Monday, April 26, 2010

A R Rahman and 'It-Grows-On-You' Theory

[The inspiration/aspiration/perspiration for this post comes from a review of ARR's latest offering Raavan by 'Saurabh' an occasional columnist in the forum--]

Back in '90's,Bacchu had a small shop in Free School Street, Calcutta, India. Free School Street is a road in central Calcutta, running through the heart of Park Street(The unofficial downtown) and in those days was famous for easy access to pirated music and home-grown marijuana and hookers.

Bombay.jpg image by shikhagp
It was the pirated music that Bacchu used to sell. Long before the arrival of DVDS and CDs, acts like 'Iron Maiden', 'Black Sabbath', 'Joe Satriani' featured in Bacchu's 4 by 6 shop in tapes covered in cheap imitation of the original cover art. Those were the music I grew up with. I grew up with one of my closest friend Arani Basu in many a perspiring afternoons vandalizing through Bacchu's collection for some of the rare gems. I still remember getting an LP of Pink Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother'(original 1973 version) or a copy of Deep Purple's club days.
One strange thing about those music was it supposedly got me hooked on the 'very first' listening.Half of the lyrics obscured by the British/Texan/Midwestern accent, half of the songs often having a quality as good as a dead prostitute's ass--- still it was an 'obligatory' liking as listening to rock music was a ticket to be 'different' and 'intellectual'. And being surrounded by like minded teenagers who could inform yout the length of the nail of Ozzy's right index finger to the brand of Crystal Meth that Jim Morrision used to smoke---you don't want to be an outsider.
I was still a little bit of spoilsport as I also had a liking for a certain Hindi 'muzic' director named A R Rahman. I forced some of my 'Rocker' friends to listen to tracks of 'Bombay', 'Thiruda Thiruda' or 'Tu Hi Mera Dil' ('Duet' in tamil, if I am not wrong). Although they did not find any worth in replacing their shrines built for 'multi-talented' gentlemen like Ronnie James Dio or Axl Rose with one for the chubby,black, deglam-ed boy from Chennai,most of them agreed that this guy is trying something which was never tried before in 'muzic' for mass.
And then I grew up. I got a job, I got a cubicle, I got a family, I got EMI, I got a potbelly, I got dark patches under my eyes, I got dead body of my dream of forming a band where Dave Mustain meets-Rehman meets-Roger Waters lying by my office PC. Was it then when a new 'Rahman' album started to sound no longer 'extraa--ordinary' but 'yeah-it's-good-but-something's-missing'. Was it then when that boy whose ancient Phillips tape could recite each interlude and prelude ranging from 'Choti Si Ashaa' to 'Chale Chalo' died?
Is it Rahman who chose to be a lesser mortal with sweet scent of money tingling in his brain cell or was it I, drifting apart in the hopeless ocean of adult life, whose ears and hearts got filled up with sediments of 'office-going' life?
With all those doubts in my heart, I turn on to youtube and pick up some of his mostly forgotten tracks. I play a track called 'Jo Manga Tha' from a movie whose name even I forgot (a Priyadarshan movie starring Anil Kapur,Jackie Shroff and Pooja Bhatt), a track from a movie called Viswabidhata or from a movie called Priyanka/Indira. My little room, my little room hot from an angry sun suddenly starts feeling tranquil and peaceful.
So, this is what I feel: If you ever met A R Rahman now, not the boy from Chennai but the Oscar-winning,cropped hair,king of orchestration---just ask him,"Rahman, how much of GOD was there in your music when you created Bombay Theme,Anjali Anjali or even 'Kaal Nahin Tha Woh Kya Hain' and how much of HIM is left now?"
In the answer lies the simple fact that the music that Rahman made back then had this divinity, this magic, this very visible effort of a craftsman trying to contain his genius though his blood and sweat. The oscar-winner for whom another movie soundtrack is 'just another movie soundtrack' is much more conformed, much more polished and much less experimental now. And so, did the God of music left him to put the mantle in the hand of someone else? Time will tell. For now let's listen to 'Raavan' hoping like all those tomorrow-never-dies Rahman fans that the next Bombay, the next Duet even the next Dil Se is just around the corner hidden beneath the heaps of heavily technology dependent orchestration and pray that the man who gave us "Khili Chandni", "Tu hi Re" or "Ai Ajnabi" will again give us that one simple un-technofied, pure, simple thing. Melody.

Friday, April 16, 2010

'UP' and Scenes from a marriage

UP started as another weekend adventure in 3D. So far my experience included Terminator 3D in Universal Studio,FL(Quite irritating) and "Monsters vs Aliens"(sorta OK) and apart from an interest in Steve Jobs' fading role, PIXAR never attracted me. I was, thanks to all those Disney time in Indian Sunday morning TV, a die hard devotee bowing his head down to the shore of Lake Buena Vista.
UP was going to change that forever. And not for the movie which undoubtedly continued PIXAR's motto of 'simplexity' by fighting the formula of Disney's beautiful but downtrodden people doing heroic things with a misfit(WALL-E) or a bunch of misfits(TOY STORY) doing something equally heroic. The magic, the myth, the inexplicable joy of movie-watching came in a four minute long montage showing Carl and Ellie's journey through married life.Together.
The montage did not contain one single line of speech. In a tune set to violins, to organs, to all the unknown instruments and to that painful chord called fleeting happiness---the track called 'Married Life' left a theater that looked like a giant bowl of popcorn soaked. And no the popcorns did not get wet from snot, saliva, sweat or from any other bodily fluid. It was a story of Carl and Ellie told through music, it was a story of a dream that tied them together , a dream of finding 'Paradise Falls' and it was a story of how life, that inscrutable scoundrel, crept in. Carl and Ellie, much like Frank and April Wheeler, never really left for South America and through all those years got old, got broken hearted, got used to living another uneventful American dream. But the dream,like the memory of a dead deer cub in the highway,kept coming back. I know that my inner skeptic will scream that such a love and dream and hope,very unlike of Wheeler's fate, is nothing but 'cliche'. But where Richard Yates/Same Mendes took an entire novel/movie to show gradual decay of a dream, it really feels nice to put my buck in that four minute long 'half happily ever after' celebration. Hope is, after all, as smelly as your good morning's first fart but never the less comforting. Ain't no denying on that.
Here's that four minute. Popcorn, at your own risk.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Songs and Sunetro: Richard Yates---Ballad of A Very Thin Man

Songs and Sunetro: Richard Yates---Ballad of A Very Thin Man

Richard Yates---Ballad of A Very Thin Man

I had this illusion that I can write. A little bit of style taken from Garcia Marquez and Jorghes, a little bit of word-play taken from good old Dylan, a little bit of philosophy misinterpreted from Kafka and Camus...I had rather a growing pride of a 'one-night's-jackpot-hitter-in-Vegas' telling me to write more and 'the greatness is around the corner'.

Tonight all those futile vanity, all those feeling of being God in my own world of words sit naked in front of me. I completed reading the single book of Richard Yates that I started reading back in 2009 after watching the movie adaptation by Sam Mendes and long long time after reading a book(The last one I remember was 'The Outsider' by Camus, read and finished in an overcrowded train coming from Burdwan) I have a feeling that ol' EC would sing out as ,"Drowning in a river of tears".

Hang on one second. This one is supposed to be a blog about music. Then from where the hell Richard Yates, the writer's writer of American words who was pushed into oblivion gradually even during his lifetime until his recent comeback in NYT's Bestseller list(Thanks to Mr. Di Caprio and Ms. Winslate's Titanic 2 pose in the cover) through the paperback version of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, drops in?

Well,my constant reader (If there is anyone like that out there...thanks Dr. Livingstone), in my defense I would like to say only one thing : while reading REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, so many tunes rang through my head, so many sad and erratic and folksy scores from REM, from Dylan even from Rabindranath that if I had the talent(sic) of Rob Marshall or Buz Luhrmann or even of Gurinder Chadda(Remember Jane Austen's Santa Singh adaptation) , I could make a musical out of it. The musical would be a precious piece of extreme boredom. The novel is far from it.

And like I used to say a long time ago : You can put anybody's life in the context of Floyd's The Wall; The same remains true for the story. Written from a '50's perspective, of Frank and April Wheeler , who are alone with everyone and always believing that "this is what salvation must be after a while"(F_ing Bob, Leave my brain once),of slow erosion of an imperfect American family torn between "staying and returning to south", REVOLUTIONARY ROAD,unlike its protagonists, can fit in to the scenarios of the young generation of this brave new world. Take a look over the cubicle, the bored IT worker who once loved Automata and Dus Capital at the same breath, who once fell in love with the girl who could listen to his ideas of writing software for deprived and downtrodden while resisting his hand's rather capitalistic approach and widening her eyes in an ignorant sweetness, and you got your Frank Wheeler of 2010. Look inside one of those matchbox shaped home, sold for enormous price with even more enormous titles like "Sernity, Vedic Village,Infinity etc" and in one of those sleepy afternoon you will find that girl, now gradually the sorrow of a life deprived of a magic called love putting the inevitable shadow of age layer after layer on her, doing chores while listening to a half-forgotten tune of Suman Chatterjee ; and you have your April Wheeler.

In this all engulfing new age where I also belong with you--- in your next bus, in sharing your cubicle, in a brawl to overtake your mini-sedan--I don't know what will happen to all those Frank and April Wheelers , already a very endangered species, of our time. Will this race to have a new apartment, a car, a status, a comfortably conformed way of living make them what Yates did predict in his book? Like a shell, like a hollow of a man...a complete antithesis to individualism. We don't have another Richard Yates to chronicle that. So all I have is (Yeah, you guessed it right...another Dylan, for a man so ignorant in English poetry my only true calling...always):

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Of Sampooran Singh and Other Demons

Four years. Four long years. That's what I've waited to write a small piece celebrating the decay and degradation of India's most famous and most quoted Hindi song lyricist, Sampooran Singh 'Gulzar'.There were ample evidence for having this cruel glee. After all the man who gave us poems like "Raahon Pe Rehte Hain" had started to write ,"Personal Si Sawaal Karte Hain". I waited for the day when some big mouth would declare "Gulzar is finished".

And 'He' proved me wrong. For every 'Personal si Sawaal' there was one 'Jaage Hain Der Tak'; For every 'Beedi Jalaile' and 'Phoonk De' there was one 'Dil to Baccha Hain Ji'. In between Gulzar came back with his ghazals which in an age where 'simplification' and 'spoon-feeding' are the rules of the game, remained unabashedly closer to classical urdu. And with use of phrases like 'Kinare ka Phandar' or 'Aankho se Anshoyo ka Marasim' that makes an urdu illiterate like myself scratch his head, he just showed the world of showbiz where fickle is the new name of being 'classic', how the tricks of old world can remain timeless.

I could go on bitching about Gulzar. Bitching coz other than Mr. Robert Zimmerman ,he is the only man whose pen gives me the feeling of being impotent with mine. Why I can't look at the mmon and think of it as a shinning cup of a beggar hanging around neck of the sky? Why I can't look at life and think of life as the light of heaven and fire of hell at the same time?
Someone tells from my heart: That is not possible. In this fucked up flow of life, in this aging universe there is only one ageless Gulzar. His observations, his words that he shows and meanings that he does not, his wit, his word play, his ability to paint an entire canvas within two simple lines of a couplet...only once in thousand years the God of art can create someone like Sampooran Singh Carla. In the world of urdu poetry there was Mirza Asad Ullah and there is his self-proclaimed servant Gulzar, what lies in between is just the space where people of very limited or no talent like this writer keeps on bowing down in utter awe. So, with all the envy in my heart and all the devotion in my soul I keep on discovering different era of this immortal genius. I dive in to his RD era, to his Jagjit Singh collaboration, to his Rahman and Bishaal era and these are some of the pearls that shine thru my tired night:

"Hey Lau Zindagi, Zindagi Noor Hain,
Magar is pe Jalne ki dastur hain."

"Jal Gaye Jo Dhoop Me to Sayaan Ho Gaye
Aasma Ka Koi Kona Thoda So Gaye
Jo Gujar Jaate Hain Bus Us Pe Guzar Karte Hain"

"Jaane Kya Soch Kar Nahin Gujraa,
Ik Pal Raat Bhar Nahin Gujraa"

"Ik Kwaab Tut Jaane Ka Ehsaas Hi to Hain
Thodi Si Raat aur...Sehar...Paas Hi to Hain"

[Holy Fuck...Holy Fuck...Holy Fuck. If Orwell ever read the 2 lines above, he might skip taking the pain of writin 1984...well most of it or the pain of writin Keep The Aspidistra Flying...all of it]

mujhko bhi tarkeeb sikha kuchh yaar julahe

aksar tujhko dekha hai ke tana bunte bunte
jab koi taga toot gaya ya khatam hua
to phir se usme bandh sira koi jor
aage bunane lagte ho
tere is tane mein lekin,ik bhi ganth
girh buntar ki dekh nahi sakta hai koi buna tha ik bar ek hi rishta
lekin uski saari girhain...saaf nazar aatee hain

mujhko bhi tarkeeb sikha........

Keep discovering Gulzar Sahaab. Time for me to discover his introduction to Mirza Ghalib. Once again.