Friday, September 21, 2012
Listening to People Like Us
I wanted to watch the film “People like us” to know how well A.R.Rahman’s soothing and sublime score – which I have been listening to and cherishing only as standalone music - has been used in the film. I finally watched the film last week. I liked it.
“People like us” is a very unique soundtrack coming from A.R.Rahman. He diligently maintains a consistent tone and mood throughout the film. Rahman risks monotony to stay true to the central emotions and the idea of the film. If you as a listener are patient and attentive, People like us will take you on a pleasant journey through emotions.
The underlying calm and quiet in the soundtrack isn’t something we get to hear much in Rahman’s works in India. A.R.Rahman doesn’t get to be a part of such sweet little family films in India. In People like us, Rahman doesn’t have to be eclectic, experimental, and he doesn’t. The music beautifully blends with the film. The music feels like it isn’t there at all, but is there and is doing its job with utmost precision, clarity and diligence. The score is honest to the film, never moving even slightly away from the central idea and emotions of the scene or mood in focus.
Rahman’s is a typical Hollywood film score with distinct leitmotifs that could be instantly identified and mapped to the different principal characters in the film. There are many recurrences and delectable variations of the main themes cued at apt moments throughout the film. The score is built around three main themes – Be People theme, Family theme, Dad’s theme and Mom’s theme.
Most of the music is buried under the conversations. The music soars only occasionally, when it does, it blends so perfectly with the drama in the moment that it never feels overt. The extensive use of already existing songs for some key montages in the film might initially make it sound like there is very little score in the film, but every single cue on the soundtrack CD has been used in the film.
And surprisingly, there are few more original score cues in the film which weren’t included in the Soundtrack CD probably for its shorter length, which the insiders call Needle drops. There are pieces of music that serve as a comma or period at the end of a scene. One of them is a beautiful vintage Rahman Piano theme (Cue 11 below) which Rahman could have developed a little further and included in the CD.
Other cues (needle drops)
The main theme of the film is heard in its entirety when Sam (Chris Pine) and Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) have a free-wheeling conversation about their lives in Tacos. Rahman hints just the core of the theme in few instances (Listen to Cue 6 & 8) where Sam and Frankie accidentally bump into each other. I liked how Rahman brings in Dad’s theme whenever the focus of the conversation is on how loveless and indifferent their Father was. The sound of the piece brings with it a sense of an eerie nostalgia, one that you don’t want to go back to and yet can’t help doing it.
Most of the moments in the beginning of the film require the score to pop up for not more than few seconds just at the right point of inflection in drama. And the longer musical sections are mostly buried under conversations and ambient sounds. Only when the movie reaches past its midpoint the score gets more space and plays for longer lengths.
The precision with which Rahman’s score underlines the mood changeover in that conversation between Sam and his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) where they finally resolve all their differences and reconcile is brilliant. While you already know that Sam and his mother are going to hug in a while, it happens gradually through the conversation, and every little emotional ascend to that final hug is beautifully underlined by a solo guitar that plays phrases with measured pauses in between and the whatever emotionally their minds go through while they reconcile is traced by the acute musical shift in the piece. And when they hug, everything joins in to gently burst into a soft and soothing musical crescendo.
The cue Family pictures that plays magically over the final revelation scene is a brilliantly done scrambled version of the track Tacos in which the main theme is first heard in its entirety. The signature guitar chords, the guitar prelude, the main thematic melody, and the guitar phrases that keeps the mood afloat when the piece moves ahead of the main theme and the haunting cello sub-theme from Tacos are all there in Family Pictures, but the order of the melodic phrases are totally different here, and phrases that appear as part of lead melody in Tacos become supporting phrases for the main melody in Family pictures. This way of scrambling or jumbling elements in a piece is something I haven’t heard much. You never know what comes next, though on surface it feels like both Tacos and Family Pictures are almost same because of the waltz rhythm. The aching Cello sub-theme from Tacos is finally played on a soothing flute solo in the climax implying precisely how all their pain have been soothed by the final revelation.
Unlike Couples Retreat, soundtrack of which was just a worthy addition to Rahman’s discography, “People like us” is a worthy addition to Rahman’s filmography. This is a very important film for A.R.Rahman. The music for a film, however ingenious it may be as a standalone piece of work, is most often times only as memorable as the film.