Takeaways from the A. R. Rahman Intimate Tour Concert in Los Angeles

theBollywoodFan -- this blog and the username -- turns 10 this summer. I may not be blogging much any more since micro-blogging (@theBollywoodFan) serves my primary objectives better, as explained here, but no matter what, I can’t attend an incredible A. R. Rahman concert and not want to share my takeaways in more detail than multiples of 140 characters can afford. So let's get right to them.

All pictures in this post are mine, from the 10 June 2015 event at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles (the home of the Emmys).

Song Highlights of the Night
‘Chhoti Si Asha’ from Roja (1992)
'Tu Hi Re' from Bombay (1995)
‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’, ‘Dil Se’, ‘Jiya Jale’ from Dil Se (1998)
‘Ishq Bina’ from Taal (1999)
‘Saathiya’, ‘O Humdum Suniyo Re’ from Saathiya (2002)
‘Tu Bole Main Boloon’ from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2008)
‘Arziyaan’ from Delhi-6 (2009), to commence proceedings 
‘Naadaan Parindey’ from Rockstar (2011)
‘Patakha Guddi’, ‘Maahi Ve’ from Highway (2014)
'Alahida', ‘Khalifa’ from Lekar Hum Deewana Dil (2014)

In contrast, the last Rahman concert I attended in L.A. prominently featured songs from Rangeela (1996), Lagaan (2001), Swades (2003), Rang De Basanti (2006), and Jodhaa Akbar (2008).

Hindi film music fans must branch out
My guess is that songs in language(s) of South India comprised at least 50% of the playlist in this concert. I wasn't complaining much despite knowing none of the other languages. It all sounded so very good, with plenty I hadn't listened to before. Like this:

It’s more evident than ever to me that I need to explore even more of Rahman’s soundtracks for films in the South. And let's be honest: It's not that fans of Hindi film music have too much of a choice if we want more Rahman these days. His relative absence from the Hindi cinema landscape is one of the most unfortunate things to have happened to the industry in the few years.

Jonita Gandhi is for Real
Not that she ever wasn’t, but this was my first time listening to her live, and one couldn’t help but marvel at her amazingly versatile vocal range. From ‘Ishq Bina’ (Taal) to ‘Jiya Re Jiya’ (Jab Tak Hai Jaan) and a varied set of songs in between, the execution sounded flawless. There’s every indication she's ready to be the next big thing, and I hope her career continues to trend upward. Well done! (And it wasn't just her of course, also performing were Haricharan, Sriram, & Shiraz Uppal, who are all excellent vocalists in their own right.)

Can we please stop calling him the Mozart of Madras?
The label is still widely used in the press, and it bothers me. I know it’s supposed to be a compliment, but can we please acknowledge that the (Rah)man’s in a league of his own? (I say this as someone who has about as many Mozart records as those of Rahman.) 

If you’ve been to any of his concerts -- and this was my third -- you know to expect more than an ordinary experience. You know to expect engagement levels of extraordinary proportions. You almost know to expect somewhat of a spiritual journey using music as a platform (provided you’re open to it), and the kind of journey few if any in the entertainment industry anywhere can consistently lead you through. 

This night was no different. It wasn’t because I found a one minute qawwali/devotional song segment (‘Arziyaan’, Delhi-6) or reference to a sufi analogy (‘Naadaan Parindey’, Rockstar) irresistible to philosophize through while there. No. I have narrowed it down to the effortlessness with which he appears to combine musical influences, and pivot from one to another. Going from jazz to rap, bhangra/hip hop, and qawwali in less than 10 minutes, all while switching instruments and languages, is something only a very select few can pull off so well. The real answer may lie somewhere at the intersection of behavioral science and music therapy, sure. But then, it could just be art in its purest form, with no further explanation needed.

So there you have it. Great production. A fabulous crew of musicians, led by the most consistently outstanding music director we've been blessed with over three decades now. When all’s said and done, I know I’ll just always be grateful to have witnessed the magician weave his magic. One more time, and hopefully not the last.

PS: LAGAAN (2001) turns 14 today (June 15). All posts related to the film can be found here.  

The complete #100HappyBollyDays timeline is at this link.

On Movie Reviews, New Film Soundtracks, and 100HappyBollyDays

I have been away from this blog for long. Too long. And by now, I've narrowed down my prolonged absence to two primary factors: 1. Lack of Time; and 2. Uninspiring Film Music.

Lack of Time
When the choice is between watching films or writing about them, the former must take precedence. And when the choice is between writing about films in less than 140 characters (or multiples thereof) or not writing about films at all, I'm happy to pick the former. So micro-blogging on Twitter somewhat solves the first problem.

Here's the collection of 'tweets' with my thoughts on films. As you can see, it's in its infancy, and I hope to keep adding to it much more frequently moving forward.

Uninspiring Film Music
I've been thinking much more about my reactions to soundtracks to our newer films. The one conclusion I've repeatedly come to is that the state of Hindi film soundtracks today is quite disgraceful, to put it mildly. The last soundtrack I loved from start to finish was that to Rockstar (2011), and it's no coincidence that the last post here on a song or soundtrack was dedicated to one from that film. While acknowledging that I'm no longer the individual who registered this blog in his early 20s (in 2005), I've even questioned whether this sentiment stems from just having grown up some more, leading to where so many appear to have been for so very long as they simply proclaim, "Old is gold!" (Which it is, but there is more than one precious metal or asset class in the universe, so this proclamation, like the vast majority of generalizations, is hardly substantive.)

But what good has come from dwelling on the negative for too long? A conscious, thoughtful effort at being positive seldom goes entirely unrewarded. It is in the spirit of optimism, then, that I've signed up for the #100HappyDays campaign. (More at http://100happydays.com/) I may not get to it on 100 consecutive days, but since when did these kinds of norms ever get in the way of fun and entertainment?  

I'm calling my entry a deliberately cheesy #100HappyBollydays, and my primary objective is to share film music that I'm grateful for. Maybe there's a fond memory or story associated with its consumption, or maybe not. Maybe I just really like it for what it is without much other reason. This is, after all, art and not science.

So if you're on Twitter, please follow along (or better yet, join in!). If you're not, the compilation of #100HappyBollyDays tweets will update at this link.

Lagaan (2001): At 12, Still a Benchmark, Still Loads of Fun

12 years this day. As I've written here before, and as we all well know, Lagaan also marked a turning point for Hindi cinema. A well-crafted, critically-acclaimed film that could serve the function of a popular movie (and earn box office collections like one) wasn't necessarily perceived as a viable option. Lagaan changed that. This change is also mentioned in this interesting two-episode BBC Documentary series, "Bollywood Breaking Barriers."

The Lagaan post archive is available here, and via the permanent banner in the sidebar (to the right).

Last month marked 100 years since the first Indian feature film was released. That was the subject of a great, fun film Harishchandrachi Factory, discussed here.

Hope you are all well and enjoying your movies!

Best wishes and love always.


Guest Post: Talaash (2012) Film Review

I am very pleased to have my good friend Caitlin write this review. 'The Mighty Mango' -- as she is known at the Bollywood Queens blog to which she is a frequent contributor -- lives in Florida, holds degrees in literature and journalism, and is a newspaper copy editor and page designer for a rather well known news media outlet in the state. You might recall her fine contribution to Lagaan Week in this wonderful post. Thank you Caitlin!

If you've seen Talaash, what did you think? Liked it? Loved it? Didn't like it? What's *your* verdict? (If you've written about it, please share the link in a comment below.) 

And since December is upon us, here's wishing you and your families the very best. Merry Christmas and happy holidays! God bless.

I usually stay out of the buzz around upcoming movies because I like to come in with a mostly clean slate. But what I did see of the leadup to Talaash was lots of speculation about the plot because, it being a mystery and all, it was somewhat secretive. I usually like to think it’s a good sign when things are kept under wraps — meaning there might be a big twist. But I’m not so sure it worked out well in this case, though I can see why not knowing details is important in watching this film. So I’m going to try my best to talk about it without ruining anything.

I can tell you this: Surjan “Suri” Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) is a police inspector investigating the death of a young film star who inexplicably swerved on an empty street and crashed into the ocean. Suri’s not without his own problems — he and his wife, Roshni (Rani Mukherjee), are grieving and at odds after the death of their young son — but the case opens up a whole web of blackmail and deaths linked to powerful men mixed with pimps and prostitutes. Including the mysterious Rosie (Kareena Kapoor), who flits around the narrative trying to help Suri with the case when she feels like it and trying to seduce him when she doesn’t.

I’ll take a minute to say that Aamir’s performance is entirely top notch. It’s raw and gripping and moving in all of the right places. Brooding, sleepless and emotionally tortured are hardly the qualities you’d expect from a hero, but Aamir is able to draw you into them. Rani Mukherjee is also stellar, but she ends up mostly as a tangent to the main plot, which to me was a great waste of an amazing actress who gives a brilliant portrayal of a broken wife and mother. She’s hardly the most beautiful character, always looking like she’s hardly slept and slightly out of her mind, but Rani plays Roshni just like she looks: raw.

On the other hand, you have an always overglammed Kareena Kapoor playing a mysterious prostitute. And not very well at that. I tired of her very quickly and think she might have done a better job with the role if all she had to do was be a frivolous streetwalker.

Another performer here who should not go unmentioned simply because he’s not one of that Big 3: Nawazuddin Siddiqui. I loved him in Patang earlier this year, but for Talaash, he turned supporting character Tehmur — pimp Shashi’s lackey, who is partly crippled and kicked around by everyone — into so much more than he probably would have been otherwise.

But if the performances are mostly stellar, the rest of the film is something of a mixed bag.

Talaash is dark. Make no mistake about that. In a very overarching way, the film is about death and people messing with death — and /* Spoiler Alert Roshni’s communicating with her dead son (through a very, very creepy neighbor, I might add) does not sit well with me. End Spoiler Alert */ But stepping away from that, the film continues to carry a dark tone. It’s primarily set in a rather seedy red light district. There are lots of dark emotions and a side of violence. Somehow the majority of actions seems to take place at night.

But in some ways, the dark tone is overdone. The plot doesn’t seem to bear out the level of darkness that the top-notch editing and cinematography provide. For all of the blackmail and malice that stems from the blackmail, the reasons behind it aren’t nearly as dark. Instead, it all comes back to desperation and poor decisions. There’s no instigating evil.

And I won’t spoil it for anyone, but the “twist” of the movie that everyone kept warning that I’d be spoiled on was really not so remarkable or suspenseful and certainly not unique. I had it figured out way before intermission, though I was hoping I was wrong and it wasn’t that simple. The “twist” and its resolution are a little too deus ex machina for me, but, well, without the deus. (In Latin-based literary terms, deus ex machina literally means “God from machine,” figuratively meaning that a resolution is engineered from the inexplicable supernatural, usually without warning.)

And generally thrillers like this want to get you thinking, but once my mind got turning on this one, it couldn’t stop churning out supposed plot elements that are picked up but then ignored.

An officer at the beginning alludes to other unexplained deaths that have happened in the same way as the film star’s, in the same place. Who are the others that have died on the road? How and why did they die if they weren’t linked to what actually killed the film star there? /* Spoiler Alert And by the end of the film, Suri’s superiors have some doubt in his sanity, but for some reason, they want to keep him on — why? And where did the pimp Shashi disappear to before he was found killed? Even worse — who the hell killed him?!
End Spoiler Alert */

The ending also leaves lack of resolution on too many points for my liking.

Does Suri leave the police force? Is he crazy? How does Roshni deal with what her husband has been through — does he even tell her what happened?

But the ending does leave the film’s emotional rollercoaster wrapped up. And maybe that’s what the point was. So if you consider plot tangential to the film and treat emotion as the centerpiece, darkness and all, then the film is fantastic. But if you’re actually looking for a thrilling plot that keeps you thinking and guessing, Talaash leaves something to be desired.

A Yash Chopra Romance (1932 - 2012)

Sad, sad news today of Yash Chopra's passing, another in a series of recent deaths of some of Bollywood's most respected elders. Incredibly sad.

We all know about his movies. (Filmography at this IMDb link.) Deewaar (1975) and Naya Daur (1957), for which he served as director and assistant director respectively, are by far my favorites. From a higher-level view, just think about his influence in giving rise to the term 'Bollywood' and the perceptions attached to the term. 

Also, can we go back to calling the upcoming Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012), A Yash Chopra Romance? Surely, his record in film was nothing short of a romance no matter how we look at it.

Ek Tha Tiger (2012): 10 Spoiler-Free Observations

Let's begin with an excerpt from my review of Bodyguard (2011) around this time last year:

I’ll have to use discussion on Wanted (2009) and Dabangg (2010) as a lead into this brief discussion on Salman Khan’s latest movie and, as box office collections are illustrating, perhaps greatest in at least some respects. ... I am admittedly biased in favor of Salman, but he’s bringing the fun back into core, made-for-cinema Bollywood, and that cannot be a bad thing, can it?!

We're a week in, and the overwhelming box office success of this year's Salman starrer -- Ek Tha Tiger (There was a Tiger) -- is well-documented by now.  The streak is alive and well. For our 2012 update on Salmanisms (coining the term here, folks), here are some key observations on or from the movie.

Aamir Khan and Satyamev Jayate in The New York Times

Thank you to Bollywood Food Club for directing me to a couple pieces in The New York Times. The first article points to some data on the cumulative viewership of the show and an interesting view on its relationship with Lagaan (which we discussed here last month).

I don't think Aamir rediscovered himself after Lagaan.

I think India rediscovered Aamir after Lagaan.

The interview is more telling, and I like the allusion to the role of the lobbies, and this: “Satyamev Jayate is as much a part of my life as Dhoom 3."

Bollywood Star Remakes Himself Into TV Conscience
July 26, 2012

A Conversation With: Bollywood’s Aamir Khan
July 27, 2012

I'm turning off comments here, discussion is always welcome and encouraged under comments to this related post.

7 Khoon Maaf (2011): 7 Relationship Lessons for Men

7 Khoon Maaf (Seven Murders Forgiven) is not as serious as its title suggests. 

What we knew going in to see the film based on Ruskin Bond's "Susanna's Seven Husbands" was that it’s about a woman marrying seven times and ensuring each husband is dead by the time she’s through with him. What I didn’t expect was that the film could be fun.

Surprise! (On Satyamev Jayate, Lagaan)

*Thunderous applause for the Lagaan (2001) team* 

Well, not much of a surprise, is it?

The film Lagaan celebrated its eleventh anniversary this past Friday (June 15). This year, I won't be hosting a Lagaan week at this blog. This is not because I've run out of ideas for posts on the film that I've credited for a lot at so many levels. It's just that work and life have me adapting to enough changes professionally and personally that I've had to put on hold some of my recreational pursuits. My movie consumption frequency and, of course, this blog, have suffered as a result. But I'm hoping to change that. At least I've been watching more movies. :)

Our great friend (and far more committed blogger) Darshit (@dunkdaft) has this post at his blog in celebration of the Lagaan anniversary. Lagaan Week posts from the past are available at this link.

Shifting gears a bit now...

...so, who has been watching Satyamev Jayate? (Official website: SatyamevJayate.in)

What do you think of the show?

I'd been so disconnected from it all that I didn't realize the show had started airing until I saw this a few weeks ago:

Yes, I might've been living under a rock for a bit.

From what I'm seeing, this Aamir Khan Productions product is fostering a more widespread discussion on core, hard-hitting issues facing India than any of the films of the production house (some of which have aimed to do just that while entertaining), and if you've seen any episode, you probably would agree in thinking it's perhaps rightfully so.

Similar to the most popular of popular films but unlike most television shows, it appears Satyamev Jayate is slowly raking in and somewhat uniting Indian viewership around the world, coming to them (all episodes are available online for free on the show's YouTube channel) instead of waiting for the prospective audience to take more action than simply tuning in. In other words, the distribution channels are correct and the superstardom of the actor is probably at its peak to take advantage of the opportunity. The hope is, of course, that something good comes from it all, no matter its magnitude.

As Bhuvan says in Lagaan right after accepting the proposed challenge to play a cricket match to relieve his village of tax, all that's needed sometimes is a chance to make a difference.

Satyamev Jayate has created that chance.

Am I the only one who wants to partly credit the success of Lagaan 11 years ago with the show having that chance today?