Thursday, January 15, 2009

A.R.Rahman's 2008 Roundup

So A.R.Rahman has won the Golden Globe Award. No, this post is not about extolling his win or the worthiness of the score involved. Criticisms, brickbats and scepticisms about 'if the score really had the merit' or 'if it is Rahman's best' aside and, one must agree that it is a moment of pride for India. The win is definitely a key milestone in his journey, which started almost 17 years ago in 1992, when he scored the music for Maniratnam's Roja for Rs.25,000/-. And his journey is definitely a phenomenal one. His music bounced from Tamil-Telugu to Hindi to Pan-Indian to Hinglish(Vandemataram) to Broadway (Bombay Dreams) to Chinese (Warriors of Heaven & Earth) to British-Scottish (Elizabeth-The Golden Age) to Finnish (The Lord of The Rings) to what not. No Indian composer has managed to pull it off so well. And the run continues...

As i look back, i suddenly see that year 2008 was quite an eventful year for ARR. 7 releases. And i suddenly realized that none of these 7 albums have been reviewed here. So, I thought i will take a quick look at these 7 albums to understand what the Rahman-scape looked like in 2008.

Disclaimer: The merits/demerits of songs mentioned below are purely personal opinions, drawn out of the songs that caught to my liking and ones which didnt.

2008 was characterised by 'planned films' and 'surprises', that added up to 7. Jodha Akbar, Yuvvraaj, Ghajini were planned films, in the sense that the producers/directors knew when they were going to release the film/soundtrack. Surprises were:

1. Ada - a shelved  film; a new film with same name was erected. Apparently, the core or much of the music of this film was composed long before 2008. Apparently, it is still unclear whether this film got released.

2. Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na - a film that changed many hands and was almost shelved. It was revived by Aamir Khan.

3. Sakkarakkatti - The film got delayed a lot and finally released in 2008. Also, some songs from 'Meenaxi' have been used. So, if not completely, but partially, the music was not composed in 2008.

4. Slumdog Millionaire - ARR was given the film's DVD and was then asked to add music to the film. The music was done in 2008, but was a surprise which Rahman had to accommodate.

Apart from these, there is one more surprise which was only partially unveiled and is yet to come out into the music stores. More on that later. Lets move on to these albums:

1. Jodha Akbar - This was ARR's 3rd outing with Ashutosh Gowariker and it is a period film. ARR remarked "We did lot of research and did not use any". The music of this film consciously stayed away from the mounting expectations of another 'Mughal-E-Azam'-sque grandeur, to avoid comparisons. The melodies in the film did not evoke the period it represents, but succeeded in sweeping the listener with simple music. All the songs are worth a mention. 'Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah' was ARR's clever reinterpretation of "Veerabobbili kotalo' from Donga Donga, replete with percussions, trumpets and strains of Indian folk. The minimalistically executed 'Jashn-e-bahaara' got Turkish treatment with 'Oud' while ARR's reinterpretation of vintage era music through 'In Lamhon Ke daaman' clearly stood different. His own sufi-music exploration 'Khwaaja Mere Khwaaja' showed that no other indian composer can come up with songs of that kind. 'ManMohana' with all his fascination for SindhuBhairavi had some great vocals and clean interludes, which reminded me of Naushad's music. Jodha Akbar, had its own sound and convincingly dared not to tread the known paths of music that projected Mughal era.

2. Ada - 'Ishq Ada's changing raagas (from MMG to Kapi to SubhaPanthuvaraali) got me interested. 'Hawa Sun Hawa' was breezy to its title, much like some of his songs from late 90s-early 2000 period. 'Gumsum' and 'Gulfisha' disappointed me for they sounded like just-any-composer's tracks. Tu Mera Hai, while staying hummable, sounded extremely South-Indianish and did not seem to fit well in Hindi. Meherbaan by ARR could be easily adapted into English for its universal croonability. Udit's melancholic 'Hai Dard' failed to impress me as much as 'Milo Jahaan Wahaan' did. The latter was infact a wonderful improvisation from ARR's own Climax BGM piece from 'Kannathil Muthamittal'. Ada, was 'aadha' fine.

3. Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na - The two variations of the title track were equally engrossing. While the female version was coldly lounge oriented, the male version was anthemic, evocative and expressive. The trendy 'Nazrein Milaana' and ballad-sque` 'Kahi To Hogi', despite being pleasantful failed to hold my attention while ARR's jazz-blues "Tu Bole" reassured me that he is still willing to experiment. The hyped Pappu Cant dance did not impress me much though and nylon string guitar backed 'Kabhi Kabhi' was seriously refreshing. Overall, quite a youthful soundtrack.

4. Sakkarakkatti (Sugar Cubes) - ARR married irish-celtic music to his guitars in 'RuBaRoo Roshni' in "Elay", a song that reminded me of Corrs, clearly proving that he springs up with surprises when you least expect them in a certain film. "I Miss You Da" is something that transcended different genres, atleast for me. "naan Eppodhu" and "Chinnamma" are 'Meenaxi' rehashes and Taxi Taxi, despite being hugely popular failed to catch my fancy. "Marudhaani" became the icing on this sweet cake, which i think was an improvisation from 'Sahana' of 'Sivaji'.

5. Yuvvraaj - ARR - Subhash Ghai have worked before. But Gulzar joining them. Strange. "Main Hoon Yuvraaj" is too small to even comment. "Tu Hi Mera Dost" is a ballad which got completely unpredictable in 2nd stanza. though not a hallmark, the song has that 'hummability' quotient. Shano Shano is for dance floor alone and i didnt get to 'know' if the song works there. 'Mastam Mastam' failed to impress me as much as its parent (a song from ARR's 'Lord of The Rings' Musical) did. The best songs of the album are effervescent "Tu Muskuraa" and ARR's own version of 'Kaise Hai Yeh Rut' (Dil Chahtha Hai) kind of melody in "Zindagi". Not surprisingly, srinivas sang this one too, in which ARR mixed vintage melody with contemporary sound. i always felt that "Dil Ka Rishta"'s lead tune, the signature tune which again repeats towards the end, to be musically handicapped... as if some notes were missing which probably could make it more complete. ARR's lounge-Abheri in "Manmohini' is like an undergrown baby, with lot of potential and still left as it is. Nothing great musically. I know for sure that the songs that would really stay in my mind are 'Tu Hi Mera Dost' 'Tu Muskuraa' and 'Zindagi'. Subhash Ghai, in my opinion, is not a film-maker with whom ARR can produce musically rich output. he might produce hit-music output though.

6. Ghajini - Probably the most commercial of all albums in 2008. Though i usually have better liking for slow songs of ARR usually, this album reversed my phenomenon.'Guzarish' is something which did not need ARR. "Kaise Mujhe" sounded little dragsome while Shreya Ghoshal's lines save it a bit. Still, i end up skipping this song. "Aye Bacchu" is girlily fun-frolicksome and rendition is apt for such mood. "Lattoo" is probably Pritam's track which ARR unknowingly inserted into this Cd. "Behka" has very good rendition and has an interesting mix of instruments, notably Trumpet, jazz-trap kit, saxophone. the song sounds like a throwback at Jazz-blues keeping guitars intact. The interludes stand up superbly but stanzas crash down. Behka is a classic case of a song being both - just beautiful and just bad. Ghajini, as a score, is less hummable and will not be remembered much.

7. Slumdog Millionaire - This film is not ARR's best although it won the Golden Globe. But then, the way we listen and perceive music is different from the way westerners do, which is why, probably this score could catch the attention. We might give an award to probably a Lagaan or Dil Se, but their sensibilities are different. Much of this album is techno music and i find it surprising myself (it is a surprise for ARR too) that the audience abroad, for a change, preferred this kind of music, over the usual orchestral works. The album starts with 'O saya' which boasts of some good percussions and rap. Mausam & Escape has a frenzy sitar piece which is re-played by string section backed by synth beats. 'Paper Planes' is a track by an artist named MIA and not by ARR. So is 'Aaj Ki Raat' (Shankar-Ehsan-Loy...for Don). Riots has an interesting sound, which, by now, got me the message that most of the music makes sense with visuals and not as a standalone album. My another favourite is 'Liquid Dance' which is ARR's re-improvisation from "Spirit of Rangeela". i found the hiphoppish 'Gangsta Blues' annoying while 'Millionaire' is just some work on sequencer, which, as i said, only elevates a certain scene. 'Latika's Theme' and its vocal counterpart 'Dreams on Fire' are both engage-some melodies, much like 'Meherbaan' from Ada - Universally adaptable.ARR's take on 'Choli Ke Peeche' 'Ringa Ringa' is interesting, because it magnifies his improvisation capabilities. The song just reminds us of the former and does nothing less. For a moment, one might even wonder if Rahman bettered it. The grand finale song, "Jai Ho" originally written for 'Yuvvraaj', is just a peppy number with lot of 'hummability' quotient. SDM is purely experimental, for it is a visual-oriented score. As a stand alone album, it has a few hits and a few misses, making it an 'OK' album. But then, I am happy that it fetched an honour.

The last surprise from ARR in 2008 was/is a non-film album called 'Connections', which has got 9 tracks. The album has not yet been released on Cds, but it got released in the form of 'pre-loaded music' in the new Nokia Express Music mobile phones. I got a chance to listen to the songs only once and i must say that they are quite good, rich and lot different from all the above albums. There are both, songs and instrumentals, stretching from traditional classical music to jazz blues to Rajasthani Folk. It is rare that an ARR album sounds impressive in the 1st listening itself and I think the tracks in this album are done to satisfy his own creative urge, free of commercial trappings. I think the cd should be out in couple of months.

So What has ARR planned for 2009? Connections for sure. The promos of 'Delhi 6' too show some promise.I am looking forward to these two albums. I just hope that he strikes a good balance between musically rich albums and commercial albums (the need of his producers) like he did in 2008. For now, the accordian tune from this teaser got stuck in my mind and the only way to release it is... to listen to this album soon.


Irfan not Pathan but put a space between r and f said...

Aakarsh, you of all people saying that ARR did telugu? When?Where? I bet he doesnt know it himself. I dont think he could ever bring out telugu ethos in his music like IR did.
Things he did IR could never do
Punjabi Bhangra - The RDB one. I am sure IR could if he tried but he probably looks down upon it
Sufi - IR hasnt done it ever and I doubt he could even if he tried. So, this is a walkover for ARR
British-Scottish - bloody give IR a chance man. He will blow ARR off the park on this
Pan-Indian - IR doesnt believe in this. If he did a Manipuri film, he will not say "I wont do Manipuri the way manipuri msuic has been done before, I will do my own thing", he will bring authenticity and rootedness. Now, Jodhaa Akbar's non-traditional could be seen as an attempt at movign away from tradition ro an inability to root your music in a particular tradition. Rootedness, Rahman will never beat IR in this in most genres and musical cultures. Pan-Indian or generic stuff, yes, he will but onyl because IR doesnt believe in it.

Chinese - not sure how authentic WOHE was. Its like Engathukararaum kacherikku ponaar if you see what I mean
LOTR and finnish - not even sure what you mean there. Care to explain?
Broadway - one word.Actually, two. Polla Vinayen. Beat that.

Aakarsh said...

Firstly, my statement was about the 'market' his has covered and not the 'musical elements'.

Secondly, i dont want to be dragged into IR vs. ARR debate, because i see them as different entities who have their own schools of thought which cannot be compared.I question you "Why did you not compare S.D.Burman with R.D.Burman?, Is it right to compare them, who have both, in their individual capacities created their own places in film music? Why didnt anyone compare Roshan with Rajesh Roshan, when RR was in his prime?Or why dont we compare S.Dakshinamurthy with Ilaiyaraaja?". For the same reasons, whatsoever, i dont compare IR with ARR. Still, here is my take on your thoughts.

I agree that IR can bring out Telugu ethos well and i have been/am still a huge of IR fan.

Punjabi Bhangra - I myself am not great liker of that music so it doesnt matter to me if IR does or ARR does it.That apart,i found the title song of RDB a bit kicky, nothing more, nothing less.

British-Scottish or say European Music - When did i say ARR is a legend in handling it? I only said that he got to work on albums in which he tried those genres and to some extent, I appreciate ARR's vision to include something like a scottish folk into a tamil song. But when it comes to classical, IR stands tall.I know it too. But who am i or who are fans to give him a chance.Did we give 'chances' to try 'Nothing But Wind' or 'How To Name It'?The point is: IR needs be more forthcoming about tapping his own knowledge levels.

Pan-Indian: i enjoy thousands of IR songs.But there are very few albums which i can call so.I am not demeaning the songs, but try dubbing a tamil IR song into Hindi and you will realize that something is not working.Not all songs though.There are many exceptions too (Shiva 2006,Mouna raagam,Anjali,Sadma, hey Ram, etc etc etc).But very generally.I cant dub a Chiranjeevi-IR combination song into Hindi. Ofcourse, thats because IR has been giving music to match the ethos of that region, despite bringing in western classical ideas.It is a great achievement for sure and I am his fan for that.But ARR looked at a new way.A 'Kannaanule' was easily adaptable into 'Kehna Hi Kya'.This is what i mean by Pan-Indian.please listen to '1947-Earth' or 'Zubeidaa'.I am not saying IR is incapable,but he needs to put in lot of conscious effort or needs directors who can get it out of him or both.Its not the question of 'Manipuri' but about making something that clicks everywhere.IR localizes symphonies very well.ARR nationalizes diverse elements very well.I am saying that both are achievements in their own way.

regarding Jodha Akbar: I dont think it is inability. Please listen to the background score of the film.Lot of Hindustani music. i will agree if you say that IR can probably root it better,with his knowledge of Hindustani music but saying ARR is utterly incapable to root it is far-fetched.I have seen people who didnt like the songs but liked the BGM.I liked few pieces too,in Hameer Kalyani if i am not wrong.And i liked the songs, much better than Ghajini or Sakkarakkatti or Sivaji or Baba etc.For that matter, i think "Manmohana" is an underrated composition, for it does evoke, if not match, the classicism of 'Mughal-e-Azam's music.whats wrong with it?

Chinese-i have only heard the soundtrack. i didnt watch the film. The soundtrack is very good, as an instrumental album.good blend of orchestral music and some 'new instruments'. The point is, i liked it, without comparing with any IR album or without imagining what all IR might have done.If he does, fine, i will enjoy that too, probably more.

LOTR=Lord of the Rings Music, a stage adaptation for which ARR collaborated with a finnish band and composed music. It has some good pieces/songs. Ofcourse,it is not completely ARR's own,but i mentioned it because he collaborated, unexpectedly, with a Finnish group and output is a bit of indian, a bit of irish-celtic music and other genres.Again,it might not be a benchmark like IR,but it makes a good listening in my playlist.

his Broadway outing 'Bombay Dreams' is not a benchmark.Again i only meant that he went into that market and it worked there. I didnt/dont endorse its merit right.And thiruvasakam is a classic album which no one can beat.I dont see the rationale in comparing them! Can you compare a 'normal song'(not so great) of IR with 'Beethoven's Symphony'? Your comparison is like that.

I think it high time people stop making comparisons between 2 different generations of composers.For that matter,forget different generations, why compare when two people have different 'schools of thought'? Also, i dont understand,why is only ARR compared with IR? Why do most IR fans do only ARR-bashing? Why not VidyaSagar? Shankar-Ehsan-Loy?YuvanShankarRaaja?Harris Jayraj?

every composer has his own capabilities and shortcomings and they cannot be put on a single X axis to measure heights on Y axis and to grade them.The dimensions too,vary.It all boils down to 'school of thought' and i like both IR and ARR, because i dont compare, because both have come a long way.

goooooood girl said...

your blog is so good......

raj said...

Look Aakarh. My point is not different from yours. I am saying that yes ARR did make generic stuff which was acceptable to all across the nation. But he couldnt root himself anywhere so please dont say he made telugu music which is what you said and I found that a careless endorsement of pan-Indian stuff as telugu.

Dont get me wrong - I enjoy ARR in the same way you do but what I cant accept is he has penetrated any ethos in this country. His philosophy is different - he sits in his place and brings these other musical cultures unto him whereas IR used to simply magically transform himself to the required style. Authenticity.

Now, my point is that saying ARR made "telugu" music is as incorrect as saying IR made "Pan-Indian" music.
As you pointed out the beauty is your Chiru's telugu song cant even be dubbed into tamil succesfully - which means he has carefully understood that difference between telugu and tamil. Which is not something ARR cares for - good for him but we cant add that imaginary cap to him when he himself abhors that cap

raj said...

And I dont see anything inappropriate in comparing BD and Thiruvasagam - in the broadway context. Rahman actually got a chance to work on a stage musical and that was BD. IR didnt even get a chance but he showed what he can do - with polla vinayen. So, comparision between BD and TiS is very apt indeed

Aakarsh said...


I did not say ARR penetrated into Telugu ethos..I only meant that 'his songs became popular in Telugu too' and i was referring to his dubbed films only, whose music got popular, unlike the music of other tamil composers (except IR),back in 90s. Come on, someone like Sirpi or Deva hardly had any craze within Telugu belt and thats what i was talking about.

"His philosophy is different - he sits in his place and brings these other musical cultures unto him" - True, but i think even that is a good change. IR gets into Malayalalm or Tamil or Telugu roots.I think, somehow he could not get into Hindi roots.Whereas ARR flies off from one over another and brought a 'collective' wrap.albums like Dil Se or 1947 or Zubeida or 'Bose' have something like that.And they sound good too.That apart,i think ARR could pick different sounds from different places/countries because he probably found them interesting whenever he travelled.
IR used something similar, with Hungarian instruments and stuff.But thats ocassional.Wish he does more of that.

and reg BD or Thiruvasakam, i have always held a strong conviction that IR is much more capable than a 1000 BDs.Like i said,it is only an interesting fact that someone could go out of Tamil Nadu and go on to impress Broadway. as a fact, it sounds cool and thats what i mean.Qualitatively, i dont eulogize BD in any way.I prefer far better works of ARR,Lagaan for that matter.
And IR...i stick to what i said - 'Who stopped him from using his potential?' He has enough capability to dwarf out 10 ARRs. The point is...he needs to do it. Releasing his own RPO Symphony could be a step towards the same. Alas, he doesnt.

raj said...

Aakarsh, it is not as simple as that. It is always easier to make generic music than rooted ones. Michael Jackson is popular across continents. So many rock and pop bands are.
Also< I see that doing that sort of thing prepares the ground for you to get opportunities like BD. So, yes, from that apsect, IR has lost out because of his inherent fidelity to regional ethos and musical forms. In that sense, being a musical theist has hampered him while Rahman being a musical agnostic has benefitted.

Again, I wouldnt say IR couldnt penetrate Hindi ethos. The thing is he couldnt do bollywood superficial stuff. He can stil make lovely hindustani style(even in naan kadavul) and grasp the classical forms there. Maybe, yes, grasping the non-classical sufi and bhangra and others may not be is forte and maybe thats why he doesnt have the same appeal.
He did master the chennai dappanguthu though. Other than that his success has mainly been in traditional folk and classical(Western, Carnatic, Hindustani, even Rock and Jazz which are authentic musical styles as opposed to bhangra or sufi which dont have any grammar or rules really - just loose definitions).

Aakarsh said...

Hmm..thats right, but Bollywood (oh how much i dislike this term) is much beyond Bhangra and sufi music and the least i expect from IR are these.
Music in Hindi need not be only these. Taarein Zameen Par did not have any Bhangra song or so did Dil Chahtha Hai.Please listen to songs of 'Welcome to Sajjanpur'.Or 'Parineeta'. I can probably quote 100 examples.A decent Hindi music album neednt be slotted in a particular genre and i think thats where he goes wrong. Let me give you examples of where IR hit right notes even in Hindi music:

1.Surmayi Ankhiyon Mein (Sadma): Yes, it had tamil original but when it was done in Hindi,it sounded distinctly Hindi.
2. Har Koyee Samjhe (Hey Ram): Wonderful.
3. Cheeni Kum songs.
4. Poo Poothathu (Mumbai Express): The hindi version of this song actually fits Hindi mould well.
5. Saara Yeh aalam (Shiva 2006) - monument.

Barring exceptions like these, there was not much of 'venturing-into-Hindi-Music'.if a song doesnt sound as if it has been taken from another language, then it will definitely strike a chord. Have you heard of a film called 'Kamagni'? Listen to the song "Aagaya Yeh Sapna Banke". It is an outstanding composition, which, sounds odd, only because it sounds less North-Indian and more Tamil. And it is not only my view, but of many people who heard it when i played it at my home.

Yesteryear composers in Hindi did not compose many songs in Bhangra or Sufi, but they hit it right.An album like 'Bose' or 'Lagaan' too were appealing those genres.Even Karthik Raja hit it right for the song "Tere Bina" from 'Mukhbir'.

All Bollywood music isnt superficial.We still have some good music coming in, now and then."Ek Meetha Marz dene" from 'welcome to sajjanpur' is a small example.Or if i have to quote ARR stuff, try "Ekla Chalo" and "Desh ki Mitti".Very melodic in nature and treatment.Do we need to slot them in any music form, when they so melodic? Please listen to these songs and this is the gap which i want IR to traverse.

I am eagerly waiting for 'SRK' and 'Chal Chale' - 2 Hindi films by IR.

Aakarsh said...

To think of it,the music on which IR and ARR fed themselves (learning) is different, which is why one is more thiest-ic while another is agnostic.If Carnatic, WCM, Folk and other 'specific' genres were IR's learning content, ARR, coming from a different generation, had a 'Mix' or cocktail of them (including IR's music being one of the palette).He himself came from Bands, Fusion Music etc and obviously his choices would be eclectic and his approach itself would be eclectic.What you see as 'Agnostic' is what i called more 'Freedom-istic'(within the confines of good music,i dont mean to cite exaggerated cases,as with the case of a Himesh Reshamiya music etc). Something which even a Shankar-Ehsan-Loy or shantanu Moitra follow.and if they make good music(Not BD) out of that approach,it is good. This is the reason i refuse to compare them, because the schools of thought are different. for that matter, even VidyaSagar shouldnt be compared with IR. Or even Raveendran's music, although it is synonymous with IR's 80s.

Be it any composer,if it is good music or say if i like it, i will lap it up. Currently, it is Nandhalaala, 'Kannil Paarvai' and 'Dil Gira Hai dafatan' for me.All distinct,but all good.

PS: btw BD did have one astonishing number "Journey Home". ever heard that.

raj said...

Aakarsh, fair points. I am not musically as aware as you are so I am sometimes talking through my hat.
I dont mean agnostic in a bad sense at all. It is fine as long as the results work - Rahman works for me sometimes like in Swades, Yuva, Duet etc. Most notably in Kangalal Kaidhu Sei. But the Rang De Basanti stuff doesnt work for me. I can see Dilli-6 slots into a new RDB possibly.

Also, Rahman has done Zubeida and another Khalid movie whose name I forget. I loved both. But these were not big hits. If he had only done these, I am sure he wont be a popular bollywood composer. Rangeela made his name and Dil Se solidifed it. After that, he can show his full range.

Point is for IR, the opportunities were not of this sort. Somehow, he probably thought he cannot go down to the then bollywood levels. I do agree in Mahadev, he did a Aaj Babua bhaye kotwal for a situation in which a North Indian will probably break into Bhangra than
into a distinctly tamil style Velakethu Vellikelamai.

But he never got to do his Rangeela precisely because he couldnt help using his musical style. This is where I do appreciate Rahman for producing something like Rangeela though it doesnt appeal to me.

It does seem like sometimes he was succesful with Cheeni Kum et al but nobody except us IR fans rave about Cheeni Kum - that is fate.

Talking of Shiva 2006, badli ye hawa is an outstanding hindi classic - it doesnt carry an ounce of tamil smell.

I dont know where my thought process is going but I think I am just saying Rahman is getting all attention now but my Raja is no less. I suppose Rahman will get a padma bhooshan or something now because everybody loves a winner. As a Raja and MSV fan, I cannot help but feel a bit jealous...although thank God Anu Malik is not going to get that Padha Shri, is he?

Aakarsh said...

Thats right.. you said it right.'Our' Raaja is always there.

And as you said "badli yeh Hawa" is a wonderful song in 'Suddha Dhanyasi'.

Dont take any award too seriously man.Once or twice, it feels good, but then it doesnt matter. Like if ARR got Golden Globe, it is good...though not for the score but for the fact that a good composer from india got it.But PadmaBhushan and all..well..dont take them that seriously.An actor like Naseeruddin Shah never got a PadmaVibhushan, but 'Chiranjeevi' was awarded 'Padmabhushan'.Thats when i decided not to take them seriously at all.

If Anu Malik and Himesh reshamiya also get padmasri, then ARR needs to be stripped off his 'Pdamasri' award.

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