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Magix 'n' Curses
..the argument continues

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A little while longer



When the initial rushes of Maryan and Raanjhanaa landed on YouTube, I'd commented that good times were here again. I hadn't bargained for it to be this good though! 

I haven't really stopped smiling over the last couple of days. Maryan has been playing on an endless loop and I still can't get enough of it. Like most Rahman albums, every song has been playing musical chairs vying for my-favourite-song-of-the-album spot. And with every round of listening, there's a new winner.

Today, it looks like it's going to be Innum Konjam Neram all day. The song is an aural equivalent of a hug.

(Even as the hero leaves the shores, and his love, to work abroad,) A song about reluctant separation it may be. But it is not about the heaviness of the moment or the pain of separation. It is about a beautiful future together and making the most of whatever little time they have left before he embarks on his journey. (Of course, I may be completely wrong about the premise, but this is what the music sings out to me, and I'll cling to this till I watch the movie)

The unwillingness to leave is childishly innocent. Mariyaan and Panimalar have accepted that he needs to go. They both know the "innum konjam neram" is an indulgence. Like a child's plea for "5 more minutes" in his bed, kathi-rolled in his cozy blanket before he has to get up and go to school. And indulge, they do.

This playfulness is beautifully brought out by the ghatam. There is a sincerity about it (albeit with a complete lack of seriousness), as it punctuates the melancholic accordion strains. I don't think you could've picked a better pair of instruments to express the bittersweet pain.

The beauty of this song, though, lies in its simple, uncluttered melody. Vijay Prakash's versatile voice glides over a gamut of emotions, from a breathy appeal ("Yaen avasaram? Enna avasaram? Nillu ponne.") to a mock complaint ("Innum pesa kooda thodangala...") to a mini tantrum ("Ippo mala pola nee vantha kadal pola naanirupen").

That's when the magic begins for me. Shwetha Mohan makes an entry so reminiscent of Swarnalatha that it left me stunned for a for a few seconds. The way the tune begins to ebb, halt and flow ("... andha alaigala pola...") puts in my mind an image of someone (reluctant to leave) being playfully pushed along his way by another from the back.

I had a discussion with @rahmantic the other day about the most versatile contemporary female singer in tamil. The second charanam firmly tilts my vote towards Shwetha Mohan ("... thalai aati naan rasipen"). Just listen to her nail this song. With an inherently honey dipped voice that can change texture at will, her voice becomes husky one second, sad the next, and then goes on to ring with sharp clarity, each with equal aplomb. She even throws in a Rahman special semi-chuckle for good measure! ("Vanthu on kaiyila mattikuven, valaiyala pola").

As the song winds up on a positive note, and as Rahman sprinkles some magic dust to bless the couple (Ok, those are chimes. Faaaine!), your mind pleads to the song - "Innum konjam neram irundhaal thaan enna?".

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Monday, November 05, 2012

Rahman, Unplugged.



Even as Kadal's audio release (always around the corner, but just out of reach) made me feel like Tantalus, Ranjit Barot pulled several rabbits out of the hat. He managed to rope in the very elusive Rahman for an unplugged session, to cherry-pick 6 songs from an impossible-to-choose-from discography, to deconstruct and reinvent them in a fresh new package without losing the essence of Rahman's magic, to throw in a classic ghazal composed by someone else and insisted on making him sing most of the songs himself instead of hiding behind the comfort of the Grand Piano.

And what an episode it was!

Yeh Jo Des
MTV released the full song a couple of days in advance. I had listened to it on an endless loop leading up to the show. And still broke out into goosebumps when he sang "Chaahe toh kis disha mein jaaye wahi des", paused as Ann Marie C's violin gave an Anjali papa-based "come here" wail, and switched to "Indha desathin kural" with a mischievous gleam in his eyes. 

With soaring strings, a rousing chorus group from KMMC (led and conducted by an over-ebullient Arun Haridas), percussion that meant business, and Rahman at the mic tugging away at our heartstrings, a heartfelt call to the nation transformed into an anthem. 

Rehna Tu
If I'd been told that I was to expect a Rehna Tu stripped off its trance-like synth loops, the blissfully meandering middle part, THE continuum interlude and instead be reduced to a short 4 minute piece with only the core and new lines at the top, I would've baulked and refused to listen to it. Ok, maybe I'd have still listened, but I'd have thrown a tantrum at the very least! But I'm glad I didn't know what to expect. I absolutely loved what I heard.

Rahman had rather high praise for Harmeet on the piano who was his sole accompaniment as he started singing the new lines. Have no idea what the words were though.. Not really a lyrics guy.. Must check them out later :)

Everyone jumped in for the rest of the song. There was a point when Rahman stretched out a "Rehna tuuuuuuu" for about 12-13 seconds. They were 13 incredibly restless seconds for me! I expected him to stop at at least 3 points, but he just went on and on.. 4-5 rounds of listening later, I still get it wrong!

Phir Se Udd Chala
Rahman seemed incredibly happy to announce that Arun would be the lead vox in this piece and disappeared behind the piano in a hurry. The clash of cymbals after the first "phir se udd chala" set the tone for what was to follow. The already free-spirited song sprouted wilder wings and boy, did it soar! 

The guitarist who joined Keba seemed determined to find ten different uses for the guitar before the song was over. The KMMC choir and Chennai Strings section almost competed with each other to push the dramatic value of the frenetic song to its limit. Rahman's fingers on the piano, meanwhile, flew much ahead, almost taunting the rest of them to catch up. He seemed happy to stay away from the mic barring the occasional transitions. But you could sense that he was going to jump in at "Hey Daata" no matter what :)

Tu Bole
After paying her dues for 2 years in Rahman's crew, it's finally time for Neeti Mohan to shine. A big chunk of the song was essentially one long dialogue, between Neeti's spunk and ARR's smooth, between Harmeet's piano and Ann Marie's violin, between Bidyut on the double bass and the KMMC choir. The second stanza where Neeti went all Hail Mary while Rahman responded to each line with zen-like calmness was my favourite moment in the song. And is probably better experienced watching the video than just listening. You could see Rahman fighting dreadful shyness to bring out that "player" voice, and had an embarrassed smile plastered on his face!

Nenjukulle
Every once in a while, there comes along a song that envelopes you in a sense of bliss and promises you that everything will be alright. The comforting accordion set the mood, and wrapped the entire song in a bubble of nostalgic warmth. And words fail me when I try to describe Shakthishree Gopalan's voice, so I'll settle for an emoticon instead. Shakthi, ‹o--‹

As I'd mentioned earlier, I'm not really a lyrics guy. But this song had me scouring the internet and pleading with my friends for the lyrics. Such raw, earthy words coming from a posh city-bred voice with just the right hint of a folksy twang, sheer magic. 

I'd transformed into a quivering mass of jelly till the point Shakthi sang "rubber valavikkellam saththamida vaaiyillaiye". And melted into a blubbering puddle when she threw in a casual "ho" at the end. 

I'm only hearing her for the second time. Yet it feels like she's been doing this for years. Could this be her "deivam thandha poove"?

Aaj Jaane Ki Zidd Na Karo
When Rahman promises to sing another's composition, a ghazal is the last thing you'd expect him to sing! And when he picks up a classic that has seen countless covers, your curiosity is sufficiently piqued. 

This will not be the best cover you will hear. But this will be the most sincere.

Rahman looked like a schoolboy in his first day of paatu class. He struggled a bit, sang without embellishments, concentrated only on hitting the right notes... but the vulnerability with which he did this hooks you and the undiluted sincerity reels you in. 

Dil Se
To me, watching Rahman play the piano is like getting special darshan at a temple. His fingers move magically across the keyboard, hitting the perfect notes and he doesn't even break a sweat. Had to check a couple of times if the label on the piano read "Steinway" and not "Ouija".

When he sings Dil Se in concerts, the passion is unbridled. But here he started out in a very restrained, composed manner. And just as I was beginning to wonder what was going on, he went completely bonkers on the piano! The song transformed from what was becoming a sombre love ballad into a playful concoction of rhythm and swing. You knew he was pleased with the way he nailed that insane interlude by the fact that he couldn't stop smiling as he sang "Do Patte". Cherish the moment, for such displays of satisfaction from Rahman are incredibly rare :)

Thank you, Ranjit Barot. It was one helluva show.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sigh.


Much as I'd expected this day to come, I wasn't quite prepared for it. I thought I was - it was perfectly logical and clear, and made so much sense. In fact, it seemed fitting.

I had tried to rationalise it in my own head - The guy is 39. And it's obviously his decision.

I tried to rationalise it with my emotional friend who felt he deserved to go out on a high - "But it doesn't matter", I'd argued. " I think he's done enough in his career to retire on his own terms". And though my friend had expressly stated that he didn't care about logic at that moment and that it just pained him to see him leave on a low, I plodded on nevertheless - " I don't think he needs to leave on a high (especially if it is going to come at the cost of bullying other teams at home). If he scores 3 centuries in 3 tests, helps India win 3-0 and leaves, would it make a difference to how you remember him? Good players deserve to leave on a high to prolong their stay in public memory. Doesn't matter as much for great players."

And as if to ensure I wasn't an unemotional piece of rock, I'd added, "if anything, his retirement is fitting. With two years of no away tests, this is the best time to ring in the next gen. Even while retiring, he's putting India first da".

And then, he officially announced it. That was when things started getting difficult. Rationality took a graceful dive out of the window. I went through the scores of tributes that poured in. It was probably not the best idea to read them in office. I realised how choked up I was only when I answered the phone with a croak instead of a hello.

By late evening, I was pointedly trying to think about anything but his retirement. I read ridiculous things I'd written years ago in the name of poetry, watched old Crazy Mohan plays and Lollu Sabha episodes, tweeted dialogues, made plans for the weekend. I didn't want it to really sink in. And I most definitely didn't want to write anything to say goodbye. Not a blog post, not a facebook status, not even a tweet.

But early this morning, I had the most vivid dream. I watched as the two openers walked in on day one; as Viru hit a streaky four in the first over; as Gambhir laced a more assured boundary in the second over and promptly edged to second slip next ball. For what seemed like eternity, no one walked out to bat.

And I woke up in cold sweat.

That's when I felt I'd to write something. If not as a tribute to the legend, at least as a favour to myself.

Thanks for all the memories, Rahul. For being instrumental in changing Indian cricket to an extent where us fans actually feel pain when we lose abroad. For rescuing India time and again, and showing us the value of never giving up. For being the most selfless cricketer ever - the only thing I haven't seen you do on the cricket field is stand in for the umpire. For showing us that nice guys can succeed too.

As I watched India play cricket all these years, amidst all my screams of "Shot!", "Two two TWO!", "Beauty!", there was one particular thing I'd yell that seemed to be reserved almost exclusively for you. And I say it for the last time.

"Well left".


Thursday, February 09, 2012

Hard to interpret what the stars foretell


The following is a note my uncle sent me after coming back home from the hospital. I was amazed by how he could see the lighter side of things even in a place as grim and scary as an ICU. Just had to share it! :)


I woke up confused on a strange bed with some girls standing around me. They were all whispering to one another and peering down my face. A little farther, my family was standing with anxious faces. I tried to get up but various cables tied me down. I could not remember how I got there and looked at my son. He implored me to be quiet and relax. Slowly I realised I was in the ICU of some hospital: and with my cardiac and umpteen health problems, I guessed I must have passed out at home before finally landing here. My son told me it was Monday morning now and I gave everyone anxious moments on the previous evening. It seems I suddenly collapsed on my way to the bath room and remained unconscious and stone cold. They had managed to shift me to the hospital in an ambulance in quickest possible time, which according to my doctor has given me a fresh lease of life. As my mind cleared, I suddenly remembered the previous morning and could not help smiling. People around me must have thought that the fall had done something to my head for me to smile in such a situation! Let me explain why I smiled.

On Sunday morning, the previous day, I was up unusually early and began aimlessly surfing the channels on the TV. I paused for a few minutes on a south channel in which an astrologer was rattling away the fortunes and misfortunes for the following week. His predictions for my ‘Rasi’ ’(zodiac sign) was that I will get to travel in a new type of vehicle, would be pampered by women and have bright chances to be in front or behind the camera. Since I am almost eighty, I thought all these were coming a bit too late to be excited. The first two predictions seem to have come almost true. Though a ride in an ambulance and attention by nurses in ICU were the last things to make one happy, I was curious to know how the third prediction will turn out.

Without notice, the cables and tubes binding me were pulled out. I was unceremoniously bundled on to a stretcher and then wheeled to a destination which I could not guess!. My smile vanished and I meekly enquired where we were heading. A bored reply”for tests” came from the accompanying trainee nurse. Then started a journey up and down the elevators, through various crowded corridors, gloomy passages and stopped in front of MRI room. A tired looking man pushed me into the machine and ordered me to remain still. It was claustrophobic with loud banging and ear- splitting noise inside the machine. Having worked on the shop floor of factories during my working days, I felt the generator and machine noise there was music when compared to this. It seemed like eternity before I was pulled out and set on my tour again. The next halt was for EGG about which I had the least idea. My head was connected with countless leads but because of my thick growth of hair kept slipping. The technician scornfully remarked that at this old age I did not deserve luscious hair on my crown. A fear suddenly seized me. Is this an electric shock treatment that we often see on the movies to torture the hero! To my relief the ordeal was over and we set off. I shyly told the nurse that I needed to visit a bathroom. She ignored my plea and pushed the trolley stretcher into Ultra sound scan room.

“Expose your abdomen”, the lady ordered. I shrunk! What was she planning to do? I have seen the hero spinning a top around the navel of the heroine in a movie. With a threatening bladder I was in no mood for romance. She passed a sensor over my belly and admonished “how can I scan your prostate with only 50 ml urine in your bladder?” I protested saying, whether it was 50ml or 500 ml, I was in agony and wanted to relieve myself. But she ignored my protests and shifted the scanning to my neck saying she was performing a colour Doppler to assess the blood vessels leading to the brain and meanwhile expected the bladder should fill up. I wanted to sing “why this koleveridi”. When she came back to my abdomen, she resigned herself to scan a partially filled bladder and both were glad to get rid of each other. I would have strangled the TV astrologer if he had appeared before me. Was he referring to all these scans as a chance before Camera?

Back on my stretcher, I told the accompanying nurse that enough was enough and asked her to take me back to the ICU. My niece, who meanwhile came there, teased me, “Don’t be in a hurry. We have not yet finished the Gynaecology Dept.” I could not laugh at her humour and darted an angry look. There was a traffic jam in the corridor with dozens of wheel chairs and stretchers that would make one feel that MG road was a freeway in comparison. I was almost in tears and tried to get out of the stretcher and walk. The nurse was alarmed and shouted “what are you trying? I will lose my job.” At last, back in the ICU and off-loading my burden, I dozed off. I was rudely awakened by a shriek. All were looking at the monitor behind me. When I asked them what the matter was, they recoiled with fright saying ‘The monitor is showing a straight line and you are talking. One of the nurses made bold to touch me and broke into laughter. They had not connected the leads to the Monitor after my long sojourn down the corridors.

Soon the doctor came and declared, “There were Ischemic changes in bilateral frontoparietal white matter in brain, Fibrocalcific plaques in right carotid bulb causing 50% stenosis, severe LV dysfunction etc etc. I asked, “Doctor nothing serious is it not? Can I go home?” He appeared shocked! I did not wait for his answer and jumping out of the bed, asked my niece to get my clothes.


On our way back home, I saw a huge hoarding showing a big palm. It said “accurate palm reading and predictions. Meet astrologer so and so to know your future”. I told my son, “ Stop the car. I want to hurl a stone at that hoarding.”


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The perils of being an Indian cricket fan (or something to that effect)


It's days like these that make me appreciate the inherent brilliance of limited overs cricket. You can get mauled all day, but at least the carnage is over at the end of day's play.


For the second day in a row, I slept past midnight and woke up at five. Makes me wonder if it's worth all the trouble and if I should just switch that alarm off before I go to bed. But I'm sure I'll find myself waking up in the middle of the night, switching that alarm back on with a look of shame on my face.


Even as the Aussies went about their business this morning, from 5 AM to 7 AM, my face fell in slow motion. I was looking so grumpy by the time the umpires called lunch that my mom didn't even ask me her usual morning question - "iniku gym pogalaya?"


I dragged myself to the gym with a long face. Considering how round I've become, it was probably a slightly oval face. By the time I hit the elliptical trainer, play (read: torture) resumed. That's when I had the worst brainwave ever. I decided, in a rather twisted way, to hedge my happiness. For every easy double they ran, for every boundary they hit, I was going to push myself harder. I figured if we get tonked around, I might as well lose weight in the process.


35 excruciating minutes (of watching India bowl and going full tilt on the bloody elliptical) later, I realised I'd only doubled my self-inflicted punishment. Yes, yes, I need help, I know. In the middle of all this, Punter had reached that elusive three-figure mark. Given that I hate his guts, was that triple punishment?


In case you didn't know already, my hatred for Ricky Ponting is so extreme, even I find it a tad unfair. His talent, I've grudgingly acknowledged. But him, I loathe with every fibre of my being. His perpetually surly face, his overt aggression, his constant spitting, his annoying smirk as he takes position at silly point without a helmet, the fact that he decimated a nation's morale on that fateful night in March 2003, his arrogant gesture to Sharad Pawar to hand over the Champions Trophy, his general in-your-face attitude.. none of this has helped his cause either.


I was enjoying the pressure India was putting on him post lunch. His 97 to 99 took a while, and there he remained for a little while longer. As he knocked one down to mid-on in search of a quick single, our man Sachin went screaming across the turf to deny him that single. It was almost a "yaam petra inbam..." moment. I chuckled nervously. To my dismay, I realised that a small part of me actually wanted him to take that single.


When he did get that run, complete with a desperate full-length dive, I found myself applauding. When he took an extra second or so to get up, you could almost sense the wave of numb relief wash over him. Clarke was finding the situation hilarious, Ian Gould was laughing along, Ishant had his hands on his head with a "What have I done?" expression - but all eyes were on Punter as he looked down at his soiled shirt, removed his helmet and raised his bat. There was childlike glee in his eyes as he wore an an almost embarrassed smile on his face. That expression made him look almost... human.


Hate it when that happens.


As my friend pointed out, when they shed their arrogance, you realise they have the potential to be likeable. He'd experienced the same when he read McGrath's book.


Right. That's one book off my to-read list.


Monday, October 03, 2011

Tum Ko - Rockstar


The first time I listened to the album, I remember allowing a thought to flit through my mind - that Tum Ko was probably the only weak link in an otherwise near flawless album. Rahman, as he has done innumerable times before, proved just how wrong I was. If there is one thing I'm thankful for, it's my habit of looping the entire album instead of looping specific songs. The sudden "aha" moments that you encounter from the least expected places are what I live for. Such instances are what makes listening to Rahman such a joy. From "weak link", Tum Ko has risen rather swiftly in my estimation. I wouldn't be too surprised if it ends up becoming my favourite track of the album within a week.


RGV (in a rather brilliant piece on Rahman) had once observed that Rahman's orchestration seems to rise from the depth of the singer's voice. I could see what he was talking about in Tum Ko. The soft strings in the background, as Kavita Subramaniam croons the first few lines in a breathy voice, give way to the absolutely divine sarangi. For a very brief moment her voice branches out from the sarangi as she continues to hum along. Sheer magic.


There's something about the sarangi that allows it to bypass normal channels (of being processed by the brain) and finds its way straight to your heart. (insert predictable pun on marketing it to the West as heartstrings)


And those tablas. How does Rahman make them sound so unique? Remember the brilliantly placed tabla bits in Kilimanjaro? I'd developed a sort of aversion to tablas as I got increasingly frustrated with the tedious dinkchak beats in hindi music through the 90s. But under his helm, they seem to have their own quirks, their own character almost. The flourishes in Tum Ko have a mind of their own as they stop and start without warning. If that interlude hadn't knocked you breathless yet, Rahman throws in (or simulates) a panflute for good measure. Out for the count. I could play this song on an unending loop just for this interlude.


Her tremendous vocal depth carries the song along to the end. The way each line is completed without allowing it to taper away, the way the full depth of her voice kicks in as it hangs in the air for a fraction of a second longer than you expect it to... makes me wish I'd learnt music just to be able to appreciate it better. And to know what to say :)