Article Hindi

Rewind 2018: The best Hindi film songs of the year


While Arijit Singh had another great year, newer talents like Ammy Virk and Prateek Kuhad also impressed listeners while Harshdeep Kaur stole the show with Manmarziyaan.

Mayur Lookhar

Songs in Indian cinema don’t hold the same significance as before, especially since films now tend to use only portions of songs and even those play in the background and are rarely lip-synched by the characters on screen.

Save for musicals, which are few and far between, songs are now created mostly for promotions. Clearly, the role of music in cinema has been reduced, but ignore it and your film will come across as bland.

Romantic melodies and ballads often have a stronger connection with audiences and 2018 was no different, but what was refreshing was that quite a few of these numbers figured not in musical and romantic dramas, but in films dealing with serious subjects.

Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi was a spy thriller, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat was a period film, and Prosit Roy's Pari was a horror movie. Yet all these films had soothing, romantic tracks.

What hasn’t changed is that Arijit Singh continues to be the top male singer. Even in 2018 he treated us to quite a few delightful numbers. But film music lovers were also introduced to the precocious talent of singer, composer, lyricist Prateek Kuhad, who produced a couple of mesmerizing tracks in Akarsh Khurana’s Karwaan.

There were the usual remixes and so-called item songs as well, but original compositions tend to leave more lasting impressions. With the year now history, we revisit the best songs to emerge from Hindi cinema in 2018. Just for a lark, we offer a baker's dozen. Do let us know which was your personal favourite in the message board below.

13. 'Dholida' — Loveyatri

Salman Khan’s brother-in-law Aayush Sharma and Warina Hussain made a forgettable debut in Loveyatri. But the film, directed by Abhiraj Minawala, did have some fine music. The 'Chogada' and 'Tera Hua' tracks had their charm, but the one that truly touched the senses was 'Dholida'.

Over the years, we have seen various versions of the garba song, most notably by Falguni Pathak. This time composer Tanishk Bagchi created a riveting track of his own. The music arrangement was exemplary. There is never a drop in the tempo and it takes you from one high to another.

Lyricist Shabbir Ahmed used the punch line of 'Dholida dhol hayya ma vage vage dholida' from the folk song but scored with his simple, engaging Hindi lyrics.

The real impact, however, came from the array of singers used for the song. It is a rarity to hear Palak Muchhal, Neha Kakkar and Udit Narayan together in one song. And there was also Raja Hassan, who crooned the all-important line of 'Dholida dhol hayya ma vage vage dholida'.

Their performance can best be described as a winning relay combination, with Hassan beginning the initial sprint, quickly passing the baton to Muchhal who regales us in the intro before turning the baton over to Udit Narayan, and Kakkar finally working her charm before the process begins all over again.

Of the four, of course, it was the veteran Udit Narayan who cast a spell on you. Apart from his unique voice, what has always struck us about him is the joy inherent in his tone. Such a style can lift up even dull lyrics.

The only disappointment in the track was the routine choreography by Vaibhavi Merchant. However, it would be unfair to pin all the blame on her because the two leads did not exactly come across as gifted dancers. Nevertheless, listen to the entertaining garba number and dance in your own style.

12. 'Tareefan' — Veere Di Wedding

Shashanka Ghosh’s Veere Di Wedding was a slice-of-the-rich-life feminist story told in a refreshing and unabashed manner. The film also scored with its rollicking music, with multiple composers and each track differing in genre and creating a new experience.

Composer and lyricist Qaran had everyone grooving to 'Tareefan'. The buzz was that he had composed the base tune on board a flight. The lyrics, by Qaran and Rupin Pahwa, are a mix of Punjabi and Hindi with the rap verse created by Badshah. The Punjabi lyrics were probably a dampener for non-Punjabi listeners, but 'Tareefan' had a great vibe. Its riveting score and intriguing visuals oozed with the attitude of the four protagonists played by Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Swara Bhasker and Shikha Talsania.

Often it’s a man who is associated with seeking pleasure, but Ghosh opted for gender reversal in the film and 'Tareefan' exemplified this. Films often have the hero being surrounded by pretty women, but here the women were seen having fun at nightclubs, flirting with white men, paying for their drinks, and brawling. Kareena Kapoor Khan even had two men beside her on her bed. 'Tareefan' was a celebration of the independent woman.

Qaran specializes in electro dance music and 'Tareefan' was pretty much in this category, but unlike the usual EDM tracks, which have heavier music, it was heavy on the lyrical side too. Qaran also used little desi tunes in the core line of 'Hor dass kinniya tareefan chahidi ae tenu'.

Badshah’s voice was amplified with technology but the rapper was impressive in the low notes. It’s rare for Badshah to be part of a song where he hasn’t created any music. However, Qaran and Badshah together created an entertaining number.

The choreography by Farah Khan was a trifle disappointing with Kapoor Ahuja and Kapoor Khan erring on a few steps. But the song rides more on the music and the action in the club, and it is hard to look beyond 'Tareefan' as the best party track of 2018.

11. 'Bas Tu Hai' — 3 Storeys

Though devoid of stars, first-time director Arjun Mukherji’s slice-of-life drama 3 Storeys won critical acclaim for the intriguing stories in it. The heart-wrenching story of Varsha (Masumeh Makhija) and Shankar (Sharman Joshi) moved the audience. Destiny set them apart and it was destiny that saw the two meet again in the most unexpected manner.

Composer Clinton Cerejo produced an endearing ballad ‘Bas Tu Hai’. Penned by Puneet Krishna, the simple lyrics perfectly underlined the predicament, the desolation of Varsha and Shankar. Soft rock serves as the ideal antidote for loneliness and Cerejo’s tune struck a chord with broken hearts. The intriguing aspect of the music is the flute note that acts like the pulse of the track and forms a base around which Cerejo produced a captivating tune.

It comes as no surprise that Arijit Singh is the voice behind the microphone here. Arijit Singh is the acknowledged master of ballads. His voice can trigger melancholy while, at the same time, its soft and sweet nature can turn the pain into a bittersweet memory. 'Bas Tu Hai' did just that to listeners.

Jonita Gandhi was Arijit Singh’s partner in crime on this song, but her contribution really comes to the fore in the full audio song. Interestingly, compared to the video song, the full audio song is more mellow. Together, Arijit Singh and Jonita Gandhi mesmerize you with their singing. Gandhi gets a solo verse, but the two voices meld into each other when they sing together an antara verse. 'Bas Tu Hai' was an underrated but captivating track.

10. 'Theher Ja' — October

Though October was an emotionally gripping and traumatic story, director Shoojit Sircar and composer Abhishek Arora had this refreshing, pacey pop number in 'Theher Ja'. What was intriguing about the relationship of Danish (Varun Dhawan) and Shiuli (Banita Sandhu) is that they never really express any feelings for each other. It’s only after she suffers a horrific accident and is left bedridden that Danish shows he cares.

The song captured their moments before the accident. There is no love at first sight here; the duo doesn’t even acknowledge each other initially. But as time passes, you can see a curiosity in the eyes of each about the other. Lyricist Abhiruchi Chand used the simplest of words to define this situation.

The magic of the song, however, lay in the singing and its soothing pop score. Armaan Malik’s soft, pure tone expresses Dan and Shiuli’s curiosity. You could sense a sweet plea in Malik’s tone. The effort should certainly earn him a nomination for Best Playback Singer (Male).

From the beginning, Arora set the tone and mood of the track by not breaking from its core rhythm. The core tune is also accompanied by a mesmerizing sound akin to the snapping of one’s fingers. The simple but delightful number makes you want to listen to it on loop.

9. 'Dilbaro' — Raazi

Bidding goodbye to a daughter at her wedding is an emotional moment for any Indian parent. It’s more difficult for Hidayat (Rajit Kapur) as he is unsure if he will ever see her alive again, as Sehmat is married into a Pakistani army household to become a spy for India.

Penned by Gulzar, this bidaai song is a tearful ode to the father-daughter relationship. All it takes is a few minutes for the bride to leave the corridors of her parental home and step into another world, but in those few steps, a truckload of memories flash before the eyes. Gulzar brought forth those memories in the simplest and most endearing manner.

The song begins with the Kashmiri singer Vibha Saraf singing a few lines from a Kashmiri folk song ‘Khan Maej Koor’ before lead singer Harshdeep Kaur takes over. Harshdeep, a product of reality television, gives an emotionally gripping performance. The sombre mood of the track is aptly reflected in her tone.

Shankar Mahadevan has just a few lines, but he moves you with his effort. Often, such songs would have the bride bawling, and the singers, too, are tempted to get emotional, but credit to Harshdeep and Shankar for refusing to fall into the trap. Sadness expressed in a restrained manner is so much more effective.

The composer trio of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy set the lyrics to a delightful soft score. There was no need for too many instruments, as the visuals sang a tune of their own.

8. 'Saansein' — Karwaan

Director Akarsh Khurana’s Karwaan was a wonderful tale. The road trip saw two of its three protagonists enduring personal loss, but the film was not grim. On the contrary, Tanya (Mithila Palkar) and Avinash (Dulquer Salmaan) came across as somewhat cold. They were not insensitive, but they were not your archetypal emotional characters. The music, however, was lively and inspiring.

Singer, lyricist and composer Prateek Kuhad's 'Saansein', or Breaths, comes across like the proverbial breath of fresh air. Troubled minds often seek help outside, but Kuhad’s 'Saansein' reminds you that strength lies within. Just clear the demons in your mind and you will find renewed vigour flowing through your veins. "Main apne hi mann ka hausla hoon [I am the courage of my soul]." This one line gives hope to the grieving and sends positive vibes.

Kuhad backed the inspirational lyrics with a soothing yet lively score. Add to it his soft voice and 'Saansein' became a number you would not mind carrying with you till your last breath.

7. 'Kadam' — Karwaan

Prateek Kuhad also wrote this ballad about a lost soul. Of course, 'Saansein' brought closure to the journey of Avinash, Tanya and Shaukat (Irrfan Khan). 'Kadam' saw them reflect upon the troubled state of mind, how they are clueless about their journey, and why they feel that time has forgotten them. 'Kadam' makes you introspect. There are questions galore, but you have to look within for the answers.

Such unplugged, uncluttered tracks are as rare in Hindi cinema today as a blue diamond. The song beats to its majestic lyrics and the captivating voice of Kuhad. It feels like being at a bonfire with that one guy baring his soul with just his guitar and his soothing voice for company.

'Kadam' is arguably Kuhad’s finest track so far. The musician made his film debut with the heartening 'Kho Gaye Ho Kahan' track from Baar Baar Dekho (2016). Just 28, he seems to be way more mature than his age. Expect more gems from him in the years to come.

6. 'Meri Khamoshi Hai' — Pari

What was such a pleasant, soothing track doing in a supernatural film like Pari? Maybe that is why this beautiful romantic track went almost unnoticed.

Arnab (Parambrata Chatterjee) is intrigued and slowly getting attracting to the stranger Rukhsana (Anushka Sharma) whom he has given shelter. Nothing is spoken as 'Meri Khamoshi Hai' reflects his inner feelings.

The beauty of the track lies in its paradoxical mukhda (intro): "Tere hi zikr ki jasoosi meri khamoshi hai, rahun mai chup kyon baatuni meri khamoshi hain [My silence is what gives you away, why should I keep mum when my silence speaks so loud]."

The architect of this poem is Anvita Dutt, who also wrote the soulful tracks of Phillauri (2017). Simplicity is a virtue but Dutt teases listeners with her fine poetry. She doesn’t want you to just listen to her song, she wants you to understand the lyrics. 'Meri Khamoshi Hai' should easily be a contender for Best Lyrics.

Anvita Dutt’s lyrics were brought alive through the mellifluous tone of ishan Mitra and the soft, delightful score by Anupam Roy. The music is a nice blend of acoustic guitar (by Sanjoy Das) and tabla beats (by Joy Nandi), which partly brings back memories of Khayyam's 'In Aankhon Ki Masti Ke' from the classic Umrao Jaan (1981).

With minimal music, it was the quality of Mitra’s voice that elevated the track. Though a soft contemporary romantic song, Mitra also impressed listeners with the alaaps. This is another beautiful melody that deserves to be played on loop. Each you time you hear it, you have a new experience.

5. Title track — Raazi

Throw someone in the deep end and the person may sink or her instincts may help her survive. But there was no room for error for Sehmat (Alia Bhatt). One false move and the spy would be dead. Hence, she needed to achieve perfection in her training. This was truly trial by fire. And this training period was captured through the inspirational lyrics of the legend Gulzar.

Raazi, Meghna's Gulzar powerful film about a young Kashmiri woman married off into a Pakistani military family in the days prior to the 1971 Bangladesh war, to become a spy for Indian intelligence, was based on a true story. Sehmat is not reluctant but she is hesitant. And you can't blame her, for her life changes overnight. The Raazi title track reminds Sehmat of the treacherous path ahead, telling her she can pass only if she is willing, raazi, to put heart and soul into her task. She has to do her duty stealthily and leave no trace.

The inspiring lyrics were backed by a gripping score by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and the magic of Arijit Singh. Soothing, soulful, mesmerizing, we have often used these adjectives to describe Arijit Singh's tracks. But here he chipped in with an authoritative performance. The music and the singing had a psychedelic effect. You get goosebumps as Arijit Singh stresses on the word raazi each time on the high notes.

A word of praise also for chorus artistes Mani Mahadevan, Ravi Mishra and Arshad Mohammed. The trio has just a couple of words, 'aha khudaro', in the end, but their collective effort leaves a lasting impression.

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have created perhaps one of their finest compositions using classical instruments. The addictive esraj tune by Arshad Khan and Tapas Roy's work on the bouzouki / mandolin are simply majestic and put you in a trance. 

4. 'Qaafirana' — Kedarnath

Some of Arijit Singh's best songs have been written by Amitabh Bhattacharya. Karan Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) was, perhaps, their finest collaboration. Last year, Bhattacharya penned the tracks for director Abhishek Kapoor's love pilgrimage Kedarnath. The film had fine music with a couple of engaging tracks. There was the devotional 'Namo Namo' and then the delightful romantic 'Qaafirana'.

The Urdu word means ritual, action, or style inspired by infidels. If love be an act of infidels, then Hindi cinema must be happy to be kafir, for it largely produces romantic films and music.

Mansoor (Sushant Singh Rajput) is a Muslim porter who falls in love with Brahmin girl Mukku (Sara Ali Khan). The poor man is puzzled what it is he shares with the woman. This feeling, is it love or a Qaafiran act? Or are some things best left unexplained?

'Qaafirana' seeps through your senses like a flowing river. You need to listen to the full audio track to truly feel the charm of Bhattacharya's lyrics. With lines like 'Aise tum mile ho, jaise ittr se hawa [You have come into my life the way a scent spreads in the air]' or 'Beswadiyon mein jaise mil raha ho koi zayaka [like a flavour added to a tasteless dish]', it feels like an aromatic, appetizing track.

Bhattacharya's lyrics were set to a mesmerizing, soothing score by Amit Trivedi. The composer used the guitar, flute, piano and santoor as his key instruments. Santoor notes have a therapeutic effect and it is a shame film composers don't use this instrument more often. There is also the twinkling star sounds that adds to the overall blissful experience.

Arijit Singh slipped into his trademark languid elegance with the silky romantic number. You are stunned by the consummate ease with which he renders such tracks. Another feather in his cap.

Nikhita Gandhi, too, left her mark here. When the music goes off, that's when one can gauge the true quality of a singer, and in the final moments of the song, when Gandhi is crooning the high note, the music just fades away and all you can hear is her voice, but there is no drop in its quality.

Added to this were the picturesque visuals of Kedarnath and, of course, the beauty of Sara Ali Khan. All the ingredients combined to make 'Qaafirana' a divine experience.

3. 'Binte Dil' — Padmaavat

He was said to be a ruthless autocrat but perhaps the one good thing about sultan Alauddin Khilji was his love for music. After all, the great poet-musician Amir Khusrau shone during his reign.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali was expected to tap into this aspect of Khilji. He couldn't have Khusrau but unheralded lyricist AM Turaz penned an intriguing track, 'Binte Dil'.

Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh), Khilji's slave general, was said to be a homosexual and even rumored to have liaisons with the sultan. Bhansali did not touch upon this in the film for it could have led to more trouble than he already had.

The closest representation of this complex relationship came through the 'Binte Dil' song. The lusty sultan (Ranveer Singh) is hurting that he still hasn't been able to get a glimpse of queen Padmavati (Deepika Padukone). So Kafur arranges for an Egyptian mistress, but it is he who seeks the sultan's love more.

'Binte Dil' reflected Khilji's voyeurism and narcissism, but it was also perhaps the first time a mainstream Hindi film song subtly touched upon queer love.

Turaz brought the Urdu lyrics to the fore, with the Arabic word 'misriya' referring to the Egyptian beauty. The visuals told a story of a sultan desiring a queen feasting on an alternative while the loveless slave looks on.

The visuals helped to get a better understanding of the lyrics. It is good Bhansali and Turaz did not try to simplify the lyrics as that might have robbed the track of its essence. Music has no language, and such tracks are best enjoyed when they retain their soul.

Middle Eastern music was new territory for Bhansali, too, and the maestro dived in to produce a riveting score that expressed passion as well as pain. It is arguably Bhansali's most versatile composition yet.

Arijit Singh also explored new territory here. After listening to the track for the first time, this writer was stunned to see Arijit Singh in the credits. Hindi cinema's numero uno singer has enthralled us with probably the most difficult track of his career. The song required a different tone, manner and modulation and Arijit Singh turned in a powerhouse performance. 

Finally, Ranveer Singh's passion and obsession completed the 'Binte Dil' experience. Take a bow, Arijit Singh and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. 

2. 'Chonch Ladhiyaan' — Manmarziyaan

When Anurag Kashyap makes a romantic drama, you take notice. Manmarziyaan was the story of Rumi (Taapsee Pannu) who is madly in love with the funky local DJ Vicky Sandhu (Vicky Kaushal), but destiny sets them apart. Rumi accepts the Sikh man Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan) that her family chooses for her. She has accepted her fate but resents her husband. The 'Chonch Ladhiyaan' track is the first sign of the ice breaking. It's too early to call Rumi and Robbie love birds, but lyricist Shailendra Singh Sodhi, better known as Shellee, likens this thaw in the relationship to chonch ladhiyaan, the rubbing of beaks.

A river (Sutlej), cities (Amritsar, Jalandhar), kites, tumbi, bhangra, Shellee brings all that is Punjab into his poem. Most of these words were used in lines that metaphorically explained the feelings of Rumi and Robbie. Shellee also got epic rivals to dance together through this couplet, Porus de vich Sikander naache... naache... April-May vich December naache... naache.' You will find this couplet in the full audio track. 'Chonch Ladhiyaan' is also likely to be a top contender for Best Lyrics. 

The beautiful poem was backed by an endearing score by Amit Trivedi. The soft, soothing score has minimal instruments that are used gently throughout. Brilliant lyrics, endearing music, but it's the outstanding singing by Harshdeep Kaur and Jazim Sharma that touches your soul. Harshdeep is an established name, but it is Jazim Sharma who, perhaps, gave his best performance. With minimal music, the onus was on the singers to lift the track to its potential. Harshdeep and Sharma seemed to be revelling in Shellee's lyrics, their effortless singing providing listeners with a beautiful, eternal experience. 

1. 'Daryaa' — Manmarziyaan

The late poet Sahir Ludhianvi's platonic relationship with author Amrita Pritam inspired writer Kanika Dhillion to write Manmarziyaan. Like Ludhianvi, Vicky Sandhu (Vicky Kaushal) loved Rumi but wasn't ready to commit and the woman is set to enter wedlock with another man, Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan). Rumi decides to elope but chooses family honour over heart. 'Daryaa' was the cool, funky Vicky's meltdown. Ho Behgaya Hanjjuaan Da Daryaa. A sea of tears flows. 

While Vicky bawled, listeners soaked in Amit Trivedi's emotionally riveting score. Hats off to lyricist Shellee and to Anurag Kashyap for sticking with the Punjabi. If a film is set in Punjab and the characters are Punjabi, then why reduce the essence of the lyrics by simplifying in Hindi?

Not that the Punjabi words were difficult to understand, Shellee added a few quatrains in Hindi that go a long way in helping you connect with the song. The lyrics are not extraordinary. but the song's charm lies in the sweetness and purity of its Punjabi. Some things are best enjoyed in the original flavour. 

The makers threw in a pleasant surprise by releasing the full audio tracks before the music videos, thereby enabling us to enjoy and critique the tracks in their entirety. Hence we have picked the complete audio version.

Shellee's simple ballad was turned into a musical tour de force by Amit Trivedi. The opening tunes are akin to a Christmas carol, before the majestic pop-rock grips your imagination. It's hard to explain why, but rock music seems ideal to reflect the rage within the broken-hearted.

'Daryaa' is no heavy metal number. Though the core verse, Ho Behgaya Hanjjuaan Da Daryaa, has a metal feel, the preceding and following verses are mellower. The one that stands out is the pulsating sound that plays in the background in the mukhda and, later, to the line 'taenu khuda manneyaa taenu rab manneyaa'. It is akin to the sound of a heart-rate monitor. Also impressive was how Trivedi blended the flute into the fusion. The portion towards the end gives you goosebumps.

Amrinderpal Singh 'Ammy' Virk is a popular Punjabi actor, singer and musician. Much like Romi Khan with Phillauri (2017), Hindi cinema lovers got a taste of the talented singer with 'Daryaa'. And we had a ballad not sung by Arijit Singh! 

'Daryaa', however, was a joint effort by Virk and Shahid Mallya. Take either one and there would be no 'Daryaa'. Virk mastered the soft, low notes while Mallya was the rock star belting out the core verse. If Mallya's voice expressed the pain and agony of Rumi and Vicky, Virk's served as the balm for their pain. As the ending notes, especially the raging guitar rendition, reach a crescendo, the calm Virk, too, gets choked as the word Hanjjuaan comes out gingerly.

'Daryaa' tops our list for it takes you on a musical high, pierces the heart, shakes the soul.

SPECIAL MENTIONS

It's never easy to choose from a variety of songs. Cinestaan went carefully through many tracks to come up with the list above. The selection was based on a song's overall impact in terms of lyrics, music, singing, novelty and the visuals in some songs. There were a few tracks that narrowly missed the list but deserve a mention nonetheless. 

1. 'Aahista' — Laila Majnu

A brilliant compostion by Niladri Kumar, but the lyrics did not cast the same spell on us as the music. 

2. 'Namo Namo' — Kedarnath

A soul-healing devotional track, a new chant for Shiva for our morning prayers, one that was nicely composed and sung by Amit Trivedi.

3. 'Aashiq Banaya Aapne' — Hate Story 4

Who says we don't like remixes? We do, provided it betters the original. Remake king Tanishk Bagchi produced a great remake of Himesh Reshammiya's original. As a peppy track, it was right there with any other song but novelty helped 'Tareefan' pip 'Aashiq Banaya Aapne' and other such numbers.