Posts Tagged ‘AR Rahman’

When westerners think Indian art, they immediately look towards AR Rahman, our poster boy with kooky hair, Amitabh Bachchan, the has-been who now sells B-grade toiletries on local TV channels and Aishwarya Rai, our toned down, family-friendly version of Paris Hilton. During the Sixties, according to the West, the Indian art scene comprised Ravi Shankar, men of yoga who got a free pass to Woodstock, half-assed spiritual gurus and any bearded dude who knew how to play the sitar. Forty years later, the misconception continues, only now we are subject to a remixed version of their ignorance.

See folks, we do more than make frighteningly dumb music for NRI discotheques to wax nostalgic over and magically transport our heroes and heroines to Switzerland for elaborate dance sequences. I mean, we still do that a lot but our homegrown artists have many a times been spectacularly original too. Our fixation with American pop culture and Broadway’s song-and-dance routines, as fucked up as it is, is reserved only for the glossiest of the mainstream; and with our media only throwing the spotlight on whatever/whoever is easily marketable, that’s all the rest of the world gets to see and brand as ambassadors of their mediums.

Just so you know, AR Rahman is not our finest musical talent; he can only  touch himself (or the Pussycat Dolls) to that notion while the maestro Ilaiyaraaja keeps creating some of the finest Indian music you could ever possibly hear. Silly primadonnas with Khans as second names are not amongst our most gifted actors; they are stylized puppets who cry on soap commercials, take off their shirts when there is a crowd of more than ten, play 25 year-olds in movies, dance with 22 year-olds in music videos and feed off the puppy love of 12 year-olds in real life – all at the ripe old age of fourty.

People like Raghuvaran, Sarita, Tabu, Cochin Haneefa, Boman Irani, Pratap Pothan, Nanditha Das, Atul Kulkarni, Nagesh, and Naseeruddin Shah are just some of the few who can act circles around the goddam Khans and Rais. And how movie critics like Roger Ebert and Peter Bradshaw are so convinced of their dedication to worldwide cinema when they have never watched a K Balachander or Balu Mahendra film is some sort of a sad mystery to me. I’m sure they have watched Sathyajit Ray’s entire collection but their relevance is outdated considering the wealth of cinema that came thereafter (Is Kurosawa the only Japanese director they speak of? No!).

The worst of all however is reserved for our musical inclinations…the grand misconception that either bhangra or Ustad Amjad’s meditative fiddling represents the average Indian’s sentiment towards what constitutes to good music.

Look, we are at ease with the fact that the West is enamoured by our Third World culture and if it helps us out with getting financial aid, screw it, continue thinking that there are little kids here in cities that need saving from Bengal tigers, King Cobras and erratic castrations. I certainly can’t deny that only a handful of countries are as socially backward in thought as India; however, for fuck’s sake and the sake of every Indian artist who didn’t look towards the West to find his/her muse, do not, for one second, think that our art is as insipid as your opinion of it.

Dappan Koothu is one of those largely ignored forms of South Indian art. Dappan Koothu is a percussion-based form of rural music that has its roots in South Indian folklore. While the more populist Carnatic music genre caters to classicist pop in the sense that it is based on precise rhythmic patterns, Dappan Koothu is more of freestyle jazz; mostly based around the wildfire rhythms of the tharai thappattai (a local drum). So intensely against the rules of a conventional melody, it puts both the musician and the audience in a trance-like state, with its mesmerizing mix of random beats.

In fact, a section of South Indians hires tharai thappattai drummers to play at their funerals; intoxicated, they wreak havoc on their percussion instruments and dance in front of the funeral procession to both signify the joyousness in the life once lived and to provide a memorable passage for the dead to move on.

I’d hoped that MIA’s fantastic Kala and Arular albums would be Dappan Koothu’s climb to prominence, considering that she uses many elements of it in tracks such Bird Flu, Sunshowers, Bucky Done Gun, Fire Fire and a few other gems. Despite collaborating with AR Rahman for that movie’s soundtrack, she is one of the few non-Indians who actually understands Indian art for what it is – diverse. Her track Bamboo Banga even has a brilliant sampling of a classic by India’s greatest musician – Ilaiyaraaja (the wonderful Kattu Kuyilu Manasukkulle track from Thalapathi).


Ilaiyaraaja – Punnagi Mannan Theme

Ilaiyaraaja – Johnny Theme

Ilaiyaraaja – Paartha Vizhi (Guna)


MIA – Bamboo Banga

Ilaiyaraaja –  Kattu Kuyilu

Dappan Koothu freestylin 1

Dappan Koothu freestylin 2

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633516328495781250I read Vikas Swarup’s Q&A sometime in 2006 and found it to be wildly refreshing. A rare phenomenon considering that the author was an Indian. Say what you will, but I am of the opinion that most Indian writers are unoriginal; the ones who make a living out of it only seem to possess the acumen for marketing and creating sales-pitches. The ones who win awards for mediocrity and then gloat about it on news channels need to be punched in the face. Case in point, Kiran Desai, Arvind Adiga, Jhumpa Lahiri and any other author who has waxed nostalgic about sitting under blue mango trees during those idyllic summer vacations at granny’s house.

I bought Q&A from one of those roadside vendors in Mumbai. I’d like to say that I bought this out of that accidental artistic instinct that drives admirers towards objects of obscure beauty, but I’d be lying. My sister agreed to pay for the Shantaram novel and I guess I decided to play hardball.

I devoured Q&A in one sitting; something I had not done since Pierre’s Vernon God Little, Kesey’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Thuber’s Carnival. I was impressed by Vikas Swarup’s ability to put out a page-turner without resorting to cheap “I bet you won’t believe what happens in the next page” tactics. That’s the sort of thing that separates adrenaline mongers like Sydney Sheldon and Dan Brown from decent “pulp fiction” writers such as Frederick Forsyth and Iain Banks. The climax, despite being cheesy, ultimately left me with a sweet taste in my mouth. All was right with the world, I felt. A feeling that eluded me towards the end of Slumdog Millionaire.


On the bright side, Slumdog Millionaire gave a lot of credibility to the age-old presumption that the “book” is always better than the “film”. While I think it’s a bit harsh to indiscriminately believe that, I do find myself agreeing with that notion more feverishly than ever before. Swarup’s words elevated the basic premise of Q & A and cleverly bypassed it through a bunch of whimsical philosophies to keep the content fresh, relevant and airy enough to make you yearn for more. In Slumdog Millionaire, the dialogues seemed tactless and forcibly dramatic. Danny Boyle’s cinematic street credo (something he used with great effect in Trainspotting) was innocent bystander as he seemingly let his fascination for poverty take control of his portrayal of the Mumbai slums.

With the exception of Freida Pinto as Latika and Irfan Khan as the police inspector, the rest of the cast seemed overtly conscious that they were being directed by that dude who made Trainspotting. Ms Pinto was good since she downplayed her emotions and along with the very talented Irfan gave the film a much needed sense of nonchalance. Another aspect to commend was definitely the music. MIA is fantastic, of course and when inspired AR Rahman crafts out lovely, lovely tunes. Unfortunately, as a friend observed, the song at the climax sounded very inappropriate. And before I forgot…Mr AR Rahman, as a fan of some of your previous works and this one too, I certainly don’t consider it an honour that you now have the ignominy of being clubbed alongside previous Golden Globe winners such as Celine Dione (fucking twice), Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, Samuel Wright, and Berlin. No, no…you are better than that.

filmnotes1205_500Dev Patel was a disappointment…at no point did I feel that he deserved sympathy or redemption. The vacant, almost fatalistic expression that seemed his face in almost every tragic scene in Slumdog Millionaire was so remarkably different to the essence of Q & A’s protagonist – a young lad who is not clever enough to be indifferent but merely intuitive enough to consider it. I know I know…how in the hell do you ask an actor to express such emotions? Well, I am too sure but I can safely say that hiring a chocolate-faced actor without so much as a blemish on his face wouldn’t be the right way to approach it. Oh and is it just me or does Dev Patel look like a cross between that retarded kid in Nayagan and that emotional anarchist in Kanda Naal Mudhaal? Also, Anil Kapoor? Really? The wry, quick-witted and gloriously evil quizmaster character in the novel is now the product of a totally unsafe orgy featuring the likes of Simon Cowell, Regis Phlbin and a few of those “Better English For Effective Communication” tutors who mask their horrid south Indian accent with an even worse American accent.

The brutality that the slum kids suffer seemed like a sycophantic social strand that was forcibly transmitted into the script just to prove that the white people bleed when brown people get hurt or perhaps to reiterate one of the most annoying statements mankind has ever come stumbled upon…“Think of the CHILDREN!”

Well, I guess I did tear into the film a bit, but unlike many times before, I don’t see myself softening to it a few days later. Yes…Slumdog Millionaire is a perfectly acceptable melodrama that does not put you to sleep. Yes…it never intimidates the audience with inherent stupidity. Yes…the music was pretty good too. But is it worthy of a Golden Globe award for best motion picture?

sgehrp68290507013829photo00photo… hmmmm mark that one as a “Yes” too. Oh and just so you know about Golden Globes’ remarkably piss-poor standards…Barbra Streisand, Michael Douglas, Warren Beatty and Robin Williams were given the lifetime achievement awards for their contribution to motion pictures. So please go ahead and give it the Academy award for Best Motion Picture too and let it rot alongside the overrated likes of Titanic and Braveheart.

Slumdog Millionaire…more of a French poodle than an underdog.

Oh, and read Q&A.

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Aiiyerathal konjam peyru

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of Tamil music. God save the Queen, her fucking dog and the people who think Tamil music entirely sucks. For such westernized brats, several whacks on their heads with bamboo sticks should be mandatory.

The ingenuity of A R Rahman, the mad brilliance of Yuvan Shankar Raja and the irritating infectiousness of Harris Jayraj are enough for Kollywood to prove its worth.

Indian music directors do steal from their western counterparts, blatantly too. Well, creativity is not cultivated in India, it is borrowed; lets learn to deal with that. Whatever floats above the rest of the puerile crap is fine by me.

People like Illayaraja, his exceptionally talented spawn and a few others comfort the musically-inclined with truly memorable gifts such as “Raam”, “Punagai Manan”, “Kaaka Kaaka” and “Kannathil Muthamital”.

I have sought freedom, solace and fiery anger all in music. Even music that seeps out of Tamil Nadu’s tinsel town.

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