There’s nothing quite like a nice, spiffy piece of music to dispel the chill and gloom of a foggy winter morning in Delhi. I got my share of gloom-dispelling, fog-banishing music from Ajay-Atul, the music director duo whose songs for the Marathi film Natrang can bring a smile to even the most depressed. I must confess that I have very little knowledge of folk music or theatre music from Maharashtra. But then, good music just makes you sit up and listen more attentively, and hum the songs through the day. Hopefully, you also go out and buy a copy of the album, load it on your iPod and perhaps play it for others. That should explain why I have been singing Apsara aali from Natrang quite obsessively.
The really fun part about the songs is their wonderful use of rhythm, the drumming and percussion used in the arrangement. The tunes are fairly simple, easy to sing along with and, I daresay, modelled on or borrowing heavily from traditional tunes and styles favoured by varieties such as Naandi and Lavni. To spice things up, they have been neatly rendered by singers whose names unfortunately have not been acknowledged on the album cover that I could lay my hands on. But the combination—of melodies that draw inspiration from folk and regional forms, are rendered with gusto, and recorded with imaginative arrangements that reflect an intimacy with traditional music—works wonders and you have a set of songs that would have taken the nation by storm, if only we had music lovers curating content for radio and TV channels. Sadly, that isn’t the case and, therefore, even though Natrang is a super hit, doing great business at multiplexes along with the likes of 3 Idiots and Avatar, the music will be played and promoted only on Marathi channels, and not on national channels. Like me, you would need a Maharashtrian connection, and preferably a spouse who shares his music collection with you, to be able to hear the music made by this splendid duo.
But even if you don’t have the Maharashtrian connection, you can still check out some of the songs on YouTube, even though I am not sure those songs and videos should be there at all.
Captivating: A still from Natrang.
So notice how at about 0.53 minutes in the video, the chorus sings Apsara aali, Indrapuri tun khaali…which, roughly translated by a non-Marathi speaking translator, means that an apsara, or celestial dancer, descends from her abode in Indrapuri…touched by the rosy hues of the dawn…etc, etc. The full-throated, almost guttural voices in the chorus contrast splendidly with the much lighter tinkle of Bela Shinde’s voice earlier in the song, and the drumming accompanying the chorus brings a vibrant majesty to the apsara’s gait.
Equally attractive is the smart dholki playing in the upbeat Mala zau dyaa yaa ghari…which borrows generously from the music of the Tamasha. There is a particularly charming stroke played on the dholki on the upbeat just before the start of each antara of the song; a smart little piece of rhythm arrangement that could, but should not, go unnoticed. And of course, there is the expressive singing for the Rahmanesque Khel Mandalaa that also deserves generous appreciation.
I don’t know Ajay or Atul; I have never met them; but judging from their music for Natrang, here we have two young men and music directors firmly rooted in the musical traditions of the region to which they belong, and eager to experiment and share their love for music. I am certain they have a huge fan following that is growing steadily and to which I willingly add my name. Yet, I hope that someday soon, their music will be enjoyed universally and not only in Maharashtra or by Maharashtrians living in different parts of the world.
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org