The complementary relationship shared by music and cinema cannot and should not be understated. Whether it’s Bollywood, Hollywood or Pakistani films, music almost always play a crucial role in framing the narrative, at least when done with a degree of intelligence.
When one thinks of Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby that echoes the roaring twenties of New York, Lana Del Rey’s ‘Young and Beautiful’ instantly comes to mind.
The upcoming Thor: Ragnarok is another decisive victory. When its trailer was launched several months ago, it featured Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ and just like that Zeppelin was back in vogue.
Closer to home, in Hindi cinema, music continues to play a fundamental role and when done right, it stays with you forever. Think A.R. Rahman and the music of Roja, Bombay, Saathiya, Taal, Dil Se and Rockstar will still rise in memory.
Right here at home, in the post-revival age of cinema, we’ve seen several strong film soundtracks emerge in recent years. Some key examples include Sarmad Khoosat’s Manto, Jami’s Moor, Mehreen Jabbar’s Dobara Phir Se, Asim Raza’s Ho Mann Jahaan and Umer Adil’s Chalay Thay Saath.
Having said that, it must be stated with absolute certainty that though the revival is just a few years old, the person who rejuvenated the scene before anyone else is Shoaib Mansoor. He opened the (first) chapter of contemporary cinema with Khuda Kay Liye (2007) and continued it with Bol (2011). Years before the revival of Pakistani films became a serious prospect and the cross-over between pop and film music became routine, Khuda Kay Liye made its presence felt, not just with its subject but also through a solid score that provided context to the film and the themes that ran through it. Featuring Ahmed Jahanzeb, Shuja Haider, Khawar Jawad, Faiza Mujahid, Saeen Zahoor and Zara Madni with lyrics penned by Mansoor and production spearheaded by Rohail Hyatt, the album and its many singles became a roaring hit upon release.
A similar feat was accomplished by Mansoor with 2011’s Bol that featured the likes of Atif Aslam, Hadiqa Kiani, Sajjad Ali and Ahmed Jahanzeb (among others).
With his third film (and the first one in the post-revival age), Verna, Mansoor is looking to achieve a hat-trick, both with the film and its score.
The important thing to remember here is that Verna is no ordinary film. It feels, in many ways, like an aberration and a necessary one too at a time when romantic comedies and musicals seem to be the subject(s) of choice for most filmmakers.
Mansoor’s Verna deals with the rampant and sensitive issue of sexual assault. It is also being touted as a legal drama, which means that the soundtrack needs to be heard in that context. Mansoor also has a strong musical background – having worked with the biggest pop band the country has ever seen, namely the Vital Signs – and is therefore a significant participant in how the Verna soundtrack has shaped up, much like the OSTs of Khuda Kay Liye and Bol.
Our story begins with ‘Power Di Game (Kamal Hai)’ by Muhammad Dar aka Xpolymer Dar which was introduced to us when the film’s intense teaser starring Mahira Khan in character was released several weeks ago. Dar doesn’t sing though; he raps and given that this is a mainstream Pakistani film with the biggest female star in the country attached to it – one has to commend Mansoor for keeping up with the times. Running less than 2 minutes and co-written by Dar and Mansoor, the dark-electro treatment and eerie beats serve as the perfect foil for the sharp social commentary on display. No one is spared whether it is the status quo or the corruption at large in Pakistan. Political leaders who wreak havoc, sectarian violence, and amoral religious figures – in less than two minutes, Dar and Mansoor lay out the Pakistani society and its many injustices and ugliness that must be killing us.
In complete contrast is ‘Sambhal Sambhal’ which is clearly the quintessential romantic song on the album and the only one with a purely positive character.
Penned by Mansoor, composed by Haroon Shahid (who is making his debut as actor with the film) and sung jointly by Shahid and Zeb Bangash, it was released as the lead single from the film and came attached with a languid music video featuring some key cast members. The song is doing quite well and to be fair, it does have a sweet character and Bangash sounds flawless.
The rest of the album is full of experimental experiments and they’re all smart additions to a score that tells you about how human beings rise and fall.
‘Ashko’ is structured in such a way that it rides on the coattails of its singer, Zaain ul Abideen who carries it to a special place. With lyrics by Shoaib Mansoor, this melancholia-tinged production evokes a deep and lasting sadness even as it reminds you that the battle, both internal and external, is far from over. The song is more of a tussle particularly in the latter half when it alludes to those who bring tears to others and go to sleep without any trouble.
Mansoor is in fine form as lyricist and poet and that remains the single biggest strength of this album.
‘Khushi Ki Baat (Roya Sa)’ paints an ironic, almost piercing picture of reunion. The most atmospheric song on the album and opened with sorrowful-singing by one Richie Robinson, it asks the beloved to speak who in turn wonders what to say when words lose meaning. Zeb Bangash sheds the playfulness heard in ‘Sambhal Sambhal’ and that ability to echo various sentiments within the same record is what makes her such a strong choice for music directors and filmmakers. The song works as a conversation between two people and keeping the film in mind, it alludes to unspeakable horror.
‘Lafzon Main Kharabi Thi’ featuring a combination of singers like Shuja Haider, Aima Baig and Riaz Qadri, begins like a slow ballad that is reminiscent of the eighties. Though it belongs completely to Riaz Qadri, like the rest of the tracks on this album, it’s also about the reality of the world where words don’t seem enough and staying silent can therefore seem like the best option. A situation where others determine what you are and should be, as is the norm in Pakistan, seems to be a central theme in the song.
The weakest link on the album is ‘Zinda’, a track that is sung, composed and written by music group Soch. Given the fact that they are capable of better as heard on the OST of Asad ul Haq’s Dekh Magar Pyaar Se, this one is a bit of a letdown even though it retains a sadness that persists throughout the record.
Most songs on the album are meant to mirror life as it stands in Pakistan and so, the album is not as hopeful as its predecessors but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. These songs have value beyond the big screen and have enough matter that they can be revisited. Does it surpass the ingenuity of KKL? No, it doesn’t but that’s okay too because at a time when nearly every film score sounds the same, a record that highlights vulnerability is a welcome.