Coming a month after Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, AR Rahman’s Dil Bechara soundtrack could have ended up, for no fault of its own, out of sync with the still-mournful public mood. Instead, here is an album that’s perfect for this delicate moment. There’s nothing that’s jarring or experimental or harsh. Instead, the soundtrack has something like a healing touch, an enveloping warmth of melody, harmony and familiarity.
The title track sets the tone. It has some of the insinuating quality of Aye Udi Udi from Saathiya, but is slinkier and softer, with Rahman crooning about friendzones, shadowed closely by backing vocalists Poorvi Koutish and Hriday Gattani. There’s a brief bit of weirdness in the bridge but Rahman’s tender reading of the second verse (he stretches the word “kyun" over a whole line) reinstates the low-key romantic mood.
Taare Gin is in the style of a Disney musical, Shreya Ghoshal and Mohit Chauhan singing different lines and melodies at the same time, the song lifting two-thirds of the way through into a beautiful crescendo. It comes down just as quickly, the wistfulness in Chauhan’s voice reflected in Amitabh Bhattacharya’s questioning lyrics: Yeh waada hai ya iraada hai/kabhi yeh zyaada hai kabhi yeh aadha hai (is this a promise or a decision/sometimes it’s too much, sometimes halfway there). Later, on the charming Maskhari, Bhattacharya shows his unparalleled knack for the unexpected phrase, rhyming “dil ko de araam" and “fokat mein badnaam" with “peedahari balm" from the old Zandu balm jingle.
I don’t think I’ve heard so many close harmonies on a single Rahman album. Khulke Jeene Ka has Arijit Singh and Shashaa Tirupati singing in unison right out of the gate. Jonita Gandhi joins Hriday Gattani on the chorus of Main Tumhara, and later sings an aching verse with him. On the jaunty Mera Naam Kizzie, it’s Aditya Narayan and Poorvi Koutish who harmonize, their playful vocals underlined by a chirpy clarinet in the style of 1950s song arrangements like Eena Meena Deeka. Rahman’s usual stable of excellent backing vocalists add further layers to all the tracks, creating a warm, pillowy sound.
The one departure from the easy-going sound doesn’t land. Afreeda is such a tepid revisiting of Khalbali that you have to wonder why they went to the trouble of getting Palestinian vocalist Sanaa Moussa to sing it. Hip hop artist Raja Kumari makes it worse with her nonsensical bars—for all his unerring musical instinct, Rahman continues to have terrible taste in rappers. There’s also an unnecessary remix of the title track, before the album closes out strong with a limpid violin instrumental, The Horizon of Saudade.
The general consensus among Rahman fans is that his music in the 1990s and 2000s was more immediately arresting, and that you have to let his recent work wash over you. Dil Bechara certainly gains from a couple of relaxed listens, with smaller details of instrumental colour and vocal arrangement coming into focus. I’d imagine the music will gain further resonance once the film is out and the warmth of the melodies offers some comfort to viewers struggling with the thought that this will be the last time they see Rajput in a new work.