SOUNDCHECK: SONGS FROM THE BENCH

31 Jul 2020

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Islamabad-based Natasha Humera Ejaz’s (NHE) latest number Abhi Abhi is the second song she’s released as a part of the soundtrack of the award-winning Pakistani short film, The Bench. The film stars Rubya Chaudhry and Usman Mukhtar — who has also directed it. NHE has not only written, produced and performed in two of the songs released from the film, but she is also the music director for this project as well.

Abhi Abhi opens with a light, carefree guitar riff accented with the sound of seagulls in the background. Then NHE starts singing in her signature breathy way.

She has a very sweet, instantly recognisable voice, but she sings Urdu like it’s her second language, not her first. The same goes for the songwriting. That’s a bit distracting at first, but eventually her enunciations grow on you. But not the lyrics — they’re overly simplistic and sometimes give the impression of words randomly thrown together but without any real knowledge of how to use the language to add any real depth to the song.

Case in point, this line: “Hum hoye mukhatib, jaisay thay Ghalib.” I just… they might flow in the correct rhythm musically, but sense they do not make. But this isn’t just a problem with NHE, we have a dearth of proper songwriters in the country. There’s such a massive focus on adopting and refining other non-native languages for our global survival that we tend to forget our own. Until it’s too late.

What Abhi Abhi has going for it is just in its opening riff and NHE’s sweet voice and breathy way of singing. What it desperately needs is proper lyrics.

Soye Nahin, the other song from the soundtrack of The Bench by NHE evokes a feeling of nostalgia. It starts with a recording of Bengali master-poet Rabindranath Tagore’s Tomar Khola Hawa (Winds of Change) by Adhora Mahpara. The song, which also includes lyrics in Urdu sung by NHE, incorporates poetry from another one of Tagore’s songs, Purano Shei Diner Kotha, sung by ‘Anonymous.’ It’s a beautiful number, overall, but one is assuming the reason behind choosing to incorporate Bengali will finally be revealed in the film.

What we have of The Bench available to the public right now is the trailer. To the sounds of the opening riff of Abhi Abhi, there’s a visibly older Rubya Chaudhry playing the character of a woman who grits her teeth through the everyday patriarchy she encounters, while doing mundane things which would otherwise be easily acceptable for men — such as buying two cartons of cigarettes.

Breaking the third wall, Rubya’s character talks about how life is a combination of choices that bring us to the point where we are today, and that she’s made some very bad choices over the course of her life. Then, she sits on a bench and stares into the camera. There’s an ominous pause before she launches into the story of her life.

The trailer is intriguing. One hopes the short film will be made available to the wider public soon as well.

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 31st, 2020