I fall in the category of listeners who get a grip of the lyrics of a song over time; they are secondary compared to the melody. When I had heard Ekk Deewana Tha (2012), the Hindi remake of the Gautam Vasudev Menon’s Tamil hit Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (2010), first and the original later, I immediately knew how much better the latter sounded. I didn’t understand a word. But what mattered more than what it meant is how it sounded. It was the first time I realized the almost subliminal role of phonetics in a song. The lyrics and melody felt made for each other in Vinnaithandi... In the Hindi remake, for which Javed Akhtar wrote the lyrics, it felt like one was forcing oneself on the other.
Shaad Ali’s OK Jaanu, a remake of Mani Ratnam’s O Kadhal Kanmani or (2015), is a major A.R. Rahman Tamil album rendered in Hindi.
It isn’t a total washout like Ekk Deewana Tha. OK Jannu has a couple of new offerings, but it falters on similar grounds in the remaking of the some of the Tamil album’s best songs.
Mental Manadhil, in its quest to undergo a total Hindi makeover, sounds terribly awkward. It could have easily retained the “hook” from the original —“Laila, like a like my Laila”— but instead replaces it with “Jaanu, chal na kuchh karte hai....” Not only does it move far away from the ring of the original phrase, it misses metric precision as well. It robs the song of its natural, mad flow to such an extent that had I not heard Mental Manadhil first, I would’ve probably never appreciated any of it, neither the track’s fun, techno arrangement nor its unpredictability.
The dissonance between the tunes and the new set of words is even more felt in Jee Lein (Theeda Ulaa in Tamil). The song has a few words that spread themselves over long stretches of melody lines. Hence, the translation sticks out even more and those who like the original may need to reach out for it as an urgent antidote.
Kaara Fankaara fares much better because it has a relatively simpler task of replacing the Tamil rap portions with English verses.
Saajan Ayo Re, the new version of Naane Varugiraein, thankfully holds its own. It’s a semi-classical number and Gulzar’s words, that seem straight out of a Hindustani bandish, fit in with ease.
OK Jaanu leaves out three songs (Mallargal Kaettaen, Aye Sinamika and Parandhu Sella) from O Kadhal Kanmani, introduces two new tracks, and one remix. Sunn Bhavara immerses us in the relaxed atmosphere of an evening of classical recital; Sashaa Tirupati, whose vocal dexterity reminds me of Rekha Bhardwaj, is wonderful.
It is easy to dismiss Enna Sona, possibly a replacement for Aye Sinamika, as the latest in the line of soft romantic numbers written in Punjabi. It borrows the opening line of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s iconic song. But take out the lyrics and it seems as if there is something distinctly Tamil about the tune. It belongs to Rahman’s more minimally arranged numbers, where a simple tune, warm guitars and effective chord changes does the job. Arijit Singh is all soul. Maulla Wa Sallim, sung by Rahman’s son A.R. Ameen, and which plays out like a prayer, has wisely been kept untouched.
The Humma Song—a remix of the 90s Rahman hit— begins with soft, likable beats. It has an uncluttered sound and you begin to think it could be fun. But then Baadshah enters with his creepy rap verses that have nothing else to say besides sexual innuendoes. It ultimately descends into another forced remix that lacks imagination.
OK Jaanu is particularly disappointing because the people involved in the project boast of some solid Tamil-to-Hindi albums in the past: Ali’s own Saathiya, that was made two years after Mani Ratnam’s original Alaipayuthey, got a completely new identity from Gulzar’s words. Even his work in Ratnam’s other movies such as Raavan, Yuva is memorable. The feeling OK Jaanu leaves you with is that perhaps it couldn’t afford all that effort and time that went behind the wholesome translation of those albums.
Saajan Ayo Re