AR Rahman, Music, Quizzing

The Rahman Quiz

While I acknowledge that I am a Lapsed Quizzer, there comes a time in a man’s life when he is forced to shake that queasy (yeah, fine, pun intended) feeling out of himself by going all Powerpointy. I have been listening to some Rahman every now and then. Though I tend to stay away from his earlier catalog as much as I can, ever since that year-long sabbatical from his music. A friend and I were talking about “Aha” moments in his songs – where random back-up singers go “aha”, like in ‘Kilimanjaro’ and the title track of Parthaley Paravasam. We tried to think of other songs of a similar nature, and suddenly I found odd bits of trivia popping up in my head. So here, out, damned spot. A bunch of 20 questions that are somewhat sensible, and sometimes not. Please make sure to read the fine print (second slide), and come back here for answers in a few days.

(For those who cannot see what’s below, it’s supposed to be an embedded Slideshare iFrame. Here’s a direct link to the page.)

 

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I am a little troubled by AR Rahman’s Jana Gana Mana. Not with the packaging – Times Music has released a beautiful CD+ DVD package, retailing at 399 Rs – but at the fact that the release is actually a RE-release. Everybody, including the Rahman experts seem to be ignoring that. And Rahman himself? The man who cried “foul” when Magnasound rereleased one of his private albums composed for Shubha, touting it as AR Rahman’s first English Language album, the man who went on record and split with a company that had brought out his first albums is happily floating on the publicity machine.

I bought the cassette of Jana Gana Mana in February 2000, in Sangeet Saagar, Hyderabad. Agonised over buying the CD version, which came with a free VCD ( note the technological leap we have taken in the last seven years. VCDs are gone, baby, gone. ), but unfortunately was priced at 500 Rs. Over the years, I would wait for the CD to be released without the VCD, for prices to be slashed, for some kind of sale where I could get it cheaper. But nothing of that sort happened, and I never did get around to buying it.

Will I buy it now? Don’t know really. 399 is still too high, in my opinion. The prices of DVDs are at an all-time low, with Moser-Baer cornering the market, and T-series releasing old favourites at 45 Rs. Even DVD stalwarts like Eros and Shemaroo are offering 99-Rs DVDs in a monsoon-sale offer, although their new offerings are still high-priced. I am betting prices will stabilise at around 150 Rs. Yashraj is the only company that is staying put at 300-plus prices, but who wants to buy YR DVDs anyway?

I believe there have also been a spate of Rahman “singles”. ‘One Love’, which is an ode to the Taj Mahal and features the same song in *shudder* multiple languages, and ‘Pray For Me Brother’, which has a train-wreck of a video. These must be the first ARR albums that I have consciously refused to buy.

I think the best ARR tune in recent times is that new Airtel ad, in which a kid plays in the rain and there is this bouncy melody going on in the background. It lasts for about a minute, but gets me everytime. I am not even sure it’s by ARR, but the voice and the music segue into the familiar Airtel tune and that’s why I think it’s him.

And oh, the DVD of Vishal’s The Blue Umbrella is out. Even before the movie has been released in Hyderabad. Bah!

Also, a fabulous article on 15 Years of AR Rahman.

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OHYESOHYESOHYESSSSSSSS

Isn’t it irritating when a tune you hear reminds you of another bit of melody from some corner of your musical memory, and inspite of repeated attempts to map the older tune, its just impossible to figure out where it’s from?

This happened to me with ‘Sahana’/’Sahara’, one of the songs in Sivaji, present on the CD in two versions – one by Udit Narayan and Chinmayee ( the lady who sang ‘Tere Bina’ in Guru), and the other by Vijay Yesudas and Gopika Poornima. The opening tune was SO SO familiar when I heard it, but I distinctly remembered hearing the tune on orchestral violins, and a number of times over the last couple of days, I tried humming it to myself to figure out where exactly I had heard it. Was able to pinpoint it to the correct genre, it was definitely from a piece of Indian film music, and knowing Rahman, it was from one of his earlier compositions. That was as far as I got, until just now, the skies opened and I knew what the tune was.

It was the closing theme of Dil Se, a melancholy tune that was my ringtone for a couple of months back in 2003 or thereabouts. It creeped out quite a few people in my office, but I loved it, and even downloaded a proper mp3 version when I could. And that also explains why I didn’t figure out a Rahman tune – background soundtracks are excluded from the RAT ( Rahman Acknowledgement Time) factor. I still win!

The feeling of relief I have now is like the aural version of the experience of having removed a bit of food stuck in your teeth after dinner.

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RDB

Confirmed news of the Rang De Basanti music release came in at 1:30 PM, from Vasu, who informed me that Sudhir had bought the CD on the way to the office, in the morning.

On the way to Planet M, I told myself that there was a fair chance this might be the CD that breaks the 200 Rs price barrier, and I talked myself into agreeing that I would NOT buy it if it were so. Well, it wasn’t. 160 Rs, 10 songs. What makes me crack up is that I also saw the CD of Rajkumar Santoshi’s Family, on sale for the same price, along with a couple of songs from Khakee included. Would really like to know how well sales of that soundtrack fares…

First Impressions:

Current count: two listens. And counting.

Begins with a one-and-a-half-minute Punjabi track ‘Ik Onkar’ which is all vocals ( songer: Harshdeep Kaur). Neat mutitracking. The title track, by Daler Mehndi and Chitra comes next – though pretty catchy, I thought it a trifle too long. The banjo beginning was not a banjo after all – sounds like a very familiar (Korg?) sample. ‘Paathshaala’, both the normal and the remix version ( which guest-stars Blaaze) is the kind of dance song that you really cannot dance to. I sincerely hope Blaaze’s version stays on the album and does not appear in the film. Boys was the pinnacle of his career – let’s leave it at that. ‘Khalbali’ was the most interesting song – faux Middle-eastern percussion, faux Middle-eastern lilt to the singing, authentic Arabic lyrics/vocals by Rai singer Cheb Nacim ( Or is it some other Nacim? No idea, really), Rahman’s grating accent when he sings it being the only minus to the song. I shan’t let my occasional hatred for Madhushree’s voice taint my judgement of the song ‘Tu Bin Bataaye’, but it sounds run-of-the-mill, really. ( Which means I will consider this the favourite song of the album after about two weeks.) Naresh Iyer’s voice sounds fabulous on this song, though.

One good thing about the album is that it gets better, or seems to, at least, with every song. ‘Khoon Chalaa’ by Mohit Chauhan ( of Silk Route) is a soft ballad that would sound like a Silk Route number if you replace the violin with the recorder. Minimal percussion, orchestral strings, well-written lyrics. Two very acoustic guitar-driven songs round off the album – ‘Luka Chhupi’ by Lata Mangeshkar and ARR, which is decent. Would have been catchier with a different female voice, but I feel that about every Lata song nowadays, so nevermind. ‘Roobaru’ is radio-friendly 90’s alt rock. The much-hyped Aamir Khan number, called ‘Lalkaar’, is more of a poetry recital, sounds like ‘Unnodu Naan’ from Iruvar than anything else, the words being nearly the same as “Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna” from the Legend of Bhagat Singh.

How’s Rang De Basanti going to fare as far as the charts go? Not too much, I guess. Aashiq Banaaya Aapne will win the Filmfare Award for best music, probably best singer too, beating Salaam Namaste in a close race. Do I look like I fucking care?

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Three favourite soundtrack composers

I am a big fan of soundtracks. Not just Indian soundtracks, all kinds. I am just awed by the fact that music can be used, in the hands of a skilled composer, to augment the impact of a scene in a film. I love the way music can be used as subtext in a barebones storyline. In fact, half the reason I end up hating a movie is when the accompanying soundtrack is crock. ( Perfect examples: the recent assembly-line productions of Ram Gopal Verma’s The Factory, which rely on over-the-top moodscapes to ruin half-baked storylines) Right now, there are three composers who are my personal Gods, people whose music make my day ( or night) anytime I listen to them.

On top is AR Rahman. Part of the reason why I like him, truth be told, is that I’ve grown up with his music. He was the nineties, for me, every year indelibly marked in my memory by a couple of Rahman albums. There really have not been too many Rahman soundtracks I cannot listen to at any given point of time, and there are few Rahman tunes I cannot recognise in the first seven seconds of the song playing within earshot. But yeah, his background scores are no great shakes – they are essentially reworked versions of his songs in that particular movie, played on a different instrument or in a different style, or a slower/faster tempo than the song itself. Very few Rahman-scored films of recent times had memorable scores, to be honest – the songs might be awesome, but that’s all you remember after you finish the film, the songs, and not the music. And I don’t think I was hallucinating when I heard the same snatch of music at the end of Swades and at a point in Mangal Pandey: The Rising. Of course I am a Rahman fan, you idjit, but faith that refuses to face the facts is not faith at all, as Albert Schweitzer once said and all that.

Second in the list, not because of quality – let me assure you that I am not comparing any of these three composers in any way, other than the fact that they make my earth move – is Ennio Morricone. I have been introduced really late to his music. Believe me, chances are – you haven’t heard Ennio Morricone’s music yet, true Morricone music, that is. Because, in the sixties and the seventies, when Morricone was composing kick-ass stuff, certain unscrupulous hacks in America, like Henry Mancini or Mantovani (that’s right, I know I should not call them such derisive terms, but it’s just their covers stunted my musical education. They have also done some good stuff in their days) did some lame-ass cover versions of his soundtracks, and just to show that people have lousy musical taste, these cover versions sold really well, and I suspect made their way up the Billboard Charts too. The cover versions didn’t sound bad, just watered-down. Insipid music that did not have a tenth of the energy that the original Morricone versions did. What was so unique about Ennio Morricone’s original compositions? I could rave about his quirky use of instruments, or the completely loony themes he came up with. A solitary twanging guitar, a wailing harmonica, the sound of a jew’s harp, shrieking human voices – Morricone did not need the grandeur of a string orchestra to come up with the soundscapes needed for a brutal desert shoot-out or a blood-splattered night. Or for that matter, a tenderly-shot love scene.It’s not like he never used string orchestras either,;he did, and very beautifully too, in later day classics ( Wolf, Once Upon a Time In America, Cinema Paradiso). This man made the most memorable oboe piece in cinematic history – ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’, from The Mission. He’s composed nearly six hundred soundtracks so far, and has managed to repeat himself in only two of them. Pure genius, I say.

Of late, I have stumbled upon ( not by chance, to be honest) Morricone’s scores for Italian Giallo movies – Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails, for example, and Mario Bava’s Danger Diabolik. Awesome, goosepimply scores. I have much to thank Kill Bill for, and rediscovering Ennio Morricone is one of the reasons.

Third in the list is a lady whose music I heard people raving about so freaking much that I nearly went berserk trying to get hold of her stuff. Yoko Kanno is her name, and she’s a Japanese composer who has done music for anime titles like Cowboy Bebop, Macross Plus, Earth Girl Arjuna, and Ghost in the Shell; Standalone Complex. There’s one thing I need to make clear about Ms Kanno – you can never, EVER slot her into a genre, or even in two, or ten, or fifty seven. Absolutely no-no-No. Fine, so you listen to ‘Tank’, the theme music for Cowboy Bebop, and go “Ah, a Jazz-oriented composer, reminds me of brass bands of the forties.”, and then you hear ‘Live in Baghdad’ off the same album, a song that can give Judas Priest a complex, it sounds so eighties hair metal.Right, so the next song happens to be ‘Fantasie Sign’, a song that begins like an Edith Piafish French ballad, leading to a 180 bpm Jungle beat that kicks your teeth out of shape if you have your speakers loud enough. Of course, there is ‘Bindy’, a faux-middle-eastern piece where an alto saxophone tries to sound really hard like a shehnai, and very nearly succeeds; followed by ‘Forever Broke’, which is a slide-guitar piece you might hear Johnny Winter playing on a really, really bluesy day.

Right. So maybe I went overboard trying to describe how hard Yoko Kanno’s music cannnot really be described to anyone, you have to listen to it to figure out how much it rocks. And this is just one album, from out of a possible 7 albums accompanying Cowboy Bebop, with all its music as diverse as the genres from which this anime borrows its themes from. And then you have to listen to the rest of her work, each more audacious than the other. “Audacious without being pretentious” is the term I’ve heard someone use with regards to Yoko Kanno’s body of work, and it strikes me as the perfect term to describe her.

To buy or not to buy?

I am seriously waiting for the music of Rang De Basanti to be released. Music by AR Rahman, of course. It’s due sometime this week, and I really need to hear something more than the single line ( and that infectious banjo loop that plays along with it) on TV. The music of Water ( also by Rahman, and one that he called “the best work he has done so far” in an interview sometime back) has released on all the online radio stations, but I am not listening to it until the CD comes out.

Also tempted to buy Bluffmaster, even though I already have Trickbaby’s album. Two Ranjit Barot albums have also come out – Pooja Bhatt’s Holiday, the songs sound pretty decent, and another one called Brides Wanted that I saw last night in Planet M. But the 145-150 Rs tag on each of these CDs puts me off, I don’t want to buy Hindi movie soundtracks just for a good track or two, and then two months later, find prices slashed to half.

Heard Susheela Raman’s Music For Crocodiles playing at Habitat, and nearly ended up buying it. Saw the 445 Rs price tag and took the easy way out – ran home and listened to Love Trap(her previous album) for three days. That lady has a sexy voice, and she does some awesome music.

Also saw Trilok Gurtu’s latest album Broken Rhythms, it has Huun Huur Tu and Gary Moore guest-starring on some tracks. Temptations, temptations….

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