Jun 27, 2008

Stuff of Greatness: On AR Rehman

Disclaimer: Long self indulgent post that shouldn't be attempted unless you're besotted by either AR Rehman or me.

all of us have our own ways of de-stressing when the going gets beyond tough. over a period of time i have realised nothing calms me down & soothes me more than two pet activities - a good ol' sweaty round of cleaning & listening to an AR Rehman CD where i have compiled a coupla dozen favourite tracks that i believe leave no doubt that he is God. not all of these songs went on to become hits & only the most avid rehman fan will probably claim acquaintance with all of them. here are some of them (in no particular order) & what makes them so special:

1. sarfaroshi ki tamanna from the 'legend of bhagat singh'. it doesn't have the pulsating, thumping beat that you'd normally associate with a rousing patriotic song. in fact the lyrics are wistful, dreamy & the tone sensual. as the slow first part of the song paves the way for the quickened antara sonu nigam beautifully convey the martyrs' silent resolve that death indeed is not the end for them when he sings:
khuhboo banke mehka karenge hum, lehlahati in faslo mein,

saans banke dehka karenge, aanewali in naslo mein

2. des mere des mere from the same film. it's no coincidence that this is the guy who along with the brilliant bharatbala reintroduced every indian to the glorious vande mataram in a new avatar. i think there's this surreal, inspired quality to his work that AR knows is rare which is why he respects it & reserves it for only a few pet genres, i.e. his patriotic & devotional numbers. one needs only to cast an eye on his incredible repertoire of such songs - piya haji ali, khwaja mere khwaja, bharat humko jaan se pyara hai and ye jo des hai tera to know what i'm talking about. what's incredible about this no. is the manner in which he again overturns the traditional rules of nationalist songs. yeah, even when he employs full thumping beats. nowhere else have i heard that note of infinite tenderness that sukhwinder infuses into his voice as he croons des mere, des mere, meri jaan hai tu. with that it isn't difficult to visualise the nation in terms of a frail mother or beloved, anyone deserving of protection & love. however, if he expresses such longing & respect for the country, unshakable resolve & anger are not far behind & thats when he hardens his tone & sings, watan ke naam pe, hum sar katane se nahi darte. it's almost like he begins on an angry note & then has to remind himself of some benign presence to calm himself so stark is the contrast between the military style & lyrics of the song & the des mere part. also, the des as opposed to desh sound so moving & real.

3. lukka chuppi from rang de basanti - i have never much cared for lata mangeshkar & am always puzzled about what most directors still see in her to use her in their films. then i heard this one & understood the magic of that quivering, age-ravaged, yet evocative voice. it makes perfect sense to use lata here as she is echoing the sentiments of a 70+ mother who has lost her son. once again thwarting conventional expectations, there is neither shehnai nor sarangi, those two grand dames of all dirge instruments. on the contrary AR begins the song with a peppy guitar arrangement & if you're not aware of the film you could well mistake this song as unfolding in the background while a mom & kid play hide n seek in some wide open space. so profound is the mother's sense of disbelief that she thinks her son is up to one of his old tricks & will reappear soon. hence, the note of entreaty & not lament:
lukka chuppi, bahut hui, saamne aaja na, kaha kaha dhoonda tujhe thak gayi hai teri ma...

the second part of the song which is sung by AR in his sandpaper voice evocatively conveys the absolute freedom that only death allows & also the pain of separation when you are lost to all those who are still alive, still mortal:
meri patang ho befikar ud rahi hai ma, dor koi kate nahi beech me ma.....
.....yaha naya naya hai sab kuch, phir bhi lage bin tere akele.
can anybody be dry eyed as he hears this?

4. nahi saamne from Taal - can't understand why all those rangeela songs could become bigger hits than this subtle, sensuous melody. note the extended priyasiiiiiiiii..... with which hariharan begins the song. damn, the man is hurting & nothing captures better the sense of desperate longing when your beloved is away/lost, than this no. As his longing turns to a frenzied desperation, so does the pace of the song shift from languorous to vibrant & thunderous. however, there is some sort of reconciliation between his maddening junoon and current reality of the situation as the agony of separation is tempered with consolation that he is not all bereft; after all, her love wasn't untrue:
bichad ke bhi mujh se juda to nahi, khafa hai magar bewafa to nahi

5. khamosh raat from thakshak - anybody who's familiar with the song knows they have to strain the ears to catch the first few tentative guitar notes, groping as they seem to be for a foothold. And why not? doubt, a sense of mystery & elusiveness run riot in the hero's mind as he sings this lonely no. he has seen a chehra and he knows next to nothing about her, even whether she is real or imagined! so he sings:
ye sach hai, ya sapna ...dream vs. reality.

this is a song you must listen to when you've drowned a few too many, the weather's holding up and you're still reeling under the effect of something unexpectedly nice that happened, doesn't have to be a gal or boy kinda thing.

6. dheemi dheemi, bhini bhini from earth, 1947 a love story - ever tried imagining what would be that one song you'd want to make love to your beloved to. no? try this one & be prepared to be swept away by the raw sensuality hariharan unleashes as he confesses amidst the sound of bird calls:
tu jo paas hai, mujhe pyas hai, tere jism ka ehsaas hai, tu jo paas hai ....

there are so many more i could go on & on about...neem neem from yuva, kehna hi kya from bombay, ori chhori from lagaan, the list is endless for me as the maestro keeps reworking his magic in melody after melody.

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