Contemporary Bollywood Music: Pritam's Music in Barfi!


Bollywood movies have traditionally employed much singing and dancing.  However, globalization and entrance to the world market presented Hindi cinema with the challenges that changed traditional approaches. Contemporary Bollywood continues utilizing folk motifs in music, but the use of musical items reduced and became involved and conditioned by the setting. Pritam’s score to Barfi!, a 2012 film that won international appreciation,demonstrates the depth of the global influences.

Synopsis of the Movie

Barfi! can be called a romantic comedy. However, despite its seeming lightness, it also touches very important issues of social inequality, disabilities, socialization, and life’s challenges and choices. The story tells about a kind and mischievous boy Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor), who, despite his surdomutism, is an active, open, loving, and caring person, always ready for a prank. His love with beautiful Shruti (Ileana D’Cruz) is reciprocal, but she abandons him for a socially equal marriage. When Barfi’s father falls ill, he robs a bank to collect money, and kidnaps autistic Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra) to receive ransom from her wealthy grandfather. As a kind person, he cannot see Jhilmil unhappy; he takes care of the girl and finally the two of them fall deeply in love. Shruti is unhappy in her conventional marriage; as she cannot return to Barfi, she helps him and Jhilmil and finds her vocation as a social worker helping deaf-and dumb children.

The Role of Music in Barfi!

It is difficult to call a film musical two of the three main characters are a deaf-and-dumb young man and an autistic girl with difficulties in self-expression. And yet, Barfi! is a musical film where the songs and the background score play a vital role for understanding the characters. Film director Anurag Basu, who also co-wrote the script, stressed the importance of music in Barfi! saying, “…we have six songs in the film that are used to express the protagonists’ feelings without lip-syncing”. Music fills the movie with emotions that the couple cannot express with words. It accompanies the action from the very opening retracting into the background only for a few dialogs. This approach is novel for Bollywod as well as for the world movie industry; it is also far from the mute films of the early cinema. In the previous century, Bollywood extensively used Hindi dancing and singing.

This tendency rooted in the Hindi culture and national theater.  Indian cinema has always incorporated folk music and dancing in the films, partially for the popularity of the tradition, partially for the belief that folk art is crucial for illustrating the narrative. However, film music of the globalization era diverted from the classical standards. In Barfi! we can also see a departure from this tradition. First, the characters do not dance where it is unnatural or inappropriate, so there are no really dancing compositions in the movie. Second, the characters do not sing themselves; in general, they behave in a very natural manner. Third, some melodies, especially the opening, show strong British influence though retaining the local coloring. Fourth, the music and song are used as a means of expression rather than illustration, for it intertwines with the action and picture.

The Score

The author of the musical score to Barfi! is a popular composer and singer Pritam Chakraborty usually referred to by his first name. His compositions for this film are not the first work for Bollywood, but it made him world famous. Barfi! soundtrack was recognized the best at Asia-Pacific Film Festival in 2012, Asian Film Awards in 2013, and Filmfare Awards in 2013 and was nominated at several other film festivals.  Currently, Pritam is considered to be one of the “frontline plqyers” of Hindi cinema. The score includes such compositions as “Ala Barfi,” “Main Kya Karoon,” “Kyon,” “Phir Le Aya Dil,” “Aashiyan,” “Saawali Si Raat,” and several reprises and variations. The music is characterized by magical simplicity and purity of the sound, tender lyrics,

“Ala Barfi.” The lyrics for “Ala Barfi”were written by Swanand Kirkire. It appears twice as a song – in the opening and in the middle of the film; in the first case it is performed by Mohit Chauchan, in the second case – by the lyricist himself. As the opening song, “Ala Barfi” introduces the listener to the story of Barfi and gives the idea about his happy and mischievous personality. The melody also serves as a background theme. It is not a traditional Hindi tune, but it has a tint of British charm. Just like the main character, the melody is simple and fun. The song has a distinctive rhythm and a few original touches, such as whistles, upbeat chorus and the vocals of Mohit Chauchan. In a funny way, the words imitate the sounds of the actions, and it sounds charming in the Chauchan’s performance. The reprise of “Ala Barfi” that appears later focuses on the vocal if compared with the original version. Besides, the singer is Swanand Kirkire himself. However, these changes do not alter the quality of the music and the pleasure for the listener.

“Main Kya Karoon.” “Main Kya Karoon” by songwriter Ashich Pandit and performed by Nikhil Paul George strikes with simplicity and a real feeling. The music has a vintage tint that reminds of the 1960s. It accompanies the story of Barfi’s first love. The ballad “seems to be intertwined with Murphy’s heart and blood arteries, gushing with feelings of that wonderful state of helplessness whilst happy in love”.  It is an enchanting romantic ballad that leaves a warm and airy feeling.

“Kyon.” “Kyon” is a continuation of the love theme. It shows the simplest ways to be happy and give love to the people around. The love in this song is mutual,and it gives a tender and happy feeling. Pritam was definitely inspired by the Western music of the 60s. Here, singer Papon together with Sunidhi Chauchan sing the lyrics of Neelesh Misra.

“Phir Le Aya Dil.” In “Phir Le Aya Dil,” Pritam returns to the fold tradition. Its first version sung by Rekha Bhardwaj as well as the “Phir Le Aya Dil (Redux)” performed by Shafqat Amanat Ali, the feelings are deep, but the sad experience added fragility and hurt. It is the most soulful song of the movie.

“Aashiyan.” “Aashiyan” is a lively and funny song performed by Nikhil Paul George and Shreya Ghoshal to the lyrics by Kirkire. A couple of repeating lines convey a light and happy feeling. The accordion, violin and flute mixed with delicious foot-tapping beats again send the listener to the 1960s.

“Saawali Si Raat”. “Saawali Si Raat” to the lyrics of Swanand Kirkire sounds like a sweet lullaby. Soft music and the tender voice of Arijit Singh convey consolation and care. The song renders Barfi’s dreamy mood. It evokes a wish to care and hug the beloved person.

 Bollywood music of the new generation, as proved by the 2012 movie Barfi!, differs from the iconic samples of the 20th-century Hindi films. It has developed a touch of modernity and globalism. At the same time, Bollywood remains loyal to the national melodies though it has abandoned an extensive use of folk dance and song narratives. The example of Barfi! shows that Indian cinema can become popular with a wide global audience and its film music can find the way to the hearts of the listeners all over the world.

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