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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire Score

A.R.Rahman has always been fascinated by the rhythm sound of a train and there are not many who have used it in songs as interestingly as him. The fascination was very evident in the background score of Bombay much before the ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ thunder hit the world of music. In the movie Bombay, in the scene when Manisha after hearing the news of Arvind Swamy leaving to Bombay, runs towards a train moving on a distant bridge, we don’t hear the natural train sound, instead Rahman fills the soundtrack with a thundering rhythm that imitates that of the train as if the deafening sound of the train - carrying her beloved soul away, is tearing apart the music in Manisha’s life.

And now Rahman takes one step further and creates the thunder once again with a thumping train rhythm in the opening song ‘O Saya’ of the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ soundtrack, tearing apart the barriers and making the real cross over in his own inimitable way. The song gives me the ‘Thiruda Thiruda’ days of exhilaration. It sounds as fresh as the songs of ‘Thiruda Thiruda’ sounded, when it released and from what I read and understand even people from the other part of the world feel the same about this song. The beauty of the song is not just in its rhythm, as the Rahman’s alaap is one of the catchiest hooks I have heard in recent times. While the rhythm is all Rahman sound, the vocal melody is all Rahman music and together it spins a captive aural web on the listeners. M.I.A’s vocal portions and the cute and playful kids’ choral portions are nicely sandwiched in between. Also, the music beautifully matches with the rapid cuts and energy of the visuals where kids are shown running in the narrow streets of Bombay slums.

‘Riots’ with its sustained bass implying the prevailing tension and the turbulent rhythms adding upon a disturbing aura and with a very petrifying layer of e-sounds, brings out the intended effect quite well.

‘Mausam & Escape’ is the first piece I heard with the visuals from this movie (thanks to Youtube) and the one which I instantly liked. The initial pleasant strain of guitar beautifully underscores the sweet surprise of Lathika and Jamal as they meet each other in the railway station and before they could come closer and before guitar could take a complete thematic form, it is abruptly broken by the gang abducting Lathika, as does the freaking Sita(r)ock and running violins that abruptly ends the guitar piece and aptly captures the chaos, the struggle and the high energy chase in the visuals. After reaching its maximum energy and sound with thick layers of chorus, strings and beats, it turns mellow at the end and the tempo slowly fades and sitar theme gasps and whispers like how a person running and chasing someone would stop and gasp before he stabilizes.

Rahman gives a new meaning to the term Inspiration with the track ‘Ringa Ringa’, a beautiful rework of notorious and catchy Lakshmikant-Pyarelal’s ‘Choli ke peeche’ song. The ‘Ringa Ringa’ line in such an additive phrase of melody that I kept singing it, long after listening to the song. Even cookcookcook hook gets a twist as chikchiku. Rahman thickens the rhythm section with lot more loops of beats along with conventional Dhols and Dholaks, keeps the eroticism of the original intact by making Ila Arun and Alka Yagnik to land the ending notes of each line sensuously and infact injects more feel with additional hmms, hoons and haas of Ila Arun. He also adds a lot of beautiful sub layers like occasionally joining flute pieces and expressive humming of backing female harmony.

‘Liquid Dance’ is a cocktail solution prepared with a spoon of Sriram’s alaaps in ‘Love Check’ song from Rahman’s Tamil soundtrack ‘Parthalae Paravasam’ and a spoon of string section of the ‘Spirit of Rangeela’ from Rangeela. But it indeed is a sweet cocktail that alternates between catchy Arabic strings section and classical Indian alaaps that just nicely touches and parts with each other at various moments. Madhumitha’s voice is a surprise; Rahman indeed knows when and how to use the singers. Can’t imagine what could be the situation in the movie that this piece is scored for.

While I was getting a bit worried about lack of simplicity in Rahman’s melodies off late, here comes a bonanza in the form of ‘Lathika’s Theme’ that sounds so simple and yet a beautiful, deeply moving piece of music which also gains longevity with Suzanne’s vocals. The leisurely sitar strains playing the main theme towards the end adds a serene and divine touch to this emotional romantic melody. The ‘Dreams on Fire’ is the vocal version of the Lathika’s theme exquisitely sung by Suzanne again. With a constantly running bass, guitar strains, shakers and effective yet muted beats that thud deep under, this vocal version of Lathika’s theme is such a gripping love ballad and is one of the best English songs Rahman has written so far next only to ‘The Journey Home’ from Bombay Dreams. And the ending Flute version of the main theme is absolute bliss to listen to.

It is difficult to decipher the all-techno ‘Millionaire’ track. I don’t know if it sounds like the theme of the KBC show because the piece continuously transforms into different shapes as layers pile up one over the other and main motif keeps changing. It suggest a build up and it seems to be trying to tell a story especially the distant sounding somber cry in Madhumitha’s alaap implies something dramatic. This piece is strictly a background score material which relies heavily on the visuals to gain its completeness.

The strictly hip-hop ‘Gangsta Blues’ is a slow poison in which Blaaze and Tanvi Singh has put up a neat performance with right attitude and punch. It was tedious to listen to it initially because of its monotonous beats, slow pace and not so instantly identifiable structure of the song. But there are hooks in this one too and once you figure them out, you won’t skip this track next time.

If ‘Jai Ho’ was there in one of our Hindi film soundtracks, we would have definitely and easily rejected it out as another mediocre effort of Rahman. The song isn’t great but it isn’t bad either. Rahman gets the energy and the emotions right in the song with a clever structure that doesn’t ponder too much on the weak vocal parts in middle and instead breaks into the catchy hooks and the punchy percussions every now and then. Being quite aware of the highly emotional triumph at the end of the movie, I can understand how the overall energy and the euphoric sound of the song take over the audience. It is okay if Rahman gets nominated for Oscar for this song and wins it. Though not his best, if he wins then the world will come to listen to his far better Indian classics.

M.I.A’s ‘Paper Planes’ is quite catchy and I liked the way gun shot sound is used in this track. And there is Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s ‘Aaj Ki Raat’ which is my favorite from Don Soundtrack.

Oscars and Other debates

I would like to insist on one thing which I have been doing quite often in this site that great background score is all about apt music and it need not always be a great music in its own (an obvious example being Psycho theme). For example, Rahman’s own ‘Warriors of Heaven and Earth’ score sounded great on audio but I was totally disappointed with the way it was used in the movie. So, there is no bigger sin than reviewing a movie soundtrack without even watching the movie.

I am not saying this to understate the goodness of the soundtrack as a stand alone audio. The soundtrack is very good, and it may even sound great once we understand how well it fits in with the visuals. The film director is the one who decides how the movie should sound, the type of music to be used, and sometimes even the instruments to be used (have seen videos in which George Lucas asks John Williams to sublime the brass and horn section of the orchestra from one of the cues while recording the score for Star Wars - directors get as specific as that in their requirements). So it is absolute stupidity to comment on a composer’s choice of genre of music for particular situation in the movie. Infact, the most people’s complaint about ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is that it is in-the-face and so loud, but if those who complain have seen or read Danny Boyle’s and Rahman’s interview, it is very clear that Danny wanted the score to be loud and they deliberately mixed it in such a way that the music should hit the audience the moment they hear it with the visuals. And even I have complaints about Rahman being generic in his background scores which doesn’t capture minute shift in emotions in the visuals and it is obvious to feel so for someone to feel so who has been drenched with innumerable masterpieces of background scores by Illayaraja. But that is not what Danny wanted; he wanted each music cue to be a separate song in itself and that which captures the overall energy and the mood of the sequence. And Rahman seems to have fulfilled Danny’s requirements.

And coming to the Oscar nomination for Best Background score debate, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they nominate and if this score actually fetches an Oscar for Rahman. As I said, there are no set rules in background score, its only aim is to effectively convey the director’s vision and the emotions in the visuals and if possible elevate it at times with the music. In that sense, if what critics from all over the world said can be believed, Rahman’s score seems to have done the job to near perfection in Slumdog Millionaire. Yes, it doesn’t have a theme or thematic development or symphonic swells like most of the scores nominated in this category use to have. I am also a big fan of Thomas Newman’s score for Wall-E, and an incredibly thematic orchestral score by Alexandre Desplat for ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ seems to be another serious contender in this category.

But the eclectic sound that Rahman and Danny puts up with Slumdog Millionaire is a refreshing change for a western crowd, that breaks rules and conventions and that sets up narrative in fire with its energy. So we can’t completely ignore the chance of Rahman winning it and if he wins we have every reason to be open heartedly proud about it. Let us not ask those stupid ‘Why should we care about Oscars’ questions. Rahman has nothing to prove to India by winning an Oscar, his music has already done it enough but an Oscar in his hand will definitely help him to go to the next level in the international arena. Here’s wishing Rahman all the best and keeping the finger crossed.


Unknown said...

Great writeup man! I seriously hope he bags the oscar, atleast one if not two!

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Raghav - Thanks. I too hope he wins.

Shreedhar Shroff said...

Thats a really good write-up !

Some good analysis and not just a mash-up of first impressions.

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Shreedhar - Thanks.

Anonymous said...

///A.R.Rahman has always been fascinated by the rhythm sound of a train and there are not many who have used it in songs as interestingly as him.///

Hmmm... Ignorance is Bliss :)

Thalapathi BGM???
Poongaatru Puthithanathu - Moondram Pirai???
Manjal Nilavukku - mudhal Iravu???
Poovarasambu Poothachu - Kizhakke Pogum Rail???
Goods Vandiyilae - Kunguma chimizh???
thalaattu Kaetkaatha - Paatukku Naan Adimai???
Rathiri Neram railyadi oram - Bramma??? (No real train Yet the rhythm is so well constructed and it needs a composer yet to be born to beat it...Even the tabla is made to roll like the wheels of a train in the second charanam in this song)

sanjay said...


What part of 'not many' don't you understand in that sentence? Did he say Rahman was the only one?

I don't know what your comment achieves. Point is Rahman did the soundtrack, not Raaja.

Let's keep the discussion relevant to the Slumdog soundtrack.

BTW, The O Saya track warrants a listen in a big cinema hall. I saw a free screening at Salt Lake City yesterday and was blown away by this sequence and how the bgm works so well with it, esp the train sound. I was blown away!

Anonymous said...

Rahman winning OScar for BGM? Oh! the irony.

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Pulikesi - I agree. But you don't seem to have written those to pull a constructive arguement on music.

And as Sanjay already mentioned,

I carefully put it as 'Not Many' which means Including some...

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Sanjay - Thanks for defending my intent. I am eagerly waiting to watch the movie in India to listen to the soundtrack in the cinema hall and especially 'O Saya'

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

RAJ - I hope you get to know the real meaning of BGM.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog, found it purely by chance. Good to know there are other people with similar interests! :)

I hate to say this but Rahman is not going to win an Oscar for Best Score. I'd be very surprised if he even gets a nomination. If you look at all the past nominees, they tend to be mostly very traditional. Plus the Academy has a history of ignoring scores that work so well on screen (Nyman's The Piano, Kilar's Dracula, Herrmann's Vertigo and so on). I also thought Danna & Rahman's Water was worth a nomination. I think Rahman will have a greater chance in the Song category. Of course, I'll be very pleasantly surprised if they recognise his work. That'd be great.

kannan said...

Suresh, where did you get hold of the soundtrack? You mentioned in a comment on the other blog that you got it online, but the link in a previous post has only five of the songs. And Mausam and Escape is truly awesome, I can't comment on the rest before hearing everything.

Ramki said...

Somehow , i didnt like this soundtrack . I always hated loud music as BGM , whether the director wants it or not .For me , i hate it :(

But then, let me watch the movie - probably i may like it after there is a emotional tone set for these pieces.

Regarding Oscar for BGM , it depends on whether it has enhanced the visuals- if it did to a great extent , then yes , else no !

Did you hear trailer piece of http://www.anythingforyoumovie.com/
by KR ?

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

N.G - Thanks. Yes, I too don't really know if the Score will get nominated but what I am saying is that if it gets nominated and if it indeed wins, if critics and public's reaction are anything to go by, it will be a well deserving win i guess.

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Kanna - Yes. This is the first time I am writing on a soundtrack without actually buying the CD. I got all the songs online from one of tfmpage members. I couldn't resist writing about it actually. Anyway, when it releases I sure will be buying it.

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Ramki -

/Regarding Oscar for BGM , it depends on whether it has enhanced the visuals- if it did to a great extent , then yes , else no !/

That is exactly the point Ramki. From what I read and hear from critics all over the world, it sure seems to have enhanced and reached the audience and that is why I belive in Rahman getting atleast a nomination.

I will watch the trailer. Thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the analysis and background info on the soundtrack! I found your site while trying to find the song that "Ringa Ringa" was based on. A.R. Rahman mentioned it in a radio interview, but there was no way I could decipher the name he uttered. Thanks for enabling me to find "Choli ke peeche". :)

kannan said...

It's been bugging me for a while, and I finally figured out what Jai Ho reminded me of. Does it sound like Baazi Laga to you? Not saying it's the same, but there seem to be a lot of stylistic links between the two, to me.

Anonymous said...

Nice write up there.. as always. I watched the movie yesterday in NC. There were 15 people in the theatre on a weekday for an evening show. No one moved from their seats even after the Jai Ho song got over. They were listening to the end credit score. I am happy that Rahman is getting attention at last in the western arena.

Unknown said...

Do you know when the sound track will get released? I asked one of the music world outlets here in chennai some 10 days back and they said it isn't released yet.

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

It CD has been released in US but not yet in India. I don't know when it is gonna release in India. Heard that T-Series has bought the distribution rights in India, but there is no information about that in T-Series site. I asked Planet M in bangalore last week, they had no clue about it.

Anonymous said...

Can we download the background scores? they are run through flash player..they are here just to listen?

Naani said...

excellent postsuresh

DemonStar said...

SLumdog just got both Best Original Score and Best Original Song at the Oscars! Looks like the Indian Maestro is finally getting the recognition he deserves. :)

Anonymous said...

KANNAN - I totally agree with you, infact I searched "Baazi Laga Slumdog" to see if there were any other people who noticed these striking similarities, and your comment came up. Yea, it's been bothering me for a while too actually....