Bollywood’s best yet

The Persian legend of Layla and Majnun has inspired multiple film adaptations across languages and time. Most of them feature songs that transcend time. The most popular has to be of course, the 1976
Laila Majnu
with Rishi Kapoor and Ranjeeta Kaur that had music by Madan Mohan and Jaidev, and penned by Sahir Ludhianvi. This Friday, we have yet another adaptation set in Kashmir with music from Niladri Kumar, Joi Barua and the Kashmiri Pune-based band Alif.

Though other tracks from the film’s album feature Kashmiri verses, it is Alif’s

Katyu Chukh

that is entirely in the regional language. The song is the band’s version of 18th- and 19th-century poet Mahmud Gami’s poem. It’s a rendition that stays close to the band’s past attempts of the same track (they appear to have performed it at multiple music festivals), and quite wonderfully so. Lead singer Mohammad Muneem’s soaring vibrato echoes across a minimal, ambient soundscape that is bound to take your mind to the Kashmiri valleys. Composer Joi Barua offers three peppy original tunes, penned by Irshad Kamil (who also takes a stab at the rest of the album). The catchiest of the three is the folksy

O Meri Laila

, sung by Atif Aslam and Jyotica Tangri. Its clear highlight is the infectious hook that cements itself with its use of the rabab and accordion/harmonium. The shorter radio version of the song features a different, but equally effective arrangement and Barua’s vocals which aren’t quite top notch. Dev Negi and Amit Sharma lead

Gayee Kaam Se

that follows a qawwali format until a surprise dreamy twist by Meenal Jain surprises towards the end.

Barua explores a third genre for his final song, going yesteryear disco with

Lala Zula Zalio

. While Frankie’s Kashmiri rendition that opens the song sits awkwardly atop the techno backdrop, the led by Sunidhi Chauhan works really well.

In comes lead composer, sitarist Niladri Kumar, with four more distinct tunes. And the man starts with a bang, producing an incredibly immersive romantic melody in the wonderfully written


that is handled exceptionally well by Jonita Gandhi and Arijit Singh. The lush backdrop features some really imaginative layers from Kumar and the arrangers Agnelo Fernandes and Arjun Nair; and one of those is Kumar’s own electric sitar aka Zitar.


is Atif Aslam’s brilliant solo act. The opening verse of the song bears something of a mild resemblance to


, but the song proceeds along a totally different route, one as splendid as the earlier song. The resonant soundscape is once again half the song’s charm, and the phased use of percussion accentuates the effect. An alternate ‘male’ version has Javed Ali with his trademark nuances, while the composer keeps everything else the same. Shreya Ghoshal sounds her most exquisite leading


, yet another sprawling melodic piece from Kumar, but for a frenetic percussion-led digression in the second half that is delivered by Babul Supriyo. While the sarod adds a lovely touch in the song’s interlude, I wish it were a tad longer.

Hafiz Hafiz

starts on a misleading note, sounding a bit like an extension of


, before steadily picking up. It is the children’s chorus that kicks off the vocal section with the opening verse of the oft covered Kashmiri folk

Hukus Bukus

, before Mohit Chauhan takes over and sings the rest of the inspirational piece in style. The composer leverages his fusion sensibilities to make some nifty additions to the invigorating percussion-dominated orchestration, like konnakol (Carnatic percussion syllables). Kamil’s words are once again splendidly realised.

Laila Majnu

has one of the best soundtracks yet this year, and it comes from three names rarely heard from in the industry.

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