Friday, January 2, 2009

Rahman's experiment in creating Symphony for Indian Music

I don't know how many of you have listened to the music of the recent movie Yuvaraj, composed by Rahman. Though the movie didn't create much of a mark, neither did the songs become chart busters. But there's indeed some thing very special about the songs composed by Rahman. I feel this is the first time that a proper Western Classical Symphonic orchestration, arangement and composition has been used in Hindi movie.

Use of Western Classical Music is quite insignificant even in the Hollywood movies or Western music albums. I feel in Hollywood it is restricted mainly to the background scores or opera based songs in period movies. But quite interstingly Bollywood has quite a few instances of using Western Classical music - works of various composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi etc in songs. Perhaps the extensive use of songs in Indian movies provide more scope to incorporate Western Classical Music than Hollywood. Even then, the proper use of Symphonic orchestra and symphonic style of compositions in Hindi movies was perhaps never attempted before Rahman.

I should acknowledge that there have been some significant efforts in the past in bringing Western Classical Music in mainstream Indian music by people like Anada Shankar (son of legendary dancer Uday Shankar and nephew of Ravi Shankar and perhaps the first Indian to attempt fusion music successfully) and Ilyaraja (the first Indian to compose for Philharmonic Orchestra London), but still Western Classical Music has always been a niche and elite thing, not quite within the reach of the mass. Over the years the Indian Classical Music has been able to penetrate more into mass listeners, to a great extent due to movies using various forms of classical and semi classical music in songs and also due to the glamour and aura created by many leading performers like Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, Amzad Ali Khan, Zakir Hussain, L Subramaniam - to name a few - all of whom have also created a significant market for Eastern Classical Music in the West. In this context, Rahman's effort is really commendable. In India movies play a great role in popularizing any form of music. I'm sure the present popularity of Ghazal, Sufi music or folk forms like Bhangra won't have been possible without significant patronage from movies.

Bollywood has always attracted the best of the talents from all over India. This has created a very cosmopolitan and enriched form of popular music. Many regional flavors amalgamated into a pan Indian form. In the earlier days Bollyood was mainly driven by people from Bengal, Punjab and Maharashtra thus bringing in rich elements of literature, culture, folk, devotional, traditional, classical and semi-classical forms of music from all these regions into Bollywood. During the earliest phase of Hindi movie production in Calcutta in 30-40s under New Theatres, Bombay Talkies' Devika Rani, Himanshu Rai, Ashok Kumar, Filmistan's Shashadhar Mukherjee and music composers like Anil Biswas, Timir Baran, Pankaj Mallik and K C Dey, Rabindranath Tagore was still alive and his influence in any form or art and culture was really unavoidable. Interestingly till date the format of any movie song in any language in India still follows the format of a Rabindra Sangeet with the duration of 3-4 minutes and consisting of sections like Mukhra, Antara and Sanchari. Rabindra Sangeet itself has many ingredients of an Opera. The later Bengali composers like Salil Chowdhury, S D Burman, Hemant Kumar also used folk elements of Bengal and Assam like Baul, Bhatiyali, Kirtan and Bihu widely in Hindi movies. The trio Raj Kapoor-Dilip Kumar-Dev Anand along with composers like O P Nayyar, Roshan, Madan Mohan, Khayyam, Shankar (of Shankar Jaikishan duo) and above all the most famous singer of the time Mohd. Rafi brought in Punjabi elements in music and movies. C Ramachandra and off course the Mangeshkar sisters Lata and Asha, with genes deeply rooted in Marathi Natya Sangeet brought another dimension to Hindi movies. Naushad brought elements of Uttar Pradesh. Apart from the regional flavors in Bollywwod the undercurrent of classical and semi classical music was also quite predominant because most of the composers had deep roots in Indian Classical Music. But throughout the Western Classical Music was always little ignored in Bollywood. Even the usage of Western Classical instruments like Cello and Viola reduced considerably after the 60's. Who can forget the Cello in "Waqt Ke Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam" and "Woh Shaam Kuchh Ajeeb Thi"? That's why Rahman's experiment in Yuvaraj is really a great thing for Indian Music.

Just listen to the song "Dil Ka Rishta" from Yuvaraj. Apart from the incredible background score with pure symphonic or philharmonic style, there's also a fast Jhala style fusion of vocals, rendered by Rahman himself, and the orchestra. Though Rahman seems to go off tune at times, still the effect is quite good. Rahman has recently started the KK Symphony Orchestra, the first full fledged philharmonic orchestra in India. It's really a great effort to bring Western Classical Music to India in a big and far reaching way.

Also listen to the other song "Tu Muskura" from Yuvaraj. The female portion, sung by Alka Yagnik, is very much like a vocal rendition of a symphony. I personally liked the music, more because of the effort that Rahman is putting in creating a new style in our music. I hope that he can really popularize styles of Western Classical Music for Indian mass listeners.

Rahman has always brought new styles in any music he has composed be it the highly classical "Hai Rama Yeh Kya Hua" from Rangeela and "Tu Hi Re" from Bombay or the peppy "Pappu Can't Dance Saala" from Jane Tu Ya Jane Na and "Humma Humma" from Bombay. He brought a totally different dimension in Sufi and Qawal styles when he composed "Haji Ali" for Fizaa or "Khwaja Mere Khwaja" for Jodha Akbar. He even used Qawal style of composition for "Mehendi Hai Rachne Waali" in Zubeidaa in the backdrop of a Royal Rajasthani Hindu Marriage or the "Tere Bina" number in Guru in the background during potrayal of a very important phase of life of a Guajarati couple. He has elevated an Islamic devotional form of music to a level which was never heard of. Not for a moment did these Qawal numbers seem to be misfit in a totally different type of sequence in the movies. His use of folk elements of Bengal in "Kabhi Neem Neem" in Yuva, typical Central Indian village style "Mitwa" in Lagaan and off course the unforgettable Bhangra style "Rang De Basanti" in Rang De Basanti sung by Daler Mehendi and himself are just incredible. He has the capability to put his own unique stamp in whatever he composes and at the end of the day reach to the mass. Almost all his compositions are chart busters. One of his first compositions, "Dil Hai Chhota Sa" from Roja is my Rahman's favorite. I still can't forget my excitement and enthralment when I first heard the song in 1992. It has a totaly fresh set of sounds which created Rahman's signature for ever.

In this context it might be interesting to know about K M Music Conservatory founded by Rahman with a mission to provide students with a strong artistic, intellectual, and technical foundation for pursuing professional careers in music which will be facilitated by creating a learning environment that will provide the highest order of education in all major aspects of music and music technology, offer programs/courses that are contemporarily designed and foster a cultural exchange between students from different parts of the world.

Rahman Favorites

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