Songs for Midnight’s Children
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A few years ago, Samidha Joglekar's Indo-Jazz ensemble was selected to open for Nitin Sawhney, celebrated composer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, at a music festival in Toronto. Joglekar, who had been training in Indian classical music since the age of 10, listening to varied genres of music on the radio and poring over bandishes in Bhatkhande books, was used to cheering crowds. What she had not factored into her music plans was a project as huge as Midnight's Children — Deepa Mehta's film based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by the same name by Salman Rushdie.
The film may not have intertwined Rushdie's magic realism and historical fiction as coherently as the critics would have liked, but the soundtrack of the film creates several special moments, especially Prem jogan ban ke — the background score to lead couple Shiva and Parvati's intimacy. Sung by Canada-based Joglekar, the song forms an integral part of the film's musical oeuvre.
"It was a lovely experience working with such exceptionally talented, intellectual, and accomplished individuals. I admired Deepa and Nitin for their accomplishments before I even met them. I knew the book was a milestone in literature and once in the studio, I was given descriptions of the scenes for which I had to provide the vocals and had to approach it with an open mind," says Joglekar, who has trained under illustrious thumri singer, Prabha Atre.
The track by Joglekar is inspired by its original — a thumri Prem jogan ban ke, in raga Sohini, a haunting melody by legendary musician Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan in K Asif's Mughal-e-Azam (1960). Khan's deep voice in the film for Tansen's character was a cinematic feat. Joglekar was aware of the legend behind the score she was about to perform. According to film lore, Khan, a staunch purist, was vehemently opposed to the idea of singing in the movies. Music composer Naushad and Asif, on the other hand, were determined to enlist him as a playback for their epic project — no other performer, they were sure, could do justice to the voice of Tansen.
It is said that Khan agreed to sing for a princely sum of Rs 20,000. Without batting an eyelid, Asif dug out half the amount from his pocket and placed the notes on Khan's harmonium. The rest would be paid soon, he assured him. As the whirring fan swept up the notes, Khan acquiesced and the result is one of the most important songs of Indian cinema. "When I got to the studio, Deepa showed me the scene from Mughal-e-Azam and explained that this was the 'feeling' she wanted," says Joglekar. She sang a few straight aalaps and, on the composer's suggestion, improvised with the words. "This ended up sounding much better. The words brought out the emotional quality of the musical phrases better," says Joglekar. The track was then recreated by Sawhney in Puriya Dhanashree, an intense raga to be sung at dusk.
Joglekar's soft yet powerful voice, which begins with a short alaap after a whispered "Aabra Ka Dabra", has a rustic texture that seeps into the consciousness of listeners. Her other song accompanies Shahana Goswami's character, Amina, as she meets a man in a cafe.
Talking about background scores in films, a recent trend in India, Joglekar says, "Good scores have an ability to bring out an emotional response in the audience. They convey the thematic and character-driven element of a film without the viewer being aware of it."