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The Ramchand Pakistani OST is a triumph
If Ramchand Pakistani is to be judged by its soundtrack - as many south Asian films are – then it has already moved hearts with its poignant background score, released in Pakistan this week.

By Maheen Sabeeh

Ramchand Pakistani, the upcoming and much anticipated film from Mehreen Jabbar has already created enough buzz to become the next best thing happening in Pakistani cinema post Khuda Kay Liye. Thankfully, there is someone like Mehreen to follow in Shoaib Mansoor's footsteps with a thinking film as opposed to a commercial one.
The human drama that has been screened at international film festivals such as Tribecca and Seattle (among others) has managed to win universal acclaim. BBC, Variety, New York Times, Film Journal International, New York as well a few other highly credible publications have given this cross border tale of relationships, identity and human struggle two-thumbs up.

Featuring Nandita Das, Rashid Farooqi and Syed Fazal Hussain in pivotal roles, Ramchand Pakistani - which is based on actual events - has already carved an audience for itself with favourable reviews from the foreign press. As for its date of release, one waits very eagerly.
Though no date has been announced, the recently held launch of its soundtrack was proof of an approaching date of release. And if the film is to be judged by its music - which is the case in so many South Asian productions - then the film is going to be poignant and soul stirring in the least.

In simple terms, Ramchand Pakistani is an amazing album. Not just for it's incredibly rich and powerful sound paired with the moving vocals of Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan and Shubha Mudgal but also that it transcends one into the distant and dry desert of Sindh where Champa loses her son to the land beyond the line of control.

The low-key and truly talented Debajyoti Mishra (Raincoat, Choker Bali) heralds the music direction with brilliance, while from Pakistan Anwar Maqsood pens the lovely and often heartbreaking words, Rohail Hyatt plays the role of sound engineer while Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan joins Shubha Mudgal on the daunting vocals. It is an infallible combination.

The soundtrack of Ramchand Pakistani is not very extensive - barely four original songs and an instrumental. But what takes it a step further is the selection of classic folk songs from Sindh that lend the album an authentic integrity.
It is unfortunate that folk music has withered away into the background while other genres have moved and found a voice in mainstream music. Needless to say, there is immense talent in the rural deserts of Sindh or the distant, culturally rich villages of Punjab.

With Ramchand Pakistani, traditional folk music, is dug up and reinvented to fit today's times without loosing its edge. Lingering flutes and sweet woodwinds, Ravanhatha - a two string stick fiddle - and various beefy percussions such as North Indian drums, matkas and possibly others meet acoustic and bass guitars and keyboards to form a dreamlike and beguiling soundscape.

Like the film that is spun around the borders of India and Pakistan, the soundtrack too meets experts from India and Pakistan for its creation.

Another man who must be mentioned is SM Shahid, the musicologist who plays the role of consultant to this ambitious and sonorous record.

The album not only incorporates folk influences but also delivers three iconic numbers from legendary folk artists like Allan Fakir, Ustaad M Jumman and Mai Bhaagi as a tribute.

One can hear Ustaad M Jumman's 'Yaar Dhadee', Mai Bhaagi's 'Neem Key Neechay' and Allan Fakir's 'Tarrin Paunda' on Ramchand Pakistani OST. These are songs that listeners in Pakistan may know well but for listeners abroad, these are unknown numbers. Ultimately it is this music that is a true reflection of the vast culture and tradition of Pakistan. Ramchand Pakistani has given these songs and these folk legends a platform that will take them to the world.

With all these giants of music tied together on one album, with well-crafted songs, it makes this OST one of the finest ever.

The wall of sound
The intricately constructed sound of Ramchand Pakistani never wallows in its own melancholy. It weaves a magic that changes moods sporadically. Whether it is the tragic and somber 'Phir Wohi Raastey' or the colourful 'Teri Meri Preet', the nostalgic tale of land that is 'Meri Maati' and the majestic 'Allah Meg Dey', the magic is persistent throughout this outstanding record.

The video of 'Phir Wohi Raastey' is running on airwaves these days and it is easily one of the 'best' tracks Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan has ever sung.

While the musical arrangements that make most use of percussions and the bluesy flute with Ravanhatha's subtle entrance in the middle, form the structure of this tortuous tune, it is the voice of Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan that elevates this song to a different level.

With Shubha Mudgal in the background, the song belongs to Shafqat as he sings, "Phir wohi raastey/Phir wohi rahguzar/Jaane ho ya na ho mera ghar woh nagar/Yeh kahani nahi jo suna doonga mein/Zindagani nahie jo gawadoonga mein (Once again, those roads/ Once again, those pathways/ I do not really know if that land is my home / It is not just a tale that I can simply narrate/ It is not just a life that I can simply lose)" - he brings a level of depth, touching inner despair in ways inconceivable.
Changing lanes, the album drifts away into something lighter and truly beautiful with 'Teri Meri Preet', a song filled with love and romance. And here one encounters Shubha Mudgal in all her glory, singing the words with as much conviction as with power.

The striking melody, sonorous and lighter musical tones with meatier drums in full force and coupled with poetic notions of an enduring love makes 'Teri Meri Preet' a full notch above average love ditties. There is an undeniable and earnest charm to this song.

If 'Teri Meri Preet' sees Shubha on a slightly restrained note, on 'Meri Maati' she lets go completely. The somewhat subdued number that reflects on the overwhelming love most people possess for their soil and the identity that remains attached to it is and a condition where that soil, that world is taken away, leaving one with a feeling of an irreplaceable loss, is captured by Shubha magnificently.

And then finally… the magic happens, the tune, which unites the vocals virtuosos Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan and Shubha Mudgal together.

'Allah Meg Dey' is a departure from the melancholic notes of 'Meri Maati' and again one finds shades of hopefulness. Complimenting each other's vocals, Shubha and Shafqat deliver like pros. This ornamental ditty that's at once intimidating yet inviting in its complete splendor.

And finally there is 'Ramchand Ka Safar' an instrumental tune, grand in sound, filled with the tender flute, weeping Ravahatha and a mélange of other instruments, evoking the figure of a lone boy walking across a stranded street. Mysterious at times, haunting at others, it's as powerful as the rest of the songs.

With Shubha's slight humming in the background and dialogues from the film interspersed to add more character, its commands attention.
The beauty of this album is not just in its meticulous treatment of each song but also its drifty character. From familiar territory towards the unknown, it ultimately finds its way into your dreams, reminding you of ancient folk tunes and the power of tradition that you may have forgotten.

For the director, Ramchand Pakistani is another milestone. If Raincoat was drenched in the theme of yearning and Choker Bali was about the regal, Ramchand Pakistani is about identity and loss.
Heartfelt and poignant, the album catches the emotional ambiguity at the soul of the characters that are spun around two borders, struggling for survival against adverse situations.

Bridging the divide
The score of Ramchand Pakistani stems from two sides of the border - India and Pakistan. And it is a reflection on the film itself that connects stories and people from around the world.
At the press launch of the music, one connected with Nandita Das who spoke of her delight working in the film, vis-à-vis a telephonic conversation from Bombay while Mehreen Jabbar thanked the supporters of the film from New York.

That is a reflection of how Ramchand Pakistani has helped in bridging divides and bringing people together. The film and its music may not be boasting of many superstars but it is this kind of a project that has already put Pakistan on the map. Ramchand Pakistani may not have the ingredients to become a box office moolah spinner, but it is a film that will reflect the power of sensitive storytelling that Pakistan can be proud of.

Most importantly, this film is a collaboration in the truest sense. Indian actress Nandita Das shares frames with Pakistani actors with Mehreen Jabbar at the helm of this project.
Even the music collaboration is not a one-off where a Pakistani song is incorporated in a film because of its popularity while musicians and music directors disagree on the rights of credits.

Ramchand Pakistani OST is exactly how a collaborative music album should be. Experts meet from both sides of the border on a common page and together create a complete album. This is not just another Bollywood-meets-Pakistani pop music effort.

And getting Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan from Pakistan and Shubha Mudgal from India is a musical casting coup. Two of the most powerful singers from the subcontinent not only unite but also sing original numbers.

Ramchand Pakistani OST is truly inspired, beautiful and extremely intelligent. It is an album that commands attention and we better listen up!