November 08, 2011

The Evolution of the Best

These lines open the music album of one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year.

फिर से उड़ चला,
उड़ के छोड़ा है जहान नीचे,
मैं तुम्हारे अब हूँ हवाले हवा...
अब दूर-दूर लोग-बाग, मीलों दूर ये वादियाँ...
फिर धुआँ-धुआँ तन, हर बदली चली आती है छूने...
पर कोई बदली कभी कहीं कर दे तन गीला ये भी ना हो...

Beautiful poetry, but I hope you notice the lack of any structure or rhyme scheme in it – so much so that it hardly appears to be song. It is fluid, and relies more on its inspiring content and the magic of phonation. This summarizes my opinion on the brilliant sound-track of ‘Rockstar’. A R Rahman is not only ‘back with a bang’ and has reaffirmed that ‘he is the best’, but has improved upon himself, and has come up with something so surprisingly new, even from his standards. Please do not take these words to mean that I consider ‘Rockstar’ as the maestro’s best work. Let me make myself clearer.

There is something about great artists – whether they desire for it or not, they tend to go beyond their individual creations. Watching individual great movies is fun, but what I truly cherish is something from the filmography of a great filmmaker – and read it not only as the movie per se, but by understanding its place in the filmmaker’s career. So even a lesser film by Luis Bunuel is important because it helps us understand, or at least speculate, how it helped in the shaping up of the master’s career. Today when the Coen Brothers make a genre film like ‘True Grit’ (2010), we read it as their attempt to break free from their comfort zone. This is also the reason why I loved Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Wrestler’ (2008), which disappointed some of my friends who worship his other works which are way more complex and philosophical.

So when Pandit Ravi Shankar plays a certain Raaga, our main interest is to observe ‘how’ he does it, ‘what more’ does he add to it. When the experts on cricket discuss the style of Sachin Tendulkar, the most fascinating thing for them is how he has managed to weave in subtle variations in his method and approach, something that has enhanced his longevity under all conditions and, most importantly, has enabled him to stay at the top for such a long time when other great batsmen have come, ruled and retired. That in my opinion is the evolution of the best – or perhaps, the evolution required to remain the best.

For the past half-a-decade or so, Rahman has surprised us with his attempts to go beyond his usually great work. A lot of such efforts did not please me initially – it took me some time to realize that he is more concerned about surprising and outdoing himself than impressing us. That took some time, and a couple of years went by without any phenomenal music album by him (the last great album by him in my opinion was ‘Delhi 6’). But now when he is back, with a director who has always had an ear for pleasant, yet surprisingly different music (listen to the songs of ‘Socha Na Tha’), a lyricist who is one of those rare poets in Hindi films today, and a film about music – Rahman has delivered one of the best works of his extraordinary career. Not only it has an amazing mix of genres, and the songs appear to be emoting – of love, rebellion, and spiritual enlightenment, the most striking feature for me is how confidently and successfully he is abandoning structure and composing songs which are fluid and complex, but still hummable and potentially popular. The music of ‘Rockstar’ reminds you so much of the magician we have loved for two decades now, but it also establishes him as a genius who refuses to settle down and whose quest for perfection continues. He has made me greedier, and I am looking forward to his next album now – ‘what more can he do’ has become my pleasant concern as a lover of his music.

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