Magix 'n' Curses
..the argument continues

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 :)

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Phir Se Udd Chala - Rockstar

So beautifully layered is Phir Se Udd Chala, that listening to it is a bit like watching a video of someone peeling an onion in rewind mode. (Sans the disturbing image of tears going back into your tearglands, of course)

The soul of the song is in the Kashmiri chant. Innocent, sweet, unhurried. Rahman takes his own time to get the song on its way. First the guitar riff wraps around it closely followed by Mohit Chauhan's breezy vocals to kick off a process of adding layer upon layer. And with each new layer, a sense of urgency creeps in and Mohit's singing starts gathering momentum - almost like a plane taxiing on a runway before takeoff. A female voice tells you where the exits are ("Teri ore") - ok, sorry, couldn't resist!

Aaaaaannnndddd... take off!

Once off the ground, the percussion takes over from Mohit to provide the perception of acceleration, while he eases the throttle preparing for cruise mode with his Tu tu du's. And just as you decide to push your seat back, pull the in-flight magazine and think about calling the stewardess for a bag of peanuts, the Kashmiri girls return to inform you that your flight has reached its destination.

Whaaaa... Heyy.. No fair!

The Dichotomy of Fame - Rockstar

Indigo waves splash across canvas from the guitar strums. Purple blobs of passion pulsate from the shehnai. Light blue wisps of the guitar (reminescent of the Piano bits of Himalaya) waft ever so softly, encircling them both. The shehnai assumes a chirpier tone as bold pink strokes swish across.

The soaring shehnai fights to render the horizon with a soft glow even as the guitar deepens the blue almost to a black. A chime sweeps across, dotting the darkening canvas with little sparkles.

What you are left with, as you look on with a contented smile, is The Dichotomy of Fame.

Or a twilight sky.

Aur Ho - Rockstar

As Suresh had put so beautifully in his review of Rockstar, Rahman's melodies are so shockingly radical in their structure, that your brain tries to find a hook, a groove, a pattern from the previous line, anything to cling on to. Something to provide stability to your musical orientation as you blindly bump into unexpected instruments, sudden silences or the last note you'd expect at that point.

Your brain frantically searches for something familiar to regain equilibrium. And that is probably why the first listening of a Rahman soundtrack is usually an exercise in trying to find out if you've heard that tune in any of his songs before. Once you recognise a similarity, your mind is instantly at ease. You venture into discovering the song with renewed courage. Five listenings or so later, you forget you'd even established a similarity with a previous song. And that it is actually quite different from the previous song.

"Discovery of a Rahman song" should be scientifically studied some day :) But let me not digress any further.

What I'd mentioned above is exactly what I went through with Aur Ho too. The 30 second promo had my ears prickling. After about 5-6 seconds of apprehension, my brain attempted to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Could it be "Mudhalum mudhalum nee mudivum mudivum nee" from Thaiyya thaiyya? No wait.. Bhanjar hai sab bhanjar hai from Mera Yaar Milade Saiyyan (Saathiya)", it said, "Yes yes, that's what it sounds like". And almost instantly my mind felt lighter. 30 second teasers are the best gifts you could give a Rahmaniac, it's almost like net practice!

The full version is an absolute treat. As Alma Ferovic's hum/chant twists and glides its way in, the stage is set for Mohit Chauhan to exhibit his versatality yet again. There's a quality in his voice that lends itself beautifully to express pain. In Khoon Chala (RDB) it felt like a helpless lament. In Aur Ho, it fluctuates between a numb acceptance of pain and a determined cry to break away from it.

The trance-like quality of the Aur Ho chant sends a shiver down your spine. Well, at least it did to mine! The line "Meri bebasi... ka bayaan hai" assumes an anthemic nature as Alma's humming steps up a notch in fervour. Sufi Rock, it may be, but that doesn't stop Rahman from making a flute weave in and out to accentuate the emotion.

You wouldn't want to listen to this as a single in isolation. The haunting soundscape and the brooding menace in the vocals fill you with disquiet. But the pensive silence that would follow could be even more unnerving.

Sheher Mein - Rockstar

I think it'd be unfair to the music if I tried to review the album in one go. It would be equally unfair to the readers (yes, all 3 of you!) to read 14 pages of superlatives. So whenever a song evokes any kind of imagery in my head, I'm going to try putting it up here. Individually. First up - Sheher Mein.

I don't consider myself a hindi pundit. Heck, not even a Prathmik/Madhyama case. At best, a shade better than Ek Gaon Mein Ek Kissan. And even I found it easy to grasp the context of Sheher Mein from Rockstar. In the midst of epics of massive proportions, this is a shiny little gem that, I hope, won't go unnoticed.

A typical, cliched bollywood song recording in progress. Full dinkchak only. Person 1 teaches the lead how the song goes. Cue surprise #1 : Karthik! Raised on a staple of Rahman masterpieces, he must have been tickled pink to be forced to sing in such a stereotypical manner. Rahman had once famously asked Karthik to "sing like a Saxaphone" to evoke the mood. I'm pretty sure ARR played him a video clipping of Udit Narayan's recording and gave him the following brief:

"Smile wide. Oscillate your body along an arc turning 18 degrees left, then 18 degrees right. Keep your hand in a 'kya baat hai' pose. Dhinkchak start. Right, you're all set to sing the following lines!"

And Karthik does exactly that as Rahman pulls off a little Jatin Lalit - Udit Narayan number from the 90s. Cue surprise #2: Mohit Chauhan, in the voice of the lead, refuses to conform and goes off on a tangent. The music director in the movie (I assume) very politely tells him that the tune "is a wee bit off".

Tararara *doof*
Tararara *taaak*
Tararara *doof*
Phir se sun lena

Rahman then decides to turn up the cliche meter to full tilt (bring on the tablas!). And what better way to do that than invoking the spirit of Abhijeet. Listen to "Chitti daali thi aaoonga main tere ghar" with your eyes closed, you'll understand what I'm talking about!

Haaye haaye haaye lyrics to dhoom machadega UP Bihar mein!

This song is a case study of Rahman's genius. With Karthik, he gives you the typical bollywood number (4 lines one tune, next 4 lines same tune), and with Mohit, he opens up your mind to possibilities beyond the banal. Let loose with a license to go wild, Rahman makes Mohit sing each line with at least 4 variations. At one point, the lead loses himself in the music, and just as he realises what he's doing - Cue: The Mohit Chauhan special chuckle! (remember Masakkali?)

The music director in the movie tries one last time to yank it back to his comfort zone. The director (again, I assume) is pleased as punch.

Wah wah wah wah reeee.. kya ringtone banega!

Naah, forget it. We're in for a Rahman special for the remainder. It's almost as if he takes the hook lines of his songs as his life's philosophy (Break the rules/Lose control/I wanna be free)

Whattey beauty, ARR! Thank you, Imtiaz Ali!

Hello.. hello.. ello.. lo...

Straight out of a movie, this feels like.. like entering a dilapidated old house that was once full of life.
Spooky :)