In 2003, the ‘70s were cool. Bollywood aficionados will remember the movie Jhankaar Beats, which had songs composed by a then relatively unknown duo who called themselves Vishal-Shekhar. In an era dominated by the likes of AR Rahman, Jatin-Lalit, Anu Malik, and Sandeep Chowta —music composers from the ‘90s, still enjoying a successful run —this music director duo comprised Shekhar Ravjiani, who shot to prominence after participating in a singing reality show, and Vishal Dadlani, well known to those aware of Mumbai’s nascent independent scene as the front-man of electro-rock group Pentagram.
The Jhankaar Beats soundtrack was, at the time, a freshsoundfor Bollywood. The movie was about a group of musicians who idolised RD Burman, and so the title track paid tribute to the late genius. But the song that went on to endure in listeners’ memories and win several accolades, was ‘Tu Aashiqui Hai,’ a lush, feel-good ballad sung by KK, for which he won the National Award.
‘Tu Aashiqui Hai’ may not have been a party-starter like some of the other songs (to put it mildly), but quickly became a radio staple. It’s a mid-tempo ballad with arrangements presumably chosen to suit its picturisation in the film —itis shot in a church. This includes organs, electric guitar, and a choir. In keeping with the requirements of Bollywood music, the arrangements are lush and occasionally superfluous, adding to the ‘bigness’ of the sound.
In the first season of Coke Studio, this ‘classic’ was rearranged and reinterpreted by Leslie Lewis. It opens with a trio of back-up singers crooning the hook-line over a bed of layered acoustic guitars, playing chords that instantly remind one of ‘70s pop rock (think Fleet wood Mac).The first thing that strikes you about this version is that it is slower in tempo than the original. The beat kicks in much earlier, with drummer Darshan Doshiopting for a more laidback country-esque groove. Instead of the shuffle-y nature and enthusiastic rolls of the original, the beat on this is more contemplative, with more rim-shots than full-blooded, muted snare hits.
The piece de resistance, undoubtedly, is Karthick Iyer’s magical Carnatic violin, which adds a layer of melancholic beauty to the song. It builds up slowly, adding an undercurrent of emotion that finally erupts around the two-and-a-half-minute mark. As a slight contrast, guitarist Sanjoy Das contributes a solo later on, improvising a bluesy lead on a deliciously clean acoustic guitar. His hammer-ons and pull-offs add a sense of rawness that complements Iyer’s smooth, flawless violin.
This is a version that’s more reflective and mature, sacrificing the feel-good urgency of the original for something that arrests the listener in a gentlemanner. It is a worthy cover of a song that many would recall with fondness and while its subtleties may not work for Bollywood, they befit a platform like Coke Studio. Every
composition has its own colours, but rearrangements such as these are what provide listeners with delicate hues.