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.”