. He displays catharsis by simply breathing still, suddenly caught emotionally off-guard.

What follows this is a superb director-composer-lyricist moment. Imtiaz Ali recognises what this means to Mahabir – through Veera, years of deposited grief and venom in Mahabir is pouring out, creating a rush of emotions within him. So Ali makes Randeep simply walk vulnerably, uncertainly, probing what Veera is doing to him. Irshad Kamil’s lyrics talk about letting go – “Jo bhi hai rookha sookha..”. And A R Rahman introduces the rush of violins in the music, like the anxious rush of Mahabir’s emotions. The ending then is breathtaking. The main “Sooha Saaha” line is repeated, and the violins slowly die out, leaving “Sooha Saaha, Amma ka” alone – it’s like the childhood lullaby has finally taken over adult anxieties.

9. Kitni Baatein – Lakshya (2004)

Kitni Baatein, a heartfelt poignant song, is about two estranged lovers looking for long-awaited answers, beautifully vocalised by Hariharan and Sadhana Sargam.

They don’t sing it out loud, rather they exchange prolonged glances, which act as a means to communicate the words that are running in their weary minds. Karan and Romi had drifted apart because they wanted different things from life, but fate has brought them together at the same place again, even so at a location where danger is lurking at every corner and they need to stand by each other. Javed Akhtar’s lyrics speak of a combination of longing and helplessness. While Karan tries hard not to recall the beautiful picturesque memories they had shared as she is sitting right there in front of him (“main kaise inhe bhuloon, dil ko kya samjhaun”), Romi is looking for a way to break the ice and talk about what they have gone through and possibly make things alright again (“ek roz inhe sun lo, kyun aise gumsum ho”), or maybe just get the closure she never had.

As Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s mellow, lingering tunes break into a powerful interlude, we witness an explosion at the site, and Karan grabbing Romi’s hand to drag her out of there, while her eyes show a very brief moment of surprise. In the sheltered area with the other soldiers, they continue their silent retrospection. This time it is Karan who wishes they would both speak up and try to clear the misunderstandings (“dono ke dilon me sawal hai, phir bhi hai khamoshi”), while it seems that Romi is slowly yielding to the confusions and conflicts of her heart (“ab hona hai kya haasil, koi kya kahe”). After a storm of trepidations, a hopeful Romi smiles weakly at Karan with tears brimming in her eyes, while he looks back at her with eyes that express something between hurt, incompleteness and yearning. Romi gives Karan a last look before driving away from the war zone, with none of them having managed to speak to each other. The questions they had held onto their hearts still remain unanswered.

10. Agar Tum Saath Ho – Tamasha (2015)

This Song analysis was posted on the IFP app by Purva Thakkar

Background: Ved agrees to meet Tara at a coffee shop, despite knowing it well that he won’t be able to face her, especially after his excited emotional display on rejecting him, which caused sufficient turmoil in their so-called relationship.

Thought: Initially, he wanted to hide himself but something in him stopped him from taking escapism route and rather confront her.

Action: He stays glued to phone when she comes. He pretends he’s super-busy and unaffected by her presence. He attempts to flaunt a stone-hearted image in front of her, half-expecting she’ll go away.

Reaction: A conversation occurs. She almost begs him to stay but he can’t.

Music: While Ved struggles to get away from Tara and she struggles to not lose him, the song “Agar Tum Saath Ho” plays in background. The lyrics are so much synonymous to present situation! Song opens with the words, “Pal bhar theher jaao, dil yeh sambhal jaaye” (“Stay still for a while, let the heart settle”). He realises, she wants him. He hugs her. Though, he finds solace in her arms, right now he’s mad at her. So, he pulls himself away from her. Together they sit with their heads down on the table. She imagined Ved to be full of life and love, but he’s living two lives: one which he likes, and other which the world likes. He turns his head towards Tara and looks at her for a while. Then he turns away. Even looking at Tara has become painful now! She comes closer and caresses his hair, with an intention to comfort him. When, in song, Alka Yagnik sings the word “behti” (it means “flows” — in this context — emotions), a tear falls from his left eye, exactly at that moment. He gets up and goes out, leaving a weeping Tara behind. I loved the use of time-lapse photography technique when Ved escapes and she searches. She finds him hiding in graffiti. There’s a change in her expressions — conviction to vulnerability. She sits on her knees, apologetically. Still, he abandons her. She breaks down in tears.

We collaborated with various writers, including 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!