Imtiaz Ali releases the record-breaking Jab We Met, best known as the swansong to the whirlwind Shahid Kapoor-Kareena Kapoor (yet to be a Khan!) love story. Shimit Amin directs Shah Rukh Khan, a Muslim superstar, in Chak De! India, a patriotic sports film that holds an entire population hostage for constantly demanding that Muslims prove their patriotism for a country that is as much their own. And Farah Khan efficiently utilises the hallowed baggage of SRK by making Om Shanti Om, arguably the finest meta-commentary on the sperm-driven, ego-fuelled circus that is Bollywood.
This is a time when Akshay Kumar is still doing bumbling comedy movies like Namastey London, and has not yet located his jingoistic bone. Soon, a little known director called Aamir Khan teaches India about autism with Taare Zameen Par. And then there is the class of debutantes: Sagar Ballary, Reema Kagti, Navdeep Singh, and R Balki, who take it upon themselves to challenge Hindi cinema audiences with their respective kooky outings — Bheja Fry, Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd, Manorama Six Feet Under, and Cheeni Kum.
Put simply, it was a glorious time to be alive. And then, Shaad Ali made Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.
Part-musical, part-madcap comedy starring Abhishek Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan, Preity Zinta, Lara Dutta, and Bobby Deol, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom was the sun that sank without rising. The film unfolded with a casual disregard to logic or self-respect, held together entirely by an orgy of blinding lights and injurious over-acting. The borderline insulting plot revolved around two compulsive NRI liars who meet at a London cafe, and fall in love with each other while inventing fake partners, dreaming about imaginary romantic song sequences, and competing in dance-offs across Paris, London, and Agra. And if that was not enough, there was also Amitabh Bachchan cosplaying as a completely unnecessary musician-pirate who wandered around Waterloo station wearing a hat spiked with ostrich feathers and breaking into his own lonely flashmob.
There’s no easy way to say this: The film was objectively speaking, a trainwreck of giant proportions — a project so atrocious that it remains one of the worst offenses committed against Indian audiences.
But here comes the plot twist. Allow me to introduce you to the silver-lining of this godforsaken pothole of a movie — its blistering, boisterous, and banging soundtrack. In the last decade, there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t worshipped at the altar of this groovy soundtrack.
The Jhoom Barabar Jhoom soundtrack is pure whataboutery: it is made up of songs that you want to sing with your friends at the top of your voices as well as songs that you want to enjoy without anyone finding out. It’s an economical, flawless album really, in the sense that even when it noisily goes over-the-top, it still can hold your attention. It’s held my attention for over a decade now as the soundtrack to my karaoke nights, impromptu sleepover dance-offs, drunk birthday nights, and sunny vacation days.
If Ranveer Singh’s energy and wardrobe could be bottled in a music album, it would be called Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. This is an album where the restless energies of Neeraj Sridhar, Shankar Mahadevan, and Vishal Dadlani comfortably square off against the emotional sincerity of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Sukhwinder Singh, and Alisha Chinai’s voices. The melodies are meticulously arranged: there are catchy hooks, low-fi bhangra beats, lots of dhol, and employing an array of instruments, from the santoor and the flute to the rubab, all of which build up to a satisfying crescendo.
In fact, it is downright impossible to listen to any of the songs from the album, and not immediately start humming it. The film’s title loosely translates to “Move your body well,” and the soundtrack ensures it does justice to that thought. Listening to each of these seven songs is a reminder that you’re alive. Look, the soundtrack says, life is short and our existence is meaningless so why bother worrying about the serious stuff when we could just lose ourselves in tiny frivolities.
The other reason I remain perennially fixated with this album is the fact that each of these songs resemble tiny movies onto themselves — injecting a lifetime of personality and backstories in their lyrics and choreography. Take for instance, ‘Kiss of Love,’ and ‘Ticket to Hollywood,’ two songs that invent stories out of nothing. The rambunctious ‘Kiss of Love,’ my personal favourite track of the album, is drenched in artifice: it is set in the backdrop of a court where two lovers are on trial. Shot in the backdrop of Paris, ‘Ticket to Hollywood’ revolves around a negotiation for, you guessed it, a ticket to Hollywood.
Then there’s the album’s emotional centre: ‘Bol Na Halke Halke,’ a romantic ballad that aptly conveys the reverberations of those first moments in love. The film’s title track also gets two different treatments: one the setting for a dance-off, and the other, a surrealist train station set-piece. Gift wrapping all of these is the ‘Jhoom Jam,’ the film’s only instrumental piece which assembles all the sounds of the album in one place.
Indeed, these songs are the perfect vehicle for the film’s unadulterated excess — an universe where Gulzar’s soft whisper of “Kitne dino se yeh aasman bhi soya nahi hai, isko sula de” can exist right next to the blunt declaration of “Oye band karle bandh kar yaara, daka dalti aankhein.” I can’t think of a better treat.
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