Listening to Main Vari Vari from Mangal Pandey, I could not help but think how different the song would sound without that prominent bass (fretless I think) accompaniment, which incidentally is beautiful and employed as only Rahman can. Without the bass, it becomes a more ordinary, though still catchy tune. But then, a catchy tune doesn’t set you apart, does it? So Rahman stamps his authority and adds color to the song with the bass and all those lush string pads that remain the foundation for most of his songs.
But all this in a period film?
S.Suchitra Lata of ‘The Music Magazine’ said it better when reviewing Lagaan.
One is not arguing stubbornly for “authenticity”, but only looking for musical clues to a bygone era, for a shade of musical sepia that one wants to absorb and appreciate.
Main Vaari Vaari is still a song steeped in modernistic sounds in spite of the saarangi making an appearance. And one would have expected Rahman to really experiment atleast once with a period film. After all, ‘The Rising’ is the most “period” of all his movies. In the end, the album is caught in a musical tug-of-war between Rahman’s natural instincts and the requirements of the album.
Which is exactly why I’d rather listen to a contemporary Rahman album where his creativity is not hindered by the musical authenticity of a bygone era. If I were to cite an example in an ‘apples to apples’ comparison, then another qawwali-ish song like Noor Un Ala from Meenaxi comes to mind. What Rahman did with that song never ceases to amazes me. Right from the bassy motion synth lullaby that begins to add a haunting element to the song at 00:42 to the electronically whacky slap that thoroughly funks up the alaap of Murtaza (Or Qadir) Khan, it is genius let loose without an obstacle course in its path. Now that is the Rahman I always yearn for, and hope to get more of in the future.