Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rahman at Rajouri

At the A R Rahman concert in Rajouri Garden last night: after one song had ended and before the next began, the maestro walked to the edge of the stage, gave an admonishing look to the audience and said in a very strained voice, “Please do stop taking videos with your cellphones and cameras. The next thing we know, you’ll be putting these videos up on YouTube. The exclusive rights for this show are with [such-and-such channel], so kindly cooperate. Thank you.”

Then he walked back to the side of the stage where he’d been standing at what we thought was a keyboard – but clearly he’d been surfing the net all along, checking YouTube updates.

Jokes aside, I understand the position Rahman is in (as an artiste with copyright issues to deal with in the problematic age of the Internet, and probably facing pressure from his corporate partners) and why he needed to give that warning. But something about the incident – the slightly grouchier-than-necessary tone and the way it disrupted the flow of the proceedings (we were looking forward to the next song, and after this tear in the curtain between the performer and the audience it took us some time to get back into the zone) – made it representative of the show for me. The concert was good on the whole, but it wasn’t spectacular. Something was missing, the vital connect between the star and his audience that live-music buffs sometimes call The Vibe. Rahman looked a little bored and distanced at times, and I’m not sure this could be put down to his natural introversion; he seemed not to be entirely satisfied about something. (He did cheer up towards the end, though maybe that was because the show was ending!)

Also, there was a coordination problem in some of the group numbers – some members of the troupe, Aslam Khan for instance, didn’t appear to be in sync with the others. The songs – all very good in their own right, of course – came and went randomly and there wasn’t much of an effort to maintain a flow from one to the next; the conclusion of nearly every number was followed by a 30-40-second pause while the musicians prepared for the next. (This was in stark contrast to the Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy show at Qutab last year.) There also wasn’t much of an effort to extract maximum mileage out of the songs that are obvious crowd-pleasers: for instance, “Paathshala” (from Rang de Basanti) came and went in the blink of an eye, and so did “Chaiya Chaiya”. (Personally speaking, I was divided between relief that everyone around me wasn’t waving their arms around and leaping up and down – very phobic about these situations – and the feeling that things were a little too subdued. I know Rahman’s best work is more the grow-on-you variety than S-E-L’s instant-appeal chartbusters, but some attempt at a buildup would have been nice.)

Anyway, some of the good things now: a great solo performance by percussionist Sivamani, some excellent singing by Hariharan, K S Chithra, Sadhana Sargam, Kailash Kher and Neeti Mohan (a relatively new member of the Rahman troupe), and Rahman’s own rendition of the rousing orchestra piece from the Guru soundtrack, “Jaage Hain”. (Though his oeuvre is too large and varied for him to fit all his career highlights into a three-hour-show, I did miss one of my all-time favourites, “Ae Ajnabi” from Dil Se.) Also, the visuals on the screen in the centre of the stage were consistently freaky: a montage of sinister-looking flowers opening and closing their buds as if to devour any living being that got within reach, a goofy silent-movie scene of a couple necking ardently (when the romantic songs played), sundry other colourful things.

P.S. We were in two minds about going for the concert – it meant a one-and-a-half hour trip each way at a time of year when Delhi’s traffic is worse than usual, and these shows are often chaotic affairs, even if you have what are amusingly referred to as “VIP passes” (once the show is in full sway and people start standing up and moving around, any privileges that come with a Rs 5,000 ticket as opposed to a Rs 500 one quickly disappear – must have something to do with music being a great leveller). But once we’d made up our minds, we decided to do the Delhi Metro thing. Parked the car at Connaught Place, took the train to Rajouri Garden. It was very pleasing to see the well-maintained underground station; could even appreciate the cliche often used by Metro-travellers about the experience making them “feel proud of the city”. Also chuckled at the London Tube-style “Mind the Gap” and the recurring warnings to keep away from the doors. All we need now is posters of Phantom of the Opera and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

P.P.S. Gobsmacking sentence of the day, uttered by rapper Blaaze after Rahman performed “Pray for me Brother”, the proceeds from which are going to charity:

“Poverty has no colour. We have to colour poverty and make it extinct.”


  1. Ha ha, some of the stuff you choose to write about in your notes about events like this invariably has me in splits! (A very special mention for Blaaze's statement on poverty, by the way.)

  2. I can understand your disappointment finding A R Rahman not really coming forward and interacting with the audience like SEL. But I guess you are forgetting the fact that ARR is wellknown for being reclusive and committed to his work rather than 'talking' or 'interacting' with people. You have to admit the fact that music of ARR is thinkers zone but not the masses' zone like that of SEL or Himesh. So you cant really expect a Mika or Daler show when you are going to attend an A R Rahman show. Having this notion accepted at the very outset, i guess, u could be able to enjoy the show a bit more. Thanks for your 'out-of-the-box' review anyway.

  3. I guess you are forgetting the fact that ARR is wellknown for being reclusive and committed to his work rather than 'talking' or 'interacting' with people...

    Durba: no, I'm not - read the post again. I'm hugely introverted myself, and can relate to Rahman's personality much more than that of the average playing-to-the-gallery performer. (I would be extremely uncomfortable and out of place at one of Mika or Daler's live shows - in fact, there's little chance you'd ever find me at one.) But I still did get the sense during parts of this concert that there was something muted and reluctant about the whole thing. Also heard from a colleague that 10 years ago Rahman had a bad experience performing in Delhi, and doesn't much care for the city. Wonder if that had anything to do with it. Or maybe some corporate sponsorship problem (I didn't much care for the way the Fever 104 chappies were going on blowing their own trumpets, especially after the show was delayed by 45 minutes.)

    Incidentally, this isn't an "out of the box" review at all (unless the box you live in is a Rahman Fan Club where no one is allowed to say anything even remotely negative about him). It's quite complimentary in places, though it seems you've overlooked those bits; and the very fact that we attended the show to begin with will tell you that we value the man and his music.

  4. Oh my god, you are insolated with so much prejudices and misconceptions. Who told you that we the members of his fan club are not 'allowed' to comment anything negative about him? Go through the site properly.

    And since you called me 'Durba', I guess you have done some r&d on me before commenting. In that case i guess you are also aware that I'm a regular reader of your blog. But I was quite disapponted but not with your review but the approach of review (provided if you call that a review). Anyway, I would appreciate if we dont involve ouselves more into this argument.

  5. Durba: no, I wasn't aware about your being a reader of the blog - got the name from your Profile. And sorry if you have the impression that I'm prejudiced, but the tone of my reply derived directly from the tone of your first comment (where you've second-guessed my expectations about the concert and also implied that anyone who says something critical about Rahman is out of the "thinkers' zone").

    And no, this wasn't a review - if it had been one, I would have written at much greater length about the many things I enjoyed about the concert. Anyway, peace.

    P.S. I don't know what site you're referring to - if you're a member of an online Rahman fan club, I didn't know about it. When I wrote "fan club" in the earlier comment it was in a general sense.

  6. Neeti Mohan, member of the A R Rahman troupe, is a member of the indipop band, Aasma. This was the second band selected by Channel V after VIVA. She was a dance instructor with Asley Lobo dance Academy earlier.
    The other member of the troupe you've referred to is Aslam Mohammad. I've also heard that members of his troupe include Sukhwinder and Udit Narayan too though I'm not sure whether they accompany him for all shows. Kailash, I know for sure, makes it to most of his shows. I personally thought that the show was in itself divided in two categories; the veteran singers (Hariharan, Sadhna and Chitra) and the newer lot (Kailash, Naresh Iyer, Aslam, Neeti etc). The ones in the new bracket clearly hadn't done their homework and in "Patshala" which was actually a group song it was very evident. Everyone looked lost and fumbled with lyrics. Yuhin Chalachal Rahi, from Swades, wasn’t up to the mark especially as Hariharan and Kailash looked lost at one point while the music continued. That said, Kailash’s impromptu “aalaps” were fantastic and his voice range is his biggest asset.
    Rahman is a huge brand and his music (not the “shosha” attached) is the only reason why people attend his live shows. He doesn’t believe in embellishing live shows with too much drama and I went fully prepared for it -- though I thought that the colourful stage will end up having completely electric (partly in reference to Doell’s comment). And though I agree that Rahman’s very shy and awkward with crowds (he hardly gives interviews, works best at nights, in seclusion), my problem with Delhi’s show was that it didn’t have a neat finish. I can’t think of a good reason why a show shouldn’t be packaged well. And somewhere it is a necessity (especially in such live shows) for some sort of connection with audiences. In the Delhi show, Hariharan managed to achieve that partly though it was Sivamani who eventually managed to pull off a fantastic conversation with the audiences. Sivamani doesn’t talk in Hindi or Punjabi and I remember meeting him long ago and he seemed very uncomfortable chatting even in English. But in shows (I’ve seen him perform thrice with Louis Banks) he invariably ends up giving people a damn good time. He has a jugalbandi directly with the audiences and even this time he simply let his music do all the talking.
    A major problem with the show was that there was simply no continuity. It is criminal to have such frequent breaks in a 180-minute live show. There’s obviously no comparison but still I’ll mention Euphoria. I’ve attended innumerable Euphoria shows and though Palash goofs up all the time on “sur”, his energy level, his voice range, and his connection with audiences is pretty remarkable. My music teacher had attended a Euphoria show with me and hated it. “Not one song was in ‘sur,’ but if audiences are enjoying and if he’s singing non-stop it is commendable.” she had said. And I’ve seen Euphoria do innumerable Rahman songs too in their shows. They weave songs after songs in one show and package it nicely. Which is what Rahman, despite having the best music in the industry, failed to do. So we didn’t hear O Humdum, or Humma or Rang De Basanti or Chalka (unless he sang all these in the last 15 minutes of the show, which I had to miss unfortunately).
    Another observation, despite having some wonderful, classical-oriented songs, the show in the middle began to drag profusely. Sadhna, for instance, gave a beautiful rendition of ‘Chupke se’ -- her hit from Saathiya. But after the mukhda and the first antara, some other singer should have taken a cue and started another song. Unfortunately this song dragged till the very end and then we had other few rounds of mellow numbers... The mood, from an audience point of view, should change continuously -- which once again brings us to the problem of continuity. From what I’ve seen and heard of how select few bands approach live shows (most of this obviously happens backstage) they do a mock rehearsal, have a piece of paper ready (usually with the keyboard player because he/she needs to change keys and tempo first for other musicians (guitarists, percussionists etc) to eventually follow. Everything happens continuously and you’ll see lead singers and musicians constantly interacting with each other on stage even if they’re jumping and doing their own thing. That’s what was missing here. I don’t think singers even knew which song was coming up next (At one point Rahman even said dully, “Okay now I’ll play another song. This should be able to excite you...”).
    Rahman’s own voice though is like a wonderful reverb, having a lot of volume, a lot of depth. I loved every minute when he began singing -- Naresh’s Rubaroo rendition sounded even better when Rehman sang (so what if they were just the chorus lines). But yes, on the whole, I would agree that the concert wasn’t superlative. Looking at the stage I thought it would be completely electrifying. But when I looked closely, I saw there were some of the tiny bulbs were actually fused. Ditto with the show. Neat in parts, so-so, on the whole.
    -- fond of music

  7. Doell, how can you lump SEL and Himesh in the same broad 'masses zone' category da? That's blasphemous!

  8. hi all,
    I had attended the concert on nov 17 for RS 500. Now being a fan of rahman i expected a lot..but the EVENT MANAGEMENT WAS TOTALLY FUCKED UP! None of us from the back enjoyed and ended up leaving mid-way the show. for me this was the first time that too only for Rahman..but..seemed like they were not really prepared for the show.and the sound was only ment for those who paid Rs 5000.tch..tch..only they enjoyed. also only some performers sang well..and were not in sync with music.. I did not enjoy a single song considering i am also totally into music.I can't be fooled. And LIP SYNCING is something I don't give in..sorry this was a total may ask anyone who went there for Rs 500 ticked. We were all mad and feeling sorry for the concert. After all even a Rs500 is hard earned money after all. this was my first and last show..I would rather listen his CD's at home and enjoy than these kind of live shows..only ruining the songs. worst than a college fest...!!!!!

  9. True, True. I had one of those Rs. 500 tickets and,well, at times i actually had to strain my ears to listen to what they were singing. There wasn't a single speaker at the back. On top of that the camerawork for the screens was horrendous. No fun at all. You know a concert is a failure when people have to make an effort to enjoy themselves.
    PS: Rahman needn't worry about videos being put up on Youtube, there wasn't anything special about the show at all.Indian Ocean anyday.

  10. Strangely, Rahman show here in SFO was awesome. The chaiyya was sung by sukhwinder for 10 mins... he kept audience literally in his footsteps. Again Rahman did not energize the crowd but his performances were enough for us. but sukwinder & hariharan did.

    May be, it had to do with the organizational facilities in delhi?