Ho Mann Jahaan plays it safe with its music
This year has probably been the first year in decades where film soundtracks have had a significant cultural and commercial impact on the music scene. As film productions increase, the music industry is enjoying a new auxiliary role that it has not been able to enjoy for a long time.
Over the past year, we have seen space both for film-specific producers, as well as pop bands crossing over. This year we saw Noori and Shiraz Uppal deliver a very popular soundtrack for Karachi se Lahore, and Strings did some of their finest work in a long time for Moor’s OST – arguably the best soundtrack of the year. Jamal Rehman’s emerging talents were on display in Manto, where he put out another great OST. Sahir Ali Bagga continued his status as the best filmy music producer in town, and his Jawani Phir Nahi Aani OST was the perfect mix for a masala blockbuster film.
In light of all these releases, Ho Mann Jahaan’s OST had sparked a lot of anticipation, as it was bringing together several critically acclaimed, lesser-known musicians mixing with platinum-grade stars. The film itself has generated a lot of hype, and seems to have hit that aesthetic of pretty, socially aspirational visuals, which are the key to commercial success in South Asian cinema.
Despite the initial feeling that the soundtracks had played safe, over time it managed to grow on me. Given the star-cast, I had expected this to be the film OST of the year in terms of quality. Previously, I felt that there are places where some risks have been averted and the album itself is not as boisterous as film OST can get, but it does carry several songs that can be huge hits. Along with the star names, there are no weak songs, and there’s a very accessible pop sound to the album.
I felt that Maan Ke Jahaan and Ghar Nari had safe compositions. Each of these songs involved a big name, and I am sure that they will also be quite popular. However, with each of these in particular I felt that far more could have been done.
Abu Mohammad and Farid Ayaz had a great qawwali in Moor, but Ghar Nari here has very little of their exuberance.
Zeb Bangash does a good job in Maan Ke Jahaan, but the song feels extremely safe for the most part.
The same is true of Atif Aslam’s Dil Kare, which also makes commercial sense. Given the impact he had on Coke Studio and his general stay over the music scene, it’s smarter to go with a song that would be a solid hit amongst his fans, rather than attempting something more radical. I also want to be clear that each of these are quite good songs – the disappointment for me is that they could have been better.
That balance is found a lot better in Jimmy Khan’s Baarish, Tina Sani’s Khush Piya and Dosti featuring Zohaib Hassan with Zeb Bangash. In each of these tracks, the intended subtlety of Zeb’s production comes through far better. While all the songs are very layered and thoughtful, these feel far more confident.
Dosti also shows off Zeb’s gorgeous voice, as she does a superb job in replacing the iconic Nazia Hassan. The addition of the brass instruments also elevates the composition, which is otherwise a bit too similar to the original. This approach reaches its peak in what is the best original track of the film – Zeb Bangash’s Dil Pagla. Not only are the lyrics enchanting, but the composition is marvellous and feels more enjoyable with each listen.
Asrar’s Shakar Wadah Aye and Mai Dhai Band’s Sarak Sarak are great additions to the album, as both songs add a lot of flavour to the OST. Asrar’s boisterous, exuberant song already feels like the breakthrough hit of the album, while Sarak Sarak remains one of the most delightful pieces of fusion to emerge from Pakistan in a decade.
Despite my wishes that Zeb had pushed some songs further, this is a very solid album and has several songs that will stay with the listener. Indeed, the whole album emerges as a great showcase for Zeb’s talents, and serves as a portent for how good she can be as a producer. It also provides further incentive for various 2000s era pop acts to come back to the scene and explore avenues in film production.
Judging from the evidence this year, the results can be quite exciting.