Zubeidaa’s all-star cast for both screen and soundtrack brings together some of the biggest names in modern day Indian entertainment.

THIS is the tragic story of a princess (Karisma Kapoor in the title role), narrated through the eyes of Riyaz, the son who never knew her.

Directed by 66 year old Shyam Benegal and set in the backdrop of the formation of the republic of India, Zubeidaa is the daughter of Suleman Seth (Amrish Puri), who secretly takes part in the shooting of a film. Her father is horrified and hastily arranges for her to be married to Mehboob Alam. However, circumstances after the birth of her son mean the poor girl faces a bleak future.

Zubeidaa’s luck seems to improve with her marriage to Maharaja Vijayendra Singh (Manoj Bajpai). However, ex-wife Mandira (Rekha) is lurking in the background and all is far from perfect. The film, taking ever darker turns, tracks Zubeidaa’s disintegration against the backdrop of the birth of a new India.

As always Manoj Bajpai and Amrish Puri turn in stellar performances, and the title role is handled adequately by Karishma Kapoor – she definitely rates an ‘A’ for effort.

Zubeidaa could be deemed as Shyam Benegal’s first foray into the commercial side of Indian cinema. He brings to the movie a unique narrative and depth of storyline that traditional Bollywood often lacks. The cinematography and direction, though sometimes not as pacy as it could be, reeks of an international calibre, and the entire film is hauntingly poignant.

What’s the music like …
As with any film soundtrack graced by the wizardry of AR Rahman or by the magical pen of lyricist Javed Akhtar, Zubeidaa doesn’t fail to deliver. The eight track score features the world famous talents of Lata Mangeshkar, Sukhvinder Singh, Alka Yagnik, Udit Narayan and newcomer Richa Sharma.

AR Rahman’s style has been championed in the subcontinent for many years and now, collaborating with artists like David Byrne, Michael Jackson, Zakir Hussain, Talvin Singh and Andrew Lloyd Webber, he has been elevated to an almost iconic status. What he touches, seemingly turns to gold. With Zubeidaa he manages to deliver a soundtrack of biblical proportions and the album seems destined to become a massive commercial success.

The caressing vocals of Kavita Krishnamurthy on Dheeme Dheeme allow Rahman’s classic style of soft, yet dominating string and harmony to come together with touching subtlety. It’s easy to fall into a relaxed state of being with the lush grooves and romance of the whole musical piece. AR Rahman allows the singers voices to soar to heights even they may have thought unreachable.

So Gaye Hain finds the nightingale of Indian music, Lata Mangeshkar, in a haunting and emotionally charged mood, surrounded by some dulcet virtuoso percussion solos, both electric and acoustic.

The music and soundtrack lift the film to a spiritual and sentimental level without being sickly. As Rahman’s ingenuity tears through the techno-loops and contemporary visions, he manages to embrace you with an almost tangible sense of warmth. With his innovative use of taal and technology in perfect union, Zubeidaa is a million selling, award-winning blockbuster in the waiting and an instant modern day classic.

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