AR Rahman, Music, Myself, Quizzing

The Rahman Quiz : Answers

The What: Hey, guess what! I am posting answers to a bunch of questions I asked seven years ago.

The What. The. Fuck: Yeah, I know. I have this bad habit of starting stuff and never finishing ’em. You know, like the rest of you fuckin’ slobs.

The Why: Because someone left a comment, and I am too nice to let comments pass by unanswered.

The Really, Why: I don’t know, man. Closure, I guess. Probably because the world is ending, one wants to wrap up unfinished business.

I thought about putting this up on Slideshare, but this was getting chatty and link-encrusted at the same time. So I figured there is no point in diverting traffic to a different site when I could just have fun in my own backyard.

Naveen is the Rahman regular on the flute/wind instruments. Who is the Rahman regular on the solo violin?

Answer

M Kalyan
Kalyan who had worked with A.R. Rahman’s father R.K. Sekar, was also part of ARR’s group right from his first film ‘Roja.’ “Rahman was a hard working boy. While working for other music directors, even during breaks, he would just stick to his keyboard and keep working on it. Highly matured even at that tender age, he was always a man of few words.”
https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/violinist-kalyanam-traces-his-musical-journey/article19464000.ece

Note: since going international, Rahman has used different violinists while touring, notably Ann Marie Calhoun, who he worked with during the making of Superheavy, with Mick Jagger, Damien Marley et al.

A very peculiar music sample is associated with Raghuvaran’s character in Kaadhalan (Humse Hai Muqabla). The theme music of which other Rahman film begins with the same sound?

Answer
This is the sample I am talking about (the video should begin at t=39s).

And the other theme music is this one.

Note: Jesus, what a shitty piece of trivia to know, remember, and inflict on the world.

Which are the only Rahman songs that have been lip-synched on screen by
– Amrish Puri
– Kailash Kher

Answer

Amrish Puri – Chal Kheva Re Kheva from Doli Saja Ke Rakhna

Kailash Kher – Al Maddath Maula from Mangal Pandey: The Rising.

Both of the above, by the way, are relentlessly terrible songs, rendered even more so by their pedestrian videos. We can fight about that opinion, if you want.

Name the first Rahman film dubbed into Hindi to not have lyrics by PK Mishra/Mehboob.

For additional points, name lyricist.

Answer

This one falls in the category of “It depends”.

The official answer would be Rajiv Menon’s Sapnay, with lyrics by Javed Akhtar. Akhtar would also write the lyrics to Shankar’s Jeans the very next year, and from then on there was no looking back, and PK Mishra completely fell by the wayside.

However, Akhtar had written lyrics for Priyadarshan’s Kabhi Na Kabhi way back in 1994, with the film ultimately releasing in 1997.

But oops, there was also the matter of The Gentleman, released in 1994 in Hindi. Directed by Mahesh Bhatt with music composed by Anu Malik, except that three of the chart-busting songs were basically overdubs on the original ARR numbers from Shankar’s Gentleman. The songs were ‘Roop Suhana Lagtaa Hai’, lyrics by Indeevar, ‘Aashiqui Mein’ and ‘Chika Pika Rika’, with lyrics by Rajan Khera.

The promotional poster for which Rahman album had the words – “Chinna Chinna Aasai, Grammy vaanga aasai”?

Answer

Mm yeah, trick question. It’s a Rahman “album”, not really a movie OST. This was Magnasound’s reissue of Shubha’s 1991 album “Set Me Free” in 1996, at the peak of Rahman-madness. Marketed as “AR Rahman’s first international album”, listening to it now is extreme cringe, with some redeeming moments. Ok, fine, I still feel ‘Zombie’, fine?

Before Sukhvindara Singh sang in Dil Se (1998) and became a Rahman Regular, he wrote the lyrics for song 1 and sang song 2, for two 1997 films. Name both songs and movies.

Answer
The lyrics were for the surprisingly rambunctious bhangra version of ‘Daud’, sung by Usha Uthup.

He sang for both the Tamil and Telugu versions of ‘Lucky Lucky’, from Ratchagan/Rakshakudu. Incidentally the film debut of Sushmita Sen. Yup, Sukhvindara Singh started his singing career with Rahman with a Tamil song.

The title of which song came from a Haj visit, where ARR heard a man selling water?

Answer
This is fairly easy if you know ARR apocrypha, or understand that May’i/Moy’i is Arabic for water. The song Mayya Mayya’ from Guru featured as a Turkish cabaret song, sung by Egyptian/Canadian singer Maryem Tollar.

Rahman has often spoken of the influence of Peter Gabriel’s Passion: The Last Temptation of Christ, and used the bassline of ‘Of These, Hope’ in Anbae Anbae (Jeans). In which Rahman OST would you hear a sample from Baba Maal’s ‘Call To Prayer’ from Passion: Sources, the companion album to Passion?

Answer
This is ‘Call to Prayer’ by Baaba Maal.

And this is the theme song from ‘One Two Ka Four’.

Also features Tuvan throat singing, African drums, and a Middle-eastern groove.

What is common to the soundtracks of Jeans, Bombay, Taal, Alaipayuthey and Thiruda Thiruda? Hmm, also Vande Mataram.

Answer
All of these soundtracks came in multiple versions, some with missing songs added in different releases, others with songs in CDs but not on the cassette.

The missing songs:

  • Jeans – ‘Poonagayil Thimuthi’ and ‘Jeans theme’
  • Bombay – ‘Malarodu Malarillai’ and ‘Idhu Innai Bhoomi’. Also, the second version of the album had Remo’s chanting included in the Tamil version of ‘Humma’.
  • Taal – ‘Kya Dekh Rahe Ho Tum’
  • Alaipayuthey – ‘Endendrum Punnagayi’ and ‘Mangalyam’ were not in the original albums, but added after the movie came out
  • Thiruda Thiruda – title track, ‘Aathukulla Ayira Meenu’
  • Vande Mataram – ‘Musafir’ and ‘Masoom’, released in the international version. ‘Musafir’ was essentially Otthagatha Kattikko (Roop Suhana Lagta Hai) remixed into English. Incidentally Rahman performed ‘Masoom’ at the Independence Day concert the night of 15th August 1997. Not seeing the song on the album made me the sole person to own a bootleg version of ‘Masoom’, which I had recorded on my walkman from my TV.

Name two (non-pop) male and female singers who have sung only one song for ARR.

Answer
Male: Kumar Sanu and Roopkumar Rathod. Bonus: Babul Supriyo and Nabarun Ghosh.

Nabarun Ghosh – Sun Le O Janam (Tu Hi Mera Dil)

Female: Parul Mishra, Sapna Mukherjee

This one is tough. Initially I thought Deena Chandradas qualified for ‘Zehreela Pyaar’ in Daud. However, he sang for the dubbed versions too, disqualifying him. Suresh Wadkar sang for Rangeela, imagine my surprise when I found out that he sang the Marathi version of the Roja title track.

Sowmya Raoh was a contender for the female singer – she sang for Godfather, but turns out she also sang a song in Guru. (‘Shaouk Hai’, which does not feature in the original release of the album, so that’s another addition to the list above). So was Sandhya JK, P Susheela’s daughter-in-law, who sang Poo Kodiyin in Iruvar, but also the Telugu version.

Danny Boyle recommended song Z for the end sequence of Slumdog Millionaire, but Rahman insisted on ‘Jai Ho’, wchich was originally composed for a situation in film X, where the director chose the song Y instead. ID X, Y and Z.

Answer
Z: ‘Aaj Ki Raat’, from DonThe Chase Begins Again

Aaj Ki Raat

X and Y – Yuvvraaj and ‘Shaano Shaano’.

Shanno Shanno

It’s ok to throw up in your mouth a little, after that last song.

In an interview, ARR complained that this song X used a sample that crashed his software a record number of times (vague memory says 21). The sample was reused by artist Y as the opening song Z of an album released 2 years later. Incidentally, ARR worked with Y’s lead guitarist around that time, so that might explain this. Once again, ID X, Y and Z.

Answer
Unfortunately this is one of those answers where you will have to take my word for it. This was from some Filmfare interview I read. ARR was moving away from hardware sequencers to software in 1997-98 and among the songs that he made for Daud, with Ramgopal Verma, this one kept crashing his software.

Sting’s Brand New Day album had a song called ‘A Thousand Years’ that used the same drum sample in the beginning. Sting guitarist Dominic Miller worked with Rahman on the Vande Mataram album.

What was the first authorized remix of a Rahman track?
Who remixed it?

(Authorized: appeared on the official album)

Answer
This was Yak Bondy’s remix of Chaiyya Chaiyya, called ‘Thaiyya Thaiyya’, that appeared on the Dil Se album, featuring lyrics by Tejpal Kaur. It’s still a fascinating version of the chart-buster, where Bondy uses key elements of ARR’s production to create a sparse, minimalist song where Sukhwinder’s voice holds sway. Incidentally, on the Telugu dub of Dil Se, the main song is called Thaiyya Thaiyya while the remix is called Chaiyya Chaiyya. Go figure.

During the opening credit sequence of Rangeela, we hear the sounds of a Bombay street as the cast and production names roll. What do you hear when Rahman’s name flashes on screen?

Answer
Muqabla Muqabla, lol. Don’t take my word for it, go check the opening credits.

Which AR Rahman OST saw its CD release on a German label known for manufacturing Varese Sarabande releases for non-US markets?

Answer

Easy: Which OST features Rahman and Himesh Reshammiya together?

Answer

So, Bappi Lahiri claimed that the Hindi song B was a rip-off of his song A. A however bears more than a passing similarity to a 1974 number C. Strangely, the definitive site on Indian Music copycats mention that a Tamil song by ARR, D was inspired by C.
Identify A, B, C, D.

Answer
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7JsIvYvsFA

By Rahman’s own admission (and a mention in one of his biographies), which album did he compose in the shortest period of time?
6 days, if I remember right.
And a damn fine album it is, too.

Answer
No citation again. Karuthamma, by Bharthiraja.

The name of which Rahman song translates to “The Chosen One”

Answer
So AR Rahman’s scores, in addition to rocking my adolescence with their music, have also led to an education in Islam-related factoids, especially with the man’s choice of song titles. Who would have thought that ‘Kun Faya Kun’ refers to the creation of all existence? Did anyone know that the word ‘Fanaa’ means ‘annihilation of the self’, before the song made an appearance in an ARR song?

So yeah, “the chosen one”? This song. Incidentally a track whose visuals can be interpreted as one of the greatest same-sex anthems ever made in Indian cinema.

“When we did (film) A, we had a song in the beginning and we used (song) B while shooting and editing. We went through HMV and asked for the rights to B and they quoted 1 crore rupees. We said “forget it”, composed a new piece C and it came out fine. Much later, they asked us permission to use (song) D. We quoted exactly the same figure.”
Who, talking about what?

Answer
Mani Ratnam is the “who”. As for the what….

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdS5qckKg3w

Ok everyone, in case you liked what you saw, please like, comment, and subscr…no. *Seppuku intensifies*

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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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AR Rahman, Life, Music

A most unexpected Rahman concert

The first, and only, AR Rahman concert I had been to was in Hyderabad, in 2003. It was the first time Rahman had ever toured, and expectations were high, the man himself had not sold out was at the top of his game, and I had all-access backstage passes. Since then, I’ve passed on every ARR concert that happened in the vicinity, partly because I could not really top the 2003 experience, and partly because there was not really anything new happening in any of the concerts – you could make out parts being badly lip-synched, there would be the mandatory Sivamani jam, garish background dancers, and a bunch of crowd-pleasing songs. Ho-hum.

But when Sasi told me about Rahman playing at the Hollywood Bowl in July, I was struck with that Rahmantic yearning again. And that’s how we landed up there this Sunday, with a bottle of wine, bags of popcorn, and a cumulative high after listening to ‘Jiya Se Jiya’ in the car. (the Hollywood Bowl allows you to bring your own food in, which was a pleasant surprise) As expected, the place was desi-ville, right from the parking lot to the crowded stands. (Which also meant there was a great deal of queue-bumping. Or queue-nonexistence.) A bhangra group, apparently a bunch of SoCal dancers called the Sher Foundation were performing at the entrance and inviting passers-by to join in, leading to much exhibition of left feet.

The concert began with a performance by Rhythms of Rajasthan, a folk singing troupe. Nobody really paid them much attention, people were still streaming in, it was not dark enough to see the screens, and there were no crunchy beats to make you get up and dance, yo. Karsh Kale was up next. He played an excellent 45-minute set, with some great singers joining him onstage, as well as a female violinist named Lili Haydn, who owned. Salim Merchant came onstage for a bit, jamming to his song ‘Shukran Allah’ from Kurbaan with Kale and his crew. Overall, a fantastic performance, and I was primed for the evening. But no ARR in sight, instead Sher Foundation and something called Bollywood Step Dance came onstage and did what every wannabe on every talent show on every TV channel does – dance to Bollywood songs. Omkara, Jab We Met, facepalm. Thankfully, this did not last too long.

The announcer came on stage, did his usual Rahman spiel. Mispronounced name, check. Slumdog Millionaire mention, check. Audience going wild, check. Random drunk Tamil dude screaming ‘thalaivar’ over and over again, check. Conductor Matt Dunkley walked in. The opening sequence to Enthiran played on the giant screen, and the crowd roared as Robonikanth sauntered into view. The music began to play, slowly building, and the choir launched into ‘Arima Arima’. But whoa, it was a version much different from the one on the soundtrack. I believe the precise moment I began to gape with disbelief was when ‘Arima’ became a rearranged ‘Puthiya Manithan’ Because this was good, guys. This was not stick-to-the-crowd-pleasers Rahman I was expecting. The  Spirit of Unity tour in 2003 had the bombastic ‘Oruvan Oruvan’ from Muthu opening every show. The overture to that song is a magnificent orchestral piece that was tweaked a little, so that the meaty beats and SPB’s robust vocals that lead to the song became a bubbly hymn of anticipation, driving fanboys like yours truly delirious with happiness. This version of Enthiran evoked something quite like that. But I expected the singers to emerge any minute, destroying those few minutes of sonic adventurism that we were witnessing. I was wrong.

Rahman came onstage, talked a bit about how happy he was to be there. Said something funny about this not being a ‘rockstar event’. A brief speech about Roja, and he walked away. The orchestra struck up again, with a delicate reinterpretation of ‘Kaadhal Rojave’, with ARR regular Naveen on the solo flute. It was at this point I realized this was going to be much, much more than a regular concert.

Chances were high that something like this would suck. You know why? Because orchestral reinterpretations fall into two categories – gimmicky or wannabe. An outfit like Apocalyptica, once the novelty of hearing METALLICA-ON-CELLO-WOO-HOO wears off, is just a bunch of celloists scraping on their instruments as hard as possible to make them sound like badass Les Pauls. Off the top of my head, the only orchestral version I loved whole-heartedly, without coming back to it some time later and going ‘wha-huh, I enjoyed that?’ was Jon Lord’s Concerto For Group And Orchestra.  And please don’t say S&M. No, it does not hold up. Matt Dunkley, who was the conductor and arranger for the concert, has apparently worked with ARR since

The choice of songs was superb. These were the underrated gems, the pieces that do not make it to your top 10 ARR lists. ‘Ayo Re Sakhi’ from Water, (which was nearly ruined by the female vocalist, a lady named Amrita. I will get to her in a minute) , pieces from Couples Retreat and 127 Hours.  ‘Mausam & Escape’ from Slumdog Millionaire was a frenzied piano/sitar duet, with sitarist Asad Khan joining Rahman on the keys, and a very unexpected choice for that soundtrack. The predictable inclusions – the theme from Warriors of Heaven and Earth and ‘Once Upon A Time in India’ from Lagaan, the Bombay theme. The most unpredictable one was a suite from The Rising, otherwise known as Mangal Pandey. I have to admit that the piece made me itch to go and revisit the OST, though I am not courageous enough to consider watching the film again. (Shudder!)

The one piece I could not recognize at all was ‘Changing Seasons’. Was it from Raavan? I have absolutely no clue, because my post-2009 ARRfu is weak. I do not remember seeing it anywhere before, even on promos.

The low points –

  • Almost no connection between the content of the video clips and the piece being conducted at the moment. Imagine watching an action sequence with a romantic theme playing in the background, and you will understand what I mean.
  • The multiple anti-British themes (and their corresponding videos) got a little tedious. Thankfully, no pieces from Bose: The Forgotten Hero.
  • The choice of Jai Ho’ as the closing song. While I get it, it’s the most recognized Rahman song in Hollywoodland, familiar enough for even the random drunk woman sitting next to me to wake up and cheer. But you have a Philharmonic orchestra and start off with programmed beats and a bunch of under-trained vocalists to substitute for Sukhwinder Singh’s power-packed vocals. Seriously?
  • The terrible, terrible female vocalist, who had no business sharing a stage with the Man, or anywhere near a microphone. She sounded nervous at first, a little out of breath, when singing the Water song, but one can only forgive so much. Her voice was grating enough to suck away all the joy out of ‘Jai Ho’. I missed you, Tanvi Shah. You may be the only Indian woman who can say ‘Salut, baila baila!’ without making me giggle.

And now to wait for an official CD release.

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AR Rahman, Music

Two songs

Two songs by two of my favourite Indian composers –  AR Rahman’s ‘Dilli 6’, from the movie of the same name was released in 2009 and Amit Trivedi’s ‘Dilli’, from No One Killed Jessica came out last month. I haven’t heard the first in about a year, due to a self-imposed hiatus. The other’s been on my playlist the past few days. Both songs are written and composed around the same city – Delhi. (d-uh!) Both of them feature a melange of vibrant sounds that one would not really associate with the idea of a song about the capital of India. Rahman goes in for a chill-out/club-music vibe (French lyrics! an analog synth groove!), while Trivedi layers his track with screaming distortion guitars that occasionally meander into Indian classical/prog-rock territory.

Female voices begin each song. Tanvi Shah’s velvet vocals, heavily processed, introduce us to ‘Dilli 6’. Her inflection of the words has a distinct accent, “yeh Dilli” comes out as ‘E Delhi’. The languorous vibe of the song is broken by Benny Dayal and Blaaze’s chanting, and from then on, the song gives us a series of pleasant musical surprises – syncopated rap in French, a very effective use of the beat and a scratchy fill that punctuates key phrases.

‘Dilli 6’ is about the city, or rather, an introduction to the city. Come hither, the city is great. ‘Bas ishq mohabbat pyaar.’ Right, the city is just perfect for the lover, for the artist, it embraces you tight and scolds you soundly. But obviously, if you are practical enough, you should make sure you have your seat-belts fastened, there is enough cash in your wallet and the air-conditioner is switched on.

‘Dilli’ is from the point of view of one who lives in Delhi. Sure, he loves the city, but it’s love-tinged-with-irony, the casual cruelty reserved for the lover without whom you cannot do with, but resent her presence and her effect on you all the same. ‘Mera kaat kalejaa Dilli, mui Dilli le gayi’  – ‘it has cut my liver out, Delhi has’ goes the main refrain. Trivedi’s musical aesthetic, as I have noted before, seeks to bring out a raw scruffiness that is usually missing from mainstream Indian cinema, and ‘Dilli’, head-banger of a song though it may be, is a perfect example of this. It aims for the gut. From the scraping, echoey intro guitar loop that warns you of yet another day in a city that sucks the blood out of you, the song, once it starts, is breathless – the female voice ( Aditi Singh Sharma, a Trivedi regular) rat-a-tats the word ‘Dilli’, the drums and the male voices – Toshi Raina and Shriram Iyer sing the bulk of the song in unison. All three singers get their Delhi vibe just right – no pan-Indian song, this one.

On a side, there is this new wave of Delhi-centric movies that get the city. I am not really sure I am qualified enough to say this myself – I have passed through Delhi every now and then, and all my interactions have been through the filter of close friends. Remember Sarfarosh and Dil Se, which were  set in the city? The only time you recognized Delhi as an entity was the morning shots in the fog at Connaught Place. Not so the post-Dibakar Bannerjee era, where the city becomes real – its inhabitants are the inhabitants of the capital, speaking the vernacular, not pretenders from Film City. Which reminds me – go watch Band Baaja Baarat. It has its flaws, but I had fun. End aside.

I could be wrong – but is the Dilli in the Rahman song addressed as a male (I know most of the lyrics just refer to it as a city, but the lines ‘badaa kaske gale lagaata hai’ personify it, I thought), while the one in Trivedi’s song is the bitch-from-hell lover?

Rahman’s song has an epic build-up moment. At a point, as the male voices chant the ‘yeh Delhi hai’ refrain, the bassline throbs, Rahman makes his way through ear-friendly chords,  heavily-processed French horns and timpanis pronounce euphoria and grandeur. No such moments in Trivedi’s composition – the only ear-friendly portion comes when all three voices come together in magnificent harmony.

I played ‘Dilli 6’ again just now, and I notice that this song, as well, has a subtly recurring guitar riff. Nice.

All that said, I am really impressed by the way Trivedi’s been carving his own path, refusing to stick to a single style – for all my talk of his rawness, the soundtrack of Aisha was the only IFM soundtrack that has been consistently on the iPod all year, and the polish of it gives me a quick kick to the rear my trying-to-find-patterns inner critic. Right now, I am fixated on ‘Shaam’, the under-rated song of the album, shot in the film in a style that fits its stoner roots. I have not heard Udaan properly yet, (and haven’t seen the film, either) apparently No One Killed Jessica has usurped its place on the Trivedi queue.

Read: Aadisht’s lovely examination and deconstruction of what makes the Dilli 6 song tick, where I am also mentioned.

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AR Rahman, Music

Rahman 2 Dot Oh

Indian music changed in 1992.

It’s fairly obvious that every musical milestone since that year has had one man’s shadow looming large over it. From the sheer de-genrification of film music; the price of audio cassettes – it was Rahman’s Rangeela that pushed the price point to Rs 30, and then Hindustani to 32, and so on; the prominent display of the music director’s credentials in the publicity stills for films; a new generation of fresh, unconventional voices; an infusion of musical trends that were several levels above copying the latest Billboard Top 20 hit; even the move from cassettes to audio CDs, A.R. Rahman and his music has influenced Indian Film Music like no one before him. A lot of people would disagree – hey, individual opinion and all that – but if your ears cannot detect the difference between pre-Rahman film music and what came after Roja, our discussion is pretty much moot.

Over the years, Rahman’s contemporaries have picked up and internalized the superficial aspects of his musicmanship – the use of technology to layer sounds and to smoothen the harsh edges of any voice or instrument, the melding of a Western ensemble with a traditional lead instrument, employing sequenced bass and drumlines. The older guys – Anu Malik, Nadeem-Shravan ( when they were still around), Jatin-Lalit –  they quickly came up to speed with the changing aural taste of the populace, employing the help of resident techmeisters – Tabun Sutradhar, Ranjit Barot et al- to polish their tunes and add that extra vim to their otherwise humdrum compositions. The new guard that followed – Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Vishal-Shekhar, Pritam, Harris Jeyaraj – took the template that Rahman had perfected over the decade, and applied it everywhere. What this has wrought is – sometimes, these people can out-Rahman Rahman, using just the right kind of orchestral flourishes with saccharine-sweet tunes, perfectly blending east and west into a musical muesli. Music that is gelatineous, easily-digestible; tunes that run through your brain, find its pleasure centers, hit the right neurological spots; songs that exist for the few weeks they run on the telly, and are then vaporized by the next aural offering on the air. They are, and then they aren’t.

So that brings me to the question that’s been bothering me for quite sometime – what’s next?

Rahman’s obsession with aural perfection continues, his newer soundtracks going boldly where no Indian composer has gone before. On a good day, ARR’s musical skill is unparalleled, his proficiency at his craft, the way he is attuned to an evolutionary sound that must meet a particular standard he has set for himself – all of these are beyond doubt or question. The man has proved himself over and over again all these years, and it would nearly be criminal to assume that his well of creativity is about to dry up anytime in the future. But this unrelenting obsession with crystal-clear sound – what does it lead to? What will a film song sound like in ten years?

In some ways, the fall-out of the Rahman Age of Music is the antiseptic nature of the musical package we hear around us. I hear the sheen of the voices, the precise cutoff of the violins, the perfectly looped beats, the synthetised warmth of the pads embellishing the music with pleasant chord progressions in the background. An example – listen to the title track of Rang De Basanti, where Daler Mahendi’s robust earthy voice is jostled playfully by Chitra’s tinkly pitch, punctuated with a multitude of Punjabi-sounding “aha”s. But listen again, a little carefully. The beat of the dhol is incessant, yet non-intrusive. The notes on the thumbi are flawless. The pads, when they come in, round off the song excellently.The song is bubbly, it makes you want to dance, but it’s manufactured in such a way that it evokes the spontaneity of a Max Martin number. Martin, for the uninitiated, is a Swedish music producer who provided the trademark sound for a number of Britney/Backstreet Boys/NSync albums in the early nineties.

One of the Ramones ( just went and checked, it was Tommy, the drummer) once made a comment in an interview about how, following the musical innovations of the 60s, the scene was inundated with a number of wannabe Jimi Hendrixes, none of whom could match up to the legend. What they ended up with was endless guitar solos – and punk rock came out as a reaction to that, the need to have pure, stripped-down version of rock n’ roll. This new music did not just distance itself from the Hendrix-Beatles-school of virtuoso guitar-and-word-play, it pissed all over it and created something completely new.

The more I think about it, the more I see Amit Trivedi, member of a little-known band called Om and a new entrant to the Indian film music scene as the next logical progression of Indian film music. He’s just two films old, but those two – and a couple of stray songs in private albums here and there – are enough for me to arrive at that conclusion. The first time I noticed Amit Trivedi’s music – without knowing it was by him – was when I heard a song sung by Indian Idol-winner Abhijit Sawant. Sawant had previously released a generic, yawn-inducing album as part of his Sony/BMG contract, and when the trancey Junoon’ began to play on TV, it was like hearing a different person altogether. There was a husky undertone to his voice, and a feel hard to describe in words – like the guy knew how good the composition was, and was giving it a personality that it deserved. The song made use of the distortion guitar as a new-agey, post-rock-flavored instrument; the 4/4 beat, played on a classic drum-kit, was almost classic rock n’ roll, and the intoxicating, rhythmic lyrics pushed it into squarely into the genre we call Sufi rock. I assumed that the composer was Mithoon, an up-and-coming composer specializing in importing Pakistani music into the Bhatt camp by the barrel, and almost concluded that it was another of those imports.

A friend went and watched Aamir, a film that ran for a long time in local theatres, getting good crowds and favorable press. To my surprise, she went to Music World during lunch the next day, and bought the soundtrack. “That good?”, I asked, and borrowed it off her after she ripped the music to her laptop. After forgetting all about it for a few weeks, I finally took the CD out of my bag and gave it a listen. And another. Brilliant, unconventional songs. Voices rawer than sushi in an authentic Japanese restaurant. ( I suck at analogies, thank you ) That’s when I was first astounded by Amit Trivedi and his musical choices. ‘Haara’ and ‘Chakkar Ghumyo’ are songs that Trivedi sang himself, in a voice that, I shit you not, oozes with unselfconscious chutzpah. Make of that what you will. I saw the film, my respect-o-meter went all the way up to eleven. The slightly irritating tics in the music – like a particular drum riff in the song ‘Haara’ that got on my nerves – actually made sense in the way they were introduced and used in the songs in the context of the visuals.  – ”Haara’ ended up giving me the goosebumps. Obviously, the low-budget trappings of Aamir ensured that both the film and its music were little-known gems of 2008.

Obviously, it’s the eighteen-track genre-mashup called Dev D that has brought Amit Trivedi to the forefront of the music scene, a universe removed from composers churning out disposable Soni-mahiya pap. Dev D has its own share of Punjabi numbers, but it’s a far cry from the pop bhangra that tries to pass off as the real thing in film music. Trivedi has Labh Janjua, a singer primarily known for the chartbusting Mundian Toh Bachke Rahe and a number of stray songs in Hindi films in 2007-08, sing a rollicking bhangra number (‘Hikknaal’ ) and a song (‘Mahi Mennu’) that has two versions – a primarily vocal track, and the other a raucuous beatfest that throbs with a primal energy of its own. Shilpa Rao’s dulcet vocals glide over ‘Dhol Yaara Dhol’ ( the song apparently got Trivedi his gig with Anurag Kashyap, who in turn introduced him to Rajkumar Gupta, the director of Aamir ), and a multitude of unknown voices – Aditi Singh Sharma, Toshi, Joi, Anusha Mani – proceed to shower your aural senses with a plethora of musical wonders. Trivedi and his voice take centre-stage in some of the most entertaining songs I’ve heard in a long time – ‘Duniya’, ‘Aankh Micholi’, ‘Saali Khushi’ and ‘Nayan Tarse’ are not songs that hit your pleasure-centers immediately. They sound and feel rough, woven out of homespun cloth; the very antithesis of your typical Rahman song that evokes satin and velvety down. The beginning of ‘Duniya’ in particular is a complete assault on your average film-music mind, where Trivedi mixes the sound of an accordian ( or is that the much-maligned harmonium?) with a caterwauling chorus. The drums kick in with the frenzy of a demented 12-year old, tripped up on crystal meth. Trivedi layers his voice over and over in his own songs,  adding interesting – often debauched – counterpoints to the lines he spits out. (Note for instance, how the second disembodied voice says “Zindagi” after every line in ‘Aankh Micholi’, almost as if it’s struggling to find the correct scale to latch on to, and manages to, but just barely) Bereft of slickness, artificial sweeteners, or familiar musical cues. Raw.

It’s not as if Trivedi’s music is completely rough and earthy, far from it. The two Dev-Chanda themes, one a whistling melody backed by delicate piano tinkles, the other a playful scat with the male and female vocalists complementing each other, as a mandolin trills in the background – are examples of how ethereal the soundtrack becomes at times. The first of these themes beautifully segues into ‘Dil Mein Jaagi’ by Anusha Mani, with shades of orchestral music and the opera. Much has already been said about the two versions of the song with possibly the catchiest title of the decade, and everybody and his uncle has seen and heard the surreally-shot ‘Pardesi’. The one track that hits the pleasure centers from the first second is Shruti Pathak’s ‘Paayaliya’, its vocal percussion gelling splendidly with the veena, the song a brilliant blend of east and west.

With two films down, both with directors who seem to know exactly what they want, it’s probably too early to make a sweeping statement about Amit Trivedi’s career. So far he’s been in his comfort zone, working in close collaboration with lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya, experimenting with fresh voices, doing his own thing. It’ll be interesting to see how his style  – if you can call it that, at this stage – evolves with his subsequent offerings. Will he sustain the manic energy in his sophomore album? A lot depends on the films he signs – I can see him carve a niche for himself with gonzo directors like Kashyap. A true test would be a Yashraj Productions film, a cinematic house that has reduced S-E-L, Vishal-Shekhar and Salim-Sulaiman to interchangeable drones.The Next Big Thing in Indian Film Music? Rahman 2.0? Only time will tell. He’s the only composer after AR Rahman who’s excited me so much ( Vishal Bharadwaj, technically, is not just a composer) and hopefully I’ll be following his career with interest in the years to come.

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