M.I.A. was a wise recruit for the purpose of bridging this gap – as a London artist with Sri Lankan roots, her relevance along with her familiarity to Western ears makes Rahman’s compositions all the more accessible, as well as lending the score her inimitable kudos and an urban touch that evokes well the gritty underworld of Mumbai.
She sings on the Oscar-nominated opening track O Saya, whose lyrical imagery (“They can’t touch me / We break off / Run so fast they can’t even catch me”) well conveys the urgent pace of life onscreen as well as providing a relevant motto for the film’s protagonists. (“We live for the buck / We get for the family.”)
Her own song Paper Planes is included too, both in its original form and as a DFA remix – an upbeat, eloquent song that provides the perfect match for the dynamic and colourful onscreen imagery: the chorus sung by children and the sounds of cashdrawers and gunfire perfectly coincides with the plight of the young gang of street urchins desperately trying to survive by any means available.
Elsewhere, Rahman negotiates the East/West duality with an accomplished hand, combining the conventions of both filmic traditions, with an epic Bond-esque string section that plays out over a sitar in Mausam and Escape. The strings recur in Liquid Dance, which layers these with classical Indian vocals over moody electronica.
Ringa Ringa is more traditional fare, featuring Alga Yagnik, who has been one of Bollywood’s most popular playback singers since the late 1980s, although those unfamiliar with Bollywood may still recognise her from another wonderful soundtrack – to Moulin Rouge (2001) on the track Hindi Sad Diamonds.
Latika’s theme is wonderfully intimate and touching in its hushed simplicity – a sweetly hummed melody that serves as a consistent motif for its titular character, and manages to be as beautiful as Freida Pinto who plays her. It is also a teaser for the film’s penultimate number Dreams, which picks up where it left off, featuring the same melody and adding the lush vocals of the mononymous Suzanne to celebrate a very happily-ever-after indeed.
The record is rounded up by Jai Ho, an exuberant Bollywood dance number that encapsulates the film’s feel-good-factor, and reminds us just how much this score deserves the accolades it has already won and the many it is sure still to receive – just as India’s most treasured composer deserves the new-found global recognition it has earned him.