AR Rahman’s concert in Sharjah on April 18, 2008 – his third in the UAE – had all the flavour and flourish one expects from the Indian music composer.
Leading a team of talented singers includng Hariharan, KS Chitra, Sadhana Sargam, Karthik, Blaaze and Naresh Iyer, among others, the concert – for a change – started on time. Well, given the stretchable time standards of Indian stage-shows in the UAE, call it absolute relief.
The true pulse of the concert, obviously, was in the Gallery and the Prime Standing area. Considering that the chunk of VIP and VVIP tickets are ‘freebies,’ there are sharper expectations from that cross-section of the spectators which pays for their tryst with Rahman. These are the true music-lovers. Imagine, shelling out Dhs100 from the lean-mean monthly pay of Dhs1000 and then some. That is the sort of adulation Rahman earns: Pay, if you must, but do not miss the man on his return to the UAE after four years.
At the risk of digressing, must say, the Prime Standing Area was one happy picnic. Picture this: People reclining on the grass, on a bed of newspapers (nothing less than The National, UAE’s newest paper); families munching into hot samosas; tots treading out of their prams… and the red-uniformed Security with their machismo and ‘beware-we-are-here’ attitude. The festive mood was nothing short of what awaits a temple fair in India, where families and youngsters congregate for unabashed fun.
The stage looked much smaller than Rahman’s previous concert at the Al Ahli Football Stadium in Dubai. The lay-out looked impressive, though.
What would Rahman start off with? My contention was: “Oruvan oruvan Muthalali’ from Muthu, though I knew it was a far shot. I just thought it was well, sooooo egalitarian. I was happy to be wrong.
Rahman kicked off with Jaage Hain (Guru); it was vintage Rahman – a man in control. The close-ups on screen showed a man, eyes closed, engrossed in the music. Jumping ahead, must say, one of the most delectable experiences of the concert was watching Rahman watch his singers sing – he listens intently, smiles and just gives them the space to be…!
Well, it is futile going into the repertoire for the evening – I didn’t take notes, and all I did was dance, and sing along with Rahman. I sang through his heavenly humming for the song Kabhi Neem Neem (Yuva) and irritated Varmaji (my partner for the night – add his son Vishnu to the team; thanks to him, the average age of the trio was diminished by a few decades.)
But some eight songs into the concert, despite Rubaroo (Rang De Basanti) too being sung, we felt deprived. The energy simply was lacking. We know: Without SPB or Shankar Mahadevan to anchor the show, it is hard to charge the air. Hariharan tried but there is only so much he can go.
I think that also answered a part of the question, which I had posed to Rahman a week before during an interview. I had asked Rahman who was more important to a song – the singer or composer. He ascribed some of the song’s success to fate. But I (and Varmaji agreed with me on that) feel there is an added dimension that singers like Yesudas and SPB give to songs. Call it energy, if you may.
And then the Rahman magic erupted. He belted out a few of his foot-tapping numbers in quick succession (don’t ask which ones – I am amneisic in the sheer delirium of being there), and the Concert was back on track. The momentum was taken forward by Shivamani, who discovers rhythm in everything he knocks on… and he passed on those infectious beats to us. Hats off, Shivamani. You are one of a kind!
The visuals that played on the screens to highlight the songs were good. The choreography (particularly Maiyya Maiyya) was excellent, and Hariharan knows what it takes to endear himself to the audience with his indefatigable energy (singing Chanda Re to the moon).
With Blaaze encouraging the spectators to lift up their mobile phones creating several thousand star-like brilliance on ground, the stage was set for Rahman to sing to us, Pray for me Brother – an absolute stunner.
There were several Rahmanesque moments: What more can a composer ask for when with the first note of his song, a whole stadium of people erupt to cheers and even get to start singing!
But undisputedly the song of the night was Khwaja Mere Khwaja. Rahman had the spectators in a trance – the trance that perhaps he personally was in, while singing. The song was defining for another reason. It showed the growth of Rahman – as a person, a singer and composer. That stamp of maturity was the take-home quotient of the Concert.
In another five years, you might not go to a Rahman concert for a Mukkkabla or Chaiyya Chaiyya. Sure enough, these songs would be there – but Rahman will give you an extra-high that truly marks his evolution as a musical genius.
That perhaps is the single biggest contribution of Rahman: With his growth, he also elevated our own musical appreciation. He lifted us and we grow with Rahman.
Rahman thanked us. No Sir, we thank you.