Rewind 2021: The most memorable Bollywood songs of the year

A.R Rahman returns to form with Atrangi Re, Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui revives Punjabi flavour in Bollywood, and more. Here’s our list of memorable Bollywood songs for the year.

By Mayur Lookhar

2021.  Another year where people were ravaged by Covid-19 before the pandemic eased for a prolonged period. However, with cases rising again, there is fear that Covid-19 might play its ugly tunes all over again.  Similarly, we feared there will be nothing to cheer about Bollywood music too in 2021. In fact, we were confident that there will be no annual ‘Hindi film songs of the year’ listicle.  And so we were happy to sit on our haunches and enjoy the Christmas week. Then came Atrangi Re [2021] and it changed everything. Without it, we would have struggled to come up with a list of 10.  Thank you A.R Rahman who rediscovered his form.

Atrangi Re dominates this list, followed by the refreshing music of Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui. As always, there is one or two surprise picks, and one or two popular omissions. Sorry to Param Sundari and Raata Lambiyan fans. You narrowly missed the bus here. Without further ado, let’s you give our list for the memorable songs of the year.

12 Bandar Baant  — Sherni

Sheri exposed all that monkey business around the hunt for a man eater tiger. This was a classic Bandar Baant situation where the men entrusted to ensure justice, milked the opportunity for their greed. Hussain Haidry’s lyrics wonderfully captured l the tamasha [drama] in Sherni.   Bandish Projekt’s rooted, robust music and Aishwarya  Joshi, Roshan Khan’s rapid singing firmly helped to pass off the film’s message.

11 Bellbottom Theme – Dhoom Tara

A film set in early 80s, titled BellBottom, how could it not have a riveting retro theme.  Singer Zara Khan had very few words as this theme track was all about its music.  The words Dhoom Tara ra ra and the correspondent beats were enough to create an electrifying atmosphere.  Though hardly any words, the music of this Tanishk Bagchi composition fits the ‘cool’ billing.

10 Rihaayi De – Mimi

Yes, Kriti Sanon is the ‘Param Sundari’ but more than her beauty we empathized with Mimi’s [Sanon] plight in this film.  A song that is best enjoyed in the context of the predicament that Mimi finds herself in. Amitabh Bhattacharya’s simple lyrics comes alive through Rahman’s compelling tone and music.

9 Thode Kam Ajnabi – Pagglait

Pagglait marked the debut of Arijit Singh the composer. Bollywood ‘s top singer launched his music label Oriyon Music Label by scoring for Pagglait. Remarkably, the film’s sound track contained two dozen tracks, many revisit, but save for a couple of tracks, none could hold our attention for long. Interestingly, most of the songs were crooned by female artistes. Whilst we liked the music of Dil Udd Jaa Re, but as a whole, we enjoyed the Thode Kam Ajnabi track more.

The track plays to its theme where the ice begins to melt between its protagonists, Sandhya [Sanya Malhotra] and Aakansha Roy [Sayani Gupta].  Spend some time with a person and soon we tend to have a mixed opinion about him her. Neelesh Misra ‘s appropriate lyrics is given a fine healing score by Arijit Singh. Singh lends his support to Himani Kapoor, who really owns this beautiful number.  Jeez, life does feel good after tuning into this song.

8 Little Little  – Atrangi Re

The best of singers among non-singers are created when one is few pegs down. Director Aanand L RaI provided the booze to Vishu [Dhanush], but the real nasha [intoxication] is found in Irshad Kamil’s unpoetic but layman’s lyrics. Add Hiral Viradia, Dhanush’s ‘hits-like-wine’ tone, the joyous music of A.R Rahman and you’re tempted to hold a glass and cheer along with Dhanush each time the words ‘Love me little little’ play out.  Towards the end, the song turns into a Mehmood v/s Kishore Kumar Padosan-style jugalbandi with Dhanush and Akshay Kumar trying to outwit each with their respective beats.  Maybe, that dilutes your earlier blissful experience but the screenplay merited this jugalbandi. Just like good things come in little quantity, we savor this track accordingly.

7 Shine on me (Remix) – Skater Girl

Who says we don’t like remixes?  This gem from Skater Girl rolls into her our heart, igniting the burning desire to chase our dreams.  For Prerna [Rachel Sanchita Gupta] skating is all about feeling a sense of liberty in that moment.  Brothers Salim and Sulaiman Merchant penned and composed this inspiring English-Hindi track.  The remix is not much different from the original, but the few additions elevate the overall quality of the track. Indian descent American rapper Svetha Yallapragada Rao, better known by her stage name Raja Kumari, gives a powerful performance with able support by child artiste Mohammed Fazil, pure delight.  If that doesn’t inspire you then you simply need to have glimpse of Skater Girl Prerna.  

6 Tumbe Te Zumba – Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui

A unique love story that produced equally refreshing music.  Composer duo of Sachin-Jigar stayed clear of the usual trash that is passed off as Punjabi pop in Bollywood.  Each track plays to its corresponding situation in the film. For the non-Punjabis, lyricist IP Singh’s Tumbe Te Zumba track will require few hearings but once you get the grasp of it, you will truly enjoy the song. Who would have thought Zumba [dance form] being played to tumba tunes? The desi pop track is finely mixed with few western tunes. Certain tunes trigger Boney Mesque nostalgia, but for us, it’s the wild whistle-like tunes that trigger shock and awe effect.  Sukhwinder Singh revels in the madness of IP Singh’s lyrics and Sachin-Jigar’s electrifying score.  Ayushmann Khurrana and Vaani Kapoor’s Zumba skills. make this song a complete winner.

5 Attraction – Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui

Sachin-Jigar rolled back the wonder years taking us to the disco, pop era with Attraction song.   Here is track that is in the Bee Gees, Boney M mode.  The groovy music hits you right from the first beat. Whilst the composition is western, but the desi tone of Mika Singh and Priya Saraiya‘s lyrics keeps this track rooted. Saraiya’s cheeky singing of the intro sets the tone for a rollercoaster of a track. Add the hot bodies of Ayushmann Khurrana and VaanI Kapoor, how can one resist such Attraction?

4 Chaka Chak – Atrangi Re

There are few tracks that talk about a film, its principal character better than the Chaka Chak song in Atrangi Re.  The lyrics are as weird as the film title, fully giving us a low down into the mind of the lead character Rinku Suryavanshi [Sara Ali Khan].  A weird film, a totally weird protagonist. You marvel at lyricist Irshad Kamil for the words that he uses to describe Rinku. Mad, hot like afternoon heat, squirrel, sweet, abusive, gossipy.  The adjectives keep raining, but the one that is a killer is ‘Kourat kacheri si’. How do you explain someone that Rinku is like a court proceeding? Only the desi will understand it.  Let’s just say all these weird adjectives encompass the being called Rinku Suryavanshi.  Imagine the challenge for a singer to sing all such words in a song. The lyrics are arranged rhythmically and playback singer Shreya Ghoshal gives us a tour de force here.  We are so mesmerized by the lyrics and the singing, that we tend to forget the music by A.R Rahman that is equally chaka chak [clean, amazing].

3 Ranjha – Shershaah

The credit for singers is in the order of B Praak, Jasleen Royal and Romy. We feel the order here is slightly wrong for it is singer, composer Jasleen Royal who leads the song followed by the odd line by Romy Khan before handing it over to Praak to work his magic.  Anvita Dutt’s lyrics capture the inner feelings of a woman not wanting her soldier partner to leave but she just cannot say it.  As often with Punjab, Heer and Ranjha are cultural icons for al lovers in the region.  Although, Sony Music India has given sub titles for the YouTube link, the action, the tone is enough to tell the story here.  Simple words but the impact is really felt in the near muted tone of Jasleen Royal.  Romy and B Praak add their power touch to this ballad.  The tempo of the track is defined by the corresponding voices. Soft, mellow when Jasleen is crooning, and it rises when Romy and Praak take over.  The mélange of tones is what makes this track special.  If it wasn’t for Atrangi Re, Ranjha would have been our top pick for the song the year.

2 Rait Zara Si – Atrangi Re

The key to success is consistency. Whilst composers can tweak and rehash some old tunes, a lyricist cannot hide if he does the same.  Irshad Kamil is a dream for every writer, director. How well does he bring out the writer/director’s vision through apt words. The complex relationships in Atrangi Re are summed up beautifully through three simple words ‘Rait Zara Si’ (little bit of sand]. Oh, how some relationships stick as much as holding a bit of sand.  The track plays to fine, soothing score by A.R Rahman.  Such romantic melodies are made for Arijit Singh who emotes the beautiful words with aplomb.  If you observe carefully, a certain part of his singing feels like Rahmanesque. Did the composer contemplate singing it himself? He sure would have impressed, but Rahman was wise enough to realize that is down Arijit Singh’s alley.  Also don’t forget the contribution of Shashaa Tirupati who sets the mood for the tack with her soothing intro.

1  Tere Rang – Atrangi Re

Few dissenting voices forced a music label to pull down Sunny Leone-starrer Madhuban Mein Radhika Nache’ track. Wonder how many such voices even bothered to listen to the true Krishna Radha track Tere Rang in Atrangi Re? Here is a Muslim man Irshad Kamil penning his ode to Lord Krishna, celebrating his eternal friendship with Radha.  Not the first, and definitely not the last time when a Muslim creative contributed to Hindu literature, culture. 

Murali ke dhun, sun Radhike. Dhun saans saans mein bun ke, karde prem ka, preet ka, moh ka, shagun.

[Listen to the tune of Murali [Krishna], oh Radhike.  Stitch a tune from every breath, create an auspicious moment one that celebrates love, friendship, togetherness]

The translation is not verbatim, but that is the essence of Kamil’s Tere Rang, a semi classical track that shines for the beauty of its words, music and the stunning singing.  Like Krishna and Radhika, Vishu’s [Dhanush] personality is rubbing off onto Rinku [Sara Ali Khan] and vice versa.

The second antara triggers the Tum Tak [ track from Raanjhanaa (2013)] nostalgia. But Tum Tak, too, would merrily agree that it didn’t have shades like Tere Rang. Rahman’s music grips you from the opening tune and it stays with you long after the track is over. Shreya Ghoshal produces another tour de force but we are delighted with the singing of unheralded singer Haricharan Seshadri.  Their duet would perhaps leave the Gods mesmerized too. We are simple mortals. How can we not marvel at Tere Rang?  Some may have a different choice, but for us, Tere Rang  stands out as the most memorable Bollywood track of 2021.

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