Saturday, September 26, 2009
Listening 'Couples Retreat'
‘Couples Retreat’ is in a way the true entry of A.R.Rahman into Hollywood. He did some stage musicals, there were some Hollywood movies which used his Indian songs, he was a co-composer in ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ and also it was a movie by an Indian Director, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was never meant to be such a huge success and even A.R.Rahman didn’t believe it was his ‘Ticket to Hollywood’ while working on that movie and moreover it was a movie set in India. But with ‘Couples Retreat’ is none of the above. The world knows who A.R.Rahman is and they expect him to go ‘Jai Ho’ again. Has he?
‘Sajna’ is a breezy romantic ballad done on a template ripped straight out of ‘Dreams on Fire’ (a gem which is yet to get its due) with simple lyrics and a catchy Hindi hook phrase ‘Sajna Re’. Except for that hook, the melody of song sounds simple and too much worked upon as they have tried hard to fit in lyrics for Rahman’s tune. It gets better with vocal harmony countering the main melody and is truly elevated at the end with a soulful string section smoothing the rough edges of the melody. But overall, this song is a very underwhelming start to the soundtrack.
But wait, a full instrumental version of the song comes up in ‘Tour to the Villas’. The melody of the phrase ‘Sajna Re’ is almost the main theme of the movie. The sweeping grandeur of this theme as played on full throttled string section begins the track ‘Tour to the Villas’. I can imagine ‘Tour to the Villa’ being played when the couples enter the ‘Eden Resort’ in an Island and take a tour around the resort checking out what is in store for them. The music just follows them as they move through various sections. The track shifts from the main melody to another beautiful melody played on ‘Erhu’ (a Chinese Spa in the resort or a mediation or Yoga centre??), and to more ambient, soundscape music filled with ethnic percussions and exotic instruments that effectively puts the listeners right in the middle of the mood and space that it wants to create.
There is another main theme in the movie which first appears in the track ‘Jason and Cynitia Suite’. It is a simple, soothing melody oozing romanticism. The melody is introduced in the very beginning on a guitar solo, and then it turns into a guitar concerto with strings joining in and replying to the guitar phrase by phrase. The melody slowly ascends up and turns into a full throttled orchestral piece proving that A.R.Rahman is easily capable of doing a very conventional Hollywood movie score. It moves up, up and up until there is nowhere to go, takes a breath, and turns to the ‘Sajna Re’ theme. A serene Santoor tickles and a pleasing atmospheric melody on velvety flute join the ‘Sajna Re’ melody on soft strings gently dancing in the air. Aah! BLISS.
The ‘Sajna Re’ theme again appears exquisitely in the track ‘The Waterfalls’, which one can easily imagine is for when the couple is watching a beautiful waterfalls and gets into a romantic mood. And for the romance Rahman brings in the ‘Jason and Cynitia Theme’ for a brief moment towards the end.
Having played the theme enough with the orchestra, it is time for ‘Jason and Cynitia Theme’ to travel on solo instruments. To further reveal its yet uncorked beauty, the theme is played on quietening Piano, mellifluous Oboe (sounds divine in this avatar), aching cello and all carried as a one whole by a soft bed of supporting strings in ‘Jason and Cynitia Piano Theme’.
‘Kuru Kuru Kan’ with its zing-swing rhythm is instantly addictive, the shakers keeps our head shaking with the melody and Rahman gently whispers the melody laced over cute and simple Tamizh lyrics. The language isn’t a problem here, as the melody and the ambient orchestration beautifully sprinkles the romance in the air. That whistle melody is the coolest thing I have heard in a while. And when you expect the song to slowly fade over, the mood is further enhanced as Rahman introduces a twist to the song with a layer of soulful strings soaring over the melody.
Clearly ‘Shark’ theme is going to play out when Vince Vaughn is thrown into the sea surrounded by Sharks. It is a very dramatic piece predominantly on strings playing a very Indian melody. A short phrase repeating on strings forming a chaotic harmony for the Sharks approaching, biting and reaching and Vince’s attempt to escape. It comes to a grand halt as it finally bites Vince Vaughn and Rahman’s cry follows sympathising what this guy has just gone through. From those visuals in the trailer, it is easy to imagine how fitting this music would be for that situation.
As you can see in the trailer of the movie, ‘Marcel’ is an Asian, and in one of the shots in the trailer the second item in the Itinerary is titled ‘Dr.Marcel’s Activity’, and I guess ‘Meeting Marcel’ track plays out in the scenes related to that. That explains why the music sounds totally Asian. Filled with deep windy flutes, Indian chants and drums, dramatic strings it is hard to predict what happens on screen, but as a standalone track it is a soothing transcending meditational music. On the same lines, ‘Intervention’ is a serious and a deeply spiritual music with beautifully written harmony of strings.
‘Animal Spirits’ is an eclectic piece and a glittering gem of a track. Strangely, it starts with the same melody and Rahman’s vocals that begins the track ‘Intervention’. The track keeps changing its colour, flavour, genre but all bound together for one purpose – Creating a heavenly aural ambience. Heavenly, is how I felt when the track stops its rhythm and beats and a sitar begins to a relaxing start with ‘Sajna Re’ slowly fading in on soft strings. Another twist ends the track with the most euphoric version of the ‘Sajna Re’ theme.
Now, wait, wasn’t this soundtrack meant for a ‘Romantic Comedy’, but so far we heard mostly serious and romantic music, where is the comedy?
It is obvious that a comedy need not have a comic music always. I guess here the comedy comedy is out of the people who are put in serious situations. For the victims of comedy, it is a serious moment. So, the music should be as serious as the people who are put in the situation so that the people outside can feel them genuinely funny.
Rahman uses staccatos and pizzicatos to its maximum in the track ‘Itinerary’. It is for the scene in which the couples get a list of tasks that they have to complete in this package. The whole track is highly dependent on the visual proceedings but for sure a very interestingly orchestrated piece with varied instruments. Having seen the visuals, ‘Undress’ could be the funniest track of the soundtrack - think of English men reluctantly undressing accompanied by Indian strings (a lingering Tanpura throughout) and percussions (Ghatam in this case). The music slowly builds up as each man undress one after the other and comes to a grinding halt with a blow when it comes to undressing the black man who says he is not wearing the inners.
In ‘Salvadore’, Spanish flamenco meets Indian Taraana and the very thought of such a combination is intriguing and Rahman pulls of it brilliantly with ample support from the talented Kailash Kher. I can’t really imagine where this music would fit it but it could be for that guy (whose name could be Salvadore) who comes to teach ‘Yoga’ to the couples in a hilarious scene. ‘NaNa’ is a true-to-genre hippy-peppy beach party dance song in the soundtrack. The non-stop rapping, the swing in the rhythm, the ever intruding trumpets all nicely put together to make an effective stress buster of a song. ‘Luau’ sprinkled with Spanish guitars is an impressive instrumental track with nice percussion arrangements (composed by John O’Brien).
‘Couples Retreat’ as a whole has something for everyone who comes to hear specific stuff from A.R.Rahman, but no ‘Jai Ho’ here and that is not a complaint. This soundtrack may not be spoken about like how every movie review spoke about ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ score, and it may not win any awards, but that is not the point. The music should fit the movie and some of it should get a life of its own outside and I am sure ‘Couples Retreat’ has got both.
Audio Clips from http://www.couplesretreatsoundtrack.com