Rahman Reigns Over India's Music Royalty in S.F
Rahman's triumphant first visit to San Francisco Oct. 8 evoked a
list of superlatives: India's most accomplished playback singers; the most
state-of-the-art sound; the most gorgeous orchestral arrangements, and -
considering the pyrotechnics, elevated 70-piece orchestra and elaborate
light show -the most monumental staging of any Indian show yet.
Clocking in at four hours plus, it was also one of the longest. But
considering Rahman's resume - more than 100 films in Hindi, Tamil and
Telugu, plus a growing collection of pop and non-film works and now a
London stage musical - he'd have to rent the Cow Palace by the week
to present it all.
Rahman has composed hundreds of songs, but to each fan there's one
particular musical moment that sweeps unforgettably across one's
consciousness; so part of the evening's delight was discovering which
favorite song Rahman and his team would perform next (for this reporter,
it was Dil Se's "E ajnabi": your results may vary).
Superstars Udit Narayan, Kavita Krishnamurti, S.P. Balasubramaniam,
Hariharan and Shankar Mahadevan presented versions of their top hits
for the composer, accompanied by a live chorus and an orchestra featuring
a harp, cellos and piano - along with mridangam, bansuri and electric
guitar. Each singer added a creative fillip to the material, whether in a
colorful alaap or improvising vocalizations at each song's climax,
bringing Rahman's album versions to life.
Behind the artists, a huge, metallic wheel hung before a starry backdrop
that was transformed by a multitude of spotlit color as fireworks exploded
on cue and sparks showered from the ceiling.
Chitra, Sukhwinder Singh and Sadhana Sargam performed their Rahman hits
(Chitra filling in for Lata Mangeshkar on Dil Se's "Jiya jale"
and Asha Bhosle on "Mujhe rang de" from Daud). Srinivas, Clinton
Cerejo, Dominique Manuel, Deven, Sujatha and Karen got their first chance
at worldwide exposure on the tour, which also took Rahman and troupe to
New York and Toronto last week and to Los Angeles Oct. 6.
What was amazing was how faithful the orchestra was to the original
versions of Rahman's songs. Every flute solo and backup vocal was there to
please even his most ardent fans, but the joy of hearing such technically
superb singers add their improvisations on top of the mix made it even
Highlights from the Hindi repertoire included Udit Narayan's haunting
"E ajnabi"; Hariharan's tender "Nahin samne" and
Kavita Krishnamurti's improvisations on Pukar's pulsating "Sunta
Anupama recreated her thrilling "Chandralekha" and S.P.
Balasubramiam sang the title track from Roja - to the audience's delight -
in both Tamil and Hindi. Ace percussionist Sivamani led a jugalbandi with
tavil, mridangam and his own array of drums, and 10 dancers in bronze
leather or form-fitting sequinned bodysuits added color and energy to the
The evening started with a procession of Afro-Latin drummers, led by
Sivamani, trailing from the back of the auditorium and making their way
onto the stage before a white backdrop covered in clouds. Javed Jaffery,
dapper in a shimmering gray suit and butter-yellow tie, promised the crowd
"music, music and only music" - and introduced the orchestra of
40 Indian and 30 Western musicians.
A song from the new Tamil film Rhythm kicked off the show, followed by Anupama's
"Spirit of Rangeela" and a Tamil number from S.P.
Kavita Krishnamurti, in an aquamarine-colored suit, joined Shankar
Mahadevan, dressed in a silver tunic, on Pukar's "Ke sera sera"
as dancers gyrated in bronze body suits; followed by Sadhana Sargam on
"Dil hai chhota sa" from Roja.
A.R., in a white shirt and black jacket, watched over the proceedings from
behind a bank of keyboards above center stage, and sang the solo to
"Dil se re," "Mustafa" and other hits. Offstage,
Rahman, 32, is articulate and debonair; but onstage comes across as
somewhat shy in comparison (a point that Jaffery made to comic effect),
allowing the eloquence of his music to speak for him.
Sukhwinder's versions of "Ramta jogi," "Ni main samaj
gayee" and "Chhaiya chhaiya" were well-received, but one of
the biggest hits of the evening was "Muqabala" from Shankar
Mahadevan and Sujatha. Udit Narayan even joined his wife, Deepa (taking
Alka Yagnik's spot), on "Taal se taal mila," dancing around her
and even sweetly dropping down on one knee. That intimate and breathy
quality often evident in Narayan's voice was transformed to a
thrilling,confident power, and one wishes that Narayan will soon showcase
his versatility headlining his own show.
Other hits included Sujatha's "Netruilladha" (Puthiamugam),
Rahman's version of "Mustafa," Shankar Mahadevan and Kavita
Krishnamurti's duet on "Uppu karuvadu," "Snehidhane
snehidhane" from Sadhana Sargam, Balasubramaniam and Chitra's duet on
"Anjali Anjali" (Duet) and the soaring instrumental theme from
Indo-Canadian vocalist Karen gave a sneak preview of the music of Rahman's
upcoming musical "Bombay Dreams," to be mounted in London by
Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the evening ended with moving versions of "Vande
Mataram" and "Jana Gana Mana." Twenty-five local
children, from Prabasi, a Bengali organization, joined Rahman onstage.
The Chennai-born Rahman took a chance in presenting such a wide-ranging
mix of songs to an audience that represented just about every culture in
South Asia. Some North Indian audience members grumbled that there was too
much South Indian content, and vice versa, but as Jaffery said early in
the show, "Look around you. There are people from Pakistan,
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and every corner of India here tonight under one
"The language of music allows us to transcend our differences and
break down barriers."
Variety Entertainment, headed by Narendra Kumar, teamed with project
director Suri Gopalan to bring the well-organized show to Los Angeles and
San Francisco. "It was an overwhelming success," Gopalan told