AR Rahman, Music

On PK Mishra, The Forgotten Hero of Dubbed Lyrics

This post has been in my drafts for ages. I was trying to get citations on certain facts, but that would have required months of burrowing through old issues of Filmfare and Stardust magazines and time, which I don’t really have. It’s sad and strange that the Internet does not remember PK Mishra anymore, even though his songs ruled the airwaves back in the day. If you have any more PK Mishra facts, including what his real name was, anything at all, hit me up. He needs a Wikipedia page at least. I want us to not forget.

You are a poet from Rajasthan, and you have been trying to break into the film industry for a while. Out of the blue, you get a call. You have been employed to write the lyrics for songs in a new movie. The director is well-known in his field, and the composer is new to the game, no baggage, zero ego. You feel a thrill as you go in to your first session. Song-writing for Indian films is all about creating words and music based on a situation, a feeling, a bend in the road, an ode to the vagaries of life, and you are eager and curious to see what’s in store for you.

But what is this? You are told that the songs have already been written, in a different language, and you actually have to translate it into Hindi. Harsh, but what to do? You know the original language, so it’s not all that bad. It’s all about coming up with rhymes and verses in your mother tongue. You can roll with that, you say, and get to it.

Except there is a hitch. You cannot just translate as is, you see. The actors in the film have already shot the visuals in a different language, and you have to ensure that their lips sync with the new words as well. “What do you mean?”, you ask. “They are singing in a different language.” “Er, no, ” you are told. “They have to seem like they are singing in Hindi.” Well, fine, it’s a constraint. But you are an artist and you understand constraints, so you go about and do your job. You have to pay attention to the visuals, so that you understand at what points of the song you see lips moving, and others where you can get away with playing fast and loose. “Asha” and “Aasai” sound about the same, so that’s easy.

Another hitch. You see, the composer and director both insist that certain words have to stay the same. They match the mood perfectly, and even though they do not have any meaning per se, those words need to be around. “MTV generation, sir. Youth, sir,” you are told. “They need to latch on to something catchy, otherwise how can they remember the song?” You don’t really understand, because you saw the movie and there’s no one named ‘Rukkumani’ in it, and you try to bring up the fact that the North Indian version of the name should probably be ‘Rukmini’, but no one cares. So you shrug and you do your best.

Yet another request. There is this song , a full-blooded, goose-bump inducing song about how great….Tamil Nadu is. But the rest of India wouldn’t care, so you need to talk about the country instead. The good thing is, there is no lip-synced video, so you can go wild, and you do.


So Roja comes out, and the songs, your words accompanying them, go stratospheric. Never mind the fact that they got your name wrong on the cassette cover. Your name is not PK Mishra, they called you Mishra-ji when you came in every day, and they forgot to ask you what your first name was. When they couldn’t find you, some wit decided to put PK in there, since you came in to work a little tipsy, every now and then. Ha ha, really funny. But none of it matters, because they love the music, and those songs you wrote, they are playing on the radio, and even on Chitrahaar.

People are talking about AR Rahman, the new wonder kid from Madras, and every now and then, somebody even talks about you. But mostly, they laugh at how saucy that Rukmani song is, even though you thought it was tame by what your peers were putting forward in Hindi cinema at the time. The kid ends up winning a bunch of awards, as does the lyricist for the original songs. Nobody pays much attention to your work. After all, what you did was nothing original, anybody can translate words from one language to another, right?

But yet, it turns out that you make this a steady career. You fit a niche. There is opportunity to be seen for every producer that wants the pan-Indian market, and you are the go-to guy when it comes to transliteralipsyncizing songs into Hindi. You accede to every demand, and you do your best to play by the rules. You take it easy, as a matter of policy. Other lyricists would have run screaming for the hills if asked to write a rap song that talks about localities in Chennai, one that makes use of local references, puns, and tongue-twisters, but you gamely take on the challenge, transposing it to a different audience. For some songs, you put in the exact English words they want in the verses. Well, except for that time you thought nobody up North cared about Elizabeth Taylor so you put Madonna in there instead, but hey, it went well. You don’t bat an eyelid when they ask you to take on songs that swim in alliteration and onomatopoeia; if it’s possible in Tamil, you will find a way, any way, to get a Hindi version. You become flexible with meaning sometimes, when a song about the Goddess Kali becomes one about being the Prince of Delhi. Despite your lyrics being burdened with the broken accents of singers unaccustomed to Hindi.

The strange thing is, when given creative freedom with your translations, you go above and beyond. I look at your translated version of songs that were remade with different actors (oh yes, that was a thing too, later in the nineties) and they are so different from the ones where you need to adhere to specific imagery from the original Tamil version. You also made the best of the leeway from tracks that do not involve lip-syncing. Also interesting are the translation choices you make, like taking a song that’s about the daughters of various people in a village (can’t even) and make it one with actual women’s names. A song about a flower blooming to the touch becomes one about falling in love, but just a little. (What does that even mean, we wondered, to have thoda thoda pyaar, as opposed to dher saara pyaar? But that was you playing around with the Tamil words “thodath thoda” and picking the word transposition of least resistance. The meaningless word “Kulivalile“, shoehorned into the visuals of a film just because the composer and lyricist couldn’t think of a better word, to you that word became “Phoolwaali ne“. I don’t know whether to laugh or just be in awe of your creativity every time I hear the Hindi version.

But tell me, Mishra-ji, was there ever this feeling in the recesses of your mind, that all your work, the kind of ideas and effort you put into unraveling the cultural Gordian knot of North and South, all of it was temporary? That by transferring near-verbatim the flavor of one end of the country, you relinquished some of the ownership that comes with pure art. I am into comics, and there is this recurring joke in that field about inkers. The punchline is that inkers are not real artists, that they just trace the penciller’s work. I see that similar argument made about your contributions to Indian cinema, and pardon my language, that is such bullshit.

Maybe you realized that there will come a time when there is more money to be made in remaking films outright, using a different creative team. Perhaps you suspected that, had you continued work in purely dubbed films, you would become a relic, and those colleagues and patrons that offering you a steady assembly-line of work will switch off the lights and walk away anytime the money dried up. There were songs you were clearly phoning in, employing the bare-minimum effort to string coherent lines together.

By 1997, the writing was on the wall. Others had taken your place in the corridors of Panchathan Record Inn. You branched out among other music composers of the South. Your oeuvre included names like MM Kreem and Deva and Illayaraja, you bringing their tunes to a different market, just as you brought Rahman’s. It was interesting to see you branch off into doing original Hindi and non-Hindi films. Your work with director Mani Shankar, in particular, stemming from your collaborations with Karthik Raja. You did not burn up the charts or the box office with those, but they remain worthy snapshots of your career.

My personal favorite of your non-Rahman career however is this all-but-forgotten album called Meri Jaan Hindustaan, released in 1997, the same year ARR’s Vande Mataram appeared, with lyrics by your spiritual successor Mehboob. Pop patriotism was at a fever pitch, that fiftieth year of our independence, and one cannot fault you for climbing aboard that money train. But what a product, sir ji. Your song for Lucky Ali, ‘Anjaani Rahon Mein’, remains the most famous of them all, still accessible on YouTube. But there are others I find worthy of both mention and memory. This Chitra and MM Kreem duet called ‘Kho Jaane Do’, which had Deepti Bhatnagar and Rani Jeyaraj in the video. Karthik Raja’s ‘Sehra Baandh Ke Nikle’, a strange, almost atonal ditty punctuated with a rap section that you wrote. I have never managed to find out if you wrote the Baba Sehgal number “Howzzatt”, or the Illayaraja track with Kamal Haasan vocals ‘Apna Josh Hai’. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were so.

It is 2020, Mishraji, twenty eight years since you first brought a nation together with your words. I was a twelve year old boy in Assam when I saw your name on that cassette cover, and for the next couple of years, seeing your name on a byline made me wince and celebrate all at once. Because I did not know what to expect, and believe me, that is not a bad thing. Your words are seared in my brain, and come back to me in the strangest of moments, like when I am outside and there’s a bus across the street, I half-expect a man in red socks to come flying out the window and begin thrusting his pelvis gloriously at the world. The words accompanying the song in my head are like confused bursts of radio static, and go from Tamil to Telugu to Hindi, and of course, your words are the ones I really understand, even though it’s the other languages I mouth along. I envied the lucky folks who had access to Tamil releases, but your work helped relieve some of that FOMO. A phrase that did not even exist back then, but the feeling did, believe me.

The words you strung together felt so random sometimes, and yet when I listened closer to the Tamil versions, and pore over online translations, I realized you were not the one rhyming “sensation” with “temptation”, nor were you the one with the fishing net metaphors. You were however wholly responsible for the evocative phrase “baadal tirikit tirikit bole“.

Despite being good at your professional career and a symbol of change, you are barely a footnote to that decade of musical upheaval. Your words have now become samples of memetic derision among those that sigh over the poetry of Hindi film music. AR Rahman has always maintained a studied distance from your existence, and would rather not consider the pre-Rangeela years of his dubbed catalog as canon. Your namesake turns up when I look for you online, a gentleman associated with the current political party. There are one or two articles about your death in 2008, with the vaguest of allusions to your life other than what we already know. There is not even a picture of you available anywhere. No interviews, even though I scrounge through a multitude of YouTube channels that trade in vintage film videos. What I have figured out is that you came from Sujangarh, Rajasthan, and that you lived in Chennai for the major part of your life, and that you knew Tamil well. Or you must have. I wonder how and why you made it to the Madras film industry, of all places. There is not even a Wikipedia page for you, sir, and I have thought very hard about how I can create one. But alas, without citations and online paraphernalia, it is impossible to categorize you as a “person of note”.

And it’s sad, Mishraji, that your work does not get the sort of appreciation that it should. Without you, there wouldn’t be this cross-pollination of North and South that defined Indian film music of the nineties. At least, it wouldn’t have happened this early. You had created a path for others that followed, people with more clout who could insist on a little more respect for lyrics and their translation, getting producers to pay up for re-shoots so that the constraints on their words were loosened. You did not have that luxury, but you delivered without complaint or drama, with professional courtesy, not letting your ego get in the way of a director’s vision or a composer’s idiosyncrasy.

What remain with me are memories of conversations I have seen on random channels at random times of my life. How you proudly spoke about changing the main lyrics of Dalapathi to something more palatable in Hindi, than the exact translation that you were asked for (“Aye ladki, chutki bajaa” just didn’t have that zing, you said. ) How you felt forever cheated because they got your first name wrong on the cassette of Roja and you were stuck with it for the rest of your career – and life. And I can see you chuckling over not using “the ship of friendship” in your translation, because it just wouldn’t work in the song.

You have popped up the most random of places when I went hunting for you – is that really your voice on the Akshay Kumar version of Jhoole Jhoole Lal, from that smelly turd that is Jai Kishen? IMDB seems to think so. Your name also comes up as composer for Sapna Avasthi’s album Pardesiya.

The one question I would have liked to ask you, though, is this. Were you doing this because no one else would, or did you really enjoy it all? I would like to believe it was the latter. I would like to think that there is no way you could come up with a phrase that goes “flexible like a noodle” without chuckling to yourself, and weren’t indulging in your drink of choice when rhyming “Glaxo baby” with “BP”. Your lyrics, sir, remain among the most fun experiences of my adolescence and a pleasure (and sometimes, a pain) to revisit. Is there anyone else who will match your chutzpah when it comes to visual poetry? There is no muqabla, subhanallah.


An Incomplete PK Mishra Discography

RojaTamilRojaAR Rahman
Dharam YodhaMalayalamYodhaAR Rahman
Muthu MaharajaTamilMuthuAR Rahman
Tu Hi Mera DilTamilDuetAR Rahman
VishwavidhaataTamilPudhiya MugamAR Rahman
Humse Hai MuqablaTamilKaadhalanAR Rahman
Chor ChorTamilThiruda ThirudaAR Rahman
PriyankaTamilIndiraAR Rahman
Love BirdsTamilLove BirdsAR Rahman
HindustaniTamilIndianAR Rahman
Duniya Dilwalon KiTamilKaadhal DesamAR Rahman
Mr RomeoTamilMr RomeoAR Rahman
Aaj Ka RomeoTamilIndhuDeva
DalpatiTamilDalapathyIllayaraja
Sazaa-e-KaalapaniMalayalamKaalapaniIllayaraja
GrahanHindiOriginal movieKarthik Raja
ChhaliaTamilRaasaiyyaIllayaraja
Meri Jaan HindustaanHindiOriginal AlbumMM Kreem/various
PardesiyaHindi Original AlbumPK Mishra
Naya JigarTeluguSnehamante IderaMM Kreem
Govinda GovindaTeluguGovinda Govinda
Mitr My FriendB Illayaraja
The Smart HuntTamilVettaiyadu VillayaduHarris Jayaraj
Coffee Aur KreemHindiOriginal AlbumMM Kreem
16 DecemberKarthik Raja
MukhbiirKarthik Raja
Vellu NayakanTamilNayaganIllayaraja

Notes:

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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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1v0IuJlDab0

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, Kavita Paudwal

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.

(this is based on the assumption that ‘Missing’ is not a remix of ‘Revival’ from Vande Mataram, but a different version altogether.

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
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onFDJgYy9BQ

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fhgpf2ikOWY

“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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