Karam, released in 2005 would certainly qualify as unconventional for a Hindi film, even though it subscribes to all the tropes of its genre. A noir film about an assassin wanting to leave the business for love isn’t exactly standard Hindi film fare, and while it was a decent film, it pretty much sunk without a trace at the box-office. On the plus side, however, the song Tinka tinka, which introduces Priyanka Chopra‘s character in the film, will likely be remembered for a long time to come.
In keeping with noir tropes, John Abraham‘s character is a serious and brooding assassin, who shows up for only a few shots in this song, sort of brooding, of course. Most of the song belongs to Priyanka Chopra who plays the crooning lounge singer of the piece, and is the one doing the singing on screen. She is equal parts sultry, mysterious, glamorous, and a shy girl in love during the song. Even with Narendra Khanna‘s lush cinematography, that’s not easy to pull off, standing in one place in a backless evening dress, pretending to sing into a mic.
That pretence was a choice because rumour has it Chopra was offered the chance to do the playback singing for this song as well. While she is said to be a trained singer, she declined, preferring to concentrate on the acting, and so it fell in the capable hands of Alisha Chinai to supply the vocals. It is very difficult to imagine anyone doing a better job at the vocals than Chinai, who is more sultry in audio than even the talented Ms. Chopra on screen, and she brings a nuance and laid-back ease to it that really makes this song stand out from similar things of the past.
The music by Vishal-Shekar strikes a nice choral atmosphere, while also staying in the background and letting the vocals set the tone. They manage to bring to it a nice melodic looseness appropriate to the blues, lounge-music, world it is trying to be set in, while also making it fairly electronic and rhythmic. They balance many masters here and the way Alisha Chinai modulates her voice around the structure of the song, always seemingly a half-beat late on on the pick-up, gives it the haunting quality that it deserves.
Vishal Dadlani and Irshad Kamil contribute to the mix with some very minimal but also very dream-like lyrics, short and clipped, letting the listener fill in all that is unsaid with their own imaginations. The main words are really the best example of the magic they weave with so little:
Tinka tinka zara zara
Hai roshni se jaise bhara
Har dil main armaan hote to hai
Bas koi samjhe zara
Every strand of my being,
Is as if a little filled with light
Every heart has its fancies,
If only someone would share its flight
For two people who both came into acting through modelling, John Abraham and Priyanka Chopra have done an astonishing variety of roles in their relatively short careers in Hindi films. While their acting talent, especially during their initial years, was questionable, they have grown over time and have lent their time to some fairly unconventional movies. Karam is one of those movies, but for songs like this and the oodles of style it exhibited, being cinematographer Sanjay F. Gupta‘s only directorial outing to date, it deserves to be remembered.