Ajay-Atul leaves plenty of room for innovation in familiar Nagraj Manjule territory
The shadows of Ajay-Atul’s past work linger in Jhund’s music, but you can also feel the palpable need to move beyond their grip.
At the beginning of this story, there is Ram Gopal Varma. It is with his 2004 film gayab this composer duo and their brothers Ajay-Atul started composing music for films.
The title track involved elaborate instrumentation, compelling percussion whose rhythms echoed through the silent suite, and a snippet of melody, all three of which would become composers’ calling cards. In later years, their orchestration-heavy compositions lent themselves to music across genres – historical, social drama, masala, action, romance, a battle cry, an erotic wash – sometimes overlapping Hindi films with their musical sensibilities. marathi.
‘Zingaat‘ from sairat  would become a totem, a threshold, the kind of references song producers would use when asking songwriters to compose and remix songs for them. For a very long time, Ajay-Atul was known for his drum-heavy pomp music, the kind that turned a Ganesha devotional hymn into a haunting crescendo chorus – ‘Shree Ganeshay Dheemahi“sung by Shankar Mahadevan – or the kind that could inject a moment of melody into an ‘object song’ -“Chikni Chaméli’ sung by Shreya Ghoshal [Agneepath, 2012]. They were, after all, the composers invited to energize the moist softness of Wow! Life Ho Toh Aisi!  with a percussive Hanuman Chalisa.
There is something exciting, but also disturbing, about hanging around in the breadcrumbs of an artist’s work, around their early years, and seeing the same fingerprints smeared over their years – that their concerns n haven’t changed. It could also mean stagnation.
But in the case of Ajay-Atul, it is a solid and stable base of music – which has not been learned but acquired, as neither of them is a trained musician – that they are trying to push. , resisting the temptation to reproduce. In their music, we find the sounds of the violin, the trumpet and the flute with more local sounds like the mridangam, picture, and pakhawaj. Of course, they occasionally refer to their work as references – ‘Sairat Zala Li‘ in ‘Mera Naam Tu‘ [Zero, 2018] or more blatantly, the chorus of ‘Shree Ganeshay Dheemahi‘ in ‘Tanha’ from Gayab, and ‘Kombdi Palali’ from Jatra  redirected to ‘Chikni Chaméli.’
In Jhund, their latest four-song album and their third collaboration with director Nagraj Popatrao Manjule, these concerns and the shadows of their past work remain, but you can also feel the palpable need to move beyond their grip.
There are the violins introducing the swag song from the album’Aaya Yeh Jhund Hai,’ retro club tunes prefacing a percussion of the streets – empty cans, sticks and rusty remains of cars as seen in the teaser – in ‘Lafda Zala,’ a return to ‘Zingat’ too, which started out as club music that turns with sudden verve into a thumping chest pounding, foot stomping. These songs establish the raucous youthful energy that makes up the film. The character of Amitabh Bachchan, the real Vijay Barse, founder of the NGO Slum Soccer, believes he can redirect their anger, this destabilizing energy towards football.
There’s a familiar hangover from Ajay-Atul’s work in ‘Aaya Yeh Jhund Hai,’ but more so in ‘Lafda Zala’ – not only that, both have the voice of Atul Gogavale used as the male voice through the sairat album. When I was humming ‘Lafda Zala,’ stripped of its percussive punch, I suddenly found myself singing’Yaad Lagala‘ from Sairat, a sweet and grand declaration of love. These songs come and go within each other.
The essence of ‘Lafda Zala’ was composed in 30 seconds, during the promotions of Sairat, when an audience asked Ajay-Atul to compose a song to their irregular lyrics. This pressed urgency remained while the melody remained, with Manjule insisting that they use it in Jhund, abandoning improvised lyrics with Amitabh Bhattacharya’s quirky lyricism, “Bada ghaav, vada paav jaanke kha gaye.” There is almost an effortless inevitability to these songs, forming in the slowly darkening and thickening shadow of Ajay-Atul’s influences, including themselves.
Then there’s Sid Sriram – trained at Carnatic, who studied R&B – in a musical soundscape that can best be described as Marathi melancholy. He is given two songs – the optimist’Laat Maar,‘ where the voice irritates the mood, and ‘Baadal Se Dosti,‘ which sounds like a composition built around Sriram’s vocals, using the Ajay-Atul pattern of a melody that sinks low until it swells in the upper notes and stays there. ‘Abhi Mujh Mein Kahin‘ from Agneepath is a better example, as the buildup of high notes is preferred to the sudden change, jerky upward movement through scales in ‘Baadal Se Dosti.’
When Sriram’s voice enters the soundscape, the tension is palpable – between the fragility of his voice, the heaviness of the chorus and the edgy urgency of Sourabh Abhyankar’s rap in ‘Laat Maar,’ or even the unstable pronunciations against the jerky clarity of the beats in ‘Baadal Se Dosti.’ These are Sriram’s first Hindi songs, and his trembling voice, tremblingly beautiful, is unable to give Amitabh Bhattacharya’s lyrics any perceptual shape, shrinking into the next word or the fullness of the orchestration.
Listen to the full album of jhund here.
Jhund is set to hit theaters this Friday, March 4.
Prathyush Parasuraman is a critic and journalist, who writes a weekly culture, literature and film newsletter at prathyush.substack.com.
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