Parandhu Sella Vaa. It could have been another Hai Rama Yeh Kya Hua - with its restless rhythms and raaga based melody that sounds like a song Rahman conjured for the visuals of the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho coming to life to make love. It could have been a Maja Maja Maaja (Jillunu Oru Kaadhal) or a Thazhuvudhu (Anbe Aaruyirae) loaded with tribal rhythms and many musical moments filled with incessant moaning that goes with the idea of making love as a mere carnal pleasure with no bigger emotional heft whatsoever attached to the experience. Or it could have been all about the breezy romance, the fun and froth in the moments when a couple in love live together for the first time - Kaadhal Sadugudu (Alaipayuthey). Or it could have been something that ambles between the quiet slumber and passionate crescendo like In Lamhon Ki Daaman men (Jodha Akbar). In OK Kanmani, Rahman thinks of something refreshing for the situation in question and gives us the song of the soundtrack - Parandhu Sella Vaa. He sets the experience of intense physical intimacy to the ecstasy of a bird freed of a cage after years of imprisonment and its never ending flight after that higher and higher above the clouds. Bits and pieces of musical elements from all the other aforementioned songs are in here too — a softly thudding tribal rhythm, the musical moaning, mischievous mix of voices and sounds in the backing orchestration etc, But, they come together to paint a kaleidoscopic soundscape that entirely belongs to this song and this song alone.
Song has an interesting structure. It starts off with a gentle and cheerful foreplay section, a shaker, a peck-on-the-cheek sound loop, and a melody that keeps repeating, he does something and she does the same, no one knows where all of it is leading to, but soon a gentle rhythm kicks in and sets a groove to the action implying that they have taken a step further ahead. And she takes the lead and starts moaning melodically and it is so beautiful and classical that he might reach his peak without another touch. He moans along too but his is restrained and just enough to calm and bring her a new notches down from up above. Everything takes flight to a higher emotional plane sooner when he goes Nanaindhu kollavaa Mazhai Illamalae, and to an even higher and stronger emotional plane when a deep cello section joins as she goes Midhandhu pogavaa megha thundu pol. And that is where it stays afloat on Parandhu Sella vaa, Parandhu Sella Vaa. After a phase of passionate action, they jump to a frothy, playful phase for a short while when the song shifts to the most ecstatic musical moment of the whole soundtrack. Saasha’s scat singing backed by a cute and chirpy pizzicato strings in this section gives me an indescribable high every single time I listen to the song. With Kadandhu Pogavaa Boodham Aindhayum and a grand choir backing the lines, the song shifts to the emotional plane again, and then it doesn’t end, it just stays there. Nobody is in a rush to hit the climactic orgasm. They want to fly and fly and stay afloat savouring every micro second of the experience without having to reach any pointed destination. I just like that.
Rahman’s in OK Kanmani is light music. Lightness is the overarching mood and feel and this aura of light is sometimes easily mistaken as superficial. And the lightest of all that is light in the album is Aye Sinamika. With relentlessly strummed guitars and acoustic drums, a variety of e-nstruments and the cheerful chorus interludes, the song creates an infectious positive vibe and is a bundle of joy. That everything in the song keeps circling far too long around so small a musical pivot is my only gripe, could have had a little more meat. Kara Aatakkaara also has similar problem, meanders a bit and though has many interesting parts doesn’t come together well. I can’t deny feeling disappointed when the song quickly turned to Tamil rap, because I was so hooked to the Kaara Aatakkaara section when the first teaser of the movie broke out with it, and I have been eagerly waiting to hear what comes after that.
Rahman is always after a sense of musical and conceptual balance within a song, within songs in an album and within songs of similar genre in his overall repertoire. It is in Prabhu Deva’s movies you will hear the slowest of Rahman melodies. There would always be a Mellisayae to switch from Romeo Aattam, or a Naalai Ulagam Illaiyendral to go to after No Problem, or a Ennavalae after Errani Kurradhaani. There would mostly be a carnatic section laid on club beats in most of his jaunty dance music. Thirikita Dhaana motif in Pappu Can’t Dance was to balance the crass loudness expected in a party song. The classical sargams in Yaakai Thiri was to give a musical heft to the harmless fluff in a party song. And maybe the overt carnatic flavour in OK Kanmani music is for the same reason. And in OK Kanmani too, Rahman is after a musical balance within the songs and between the songs and he is able to achieve that without it being detrimental to the core mood and musical premise of the song. Maybe I am stretching the theory too far, maybe all of its comes from what the film needs but maybe not.
There Ulaa is an interesting exercise in Rahman’s penchant for balance. The song’s structure is dangerously fragile with scattered fragments of musical phrases and long stretches of pauses in between. A listener doesn’t get anything to hold on to easily, apart from the addictive techno beat that is deliberately played on a tempo higher than that of the melody. Each and every phrase should be able to stand on its own to make the song feel tighter. And also all of it should form a sweetly melodic and sensible musical structure when the listener is able to clearly map the whole journey of these fragments of musical phrases in their mind. Rahman pulls it off like he does every time. That female solo in the middle of the song is such a beautiful carnatic crux to build the song around.
Mental Menadhail is the only straight forward peppy techno track in the album that is not bothered about being all out fluff though Rahman tries to give a softer melodic bend to all the straight edges in the melody in its female version. First time I heard the female version, felt it sounded better, but have gone back to Rahman’s version now. Somehow the female version has subdued the fun and sound inhibited compared to the freak-out Rahman’s version.
I can’t pin point to a specific aspect but there is something totally magical about Naane Varugiraen besides the obviously sweet, strong, raaga-based melody and the exquisite classical inflections in the way the syllables of the sung words are split, swirled, stretched and squeezed inside Saasha Tripathi’s seductive vocal cord. Is it the element of electronica in the backing orchestration? But that is standard ornamentation considering Rahman’s standards. Or is it the constant chase and catch drama that plays out between the melody and the percussion? And while I question all these questions on the experience of the song, Rahman points me to its telugu version Yedho Adaganaa Yedhainaa Adaganaa, and listen to it yourself to know what inherent musicality of a language does to a melody. Sundara Telugu! And so is music of A.R.Ameen’s Arabic in the calming Maula Wa Salim. Can I get a karaoke version with just the chorus to use for my meditation?
But, the question that remains after listening to each new Rahman album - Where is the surprise? Where is that never-heard-before moment? Most unexpectedly I found the answer for these two questions in Malargal Kaettaen - a very deceptively simple and conventional sounding song in the album. Listen to the path Chitra takes when she sings Unaiyae Tharuvaai the first time, it is not the route a melody usually takes when it is presenting itself for the first time, it is an improvised version, a route it takes after having gone through a conventional path for many times, but that is what we get the first time and only in the second time Unaiyae tharuvaai takes its most obvious melodic route. And the never-heard-before moment arrives when Rahman joins Chitra, and again I can’t explain why, but Rahman’s voice and the way he sings does something that nothing else could have done to the song. And only when Rahman joined that I truly understood the beauty of the melody in its entirety.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Mysskin coined the term “Munnani Isai” (foreground music) for Ilaiyaraaja’s score for Onayum Aatukuttiyum. Mysskin claims that Ilaiyaraaja’s music by itself can narrate the story, and there is no need for the visuals. I am not sure if I agree with that assessment. Ilaiyaraaja did demand us to make our own movie in our mind with his experimental instrumental album The Music Messiah, where you don’t have any visuals to help you decipher the narrative arc. You paint your own image in your mind from the music, deriving from your past experience of watching movies and listening — consciously or unconsciously — to a film score. The Music Messiah is the score of a film that never got made. I know that themes from the Malayalam film Guru has been used, but I haven’t seen Guru. And I could hear cues from Pithamagan too. However, I don’t think Ilaiyaraaja wants us to relive those movies while listening to this album. You could say that listening to Onayum Aatukuttiyum score or any score before watching the movie is like listening to The Music Messiah album.
I don’t think Ilaiyaraaja believes that his music is enough to experience a movie. If he does, why would he add all those sound effects — the first cry of a just-born baby, noise of people clamouring in a battle field, temple bells, birds’ tweet and chirp, etc., Ilaiyaraaja knows that the background score is applied music, it is applied on a narrative, on a set of images in motion, on the rhythm and emotions of the visuals. He knows that a stand-alone narrative music needs the sonic equivalent of a visual to help a listener understand the situation the music is set for, and only when all these elements come together in perfect synch and synergy the musical narration is complete.
If you listen to the Onayum Aatukuttiyum score without watching the film, I am not sure if you could experience that lump in your throat, when in the score, string section crawling on its knees to complete its thematic melody we have been familiarised throughout the film is chopped off abruptly as the character the theme represents falls to death in the climactic moment in the film. In this particular scene, the experience is complete only when you watch and hear everything that is happening in the moment. You have to be in the world the film maker has visually created for it to impact you in a way it intends to, and in this case when the music chokes to silence precisely when Mysskin drops himself on the floor breathing his last — you have to witness to appreciate the what is possible when there is a perfect marriage of the motion in the visual narration and the music.
Perhaps, Mysskin means to say that you have to watch the film with the music once and just once. The next time when you want to travel through the arc of emotions you went through on first viewing, it is enough if you listen to the cues from the score in the order in which it is played in the film, you can paint the visuals of the film in your mind. And that I agree with. I do that regularly with so many films scored by Ilaiyaraaja. The way the next piece was presented and performed in the concert vindicates my theory of the music with motion picture having a much greater impact than what the piece of music did on its own thus far.
Few months ago, when the concert was first announced, a short film contest was also announced, where budding filmmakers were asked to visualise a piece of music (Track 2 - Paradise) from Ilaiyaraaja’s instrumental album The Music Messiah. The best movie would be screened in the concert with the music performed live to the projection of the film. They chose a piece which is more abstract, which doesn’t have any sound effects to directly imply the mood or the situation the music is set for. I have never heard anything like this before. I have heard people editing scenes according to the music (John Williams’ Flying Theme in E.T), but making a whole movie for the music, and it is not a music video of a pop song, it is purely instrumental music.
A cute 2-D animation film on the world of ants was screened with the orchestra performing the piece live to the projection of the film. The movie is about how a group of ants carry a small piece of food, crosses various obstacles on its way and reaches home. There is dancing on the beat. There is comedy. There is lot of action with living and non-living things that stops the ants from reaching their destination and they are in sync with the percussions and brass parts of the piece. There is a lot of flying that goes with the whirring strings and flappy flute layers in the piece. There is a key layer in the piece that keeps a sense of motion intact throughout and that fits well with the walk of the ants that relentlessly walks on its path in sync with this layer to reach their destiny. The movie was colourful, entertaining and water-tight just like the music it was made for. The most musical of scores are now being written only for animation films. I am not surprised that they choose an animation movie, but surprised somebody thought of making an animation for the music instead of some abstract live action montage with footage of natural greeneries and I am sure there were many such submissions. Marriage of the visuals and score was perfect that it felt like Ilaiyaraaja wrote the piece Paradise for the movie that was screened in the concert.
To Be Continued...
Sunday, September 14, 2014
It has been few years since A.R.Rahman stopped caring about new sounds in his music. Rahman’s arrangements have become straight, quite, calm and restrained. He has been concentrating on constructing quirky and unique melodic structures that he can call his own, than concocting never-heard-before sounds and instruments in the arrangements which he did quite a lot in early days of his career, and which he figured anybody is able to do these days. He is even open to making an all conventional song in all aspects and exploring if there is anything definitive that he could create in that space. I absolutely love this phase of A.R.Rahman, in which, the general opinion is that Rahman’s music isn’t exciting anymore. However, I also love that playful A.R.Rahman who spins a fine yarn with strands and threads of extremely varied musical fabrics. He does that in the breath taking Aila. A melody that seamlessly swings between Jazzy, operatic and conventionally filmy, beats that is techno which out of nowhere jumps to Punjabi somewhere in the middle, there is a serene Hindustani choir piece seamlessly seeping in an interlude — you just can’t predict what happens next in this song. A.R.Rahman at his freaking experimental best.
There is a flip side to this experimental streak when it is pushed to an extreme, out of which is born a song like Ladio. I get where this is coming from but I wish it had turned out like “Hey Hey Yenna Aachchu Unakku” instead of a “Bailamore”. I still like the Kasada Thapara hook and its variations throughout the song. The overt techno sound apart, I don’t like what I think is the main melody line of the song. When I first heard the samples of song before the audio release, I thought they mixed Radio Mirchi theme song with I song samples by mistake. I admit I hated Merasalaayittaen song when I heard it the first time, which I like now, but I don’t see that happening with Ladio ever.
With Merasalaayittaen, Rahman is playing straight to the gallery, and he badly goes after a simple, hit song, and he gets one. Due to that conventional synth hook, I thought Rahman’s being lazy and is taking an easy root, but he isn’t. Give the word Merasalaayittaen to any composer in the world, no one would have thought of musical phrase that Rahman has come up to fit the word in. The song is upbeat, but it has a neat flow of melody which wasn’t apparent to me in my first few hearings of the song. I was so worried about the simplistic, crowd pleasing arrangements, and the processed voices, that I looked away from the melody. Even the remix version is fine, where some musical layers in the original song are fleshed out and brought to fore.
Chinmayi’s Ennodu Nee Irundhaal is yin to yang that is Sid Sriram’s Ennodu Nee Irundhal. One is a straight, conventionally presented tamil film romantic duet, while other is a spectacular orchestral-rock version of the song with a grand choir following the lead voice (I like the way the chorus is mixed in the songs throughout the soundtrack) and dramatic orchestral twists and turns all the way. And just how charming is the melody of the charanam that goes Unmai Kaadhal! Vintage A.R.Rahman melody that is. And pallavi sounds like what came out of Shankar asking Rahman to retain all different melodies he tuned for the verse “Ennodu Nee Irundhal” in the song. It could have easily become monotonous, but it doesn’t, beautifully flows like one whole seamless melody.
Pookkalae Satru Oivedungal is that simple semi-classical romantic melody of every Shankar-Rahman soundtrack, using which Shankar travels to exotic locations with his lead pair and make them dance in front of most beautiful and picturesque places in the world. That Guitar motif that accompanies the main melody sounded so distracting initially, but have gotten used to it now, and gives an instant signature to the song. Both Haricharan and Shreya Ghosal exquisitely ooze the romance out of what sounds like a raaga based melody. Sweetest song of the soundtrack, and some call this song’s genre as 90s Rahman.
A.R.Rahman’s “I”- Ladio is the ugly truth, rest of I is Beauty.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
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.
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.