Saturday, January 24, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire OST

Danny Boyle, in an interview to the Mint, responding to a question about which part of Slumdog Millionaire he liked the most:
“The music. The composer A.R. Rahman is a superstar. He did the music, and he is phenomenal. You tend to get very bored with a film when you see so much of it, so the music keeps it going...”

Like almost everything AR Rahman has done in his career, the music of Slumdog Millionaire is brilliant, and like almost everything he has done post-Saathiya, it is uneven. The first disappointment if you are buying the T-series version of the soundtrack available in India, is the absence of Sri Lankan-born rapper M.I.A’s fantastic ‘Paper Planes’. What we are left with then is a mixed bag - two sure-fire winners, a varied bunch of instrumental pieces, some hip-hop, some throwback, one dud.

The sequencing leaves a lot to be desired. The opener, ‘Ringa Ringa’, is not a strong track – for some inexplicable reason, Rahman recasts ‘Choli ke peeche’ with the same vocal combination of Alka Yagnik and a strangely deflated Ila Arun. But he follows this up with a beauty. ‘Jai ho’ is quintessential Rahman – a throbbing, surging piece of music, overflowing with percussion and guitars and soaring vocals. Its a mad mix - Rahman obviously has flamenco on his mind, but he also wants to slip in a little Kishore Kumar ‘70s style progression. But what about those pounding drums? And orchestration? And chanting in Spanish? In the end, he does what he’s been doing since he the start of his career - he leaves it all in, and caps the whole thing with an ending so serene, you can picture the sunset.

O...Saya’, Rahman's collaboration with M.I.A, sounds distinctly different than ‘Jai Ho’, but are both uptempo and throbbing, and deserve to have been separated in the track listing. This track takes you on a what sounds like a very dangerous ride, immediately distinct from the joyous release and make-believe of ‘Jai ho’. If the earlier track sounded like Bollywood, this one just sounds like Mumbai. Anyone who has sat in the city’s local trains will recognise the chugging rhythm that picks up and drives the pace. Rahman sing the haunting refrain again and again, and M.I.A checks in with a rap in which she describes a city going from ‘pretty to gritty’.

The next five tracks are the ‘score’ section of the soundtrack, something which Rahman enjoys and approaches from his own distinct perspective. ‘Riots’ is ominous, though nowhere near ‘Raat ki dalal’ from Deepa Mehta’s Earth, the single scariest sound I have heard on screen. ‘Mausam and escape’ is intriguing – built around acoustic guitars and a sitar, it goes half techno, half orchestral mid-way, and finally resolves itself on a moody, unsettling note. ‘Liquid dance’ will fascinate those who are not familiar with Rahman’s ouvre; the rest will recognise the scatting and Rangeela-era synth as familiar. ‘Latika’s theme’ is hummed, simple but moving, ‘Millionaire’ has a strong ‘70s Bollywood influence, something one seldom hears in Rahman’s music. Anyone else doing the song and it would be called contrived, but Rahman is so far ahead of the rest that one assumes he sees it as just another element to throw into the mix rather than a crutch to fall back on.

The album ends weakly. ‘Gangsta Blues’ could have been an interesting experiment in jazzy hip-hop, but it never gets past lukewarm and is much too laid-back to leave any lasting impression. And ‘Dreams on fire’ is a misfire; the music is gauzy American Idol fodder and the gauche English lyrics end up mired in cliché. But the memories of ‘Jai Ho’ and ‘O...Saya’ are strong (strong enough to have earned Rahman not one, but two Oscar nominations for Best Song, in addition to another for Best Score). That it is Rahman who finally gets a chance to go there and perform (and hopefully win) is wonderfully just. Though he is hardly a typical Bollywood composer, he has come to be represent its finest musical flights and its highest aspirations. He has also come to symbolise, more than anyone else in our post-independence history, the sound that is India. The sound of temple bells and muezzin calls and church hymns and kirtans. The sound of a billion feet shuffling. The sound of sitars and tablas and mridangams, electric guitars and synthesizers. Sixteen years after Roja, the high points of this soundtrack shows us how clearly AR Rahman still hears and is able to transmit to tape, the sound of a nation on the move.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Pachelbel Pachelbel, I'll see your ass in hell..."

An extremely funny take-off on an unlikely subject - Pachelbel's 'Canon in D Major'. Hear the original piece first (if you haven't already) - it'll help you understand the premise of the joke better. Also, and more importantly, played by the right people, with the right amount of feeling, it's the last word in ethereal.

Addendum: A sublime response

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Verb sap

My reasons for not writing anything for a while stem from a complex combination of laziness, introspection, disgust with my life and what I’m letting it turn into, and a laptop whose screen won’t stay up straight. I would therefore hesitate to call it a writer’s block. But what if it were…wouldn’t that be poignant? Like that 150 year-old tree falling in the uninhabited depths of the Amazonian rainforest, with no around to mourn it. A very private sorrow, the kind only Amazonian trees know of.

Someone asked me once how I could bear writing anything personal on a public forum. I assumed that she assumed that I was a confessional blogger, and in horror, I tried to tell her that I wasn’t like them - I don't write, for instance, about my fears and my cats and my toenails. I write about stuff I am interested in, I explained, which rarely involves writing about myself (the unspoken implication being that I didn’t care enough about attracting new readers to change what I wrote about). But like Jules would say, that shit ain’t the truth. Or it's only a small portion of the truth. The truth, or the larger, more significant part of it, is that only 1.7% of the world's bloggers write for themselves. The rest are writing for one very singular reason – they want other people to read it. The may sell out, they may adopt a personality, they may not consider these distinctions worth making at all – but they all want readers. So in reality there are only two kinds of bloggers – the ones with readers, and the ones without. Dividing the latter into deserving and undeserving is pointless; natural selection will take care of them.

If all this is a bit too arcane
put it down to free market gain
Great Expectations to digest
and verbum sapienti satis est

Sunday, January 11, 2009

And here's to you, AR Rahman...

Sixteen years back, this seemed an inevtability. But the world took some time to catch up. Thank god for that. We needed him here.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ghajini: I see these things so you won't have to

Titles like these are useful. Saves me the bother of telling you that Ghajini is a fruitcake. But just how fruitcake is it?

I’m hoping you’ve all seen Memento. Smart, funny and violent, it propelled Christopher Nolan into the big-time and made non-linear narratives cool again. Gripping and unusual enough to have worked as a straight-ahead thriller, it was instead sliced up and presented in reverse order. The break-neck pace kept pushing you to keep up, and the ending, one of the most delicious in movie history, made you realise that you would have to repeat all that running again.

Ghajini adopts this basic structure but refuses all the risks. What one gets instead is an overheated hybrid of Hindi and Tamil commercial cinema clichés. The film starts out as a dark thriller, with a genuinely scary Aamir Khan seemingly on steroids and very angry (he’s been hit on the head with a rod, someone called Kalpana has been killed, someone called Ghajini may be involved). He’s also incapable of remembering anything beyond fifteen minutes, and it was wasn't long before I found myself praying for a similar affliction. Anything to shield me from the eternally irritating Jiah Khan, and the almost equally bugging Asin (whose screen time, to be fair, is dominated by cringe-worthy comedy sequences). Also hamming it up are a cartoon villain, his henchmen and a cop who runs really fast.

The narrative lurches between revenge saga, psychological thriller, Rajnikant action flick and Rajendra Kumar romantic comedy. This, of course, is not something new in this country, and is not the reason why this film is so bad. The best masala flicks are so much fun that you don’t feel like asking questions of them. They are delivered with a wink and a sense of joy, and that is the crucial ingredient which this film misses. To dumb for art school, to dark for commercial potboiler, and too clichéd for its own good, Ghajini ends up like its lead character, staggering around in the dark.

P.S. The movie is a HIT!!!!HIT!!! So don’t take my word for it.