Rewind 2019: The best Bollywood songs of the year

A year where Arijit Singh ruled the roost again, but unheralded singer-composer Sachet Tandon came into his own with Kabir Singh. Shreya Ghoshal gave the best performance of the year with Ghar More Pardesiya

By Mayur Lookhar

As 2019 draws to a close, it is that time of the year when one revisits the good, bad, and the ugly that Hindi cinema, (popularly known as Bollywood) offered this year.  The best performers are rewarded but it is also a time to reflect what Bollywood had to offer in terms of music.  After all, what good is a Bollywood film without songs. 

Dearth of quality lyric writers, more content driven cinema, shortened film duration [average two hours] has perhaps reduced the space for songs in a Bollywood film.  It is a fair argument that this year, the truly memorable songs were limited, and it was a hard to compile this list.  2019 was a year where the cream [tracks] belonged to Arijit Singh, but some theme, situation-based songs left their mark.

Old or new, the criteria for judging a song remains the same – good lyrics, music, singing, with the picturization serving as an added advantage.  Not every track has all the qualities, but sometimes a few qualities are enough to win us over.

13 Kaise Banegi Sarkar – Motichoor Chaknachoor

A film can be timed right, but not a song.  Composer duo of Bharat and Hitarth sure are no soothsayers, but they launched their song Kaise Banegi Sarkar at a time when politicians in Maharashtra were running from pillar to post hunting to forge new or break old alliances. This Motichoor Chaknachoor track was no metaphorical take on the political circus playing out in Maharashtra, but it couldn’t have struck a chord at a better time.

No seats, but Bharat Menaria’s quirky lyrics reflected the fears but also the aspirations of Annie [Athiya Shetty].  The Sarkar here is the wedlock, the romantic Gath Bandhan [coalition] whose success hinge on Annie’s Dubai dreams. 

The ensemble of Vidhya Gopal, Dr. Pallavi Shyam Sundar and Deepa Shirodkar are unfamiliar voices, but they cast a spell on you.  Lead singer Gopal delights with her voice quality, her variations, particularly while singing the gibberish words, ‘ta ratta taratta (x4)), ae ae aelo lo lo’, The lyrics are innovative but it’s the groovy score that gets you hooked onto this very joyful track.  The song is more enjoyable in the extended audio version.

12  Bibi – Gone Kesh

Before Bala and Ujda Chaman, there was also Gone Kesh that touched upon premature balding. Dance is her dream and Enakshi [Shweta Tripathi] let her hair, rather wig down at a friend’s wedding.  The Punjabi word ‘bibi is used as a title of respect for the woman of the house. The folk song Vadhayian Bibi was made popular by the late singer Narinder Biba.  But lyricist Devendra Kafir’s track is no remake.  Composer Kanish Sharma gives it a folksy touch but it is largely a Bollywood celebration track.  The intro strains remind you of the Nachde De Saare track from Baar Baar Dekho [2016] and London Thumakda from Queen [2014], but Sharma very much owns this composition.  Asees Kaur begins the song before Shahid Mallya’s powerful tone takes over.   It’s the peppy desi score that makes you dance along with the Bibi here.

11 Rappan Rappi Rap – Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota

Vasan Bala’s critically acclaimed Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota was a unique Indian tribute to martial art legends.  And this song is as unique as it gets.   Garima’s Obrah’s lyrics defied the conventional norm of lyric writing.  From Mr. India [1987] to Paap Ko Jalaa Kar Raakh Kar Doonga [1988], Mowgli to Pacman, Or Un Dos tres to the Stars Wars reference, the song was a potpourri of many things . There was even a tribute to a popular detergent ad film.  Do you remember Hema, Jaya, Sushma from Doordarshan (national broadcaster) days? Let’s just say this song springs back memories of all those things that touched Indian lives in the 1980s and 1990s. 

The millennials would mostly be clueless as to what these lyrics are, but Karan Kulkarni’s pop-jazz score sucks you into Rappan Rappi Rap instantly.  The title is a little baffling for we didn’t find conventional rap elements here. To hell with the lyrics, this music., ooohh, it just makes you tap your feet. Abhimanyu Dassani, Radhika Madan brought their infectious charm, but it’s the music and Benny Dayal’s electrifying singing that make this Rappan Rappi Rap one of the most unique and entertaining songs of modern times.

10 Teri Mitti – Kesari

If one ought to define an ideal Indian patriotic song, then it should comprise of these ingredients – valour, regional pride, love for your mother land, mother and your soulmate.  For years, these qualities were reflected in Javed Akhtar’s  Sandese Aate Hain from JP Dutta’s Border [1997].   For two decades, this track became Bollywood’s national anthem.  While the 1990s audience still adored it, but the millennials perhaps needed an anthem that was more alluring to their taste and sensibilities. Lyricist Manoj Muntashir’s Teri Mitti is no lyrical masterpiece, but it is filled with all the patriotic ingredients, cooked in new style to satiate the millennials appetite for a contemporary classic.  With minimal music [by Arko], the onus was on singer B Praak to create magic. And he sure made an impression. His deep baritone voice pierced our imagination.  Praak’s voice instilled a sense a pride in sacrificing oneself for your motherland. While we still cherish Sandese Aate Hain, but from here on, it is Teri Mitti that is likely to echo in our hearts forever.

9 Pal Pal Dil Ke Pass title track

Sunny Deol’s son Karan had a forgetful debut with Pal Pal Dil Ke Pass. Perhaps, the lone bright thing from the film was the title track.  The Siddharth-Garima penned song had a couple of bizarre words like naukri [job] but Sachet- Parampara’s beautiful melody and the mesmerising tone of Arijit Singh melted your heart. Singh’s crooning of the intro line comes out like a passionate plea instantly hitting your senses.  Let’s not forget co-singer Parampara Thakur’s equally passionate effort.   The highlight of the music is the tabla and violin tunes.  There are a few odd lines, but Pal Pal Dil Ke Pass title track is an emotionally gripping romantic number.

8 Duniyaa – Luka Chuppi

We told you before that we have no bias against remakes. Here’s one that deserves to be in our list. Why? Because it offers a unique experience than the original Punjabi track.  There is hardly any trace of Raja’s Punjabi lyrics in the remake. Kunaal Vermaa leaves his own stamp with the new lyrics.  And so does Abhijit Vaghani who gives us a soul soothing composition.  Original singer Akhil croons the remake with the same passion and energy. Industry will be glad to have another soothing tone other than Arijit Singh.   Dhvani Bhanushali compliments Akhil nicely. Finally, it is a Kartik Aaryan and Kriti Sanon track, so Duniyaa was bound to brighten your world.

7 Ve Maahi – Kesari

Some may be taken by surprise that we chose Ve Maahi ahead of Teri Mitti.  The latter had its own charm but it is Ve Maahi that has an all round appeal.  Believe it or not, but this gem is penned and scored by remake king Tanishk Bagchi. The lyrics may be too simple, and perhaps, you’ve heard words like maahi, tere bin in countless songs before, but the magic here lies in the joyous, riveting score and of course Arijit Singh. The pacey rhythm is set from the opening tune itself and the tempo never drops thereafter.  The opening strains is similar to that of the Socho Ke Jheelo Ka track from Mission Kashmir [2000]. 

Kesari is a period film set in 1897. A use of guitar in Indian song then may be surprising. It is not prominent though as the guitar is nicely camouflaged in the core vibrant desi tunes.  There is the violin, shehnai, too, but the beauty here lies in the arranging.

Singh flows like a river whereas Asees Kaur has the all-important thairav [still] in her tone.  With each track, Kaur only enhances her reputation. The chorus artistes light up the outro.

6 India 91 –  Gully Boy

You’ll be surprised that we picked this as the only song from Gully Boy. No, it doesn’t have Ranveer Singh. But there’s a good reason why we chose India 91. Often Bollywood’s popular Punjabi rap artistes have squandered the genre on women, partying, alcohol.  The India 91 track embodies the true spirit of hip-hop music and the film.  The tenets of rap music are religiously followed, (as reflected in the bars) but India 91 is essentially a true blue desi rap.  It features unheralded names. Well, with rap names like MC Altaaf, TodFod, 100 RBH, Maharya, Noxious D, MC Mawali, the Bollywood audience will seldom be able to identify these artistes. The beauty of this rap is its sense of inclusiveness. The Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi voices reflect India’s cultural diversity.  All of them though spoke just one thing, “beware nakli (fake) rappers”. Viveick Rajagopalan gave a classical rhythm to the track.   The desi beats are captivating and once the mridangam plays relentlessly, this India 91 would have Lord Shiva [Hindu deity] breaking into a Tandav.  Geez, you wish this magical spell never ends. 

5 Memba – For Aisha [Featured in The Sky is Pink]

There are pioneers and then they are innovators like Memba [ Ishaan Chaudhary, Will Curry, who’ve literally built their music]  The maverick musicians have built Aranyani, a musical instrument of their own.  The Aranyani though is perhaps barely used in their tribute to the late motivational speaker Aisha Chaudhary.  The track has been featured in the Priyanka Chopra, Zaira Wasim-starrer The Sky is Pink, that is inspired by the life of Aisha, who was the sister of Ishaan Chaudhary.

The Sky is Pink track is a collaborative effort by lyricists Naomi Wild, Anvita Dutt, Evan Giia, with Gia and co singers Nooran sisters lighting up the enchanting, exhilarating Memba composition.  The tumbi though stands out in this fusion.  The lyrics embody late Aisha’s free spirit.   Many, like yours truly, are introduced to the talent of Giia.  Our own Nooran sisters provide the sweet, powerful desi touch.   Music has no language, and it’s proven by the cohesiveness between the Indian sufi singers and the Brooklyn based Giia.   This track is not just a fitting tribute to Aisha, but it’s inspiring, motivating,  and highly enjoyable.  

4 Tujhe Kitna Chahne Lage Hum – Kabir Singh

Kabir Singh, arguably, the most talked about film of 2019. No debate though over the quality of its music. Perhaps, the best film album of the year.  A story about a possessive, heartbroken lover.  Who better than Arijit Singh to sing this romantic number . Mithoon’s lyrics trigger the 1990s nostalgia.  Simple but captivating lyrics, and easy to hum.  The music though is vastly different.  Bollywood ballads/romantic numbers are increasingly playing to soft rock tunes.  

The music of Tujhe Kitna Chahne Lage Hum perhaps has a sense of déjà vu to it, but who cares. It is so addictive. The rest is simply vintage Arijit Singh.   Passion, pain, joy Singh makes you experience these emotions each time.  Enough said, just play it in loop.

3. Bekhayali – Kabir Singh

Arijit Singh had his version too, but the best ballad of the year comes in the imperfect tone of composer Sachet Tandon.   Why imperfect? Do you really think a heartbroken, crestfallen, drunkard like Kabir Singh [Shahid Kapoor] can sound like Luciano Pavarotti?  The song rides on two emotions – agony and pain.  Tandon sounds like a man choked with emotions, and therein lies its appeal.  Tandon doesn’t falter in switching between the notes. The high notes reflect the anger, while the low notes carry Kabir Singh’s pain.  Tandon’s teary tone in the bridge [Hain ye tadpan, hain yeh uljhan] left Shahid Kapoor and listeners to tears.   It’s the outro [Aa jamaane aajma le ruthta nahi…]  though that perhaps triggers an emotional breakdown, ringing in the nadir of Kabir Singh.  Phew, take a bow, Sachet Tandon.

Singing is just part of his job here as Tandon and his co-composer Parampara Thakur give an emotionally gripping, rocking ballad.

Last but not the least, this teary rocking masterpiece wouldn’t have been possible without the brilliant lyrics by Irshad Kamil.   The acclaimed lyric writer pens an emotional ballad that has become the anthem for the sullen souls.

2 Ghar More Pardesiya – Kalank

After taking most of 2018 off, Pritam Chakraborty swung back to action in 2019 with Chhichhore, The Sky is Pink and Kalank.  Kalank was perhaps an unexplored territory as Pritam had never scored for a period, grandiose relationship drama before.   He had composed a mujra song with Kareena Kapoor in Agent Vinod [2012], but this was an altogether different ball of game.  A Dharma Productions film, Kalank had dance icon Madhuri Dixit and young super star Alia Bhatt.

He had his favourite lyricist Amitabh Bhattarchaya.  The lyrics appear to be on the lines of a Kesariya [popular Rajasthani folk song to welcome a guest, dear one]. The unexpected pardesi here perhaps being Rukh [Bhatt]. However, the raag-based track is akin to a love song of Sita. Ghar more pardesiya, aao padharo piya, the song is Sita’s plea to her piya [soulmate] Ram to rescue her. The Ram-Leela playing in the background all the more validates our interpretation.

In all fairness, the lyrics of Ghar More Pardesiya lack mass appeal, but it is the outstanding semi classical score, singing, Madhuri Dixit and Alia Bhatt’s choreography that make for a visual treat.

Most of us today may not understand the ragas, but the sheer sound of Indian classical instruments is enough to attract us to such numbers.   The sitar, sarod, mandolin, ravanahatha, and tabla are the pillars of Indian classical music. And their hypnotic sound beats all through this track.  Male or female, this is undoubtedly the finest performance by a playback singer this year.  It’s through tracks like these, that Ghoshal proves why she will always be ahead of her contemporaries.  Former Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge contestant Vaishali Mhade makes a small but vital contribution.

Dixit’s slowed down with age, but she is still the queen of dance in Bollywood. Alia Bhatt brings in her youthful energy, and matches Dixit step for step. The colourful, festive background, grand sets adds to its rich visual appeal.  The powerful sounds, voices just reverberate long after the song is over. Ghar More Pardesiya stays with you for long.

1 Kalank title song

Last year, it was Ammy Virk and Shahid Mallya whose Daryaa [from Manmarziyaan] swept us off our feet.  Normal service resumes as Arijit Singh takes the top spot for 2019 with the title track of Kalank.

The Abhishek Varman relationship drama sees a married Hindu woman Rukh [Alia Bhatt] have an affair with a poor Muslim man Zafar [Varun Dhawan].   It doesn’t matter which period it is set in; society will always condemn such illicit relationship. That’s why the film is called Kalank [taint]. 

Penned by Amitabh Bhattacharya, the title track is the lovers defence of their relationship.  In their eyes Zafar and Rukh have committed no sin.   In fact, they equate themselves to Heer Raanjhna [legendary lovers]. Well, all great love stories have faced stiff opposition from society.  Morality doesn’t approve it, but the sincere straight-from-the-heart lyrics make you not just accept but respect the Zafar-Rukh relationship. 

Pritam produces a musical masterpiece.  A pre partition film where an Indian song begins with the Spanish guitar.  No complaints though as it sets the tone for a mesmerising romantic score. The array of instruments only enriching the experience.  The hallmark of a good song is the consistency in quality. Pritam’s best compositions tend to have gripping outros.  The Kalank title climbs to a rousing crescendo with tables beats and other instruments.  A particular tune is akin to sound of many hands clapping together. As a listener, your hands, too, clap in appreciation.

He’s featured more than once in this list.  One is perhaps now short of words to explain his performance.  Let’s just say, when an Arijit Singh is immersed in a joyful romantic track, the world seems a happy place. 

Special mention

Basanti No Dance [Super 30]

Seldom does a song fit so beautifully to its theme or situation.   Ajay-Atul composed Basanti No Dance mocks the colonial mindset that berates the underprivileged for their poor English.  Anand Kumar’s [Hrithik Roshan] poor students dare to overcome their fear in public as they break into the Basanti No Dance song.  The purpose of this exercise was not bettering one’s English, but simply beating one’s insecurities.  It is a beautiful, self-empowering visual expression.  Who else could pen this but Amitabh Bhattacharya! The quartet of Prem Areni, Janardan Dhatrak, Divya Kumar and Chaitally Parmar emote the strong will of Anand Kumar’s students in their tone.  In the principle of fairing reviewing, this track wouldn’t make to our list, but it sure deserves a special mention.

Satyam Shivam Sundaram rendition by Ankona Mukherjee

Similarly, we couldn’t help but pay respect to teen singer Ankona Mukherji. Her rendition of the title track of the Lata Mangeshkar classic Satyam Shivam Sundaram [1978] on the reality TV show Superstar Singer was simply majestic.  Don’t be surprised if Mukherjee is tapped by Bollywood’s top composers soon.