Thanks in part to the 2008 hit Slumdog Millionaire, A.R. Rahman is the Indian film composer best known to a Western audience. No wonder, then, that the Sidney Myer Music Bowl was filled for his concert on Thursday night.
The singer-songwriter and musician burst into the limelight in India in the early 1990s when his debut composition for the film Roja was translated from his native Tamil into Hindi and became a cult favourite. His fusion of Carnatic music, a genre of Indian classical music from the south, Sufi qawali music made popular by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and electronic music soon earned him fans and awards around the globe.
Rahman has two Academy Awards – Best Original Score and Song, for Slumdog’s Jai Ho (the tune now synonymous to the Indian audience with politics after it was licensed by the now opposition Congress Party for its 2009 election campaign) – along with two Grammys, a Bafta and a Golden Globe to his name.
The Art Centre Melbourne event was billed as an exclusive, one-night-only gala concert with a guest performance by the superstar himself. It should have really been called an ode to Rahman, but with only two appearances by the musician during the three-hour show, some fans were left feeling short-changed.
The evening kicked off with the theme song from Lagaan (Tax), a film about India’s freedom struggle. Led by British conductor Matt Dunkley, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and 30-voice Polyphonic Voices choir moved into theme songs including from the popular Hindi movie Mangal Pandey: the Rising, all accompanied by slick audio-visuals showcasing clips from the featured films.
The supportive crowds saved their loudest cheers for Rahman, only to realise they were cheering for flautist Navin Iver. But the soloist earned their applause once he played the haunting strains of Roja Jaane-man (The Cry of the Rose), before Rahman finally appeared himself, dressed in a long blue sherwani, long the attire of Muslim gentlemen and poets.
Accompanied by cries of “love you Rahman”, the star played a piano piece from his score for 2014 film The Hundred-Foot Journey before leaving the stage.
What followed was a selection showcasing Rahman’s repertoire across north and south India as well as Hollywood films: the themes from Bombay, Changing Seasons, 127 Hours and an audio-visual ode to Indian film composers, as well as Bollywood heroines. The trouble was that diehard fans who had come dressed in their Indian finery wanted more. Several times the lament, “Rahman, we want you”, went up.
Rahman saved the best for the last, appearing for a rousing performance of Jai Ho on the piano. He was accompanied by Asad Khan on sitar, who rendered the popular tune in a flurry of notes which surely earned more followers for the classical instrument made famous by Ravi Shankar in the west.
Opera Australia soloists, soprano Julia Lea Goodwin and tenor Nicholas Jones, mastered Hindi to deliver a lively song, winning much approval from the crowds. The orchestra was great, but Rahman left his fans wanting more.
Original Article written by Neelima Choahan for The Age – Australia.