April 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster: Len Mullenger

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Water  
Music composed by Mychael Danna
Songs by A.R. Rahman
  Available on Varese Sarabande (VSD-6695 / 302 066 695 2)
Running Time: 59:43
Amazon US

See also:

  • Monsoon Wedding
  • Ararat
  • The Green Dragon
  • There’s a certain clichéd way to approach music for the subcontinent in Hollywood> – throw in solo parts for a sarangi or a tabla, and sufficient concession to local idioms has been made. No matter how talented and accomplished the composer may be, the music just doesn’t stand up to an authentic mixture of instrumentation and idiom. In my recall there are only a few occasions where the composer has actually managed to strike an effective balance in both western and eastern notations: Maurice Jarre on The Man Who Would be King, and now Michael Danna, who has previously come very near to something neo-classical and modernistic in eastern scale (ala Peter Gabriel) with his scores for Mira Nair’s films Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love and Monsoon Wedding. Also a gifted writer of African and Middle eastern music –equally well-trodden locales in terms of scoring clichés – in such films as Ararat and 8MM, Danna stands tall with his latest accomplishment-Water, director Deepa Mehta’s final chapter in the trilogy of films rounded after Earth (1998) and Fire (1996)

    The film Water is about group of widows in 1930s British India. It is a doomed love story between one of the widows – forbidden to ever make company with a man and bring disgrace to her dead husband – and a man from another class, a devoted follower of Mahatma Gandhi (here played by Bollywood’s latest heart throb John Abraham). The love story is set in the political context of Gandhi’s drive for independence. It should be noted though that this film is closer in intent to Western arthouse cinema than the typical Bollywood extravaganza.

    Danna’s score is simple and yet lushly orchestrated in an almost poetic pastoral mode, traditional and authentic instruments all coalescing in a musical experience both heartfelt and breathtaking. ‘House of Widows’ is the opening cue of the score, starting the main theme with solo sitar, santoor (eastern dulcimer) and baansuri flute, and adding string accompaniment as the cue progresses. The theme, which dominates the album, is almost spiritual, and yet sad, characterizing a widow’s life of piety and accepted fate. The main theme works equally well in eastern and western instrumentation. This is Mychael Danna’s skill – making a seamless correspondence between two different scales. The only drawback is that the main theme has a few bars sounding as if they came from James Horner’s Titanic.

    The main theme is reprised in almost all the tracks like ‘Luddo Dreams’ and ‘Fatty’. ‘Chuyia Explores’ is where the theme takes a frolic like stance to accompany the little orphan girl. A new theme is introduced in ‘Carriage’- a somber piece with sitar and flute accompanying the orchestra. Melancholy vocals also accompany a few tracks such as ‘Funeral’ where the mood is tragic and elegiac – deep emotions are evoked here. ‘Train’ is a triumphant peace of music, a Hollywood style penultimate track in feel. The final track is very similar to the first, and a strong conclusion to the album.

    Supplementing the album are original songs by Bollywood maestro A.R. Rahman. Why A.R. Rahman didn’t write the score for this film as he did for Mehta’s previous films is uncertain. However, what we have here are some impressive numbers by him including ‘Chanchan’, ‘Naina Neer Baha’, and the traditional religious song such as ‘Vashnava Janiho’. ‘Sham Rang Bhar Do’ (which translates as ‘Let me shower you with color of life’) is a very festive song celebrating the arrival of spring is in the typical Rahman mode –full of life. This track comes closest to the typical Bollywood musical style.

    Danna and Rahman’s work is a wonderful marriage of both eastern and western modalities- it perfectly accompanies the film’s eastern and almost mystical setting. This is a gorgeous and infectious album and I can’t wait for Rahman to write a western film score someday. A triumphant score for Danna. Recommended for fans who wish to be swept away by film music altogether.

    Amer Zahid

    Rating: 4

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