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Friday, August 8, 2014

Hundred Foot Journey Score - A.R.Rahman

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.


Anita said...

Have you watched Halstrom's The Cider House Rules. Its beautiful and the score is not bad too.

Sriram said...

India Calling is brilliant!! I wish you could written in detail about this piece!! What a concoction of Santoor, Sarod, Sitar and Shehnai... Magic

samjo511 said...

The French-Hindi song Toi C’est Soleil? Does you mean 14 My Mind Is a Stranger Without You?