A. R. Rahman’s marvel of light and sound – but where’s the music? (part 3)

The concert was incredibly sophisticated and more entertainment than pure music. It reminded me of a Cirque-du-Soleil type show. A combination of lights, on screen projection of images, slick choreography and accompanying singers who knew the dance moves and had been clearly been chosen for screen presence over voice quality (with perhaps Hariharan as an exception) made the show a visual spectacle.

These ladies could not match Shreya Ghoshal and her singing of the original, but no one can deny that they ARE lookers and performers, and blended a stage choreographed persona with live singing very well!

An extension of the stage brought these performers very close to the viewers so audience participation was amazing. One song that did this more than any other was the Rang De Basanti theme song:

There were acrobats and contortionists on stage, people dangling from the soaring ceiling of the Arena and climbing and descending from ropes attached to the ceiling!

The “selling” of the product was nowhere more evident that in this version of Urvashi Urvashi where Rahman crooned the opening lines and left the stage to a motley crew who rapped in dreads and dark glasses with girls in short skirts and stars and stripes hot pants!

There was one magical musical interlude when everyone gathered, and lead by Hariharan, sang a medley of (mostly) Rahman compositions. I recall Kandukondain Kandukondain, Rehan Tu, Ishq Ishq, and Sasural Genda Phool in this. But even Genda Phool was a watered down version without Rekha’s rustic voice uplifting this birha.

The biggest disappointment was Chaiyya Chaiyya – anchored by Shaan, and not a patch on the original, this one was hugely disappointing. I was at the Rahman concert two years ago when Sukhvinder rocked the arena for almost 8 minutes with a fusion of Thaiyya Thaiyya and Chaiyya Chaiyya. There was not a person sitting by the end of it, we were all on out feet! This version felt forced and “produced” and stripped of magic.

I want to mention three standout moments. One was with a huge projection of Lata Mangeshkar on screen singing Lukka Chippi, and then Rahman joining in. I am not a huge fan of the recent Lata as the voice has gone shrill beyond belief, but one could not help be bowled over by her towering “presence” among us:

The second of course was the concert closer Jai Ho number, pulse pounding with energy and very contemporary and apt for such a show:

But the final bit of praise and awe I reserve for this number. Within the first 10 seconds of the clip one can see the almost rockstar like persona that Rahman has assumed, and the fans are clearly LOVING it!

Will such concerts crossover and make Rahman a rockstar for western audiences? I saw very few non-desis in the audience. Instead I saw desis of all ages, from the North and the South, lapping up the stardom and celebrity of Rahman. I feel it is a long road, first Mr. Rahman will have to do many more Jai Ho’s, and become visible, and then, maybe, they will come. But why this focus on wooing the West? The desis will come and fill up the arena even if it is a simple musical evening! And the music will not be sacrificed to the show. The only thing I wanted was some good singing, but with no Sonu or Udit or Shreya or Sunidhi or Sukhvinder or Chinmayee, I found precious little of that. The piano number with accompaniment by the violinist Chritine Wu, the singing of the obligatory Michael Jackson number (here it was Black or White), the acrobats and the always moving props and stage pieces, made for an interesting show, but I want to go back to two years ago, to the less sophisticated, but infinitely more pleasing “MUSIC” filled concert.


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