In the book “Conversations with Maniratnam”, when talking about the music of Iruvar, Maniratnam says that the idea was to do what they would have done if they were making movies and music in that era, and that is the ground rule out of which A.R.Rahman created what he did in Iruvar. There is a boundary within which A.R.Rahman had to play, but there were no thorns waiting outside to bite him if he does step out. Whereas in Kaaviya Thalaivan, I guess Vasantha Balan asked A.R.Rahman to just travel back in time with all his sophisticated recording console, gadgets and pro-tools, hide behind the curtains and record whatever happened then and there as it is.
A.R.Rahman follows the rule ever so diligently, only stepping out of the zone when it is permissible. Hence, the resultant product isn’t as experimental and rebellious as one usually expects from A.R.Rahman, but the music sounds like one that is immensely tied with the film’s narrative and the overall vision of the film maker. It is pointless to talk anything more about the authenticity of the music for the film without knowing the length and depth of the strokes and the colours Vasantha Balan has used to paint the universe of this film.
A.R.Rahman ticks every box in emulating an era of film music dominated by K.V.Mahadevan and M.S.Vishwanathan. Rock and roll – Check, Smooth Jazz – Check, Clarinet – Check, Kanna, Karna and Gaandeebam - Check, Vibraphones, Xylophones, Marimbas, Bongo and Conga drums – Check, check and check. But, of all, the biggest check box to tick is the melody — the free flowing, honey dripping melody that flows smoothly from one section to another in the song without ever throwing any quirks at the listener. There is no space for a Phir Se Udd chala here. There lies the real challenge for Rahman, because when Rahman realised that everyone else has caught up with his ways and means and can do what he does, he took to quirky melody pattern to distinguish his music, but here he can’t use that tool. The melody has to be instantly likeable, hummable and also closely follow the drama in the narrative and the narrative in the drama. People watching a stage musical drama live wouldn’t have heard the song before the performance or carry a cassette or CD with them home after the performance to listen to the songs again, to decipher the layers, quirks and let it grow. There is absolutely no escape this time Mr.Rahman, you cannot knit together in one song various tunes you hummed in your iPhone recorder in your various air trips between London, LA, Bombay, Dubai and Chennai. But, there is not a musical phrase that is not instantly likeable in this soundtrack.
Vaanga Makka Vaanga invites us to a bygone era with a beautiful thogaiyaraa section where a harmonium diligently follows the main vocal melody typical of stage drama music. When I first heard the song I was wondering if Vasantha Balan managed to tame the rebellious beast within A.R.Rahman and made him stick to sounds of that period, but I was relieved when I heard the synthesized sound layer that kick starts the main song, and this layer is the secret key to the energy of the song. Rahman always manages to lay a unique percussive layer in this type of folk song with multiple percussion instruments playing various rhythm patterns on their own and creating an altogether fresh rhythm pattern when laid one over the other. And Thavil and A.R.Rahman are at it again! Rahman always manages to do something uniquely catchy with Thavil. The pattern of strict straight notes in the first line and classical inflections in the following line in each verse in the charanam is that typical A.R.Rahman’s quirky compositional style. But, that quirk makes the folk and classical fusion sound a little forced and not seamless enough in this song.
When the drama artist whose profession is singing and dancing on stage, falls in love with a real life and sings a song for and with his real love in his fantasy, what would that song sound like. Rahman thinks it would sound like a classic M.S.Vishwanathan melody. Hence we got the exquisite Yaarumilla and jazzy-breezy Aye Mr.Minor in the soundtrack.
Yaarumilla’s simple and affecting melody gently melts and glides through and through like chocolate syrup rolling down on a swirl of soft vanilla ice cream. The song hits its pinnacle of beauty at Adhu Oru Egaandha Kaalam and I can’t explain in words what happens within me when I listen to these two lines; and the ensuing lines that descends to “Kaadhal, Kaadhal, Kaadhal, Kaadhal” is sheer perfection in melody making; it couldn’t have taken any other path that is better. Shwetha Mohan is a colossal talent. Her rendition in this song is the proof. Impeccable singing! Rahman seems to have picked the female vocalists (Shwetha Mohan, Saasha Tripathi, Bela Shende and Vani Jayaram) carefully for the delicate tonal quality of their voice — a soprano voice sweet enough to sound like the female singers of that era and yet isn’t too shrill at higher registers.
Tender, jazzy and breezy woodwinds in the prelude lead us gently into the musical universe of M.S.Vishwanathan. Aye Mr.Minor is immaculately arranged by A.R.Rahman that organically brings together every little tone and sound of a M.S.V brand of romantic duet song. The omnipresent Mandolin, the quintessential bongo drums, string section that float beautifully around all nooks and corners of the melody, the ah-ha-has and oh-ho-hos, accordion and the obvious swing in the melody - A.R.Rahman nails it perfectly.
Rahman sets a collection of verses from Thiruppugazh to a serene melody; a melody with beautiful little variations throughout as the song progresses from one verse after the other all filled with words written to fit to a fixed meter that could easily turn a song made out of it musically monotonous. I heard some traditional renditions of the same Thiruppugazh verses and was amazed by the amount of clam and lightness Rahman brings to the idea of devotion, without diluting the intensity of the indulgence and romance that walks hand in hand with it. Vani Jayram’s voice sound pristine and adds to the divine aura, the song with its beautiful Veena motif in the background attempts to create.
Sollividu Sollividu is a fierce call or cry against the idea of war. Mukesh’s singing (who became who he is by singing Ullathil Nalla Ullam in ever stage he has ever been on) is terrific and impactful. Rahman goes for a straight melody not ornamented with any of the clever, complex sangathis that songs like these made in those times were full of. Rahman makes a strong statement here, a statement that Syed made in Super Singer by singing Vidai Kondu Engal Naadae in the final round or Rahman himself made when he chose to sing the way he sang Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo in MTV Unplugged. With Rahman, it is never about how intelligent or complex your composition is. I wish this song were longer by a minute or two.
I don’t know if I would hear a song this year that plays out with as much gay abandon as Sandi Kudhirai (Ok, there is Afreen in Hundred Foot Journey). A.R.Rahman, Haricharan and Pa.Vijay are on full throttle here. Melody relentlessly shifts gears; Retro orchestration goes all crazy and harmonically haywire; Unstoppable flow and play of words, and Haricharan's (a brilliant choice as the voice of Kittappa for all the songs in this Soundtrack) assured delivery of the various dynamics the song requires — the song is a bundle of limitless joy.
I haven’t seen any musical stage drama live in my life, my references are only that of such sequences in films. Paandiyan Naan Irukka from Thillana Mohanambal is an all time favourite, in which, you don’t hear any instrument other than what you see on the stage, but in Alli Arjuna, A.R.Rahman seems to have persuaded Vasantha Balan not to impose this constraint, but he doesn’t step too far out like he did in Pal Pal Bahari in Swades.
Composers of that era, achieved all those varied emotions and transformations in moods required in such drama purely through melody with just a single percussion for rhythm and an accompanying Harmonium closely following the vocal melody, but A.R.Rahman takes comparatively easy route to reach the destination. He gets a real Harp, at least ten different percussion instruments, assorted classical plucked strings, 40-piece string orchestra, a little brass and a bunch of other sounds along with the melody to convey the drama, even though the melody is strong enough to express everything on its own with minimal aid from the accompanying instruments.
Rahman doesn’t do raw. He wants every little corner of his food plate beautifully garnished. It has to sound sexy, vibrant, glittering and colourful. Rahman’s Alli Arjuna is not a street drama staged by a drama troupe with limited means; it is mounted on a magnificent scale. Rahman manages to keep the soul of the song intact amidst all the peripheral sounds, though, on an absolute Rahman scale, this is a very minimally arranged song. This is not lack of confidence in the power of one’s melody in its bare form; instead it is the care a creator takes of his creation to ensure that it reaches as many ears as possible. He is striking a balance between authentic and aesthetic without compromising the core – the emotion. All his predecessors have done it and he is just following the legacy. I heard an unplugged version of Alli Arjuna in my mind, with just a Tabla for rhythm and Harmonium to play supporting melodies played by other instruments around the vocals; believe me, the song still holds it all together.
Alli Arjuna follows the conventions of the format of the episodic stage drama musical narrative. Characters express themselves in extempore musical verses by singing a free flowing melody that doesn’t sit within the confines of a preset rhythm. Then they intermittently jump into a song set in a groove that acts as a recurring motif that each character returns to after musically wandering off the groove with their thoughts. Neatly structured and water tight, Alli Arjuna is a thorough musical triumph and is aided abundantly by Vaalee’s entertaining lyrical narration of the love story of Alli and Arjuna.
Despite following a conventional path, Rahman leaves his stamp wherever possible, like in that Thavil rhythm that kicks off the drama, that pattern screams Rahman, and the way Haricharan sings Nenju porukkudhillayae is typical Rahman, who discovers stress points and points of musical inflections in Tamil words we never knew existed in the word before.
I would be listening to Kaaviya Thalaivan songs for a long time. A.R.Rahman delivers what is required of him with absolute poise and panache.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
A little something I made as a tribute to A.R.Rahman to Celebrate 22 Years of A.R.Rahman. A Collection of 101 pieces with solo Flute, Sax, Clarinet, Oboe and many more different wind instrument from A.R.Rahman's repertoire. The compilation track length is 104 minutes.
Bose: The Forgotten Hero - Netaji Theme
Rang De Basanti
Doli Saja Ke Rakhna
Bombay Dreams - I could live here
Aabhi Ja - Raunaq
Warriors of Heaven and Earth - Monk and Miracle
Connections - Silent Invocation 1
Classic Incantations - Cry of a Rose
Lord of the Rings - Song of Hope
Warriors of Heaven and Earth - Escape
Elizabeth The Golden Age - Divinity Theme
Doli Saja Ke Rakhna
Dil Se / Uyire
Warriors of Heaven and Earth - Monk and Miracle
Connections - Silent Invocation 2
Warriors of Heaven and Earth - Blue Light
Couples Retreat - Meeting Marcel
Bose: The Forgotten Hero - Netaji Theme 2
Fire - Radha and Sita Love Theme
Bose: The Forgotten Hero - Emilie Theme
Minsara Kanavu /Sapnay
Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
Connections - Silent Invocation 3
Bombay Dreams - Closer Than Never
Kochadaiiyaan - Rana’s Dream
Raavanan / Raavan
Dil Se / Uyire
Raavanan / Raavan
Thakshak - Dholna
Warriors of Heaven and Earth - Water
Airtel - Express Yourself
Vande Mataram - Revival
Jhoota Hi Sahi
Dil Se - Uyire
Dil Se / Uyire
Pray for me brother
Couples Retreat - The Waterfall
Friday, August 8, 2014
A.R.Rahman sounded overtly excited about working with the film maker Lasse Hallstrom in all his interviews. I searched for what Lasse had made earlier and watched Chocolat to understand what a film score means to this film maker. I loved Chocolat and it's richly melodic and thematic score, and considering the genre of Hundred Foot Journey (having seen the trailer), and the Rahman’s media messages about his score in this film, I roughly had a soundscape in my mind for the score of this film (having seen Ratatouille), and it turned out to be much like that and much more, so much more.
Challenges are many for A.R.Rahman in scoring a Hollywood film that comes with tags like India, Indians and Indian culture — how different a score from that of Slumdog Millionaire or Million Dollar Arm can he pull off (he can’t not pluck a Sitar in the score. Can he?), and what new could he bring to this sub-genre of film scores in Hollywood, when there are non-Indian composers like Michael Danna (Water, Life of Pie) and Thomas Newman (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) seem to have convinced, at least the studios and film makers there that they can write a score that adequately serves the necessities of such films. Well, if they haven’t learnt yet from Slumdog Millionaire or Million Dollar Arm score, Rahman serves another delicious dish from his cuisine in Hundred Foot Journey score. Melody, that delicate, affecting, emotional Indian melody, they just can’t nail it the way an Indian composer can.
Million Dollar Arm had lots of energy and vibrance with dominant Punjabi and western rhythms, there were moments of clam and serenity to strike a balance in the score. Rang De Basanti song in Hundred Foot Journey trailer really got me worried. I hoped that Hundred Foot Journey’s not another one of hip-hop with banghra with Sitar score. I guess Rahman heard my mind. In Hundred Foot Journey, Rahman throws Punjabi beats out of the window, expect for the jaunty, infectious Afreen song. Afreen takes off on a different route but reaches the same destination that that insane “We could be kings” from Million Dollar Arm did. Also, that gibberish alaap by Rahman in the middle of the song - Afreen Ho A.R.Rahman! Surprised to hear the sounds of south India in here — mirudhangam, Ghatam, Morsing, Tanpura, even the Indian melodies on solo violins are played with a distinct Carnatic touch.
Melodies and Themes - something this soundtrack is so full of. Rahman mentioned in an interview that he wanted to precisely underline the beginnings, transitions in the story with distinct themes and he does and how. The film’s story and milieu is apt for Rahman to exercise this thematic scoring skills. Indian family, French family, Indian Food, French Food, Culture, Ego, Friendship, Love, Competition, Compassion, Clash - every damn bullet point in the story gets a musical theme and flows in and out of various pieces throughout the score. The tone of the score with a mix of Indian strings like Sitar, Sarod and Santoor, and western wood winds and bouncy strings is light as a feather, quite a pleasant listen.
The score gets a lot of its vibrance, colour, aroma from the seamless arrangement and orchestration of vast palette of instruments and sounds — acoustic and electronic. The pieces sound to have been written extremely close to the cuts in the visuals where a lot is happening all at the same time. Rahman has done this in many Indian films too, but not to the level of complexity that is on display here. Rahman shows his mastery over the art of knitting tail of one theme with the head of the next without making the thread visible to make one seamless musical piece, in many pieces in this soundtrack. You have to hear the six-minute long madness that is “Hassan Learns French Cooking” to believe my words. There are at least six or seven themes in this piece, from which emerges the main theme which then travels throughout the score.
The end credits suite is another gem with all the major themes of the film lined up, with the pieces taking elegant unpredictable turns to glide from one theme to another. Rahman boxes each theme in a whole new, glittering, golden, sexy wrapper much different from how they were presented thus far in the score, and the result is just spectacular. In “Vintage Recipe,” before it jumps to French part represented by the strings section, when the Indian section is about to end, the melody that was playing thus far only on Sitar is followed closely by the string section playing the same melody in Pizzicato. That gives us a sense of gradual movement, a smooth switch over to the other side of the fence within the piece. He could have left Indian part with just the Sitar and jump started the french part suddenly with strings, but that is not seamless, that is not clever and aesthetic cheating.
The theme that played hide and seek with us in Hassan Learns French Cooking plays in its entirety in its full glory on a variety of solo instruments in “New Beginnings”. The theme is all about the lightness, a generic feel-good aura, a whiff of positivity and doesn’t dump down our throat any particular emotion. For emotion, we have other themes, the one that is introduced in “Mr.Kadam” is a vintage affecting Indian melody. The main theme of the film (the love theme I guess) appears half way through the score in “The Gift," which is a clever and beautiful reworking and extension of Rahman’s famous Leo Coffee theme — a piece that gave Rahman all of his life’s gifts. The theme also gets its Hindi version “Tere nina sajna” (in “You complete Me”) with Rahman himself lending his voice to sing the lyrics and in one version he soothingly hums the tune. There are many delightful instrumental versions of the main love theme throughout the soundtrack.
The delicate Piano Theme in “The Village of Saint Antonin” leads us into what could be the quietest place in the universe. If I compile “Melancholic Ecstasy” now, it would be incomplete without this Piano theme. “The Clash” begins all western-classical like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and slowly takes this breathtaking transformation to a Symphonic Rudhra Thandav.
I liked how Rahman experimented with a lot of voices and classical alaaps in Million Dollar Arm, inspite of it being a Hollywood film, we don’t do these anymore even in Indian films (films that matter). Rahman’s idea is to bury the voices and alaaps deep under the instrumental layers; disguise a melody as a mild brush stroke in a vast soundscape, so that you just get to feel the essence of the melody and not hear every note the voice hits to carve that melody out of air. But Rahman goes mostly bold in Hundred Foot Journey with voices and suppresses the sound only when it is a scream that intends to earn sympathy or imply pain (in “Destiny, Fire and War” and last few seconds in “Alone in Paris”).
The French-Hindi song Toi C’est Soleil is a slow, soft romantic melody set to a soft thudding beat. I can’t resist gently swinging my head to Rahman’s Saajna Saajna. Ah! That sense of satisfaction and closure, when the song towards the ends falls into the arms of Tere Bina Sajna - immensely moving.
A La Hassan De Paris is a techno suite of all main themes of the score that you can dance to. I still don’t get the point of this track. Maybe it will make sense with the film.
I love this score. For the first time, my first hearing of a new A.R.Rahman soundtrack happened while riding my bicycle to work. I don’t know how much I absorbed while concentrating on the road riding a bicycle, but my residual thought at the end of the ride was that this is a special score, and after listening to the score for at least twenty times now, I think it is a special A.R.Rahman score for its many melodic themes and organic, seamless orchestration.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Kamal Haasan, who was sitting in the front row, when he quietly walked on to the stage, I thought this is going to be one of those segments in a typical concert where people say things that everyone already know. I must admit that if there is one person whom I don’t mind hearing talk about Ilaiyaraaja it is Kamal Haasan, but here, in this concert, I thought it would disrupt the mood and momentum of the concert. Just when these thoughts were clouding my head, I noticed that Kamal Haasan was dressed exactly like any other musician in the orchestra — the only one dressed differently on stage was Ilaiyaraaja.To Be Continued...(Next Saturday)
Kamal Haasan walked closer to a microphone, and started -- Singing! He rendered “Raghupathi Raaghav Raajaraam” from Hey Ram - the version that plays out in the movie’s opening credits. It finally hit me like a thunderbolt then that this was the only version in which the song that have always been sung like a Hindu Bhajan was set to a melody with a heavy Islamic flavour. Kamal Haasan rendered the tune and the words with perfection, modulation on the word Seetha was bang on. That moment I felt the song wouldn’t have the effect it does if not for the voice of Kamal Haasan, and that is coming from someone who hates Kamal’s singing voice. Sometimes, you need to see the singer perform the song live in front of you to know how much of themselves they pour into the song and realise the extent of inseparability. To fall in love with a song even more, you sometimes need to see the way the nerves on their neck stretch and strain to deliver a melody like the strings triggered inside a Piano by the fingers on the keys outside.
And then a glimpse of grace. Without giving time for audience to react or appreciate Kamal Haasan - the singer, the western choir with Indian choir joined in to sing the moving choir piece from Heyram Opening Credits. I remember that for the pre-release promotions of Heyram, they use to repeatedly play this video of a Hungarian choir group singing in a huge recording hall with Kamal Haasan and Ilaiyaraaja sitting amidst the orchestra and watching the recording. I use to wonder why Ilaiyaraaja is sitting there idle when his music is being recorded. I didn’t know that anybody can conduct a written piece of music. I used to be wide-eyed with wonder and amazement whenever I saw that video, and would ask myself if I would ever get to watch such orchestral music performance live. Here at the concert, I was pinching myself.
I don’t know whether they were doubling the voices live in the mix, but it sounded massive, as if the entire crowd was singing along with the choir group. The choir group of Budapest Symphony, wood winds and strings — it was like a gentle fountain with layers of instruments laid one after the other and rising high and reaching far on all sides. But, I was watching only the Harp, though the Harp is not doing anything in the lead in the piece, I have always been intrigued by the part it plays in an orchestral piece. What exactly does it do? Is it a dispensable part? Would the piece loose something if there was no Harp player available to play the part?
When Preeti Uttam walked in, I thought they were going to perform the symphonic interlude of Pollaadha Madhana Baanam too, but was wondering how they would manage to reproduce the synth layers live. I always wondered if there is some kind of minus-acoustic track — just the synth layers from the original without the acoustic instrumental parts — for instrumental pieces too like minus-one track that singers use for most of their concerts, which is the song minus the voice. However, what followed after the short choir piece is the instrumental prelude of Nee Partha Paarvaikku oru Nandri, without Rani Mukherjee’s bengali poetry though. I like how the tune blossoms in a western flute suddenly out of nowhere when the piece is about to end, and the ensuing strings that brings the prelude of the song to a satisfying closure. And they didn’t sing the song. When it moved on to one of the softest pieces involving just two flutes I realised that this is becoming a well arranged suite of major musical motifs from Heyram score. The two flutes — one innocently looping a phrase and another playing a melody to the cuteness, innocence and lovability of Mythili’s character. Even the placement of Mythili’s theme in the movie is brilliant. When Mythili asks if she can be Kamal’s friend, the piece is first introduced and when she says she has caught Kamal smiling thrice - Hat-trick - it is diligently cued in again.
I was hoping that the suite would include one of my most favourite musical scoring moments in the film. It is when Mythili expresses her love to Kamal in the hospital. The title choir piece is reprised on the orchestra for the first time here. It is an amazing scene, conversation and the score that precisely changes course on right sync points — the strings that whip up a magnetic force that is drawing Saketh emotionally closer and further closer to Mythili when he is in trance while Mythili is kissing him all over his face, and for the first time Nee Paartha Paarvaikku is played for Mythili and Kamal Haasan, now that Mythili has replaced Aparna from Saketh Ram’s life - Saketh even passes on the Aparna’s ring to Mythili as if that is the moment when they are really getting married. The changeovers, the shifting themes in this piece may not work as beautifully and as intensely in a music-only concert as it does when experienced with the visuals.
And finally Preeti Uttam did what she came to do — crooned her alaap that begins the breathtaking instrumental interlude from Pollaadha Madhana Baanam. This piece is heady mix of softer wood winds playing for the sensuous layer, the brass and percussions layers for the violence, and that bang when Vasundhra Das on bed turns into a giant rifle, the ass of which Kamal kisses. There are so many layers in the visuals and so too in the music conveying everything. As we all know that the songs of this movie were composed after they were shot, I wonder what was in the original. I just can’t think of the multi layered cut of this scene working coherently without the accompanying score of Ilaiyaraaja. And the live performance - The sight of entire orchestration swinging into action for this piece - Ah! You just don’t know which part to concentrate on.
Monday, May 26, 2014
Saturday, May 3, 2014
This is a mix of 52 Piano Cues of A.R.Rahman than runs for 60 minutes. I compiled this for myself, to help me crush the noise in my head in the silence of the midnight and keep me in calm and peace in the moments before I close my inner eyes every night.
I would like to call the mix “Melancholic Ecstasy”.
All Pieces Composed, Arranged and Performed by A.R.Rahman
Tracklist (In the order in the Mix)
Love Theme - Roja
Champions League T20 Theme
A Soul in Steel - Endhiran
Khwaja Mere Khwaja - Jodha-Akbar
Tu Bin Batayae - Rang De Basanti
Rang De Basanti Theme
Kabir Narayanan and Kamal Bashir
Thames Walk - Jhoota Hi Sahi
Oru Dheivam Thandha Poo - Kannathil Muthamittal
Chinna Chinna Aasai - Roja
Moments in Kerala - Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya
Kasturi - Indian
Raining Love - Minsara Kanavu
Beatrice’s Past - Kadal
War - Bose
Birth of a Satan - Kadal
Priya in Love - Minsara Kanavu
Rosy Theme - Karuthamma
Dil Se Re Prelude from MTV Unplugged
Jason and Cynthia - Couples Retreat
People Like Us
Himalayas - Connections
Jaage Hain - Guru
Thomas in Love - Minsara Kanavu
100 Moons and Blue Birds - Maryan
Elizabeth’s Fantasy - Lagaan
Jillunu Oru Kaadhal
Jessie’s Land - Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya
Tum Tak - Raanjhanaa
Love Theme - Doli Saja Ke Rakhna
Madhumitha Leaves to India - Jeans
Amit’s Theme - Jaane Tu Yaa Jaane Na
Pam Pam Para Para - Jhoota Hi Sahi
Karthik - Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya
Dekho Na - Swades
Flute and Piano - Kisna
Tango for Taj
Finding Sam - People Like Us