Article Hindi

Life In a Metro: Revisiting the album within the film


On 11 May 2007, Anurag Basu's Life...In A Metro changed the direction of his filmmaking career. The film also breathed a new life into Irrfan Khan's career. However, one aspect of the film that made it truly memorable was its music. On the 10th anniversary of the film's release, we take a look at the unique soundtrack that defined Basu's film.

Shriram Iyengar

2007 was a prolific year for Hindi cinema. It was the year of Anil Sharma's Apne, Mohit Suri's Awarapan, Priyadarshan's Bhool Bhulaiya, R Balki's Cheeni Kum and Himesh Reshammiya's debut, Aap Ka Surroor - The Real Love Story (Really). In the midst of all these was a little film that stole everyone's heart. Anurag Basu's Life...In A Metro was the perfect anthology that spoke to every individual suffering from the loneliness of living in a crowded city. It was a film that was different in structure, narrative and music.

Composed by Pritam Chakraborty, the soundtrack for Life...In A Metro was a sublime mix of rock, pop, and sensitive romantic lyrics that made it hugely popular among the urban demographic. It also marked the upward transition of Pritam's career graph which would eventually lead to the wildly successful Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016). Before Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Pritam's albums for Jab We Met (2007), Barfi! (2012) and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) became etched in collective memory.

Basu and Pritam teamed up for the first time in Gangster (2006) to great success. Pritam composed a massive album of 12 tracks for Life...In A Metro, comprising of three remixed versions, two reprised versions and an unplugged version of the six original songs. Among the first generation of multiplex films, Basu's project stood apart for its unique idea of using songs to push the story forward, unlike the usual break from narrative it provides in Indian cinema.

The film opens with the song 'Rishtey', a rock ballad on the loneliness that forms the central theme of the film. Sung by Bangladeshi singer James, the song featured the band Metro specifically formed by Pritam for the film. The band, made up of Pritam, Suhail Kaul, Soham Chakraborty, and James, are a lingering presence throughout the film. Like 'Mariachis', the band arrives and departs to mark a pivotal dramatic moment in the film, underlined with music.

In Conjugations: Marriage and Form in New Bollywood, Sangita Gopal mentions Basu's film as 'a striking instance of the evolution of Hindi cinema'. The author marks out the unique situation where 'the actual singers show up on-screen but are not acknowledged by the story world.' Usually, the hero in a Hindi, or Indian for that matter, film is the representative of the disembodied voice of the singer. In Basu's film though, the singers walk through the background of the scenes, merging with the crowds. The songs are shot in a style akin to the pop music videos of the 1990s, familiar to Basu and Pritam who started their careers in advertising and television before moving into films.

In an interview, singer KK revealed how Pritam used the strains of a jingle he composed in 1998 for 'In Dino'. "Pritam had sung that song to me in 1998 when we were recording a jingle. And after nine years of that incident, he called me to record that number," KK said. It is evidence of the peppy, modern connect of a commercial world that seeps into Basu's very urban anthology of stories.

Few things would feel more at home in Mumbai than an advertising jingle. Shot in and around Mumbai, the songs often feature the characters indulging in day to day activities, merging into the crowds that fill the city, with the singers providing an almost omniscient narrative to the scenes. It is the perfect ode to a city where individuality and loneliness go hand in hand.

But it is not just the ethos, Pritam also used a very obvious rock melody to underlay his compositions. It was a predecessor to his compositions like 'Bulleya' in the recent Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016). For instance, in 'Alvida', the composer created a rock ballad to express the sorrow of parting. Basu visualises the song in crowded railway stations, rain drenched street corners, and enclosed cubicles building on the sense of separation.

At times, the film feels like a package of stories in the middle of a pop rock album. Basu begins it with Pritam's composition, and ends it in similar style. The final song 'Kar Salaam', is a tribute to the courage and determination of its characters. A rousing anthem, it is a fitting finale to a sweet film that builds up to a delicious climax.

Life...In A Metro (2007) marked the beginning of an upward curve in both Pritam and Anurag Basu's careers. The two combined most effectively in Barfi! (2012), a sensitive, light-hearted drama about love between two lonely souls. It was again set in a crowded city, Kolkata, and garnished with a beautiful soundtrack.

While many praised the Pritam and Basu for their commendable work on Barfi!, a few keen eyed fans would have noticed the template for music in the film — opening song, closing song, with pivotal moments backed by music. It was a template that the duo had previously experimented with in Life...In A Metro.