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Magix 'n' Curses
..the argument continues

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.