Expectations from a film score like this are gargantuan: After all, Shah Rukh Khan’s home productions have always been, but for an exception or two, blessed with exceptional music, right from Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani and Asoka to Om Shanti Om.
Vishal-Shekhar’s music here is as up-tempo as any express train. The score could have more uniform though – there are tracks here that hark back to V-S’s more experimental early scores as well as some of their more clichÃ©d post-Om Shanti Om music. There is thus a mix of classic mainstream music and the Hip-Hop-rock-pop kind of songs that they did in some of their musically inconsequential movies.
The sound is rich, and the use of Tamil lyrics and South Indian instruments are apt but not heavy. The combination of the duo’s style and the dakshini flavour is tangy, spicy and does not get into incongruous or unpalatable zone. One does, however, feel that a few of the songs were much more (desi)rable!
Energy-wise, the lead track ‘One Two Three Four‘ (Vishal Dadlani-Hamsika Iyer) exhibits both the chameleonic voice of Vishal and the sporadically-used formidable skills of Hamsika (best known, ironically, for ‘Chhamak Chhallo‘ from Ra.One, rather than her weightier early songs) well. The energy is high, the lyrics mad and intentionally silly, and the song does precisely what it asks you to – Get on the dance floor! Techno-Western blends appetizingly with Southern percussion, strings and chorus to give a zingy feel.
Matching this song in exuberance and wackiness is the title-track ‘Chennai Express‘ that actually and egoistically mentions names like SRK, SPB, Rohit Shetty and Vishal-Shekhar in the prelude before it gets down to (melodic) business! The robust orchestration decks up a simple, almost retro, song that brings back S.P. Balasubramaniam (the SPB mentioned above and the hot Southern singer from the Hindi films of the ’80s and early ’90s) after the insignificant 2008 film Ghatothkach.
Bala, as he is known, is in super fettle, dwarfing co-singer Jonita Gandhi, and the lyrics have madness in their method, with some philosophies expressed in trendy ways (What a wonderful, badi bombastic / Life ki journey hai fully fantastic / Jitni bhi log aaye / Unke liye banaye /Dil mein jagah hum, dil hai elastic). Amitabh Bhattacharya has by now mastered the Hindi-mixed-seamlessly-with-English kind of song and he excels here. The thought here resembles Anand Bakshi’s Sab hai sawaar / Dushmun ke yaar / Sab ko chali yeh leke / Jeena seekha rahi hai that we heard in that benchmark train song of the ’70s, ‘Gaadi Bula Rahi Hai‘ (Dost).
And then we come to the clear winner in the album from the musical and lyrical standpoint: ‘Titli‘. Rendered brilliantly by Chinmayee with Gopi Sundar providing adequate company, this wonderful song floors us with its mix of old-world melody and contemporary orchestration. Silkily, sensitively created, it ranks high among the melodious songs of the year so far. Something tells us that this gossamer geet will outlast and outclass the other songs in popularity in the soundtrack as the score and film grow.
‘Tera Raasta Chhodoon Na‘ (Amitabh Bhattacharya-Anusha Mani) is a song of a lover’s promise, starting on an audacious note (Meherbaani nahin, tumhara pyar maanga hai), but suffers for two reasons: one, the song sounds like a simplistic jingle extended into a song, and two, that Amitabh sings superficially and not deep from the throat and thus, does not seem to ‘feel’ his own lyrics. The song ends up like a better variety of Indipop, but without character. The ‘rock’-like interludes pull it down further, and co-singer Anusha is flat in her lines too.
‘Kashmir Main Tu Kanya Kumari‘ (Sunidhi Chauhan-Arijit Singh-Neeti Mohun) is like a ’60s O.P. Nayyar tune decked up both with a dakshini tang as well as a modern colour. The lyrics are smart but a tad too phonetics-oriented and the feverish pace leaves no breathing space for any singer to shine.
‘Ready Steady Po‘ (Brodha V, Smokey, Enkore, Natalie Di Luccio, Vishal Dadlani) is the weakest track on the album, trite, over-familiar and overdone with techno trendy tenors. Good maybe to dance to, but forgettable there as well – other than the three-word hook, that is. The words and music take us back to the worst two years in Hindi music – the confused zone of 2008 and 2009.
Finally, the Dubstep version of ‘Titli‘ and the ‘Chennai Express Mashup‘ are eminently functional – and thus forgettable.
With a little more attention and dedication, this could have been a thoroughly enjoyable train ride. However, the ticket is only partly worth the money as all the stations are not attractive!