Five Rahman moments

Thanks to his Golden Globe for Slumdog Millionaire (and the possibility of an Oscar), Rahman is now the flavour of the month. While I haven’t been too impressed with much of his recent work, it made me think about his career over the years.

I heard Roja when I was in high school — to say that we were gobsmacked would be an understatement. It was like nothing any of us had heard before. But while it was new and exciting to us, there were also many who felt it was too synthesized and artificial and wouldn’t stand the test of time. Seventeen years later, it now seems fair to say that he has accomplished enough to earn his place among the greats of Indian film music.

This post is not about Rahman’s contribution to Indian film music (I may do that later), but simply a recollection of five Rahman moments that have surprised  and delighted me over the years.

  1. The repeated shehnai notes in Yeh jo des hai tera (Swades). The song is nice, but what makes it unforgettable is the use of the shehnai. (Aside: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy achieve a similar effect with bagpipes in the title tune of Salaam-e-Ishq.)
  2. The use of the tanpura in Hai Rama (Rangeela). My friend Ratul brought this one to my notice. Who would’ve thought of using a tanpura to bookend a steamy song involving Urmila Matondkar and Jackie shroff prancing around in their underwear?
  3. M. S. Viswanathan singing Vidai kodu engal naade (Kannathil Muthamittal). Instead of any of a dozen conventional singers, he picked a veteran composer with a voice that belied his age and got him to sing this one about leaving one’s homeland. (More on his unconventional choices for singers here.)
  4. The second sax interlude in En kaadhalae (Duet). The credit for this probably goes at least partly to the director K Balachander. Nonetheless, what he accomplishes here is beautiful. Two brothers (one a singer, the other a composer and sax player) in love with the same girl, singing a song at a function where she might make an appearance. When she does, the sax player announces it with four happy notes that are the musical equivalent of jumping up excitedly, then launches into his theme for her (Anjali Anjali). But as he gets into it, he is reminded of the fact that he is estranged from his brother because they both love this girl, so he quietly segues into a sadder theme. It was so well done that I didn’t even realize until later that it was all done through a musical instrument.
  5. Tu Bole Main Boloon (Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na). Exactly how often have you heard a jazz tune in Hindi film music?

Memsaab has a lovely post on her favourite Rahman numbers. Worth a dekko.

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14 thoughts on “Five Rahman moments

  1. Monideepa says:

    Also, my eternal favorite – the use of the Ektaara in Mitwa (Lagaan). Personally I think the background scores of Lagaan and Bombay trump that of Slumdog any day.

  2. Rajendran says:

    Most of his compositions strike a special chord. The flute interlud in ‘Thee Thee’ from Thiruda Thiruda used to be a favourite during my high school days. Some of his more recent stuff haven’t worked for me but having Late Mangeshkar sing Lukka Chhupi just made the song perfect.

    On a different note, a brilliant song with a rather forgettable beginning is Theendai from En Swasa Katre that has a la mercy-fuck-orgasmic sound to set up an amazing composition.

  3. Destiny's Child says:

    Often, when you heave a sigh and say “Hmm…I’ll wait for the stars to align,” it’s as if the stars were lying in wait for you to expressly state those exact magic words all this while (a la Open Sesame), for they proceed to align at once. It’s like that scene towards the end of Fifth Element where this guy stares at one of the stones long and hard and then lets out a sigh, giving up…and voila! “Air” was the element that turned this particular stone on, apparently! And who would’ve guessed…

    So it was that I went to watch Slumdog Millionaire today. (SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading right now if you don’t want to stumble upon suspense-breakers, but seriously…) What made it for me was undoubtedly ARR’s BGM, without which it would have surely felt like someone had taken me to the moon, as promised, but only to strip me of my spacesuit AND spaceship and drop me like a hot tuber (whoa, Brute!). I guess that’s a given when you’ve read more raves than rants and go in with sky-high expectations of a movie. My biggest disappointment was the acting abilities (or lack thereof) of the leads (older Dev, Latika). And because everyone was slobbering all over Loveleen Tandon’s impeccable casting choices, I went in expecting the leads to emote effusively and when they did the exact opposite (as in, redefined Blank Slate), I did all I possibly could to keep the lid on my pressure cooker (phew, that was a lot of energy expended right there).

    Another gripe — it also felt like Boyle thought this thing called Destiny was an exclusively Indian concept, and he HAD to have his hero mouth the words “she is my Destiny” like it was a swear-phrase he picked up in the slums and couldn’t shrug off, so the Hollywood audiences could cue in. That to me spoiled the effect beautifully in this otherwise wonderfully shot show-don’t-tell movie. I mean, c’mon, you can’t have the guy say to his childhood sweetheart’s face, when he finally gets to hold her in his arms, “You are my Destiny” and expect us to dive into the Kleenex box they’d instructed us to keep handy, in the promos. She (and us) have obviously figured out at least that much by then, so why assault our intelligence this late in the game? And why can’t she just have kissed Mr. Oh-so-reticent instead of *saying* “Kiss me”? Oh I could go on…

    Argh!! and other interjections apart, since all that I went in looking for was successfully sabotaged, I had to delight myself with some of the motifs that fully justified my motive for being there in the movie hall, this afternoon. And so I came away completely satisfied from figuring out the significance of “Sign Service” painted in bold yellow on the white Dodge Ram pick-up truck that made a left turn in front of me as I waited to enter the movie-hall parking lot; the final answer on the show that was a revelation in itself (“A is Ram”)…again, I could go on. (Talk about a cup-half-full attitude I’m positive I must have been pre-Destined to possess!)

    P.S: And regarding “Who would’ve thought of using a tanpura to bookend a steamy song involving Urmila Matondkar and Jackie shroff prancing around in their underwear?” – why the hell not, when Tanpura = tan pura (full body)?

  4. Raj>> It took me some time to locate Theendaai and listen to it and, God, what was that sound right at the beginning? Reminded me of the cadence of sighs leading to a small moan in Ponmeni urugudhae in Moondram Pirai 😀

    DC>> I haven’t seen Slumdog so I can’t really comment on that, but I sometimes wonder if people trying to make a movie with an “Indian” sensibility end up trying too hard. Maybe it’s a better idea to just try and make a good movie — Danny Boyle is certainly capable of that.

    ~r

  5. Amrita says:

    I hope you’ve been listening to Delhi 6. It’s the first REAL Rahman album I’ve heard in a long while – every single track is a joy, even the ones with techno.

  6. Hey there Ramsu. Hope you’re having a great start to the year. I’m catching up on posts this week. 🙂

    I agree with your A. R. Rahman moments (there are so many!) that I have come across (1, 2, and 5), and just wanted to add my favorites: the background scores to Lagaan and Rang De Basanti, which I thought were as critical to the films as the soundtracks. RDB even has a nice jazz piece (in the scene at the lounge) that is beautifully done.

    Cheers!

  7. Amrita>> I’ve heard one of the songs from Delhi 6 so far – Masakkali, which keeps coming on TV quite often and features an incredibly cute Sonam Kapoor doing the Egyptian walk with a bird on her head. Once I actually manage to get over my shock of hearing Mohit Chauhan sing like that, I’ll get to the rest 🙂 But what I’ve heard so far sounds promising.

    theBollywoodFan>> Happy New Year to you as well, my friend 🙂 Rahman does a pretty good job especially when he’s working with some directors. Mani Rathnam is a prime example. I wasn’t terribly impressed with Jodhaa Akbar to tell you the truth, but some moments in Lagaan and Swades were pretty good.

    ~r

  8. Ma-Sa-KK-Ali says:

    “Sonam Kapoor doing the Egyptian walk with a bird on her head” – Yeah, I caught that bit on youtube recently and — as a “pig” who had to wait an “eon” for wings — immensely enjoyed its exuberance!

  9. Ramsu: Very delayed comment. But if my very vague memory is right, we watched Roja together (you, Swami, Hrishi & I). Forgot which cinema hall it was though. I think ARR’s music has become incredibly mature over the last decade. Most of his early songs (Roja excepted) weren’t too great to hear first up. It’d take around 3-4 times and a few weeks to get used to the sound and like it. Nowadays, you like it instantaneously or you don’t.

  10. Yes, it was indeed the four of us. I don’t remember if there was anyone else as well. In fact, I remember us saying that the movie would most likely win the Rajiv Gandhi award for best film on national integration, and so it did.

    Rahman used to have this thing of composing songs that would take a while to grow on you. Especially for Mani Rathnam movies. You’re right, it’s become more of an instant like or dislike these days, but that may also be because we are more familiar with his work now.

    ~r

  11. S says:

    Enjoyed re-visiting this Rahman “wreck” collection (what with shehnai upping the sentimental ante in Swades and tanpura, the steaminess ante in Rangeela… I consider the characters’ peace of mind beautifully wrecked in both cases). 😛

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