Musicology of the Mozart of Madras

By April 17, 2011 No Comments

Musicology of the Mozart of Madras

Those are just some moments from my memory-file. Anyone who has spent an hour, or even less, with A.R. Rahman, the divinely-blessed ministrel of music, has a take on his depth of being, sense of self-wonderment and above all, in-bred humility. In the event, perhaps no book can satisfactorily encapsulate his genius. Or collar the reader closer to the man, the creator of compositions ranging from the disco-hip-hoppy and the melodically romantic to those classically-inflected crescendoes. Whatever the language of the lyrics — Hindi, English, Tamil or Teulgu — they make a connect.

Last week, A.R. Rahman The Spirit of Music: Conversations with Nasreen Munni Kabir (Om Publishers, `495) — was released at a splashy do at a Mumbai five-starrer. The 142-page hardback, profusely illustrated with nostalgia-rich photos, is a lively interexchange, detailing the wunderkind’s art and craft of music making.

Behind-the-studio vignettes, like the accidental compositions of imperishable chartbusters from Roja, Lagaan, Rang de Basanti, Guru and Slumdog Millionaire, are the stuff of film music lore.

Rahman’s difficult beginnings are discussed emotionally. In fact, if the composer’s mother, Kareema Begum, hadn’t sold the gold jewellery meant for the marriage of Rahman’s sisters to buy technical equipment for their home-cum-recording studio in Chennai, perhaps the double Oscar-whammy would have never happened. The family’s conversion to Islam is touched upon, and of course, those fledgling days of belting out ad jingles are recalled, accounting for a book that’s quite compact and crisp.

Munni Kabir, the tireless excavator of Bollywood cinema history, has patented the style of interview books, her other collector’s piece being a prolonged tête-à-tête with Javed Akhtar. Indeed, any effort towards chronicling Indian cinema is more than welcome: Just a handful of books occupy the shelves of libraries and stores which care for serious discourse on the nation’s booming entertainment industry.

On the upside, the book is a rapid-read, especially valuable for the legion of Rahman followers all over the world. However, and here comes the rub, you do crave for more insights, facts and anecdotes. Disappointingly, too, there are only a few cursory remarks on the composer’s outstanding South Indian language oeuvre. In addition, parentheses intrusions like (both laugh) and (smiles) are archaic, just like canned laughter on TV sitcoms. In any case, surely there were (both frown) and (upset), too, in the course of the conversations conducted for seven years, kickstarting in 2007.

No questions veer towards the critical. By that you don’t mean the rude but the probing and punchy. Normally, Rahman responds positively to criticism, always concerned that he could improve a track, even if the rest of the world is supremely satisfied with so many of his songs delivered under the pressure of deadlines. So why be evasive on this count? The questions, as a result, largely flutter towards a hagiography.

There is no frankspeak at all on those unnecessary salvos fired last year against Rahman’s Commonwealth Games anthem O yaaro India bula liya. Oddly enough,it was compared to Shakira’s Waka waka which was shaka-laka for the Football World Cup. And hello, the soundtrack of Ada: A Way of Life pops up twice in the discography, released it seems in 2008 as well as 2010. Huh?

Yet, for once, you’re more than willing to ignore the lapses. After all, you at least have Rahman, absolutely live on record, with a bonus CD titled Connections. The tracks Mann Chandra, Mylapore Blues as well as the opening invocations are extraordinary.

Two years ago, Penguin had released A.R. Rahman: The Musical Storm by Kamini Mathai. Although it wasn’t particularly well-written, it did offer you plenty of information and reportage. All said and read, Munni Kabir’s The Spirit of Music takes a leap forward in conveying the zeitgeist of A. R. Rahman. The interviews are smoothly transcribed and coolly packaged, never mind those (both laugh) and (smiles).