Randomising the record collection #11: Mychael Danna/Various Artists – Monsoon Wedding (soundtrack)

#3598 – Mychael Danna /Various Artists – Monsoon Wedding (soundtrack)
(CD, 2001) (Discogs tracklisting)

11 monsoon weddin

According to my spreadsheet, and why should it lie, there are 37 original soundtrack recordings in my collection (some home-taped, admittedly). I don’t make a habit of buying them, but they wander in from time to time, when the music in a movie has made a particularly strong impression.

And so it was with Monsoon Wedding, a film whose soundtrack is, so far as I can recall, notably integral to the action. I had hopes of watching it again last night – but alas, it wasn’t to be found on any of our telly’s three streaming services (so I’ve ordered the DVD instead, for a fiver). Its story centres around the preparations for a Punjabi Hindu wedding in Delhi, and the various complications that threaten it, climaxing with the joyous occasion itself.

The soundtrack was compiled by director Mira Nair (previously Oscar-nominated for Salaam Bombay) and Mychael Danna, a Canadian composer married to an Indian (and subsequently the winner of a Best Original Score Oscar for his soundtrack to Life of Pi). Danna composed nine instrumental pieces, which are interspersed with seven selections from other artists. Three remixes complete the 19-track package.

In her liner notes, Nair describes the soundtrack as “my own intensely personal mosaic of music that mixes beloved love songs from Hindi films, classic Urdu ghazals my husband Mahmood sang to me in the heady days of our courtship, the bawdy celebration songs that routinely erupt at my family’s dining table.” And it’s that latter component which has stuck most clearly in my memory. “Mehndi/Madhorama Pencha”, sung by a large group of laughing women during the wedding’s mehndi ceremony, is a rambunctious call-and-response that includes, unless my ears deceive me, references to malt whiskey, disco dancing and Calvin Klein.

Earlier on, the movie’s theme tune, “Aaj Mera Jee Kardaa (Today My Heart Desires)”, is sung in Punjabi by a voice that might sound familiar: Sukhwinder Singh, who supplied lead vocals for Slumdog Millionaire‘s international smash hit, “Jai Ho”. Other familiar names pop up elsewhere: there’s a qawwali from the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and a dance track from the British-Indian producer Bally Sagoo, which adds a pinch of Goa trance to a burbling Eurodance rhythm. On “Fabric/Aaja Savariya”, Delhi’s MIDIval Punditz fuse a ghazal with a drum-and-bass breakbeat, while the three remixes at the end of the disc nudge into Talvin Singh/Nitin Sawhney territory (somewhat inessentially; the soundtrack proper ends with Sagoo’s piece).

Two songs are lifted from pre-existing Bollywood soundtracks. From 1973’s Loafer, there’s the romantic, string-laden old-school playback of Mohammed Rafi’s “Aaj Mausam Bada Beimann Hai (Today The Weather Plays Tricks On Me)”, and from 1999’s comedy Biwi No. 1, there’s the irresistibly lively and catchy “Chunari Chunari”, which fills the dancefloor at the wedding’s evening party.

This might all sound like a hodge-podge grab bag of conflicting styles, but it’s the diversity which makes this collection work. All I need to do now is re-match the tracks on the CD with the scenes on the DVD, and my experience will be complete. It was good to dig this out again. Props to the randomiser for forcing my hand.

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