Rahman @ 50

As A R Rahman turns 50, I think there are two things unique about his contributions in the field of Indian film music. One – he used human voice as just another instrument. He brought in the singers, had them record and used their voices as he pleased. Two – he started crediting musicians on the album labels. Musicians like flautist Naveen and drummer Sivamani had become household names.

First was his biggest and most disruptive contribution though. Human voice was considered to be pristine and divine in the film music until Rahman came in. One could not imagine playing around the vocals with the electronics. You could do that to guitar or violin, but not to the vocals. The singers could make sounds that are funny and weird which was considered to be a talent but no one was allowed to touch their voice and mix it electronically. Rahman broke those rules slowly and steadily. The monopoly of the singers were about to be crunched (and when I say vocals as an instrument, I’m not talking about harmonies or a’capella or western choir settings in the music; Ilaiyaraja had already done that).

Many credit Rahman for bringing in the elements of western music to the Indian film music, but he wasn’t the first do that. Again, there was Ilaiyaraja with whatever little exposure he had to the different kinds of music available back at a time when the world wasn’t this open. Maybe Rahman experiemented a bit too much with instruments and different styles of music that the musical identity that he consiously created was soon lost to others who followed this ‘technique’. As a result, in the initial days of Harris Jeyaraj, one could not tell apart the difference between Jeyaraj and Rahman. The arrangement and approach were just about the same. Which makes one wonder whether Rahman was more of a musical arranger than a composer, though the difference between the two is a fine thin line. There is no ‘Rahman sound’ in the film music, just as there is no Harris Jeyaraj sound or Yuvan Shankar Raja sound. They all seem to follow the same pattern and technique, and are failing to make a mark of their own (and I’m not talking about popularity here).

Post-Oscars, Rahman seems to be in a quest to find his own identity in his music. Off late, his music seems to be veering away from the populist lines, but it doesn’t look like he has found it yet. Maybe, the influence of sufism is the kind of identity that he should further explore, like Folk is to Ilaiyaraja, but he is not yet ready to take that up.

That said, I end this note with one of his songs, one in many years that is still ringing in my ears.

Nilaa Kaaigiradhu (cover)

Here is a song after a short break. This song is one of my top favorites by the A R Rahman-Hariharan team. I also loved Harini’s version of the song. The sweetness in Harini’s voice and Hariharan’s versatility in doing manodharam make both their versions stand on its own.

This song was requested by Maneesha CM and her friend (from Ernakulam) after they heard one of my songs through Muziboo. They called me up and asked me to sing a couple of songs and this was one of them. I totally forgot about it and remembered it when I saw a YouTube link showing Hariharan singing this song.

So here is my try as an unplugged version.

Song: Nilaa Kaaigiradhu
Movie: Indira
Music: A R Rahman
Sung by: Hariharan/Harini

Download the mp3 of Nilaa Kaaigiradhu (cover)

192 kbps player:

128 kbps player:

An Indian victory?

A R Rahman wins Oscar

Do we call it an Indian victory?

That was the question that CNN-IBN panel asked Kamala Haasan (whom the media used to call Kamal Hassan earlier) relating to the Oscar sweep of the movie Slumdog Millionaire. We can see how futile this question is, since Slumdog Millionaire is a British production, directed and produced by a Brit and the major chunk of the technical crew were Brits. Why should India, the nation, celebrate the victory of Slumdog Millionaire? The British have a reason to celebrate but what does India have to call the 8 oscars the movie got as an “Indian victory”? Our celebration should be about the individuals who have won the accolades in the Oscar platform. A R Rahman and Resul Pookutty for the global recognition that they have got.

Adding to the absurdity is a comment from Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit. She reportedly said that Slumdog Millionaire has created history in the field of Indian cinema. How did Slumdog create history in “Indian cinema“? But she doesn’t just stop there and goes on to offer tax exemption for the film. The union Home Minister P Chidambaram has also joined the bandwagon by requesting finance ministry to exempt the film from tax.

Just think about it. So many quality regional language films are struggling in India without getting distributors or theaters to exhibit their films and the government did not do much about helping them promote their films. And then, a British film which was released under a big banner like Fox Searchlight Pictures win Oscars and it gets tax exemption in India. So much for our government’s love for art and cinema.

If the government and politicians are so much moved by the recognition that A R Rahman and Resul Pookkutty received in the Oscar arena, what they should do in return is to help these individuals help others who are interested in the fields of music and cinema. How about offering scholarships or sponsorships for talented but poor youngsters to learn the technical sides of Cinema? Or how about sponsoring talented but poor youngsters to get an entry into a renowned musical institute? Or how about helping A R Rahman to offer the poor but talented youngsters a chance to learn world music from his upcoming musical conservatory? Well, I think we will hardly see any of these happening.

Let me conclude with Kamala Haasan’s answer to CNN-IBN’s question, because he puts it rightly.

This day means something to Danny Boyle, Rahman and to an extent some of the Indians. But it doesn’t mean anything to Indian cinema till Indian cinema tries to make quality films. So when it does that, it will deserve the recognition and it doesn’t mean that we are not making quality cinemas. We are not respecting quality cinemas as it should be. That is because content might be king but placement is very important.

(Image courtesy: IndiaGlitz)

Oscars to India

The 81st Academy Awards have been announced. A R Rahman and Resul Pookkutty made India proud in the event and people everywhere is talking about it. Not so surprisingly, Slumdog Millionaire packed 8 Oscars in the event. I feel sad for Thomas Newman, for his work in Wall-E (for background score) was not recognized but those who appreciate music knows no matter what a bunch of people in the Academy decides, Mr. Newman’s work excels than the rest of the nominations. I am happy for A R Rahman though, as a fan and a fellow Indian, but I still don’t think the song Jai Ho is worthy of an Oscar. A R Rahman has done better work than this in the films made in India.

I couldn’t watch the show live but hoping to watch the re-telecast tonight. By the way, I have got 13 out of my 21 Oscar award predictions right. 🙂

Oscar Awards – My prediction

These predictions are based solely on my intuition, as I have not watched some of the nominated films this year. So these predictions may or may not represent what I think the best, and it’s mostly based on what I think the Academy would choose for the Oscar awards. 🙂

Performance by an actor in a leading role: Richard Jenkins for “The Visitor

Richard Jenkins has done his role in The Visitor simply and superbly. He portrays a widower who has been caught up with the routine life and pretends he is busy and finally finds something which interests him, that is music. Richard’s acting in this movie is very realistic and with very subtle expressions and he masters the whole thing excellently. Sean Penn and Brad Pitt were superb too, but I think the Oscar should go to this underdog. I haven’t seen the performances of Frank Langella or Mickey Rourke yet. But Sean Penn (movie: Milk) will definitely make it a tight competition for Richard Jenkins. So I would predict it is either Richard Jenkins or Sean Penn.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role: Heath Ledger for “The Dark Knight

I haven’t seen Robert Downey Jr’s or Michael Shannon’s performances, but I think Heath Ledger should win. He is such a talented actor who gave a totally different dimension to The Joker, a role which was portrayed by Jack Nicholson earlier, and I must say he has done it way better than the legendary Jack Nicholson himself. More than that, the actor has a world-wide sympathy over him for his untimely death and I have a gut feeling that the Academy will consider that. A close competitor would be Philip Seymour Hoffman for the film Doubt.

Performance by an actress in a leading role: Kate Winslet for “The Reader

I want Kate Winslet to win this award. That woman has done an amazing performance in The Reader. She has been nominated six times for Academy awards and has never won. I hope this time the luck and Academy favors her. The ever amazing Meryl Streep gives a tough competition to Kate Winslet and I wouldn’t be disappointed if Meryl Streep won the best actress award for her performance in Doubt. So it is either Kate Winslet or Meryl Streep.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role: Taraji P. Henson for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Taraji’s talent is proven in this movie where she portrays a woman in her young and old ages. She has given a good performance and I think the Academy would see that. A second choice would be Amy Adams for her role in Doubt. She portrays an innocent young nun in that film and she handled it very well.

Best animated feature film of the year: Wall-E

The positive edge that Wall-E has over the other animated feature films is that there was a big challenge involved in making this film. There is no conversation for a long time in the film and main characters of the film are robots and to have them express emotions are tough. But the ever amazing team at Pixar has done their magic again and it needs to be recognized.

Random prediction continues below:

Achievement in art direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Achievement in cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire
Achievement in costume design: The Duchess
Achievement in directing: David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Achievement in film editing: Slumdog Millionaire (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best foreign language film of the year: The Class
Achievement in makeup: Greg Cannom (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score): Thomas Newman (Wall-E)
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song): A.R. Rahman (Jai Ho)
Best motion picture of the year: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Best animated short film: Presto
Achievement in sound editing: The Dark Knight
Achievement in sound mixing: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Achievement in visual effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Adapted screenplay: David Hare (The Reader)
Original screenplay: Milk

Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Finally I have watched the much-talked about Oscar nominated movie by Danny BoyleSlumdog Millionaire and it is a thrilling and grippy movie. Slumdog Millionaire is a good entertainer at it’s best, but not a great movie or worthy of the talks it has going on about it. Because the movie is too much Bollywood-ish in it’s story line. But it is not surprising as the director Danny Boyle has mentioned drawing influence from many Hindi films including Company and Black Friday. Priyadarshan saar – please note this, as you seem so angry at Danny Boyle, that the director himself has credited his influences before somebody else has mentioned it. Ever cared to credit One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for Thaalavattam? Or… oops! I forgot!! There are way too many movies by you which have lifted story lines from Hollywood movies and made in Malayalam!!!

What is beautiful about Slumdog Millionaire‘s story narrative is the way the Q & A sessions connects Jamal (the lead character played by Dev Patel) back to his memories. It was a beautiful narrative to show how Jamal connected the game show questions to the events of his own life. But I think that Boyle did not need to bring in another narrative with the questioning scene in the police station. That was overdone.

Minuses and pluses

– The lead actor Dev Patel doesn’t sound like an Indian at all. At his best, he looks like an English man’s kid left at the slum in his early teenage. Dev does a horrible job of portraying the slum kid with his British accent which would not go away no matter how hard he tried (and we can see in the film that he tried hard). The movie shows Jamal serving tea in a call center, perhaps to add credibility to his British accent, but that doesn’t save him the embarrassment.

– I have one question. The youngster who plays Jamal’s brother does a good job and looks very native. Why wouldn’t the casting crew find someone of that sort? I am not blaming Dev Patel. I would rather blame it on the casting crew of the film.

– The game show’s anchor (played by Anil Kapoor) wants Jamal out of the show. For what, we do not know. We could understand if it was part of such game shows, planned by the entire crew, but the crew is actually happy at Jamal winning and the anchor is not. Why? The movie doesn’t give us a clue. And he throws him out to the cops at the end of the show. Excuse me?

Continue reading Review: Slumdog Millionaire

A R Rahman nominated for Oscars

It was a proud moment for the musical genuis of A R Rahman and his fans in India when he won the Golden Globe this month. Now A R Rahman has three nominations for Oscars in two categories – Best Original Score and Best Original Song. Rahman’s competitors for the Academy Awards are no less than Thomas Newman and James Newton Howard. Both of them are extremely talented musicians who have given some gem of works in the recent past. So this will be a tough competition and even though I like both Mr. Newman and Mr. Howard for the musical talent they possess, my prayers and wishes goes to our own musical genius A R Rahman and I hope he wins.

All the best Sir!

(Image courtesy: arrahman.net)