It is a long way to Gummidipoondi. The industrial area is about 50 km from the heart of Chennai, and when I reach my destination, YM Studios, it is 3 pm. The studio, launched by Rahman last December, is popular with everyone from Rajinikanth to Mani Ratnam. It is also where the grand finale of Harmony with A.R. Rahman is being recorded.
The gargantuan circular set, with its organised chaos, has background singers practising scales and harmonies. Walls of red velvet highlighted with LED screens feature psychedelic graphics, programmed to reflect the mood of the music. Rahman’s idea, says director Sruti Harihara Subramanian. As is the ring of water surrounding the sunken centre, our Mozart of Madras in the midst of it. Understated, in black and a baseball cap, he listens pensively to the singers, not missing a beat. At one point, he startlingly raises his voice above the din. He wants the dancers to remove their anklets, or stop walking around when he is piecing together the 17-minute-long concert. The response is immediate: no more tinkling of bells till the filming begins hours later.
Ustad Mohi Bahauddin Dagar, one of the guest artistes, cradles his rudraveena, while Sajith Vijayan and his drummers sit straight-backed and cross-legged, right through the rehearsal. Mickma Tshering Lepcha, the singer from Manipur, draws some attention with his traditional outfit. “Jumanji”, someone insensitively calls out. Sikkim folk singer Bedabati Lourembam, in a floral gown, rests her voice in preparation for the shoot.
An assistant gingerly walks to the composer with two jackets — one gold, one black, both sequinned — nervously asking him which one he will be wearing. Standing on the sidelines, I try to sneak a forbidden photo (to up my Instagram game, of course), but am politely censured for it by his team. Finally, Rahman seems satisfied with the prep, and reluctantly goes into ‘hair and make-up’.
Producer B Kandaswamy of Kavithalayaa Productions offers some insights while we wait (their connect to Rahman dates all the way back to his first film, Roja). They were looking to expand their repertoire by dabbling in web content, he explains, adding, “Rahman has always said that he is a perpetual student of music. When we had the idea to make a show featuring him as a host, and not the subject, he was happy to come on board.” Rahman returns, sans cap, with gold blazer on. It is past 8 pm, true to his habit of working when the sun goes down. Filming begins and I get the best seat in the house: right behind the director and DOP who keep tabs on everything via a bank of monitors and headsets.
Much later, on my drive back, friends ping me. Why have my social media platforms remained silent, they want to know. Professionalism (and an embargo), I say. But when the show launches later this month, and I stream it with the rest of you, only I will recall the secret smile that crosses Rahman’s face every time a special note falls into place.
Article Credits: Susanna Myrtle Lazarus from The Hindu