Dreaming of the Crash: Manto's soundtrack

September 13, 2015

Instep uncovers the soundtrack of the film Manto and speaks to music producer Jamal Rahman about the songs and the stories that make up this powerful record

Dreaming of the Crash: Manto's soundtrack

It has been a formidable year for film music. You may or may not appreciate the films but the soundtracks are a whole other story.

Of the films that have released this year, the soundtracks that have stood out belong to at least four different films. Asad-ul-Haq’s Dekh Magar Pyaar Say soundtrack is contemporary and cool, mixed with original songs and re-worked covers. Jami’s Moor soundtrack is heartbreaking and reflective in places, edgy and playful in equal paces and reflects the growth of the band we know as Strings.

Bin Roye, though patchy in places, also has at least two songs worthy of discussion including the stunning ‘Maula’ feat. Abida Parveen and ZebBangash. Shiraz Uppal and Noori’s collaborative tunes on Wajahat Rauf’s Karachi Se Lahore resulted in a breezy, easy-listening record.

It is safe to say that film music in Pakistan is currently going through an exciting, intriguing phase and just might help shed light on artists who do not find as much space in the press and the spotlight otherwise.

The latest album to join this exciting club is the soundtrack of Sarmad Khoosat’s Manto. Produced by Jamal Rahman and Danish Khwaja, the film soundtrack of Manto features four intensely beautiful songs. The songs are a combination of old school dreamy magic, a universe of the experimental, and the ominous, a rebellious landscape where dreams don’t die.

The incomparable Ali Sethi makes two appearances on the album and continues to steal our hearts. His melancholic style and versatility is showcased brilliantly on this record. You can hear the emotional rollercoaster and it’s delightful.

Meesha Shafi scores a win with ‘Mehram Dilaan De Mahi’, a song that slows you down and commands instant, undivided attention while Javed Bashir is simply haunting.

The underrated and beautiful-sounding Zeb Bangash makes a solid appearance on the album with her rendition of ‘Kya Hoga’ (alongside Ali Sethi). This is a song that toys with you with its tipsy soul and jazzy groove. In the soundtrack of Manto lies the story of the music world that is not acknowledged enough. But more on that later.

Track-by-track story Jamal Rahman explains the story behind the four songs

Song: ‘Aah Ko Chahiye’
Singer: Ali Sethi
Lyrics: Mirza Ghalib

"I have worked with Ali Sethi once before, when I produced his debut track ‘Jalanay Ki Baat’ two years ago. It was on the basis of that track that Sarmad (Khoosat, the director) had gotten in touch with me to produce and compose music for his film, Manto. From the very beginning, Sarmad gave us liberty to experiment and create as we saw fit, providing mostly abstract briefs that indicated only the mood for each piece. He sourced all the lyrics and Danish (Khawaja, co-producer) and I made original compositions around them.

For Ghalib’s classic ‘Aah Ko Chahiye’, we went for a decidedly minimal, stripped-down arrangement. I had Ali sing the track as soft and whispery as possible, giving the vocals more intimacy and dynamics. The cello and sarangi were arranged and recorded at the very end over the initial progression and tied everything together. It was a particularly distressing time for me on a personal level and I think that came through on the track!"

Song: ‘Kya Hoga’
Singer: Ali Sethi and Zeb Bangash
Lyrics: Mohammed Hanif

"I first worked with Zeb four years ago when I produced Zeb & Haniya’s second album which unfortunately, due to lack of distribution and financial support, was never released. For this track, we felt Zeb and Ali would compliment each other perfectly. Mohammad Hanif wrote the lyrics for this playful and flirtatious duet so the music had to compliment that mood. This was our attempted tribute to old Bollywood film music coupled with gypsy jazz influences and was written for the Peshawar se Lahore Tak sequence. We wanted to add a tongue-in-cheek element to the music that already existed in the lyrics, hence the quirky whistles and guitar solos."

Song:  ‘Mehram Dilaan De Mahi’
Singer: Meesha Shafi
Lyrics:  Shiv Kumar Batalvi

"This was the first track written for the film and features in the ThandaGosht sequence. The track had to be dark and aggressive but also seductive in an eerie way and Meesha’s ability to evoke a range of drama in her vocals made her the perfect choice for Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s haunting lyrics. We utilised a myriad of experimental production techniques and ended up with a deeply layered track featuring pitched guitars, a miniature glockenspiel, cult-like backing vocals and even a cushioned stool played with brushes! (Babar Khanna, percussionist) was warming up on the stool, getting ready to record a take on the snare when I walked in and had a sudden eureka moment. It was the right sound for the first bridge and helped add an element of subtle suspense! The whole process was very organic and the track was borne out of a free flow of ideas, both compositionally and production-wise."

Song:  ‘Kaun Hai Ye Gustakh’
Singer: Javed Bashir
Lyrics: Majid Amjad

"Majid Amjad’s poem made for a challenge when adapting it as lyrics for a song, having no discernible rhythm to its structure. As we wrote, we decided to let the composition flow more like a story told to music rather than use repetition as one would in a song format, giving the track an entirely unconventional structure. Javed Bashir’s powerful voice was aptly chosen to carry the weight of the lyrics. The track is purposefully made jarring and disruptive, following the spirit of the poem written for Manto. One of the main features in the track is a bowed guitar playing various passages in parallel to the melody."

Dreaming of the Crash: Manto's soundtrack