Film songs, as I’ve said before, in the post-revival era of cinema have a tendency to slip from memory far too easily unless they are a dance number we have dissected to the moon and back as good, bad, evil, and "shameless" or something radically beautiful. The OST of a film is situational music, but it is also music that should have the capability to last. A melody here, some lyrics there, a good song will survive decades. In the digital age, content including music from around the world is available to us at the click of a button. Therefore, music has to be visually stunning, when in a film, but also ultimately work on its own.
I keep thinking of Azaadi where a freedom fighter, Moammar Rana and journalist, Sonya Hussyn are transported from Kashmir to a beach out of nowhere and in what can only be qualified as shaadi clothes, the heroine is dancing to a hero who has suddenly lost his beard and years. Huh? This kind of placement is comical and takes away from a song because you’re too busy laughing or alternatively being horrified.
Our neighbouring counterpart - Bollywood - is struggling in the music department just the same since the music is targeted at an audience that can groove to it in clubs even as a gem or two slip in.
In fact, the remixing of its own genuine classics into something unfathomable has led artists like Lata Mangeshkar, (what a voice) condemning it.
In Pakistan, so far, not all directors have mastered the art of film music, both in terms of original soundtrack and background score. If anything, it is a conundrum because Pakistan has produced beautiful music in the past. A recent viewing of ‘Ko Ko Korina (Meray Khayalon Pay Chaey Hai)’ from Armaan and ‘Aaye Mausam’ from Saath Lakh was a reminder that we can do better these days. In fact, once upon a time, we did make proper film music.
Fortunately, we’re getting there.
Sarmad Sultan Khoosat’s Manto, Asim Raza’s Ho Mann Jahan, Jamshed Mehmood Raza aka Jami’s Moor, Mehreen Jabbar’s Dobara Phir Se, Shoaib Mansoor’s Bol and Kamal Khan’s 2019 release Laal Kabootar - all support this observation.
As films directors aim to envision and create a movie and not a television serial on the big screen, the music, too, is refining. This is where Parey Hut Love comes in.
After a solid OST for Ho Mann Jahan that featured hits and a lengthy track listing, director Asim Raza is back with his second feature film, a strong soundtrack and unlike its predecessor, an album that has cut back on the number of songs but focused on quality.
It is about weaving the songs within the film’s narrative so that it feels natural and this is where things get tricky. But, for the sake of this review, forget the huge ensemble cast, the trailer or the money you will spend on the ticket. A great soundtrack is one that works even without larger-than-life visuals. It opens up the imagination.
Thus, our story opens not with how many songs have music videos and whether they have released or not. It opens with the auditory and whether it can touch our senses. Film music is not necessarily the same as pop, low-fi, electronic or experimental music. It can tell the story of character(s) while providing, us, the listeners, with a different kind of music majesty.
PHL, a film that tackles several relationships with an all-star ensemble cast portraying on the surface a commitment-phobic generation, has restricted itself to six songs, which is a good thing.
With the young Azaan Sami Khan holding reins as music director, the album is filled with numerous lyricists, co-composers, and singers coming together for what is essentially and most importantly a cohesive album.
Our story begins with the majestic ‘Morey Saiyan‘ that has been given music by Zeb Bangash and Azaan Sami Khan and opens with a mournful sarangi, played by Ghulam Ali and followed by Zeb’s vocals that echo a greater happiness than playfulness. As she sings about ‘Piya’ (lover) coming back and a grand, the tabla, played by Sajeev Sen, sitar by Ravi Chari, the elusive percussion and strings section come into place. It’s the most beautiful song on the album and yet the arrangement and instrumentation is paced in such a way that they go together. The song, running over 3 minutes is not so long that you wonder why but has a good length that gives every musician a chance to shine with Zeb’s voice appearing like a romance-laden revelry.
Jimmy Khan, who stole the spotlight on the Ho Mann Jahan album with ‘Baarish’, is back - as a cast member and as a singer on ‘Haye Dil’. Moving away from his current works, Jimmy Khan appears on a funky song out of his usual territory that echoes part country, part dance, part filmi-pop that has instant sing-along value as he wonders about matters of hearts and the stars above with backing vocals provided by a number of singers. But the song really flies because Jimmy Khan sounds excellent. This one is as appealing as ‘Baarish’.
‘Behkna Na’ - sung by Ali Tariq and Harshdeep Kaur - with music production by Saad Sultan - provides a change in pace. Slower, surrounded by the violin, flute and piano, it (a) makes Ali Tariq sound good and (b) has this melancholy that seeps through the words and the overall music. It, too, possesses that eastern music element; Harshdeep Kaur adds to the song while the flute solo is elegant. This song has a romantic wondering and it ends in a way you don’t see coming without a single, garish beat.
‘Ik Pal’, which is sung by Hadiqa Kiyani, Harshdeep Kaur with Punjabi vocals provided by Suhas Sawant is one of those songs that brings a shaadi to mind but surprisingly while this fits that criterion, flirtation coming through the vocals; it isn’t a song that gives you a headache and as the shehnai enters you know it is something special.
By using instruments like the shehnai, sarangi, sitar, tabla on a contemporary album, Azaan Sami Khan is proving there is room for these instruments; it’s a matter of how you use them. And because not all of them come at you at the same time, each manages to shine in various songs.
‘Balma Bhagora’ - sung by Aima Baig with lyrics by Ahmed Ali Butt along with Asim Raza with rapping by leading man Shehreyar Munawar and co-star Ahmed Ali Butt is where things go wrong. From the opening, you know that this is a song that will get replaced next month by another equally garish effort that is meant to echo some sentiment but falls by overdoing it. And with Pakistani rap having grown such a strong identity, even the rapping is off.
What does make up for ‘Balma Bhagora’ is an original composition by Ustaad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan called ‘Zehal - E - Miskeen’, with music produced by Saad Sultan and sung by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan that provides divinity in the form of a qawwali and completes the album on a spiritual note, which is a welcome.
In the end, with 5 out of 6 songs working, it is a fine accomplishment by Azaan Sami Khan and all the varied musicians involved. How the songs are placed will elevate their narrative. We will know soon enough but for now check out the Parey Hut Love album; it will make you smile because it is strong, surprising and ultimately a sign that Pakistani film music is getting back on track and heading to its glorious days.