The ‘discovery’ of Rahman?

With his two Grammys, Rahman is the only Indian to win the prestigious music award - it’s the Oscar of music.

Aman Kanth

“It’s insane…God has done it again” were the words of AR Rahman, the ‘Mozart of Madras’ when the 36-year-old Bollywood music composer won two Grammy Awards for Best Song and Best Soundtrack for last year’s super hit ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ on 1st February 2010 in a star studded Grammy ceremony.
The maverick musician not only pipped fellow Indian musicians- Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar and tabla ace Zakir Hussain- but also overshadowed the American rocker Bruce Springsteen with the latter’s song ‘The Wrestler’ from the movie with the same name also nominated for Best Soundtrack award.

With his two Grammys, Rahman is the only Indian to win the prestigious music award- it’s the Oscar of music- in the individual category unlike his predecessors –Pandit Ravi Shankar who shared two Grammys with Yehudi Menuhin way back in 1967 for ‘East Meets West’ and George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell and Klaus Voorman for their legendary ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ album. Earlier, Zakir Hussain and Pandit Vishwva Mohan Bhatt too have won the Grammys for collaborating with various artists.

Despite all the hype and hoopla surrounding the Oscar winning ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and its newfound anthem ‘Jai Ho,’ Rahman seems to be right in a way when he disbelievingly says “It’s insane,” reason being that ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is not the only phenomenal work in his oeuvre.

Saying that ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is not the only good work of Rahman, does not necessarily mean that one belittles his creative genius. For, someone who is even remotely familiar with the opus of Rahman will certainly know that the gifted composer has a tradition of being associated with timeless classics. Right from ‘Roja’ to ‘Jodhaa Akbar,’ Rahman’s compositions are known for their riveting sound spaces, mirroring the rich and varied textures of world music.

For instance, who can forget the inspiring melodies of ‘Roja,’ the feisty numbers of ‘Rangeela,’ soul stirring compositions of ‘Bombay,’ the romantically charged tunes of ‘Taal’ and ‘Dil Se’ or the pastoral melodies of ‘Lagaan’ to name a few. Incontrovertibly, Rahman is the quintessential conjurer whose compositions work like cast spells on music lovers.

Therefore, with due respect to Danny Boyle and his ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ I do not consider ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ to be the masterstroke of Rahman.

As a fellow Indian, Rahman’s winning two Grammys is a proud moment for us and the entire Indian music fraternity. Yet, behind the thin veneer of gleaming trophies, I am simply not amused by the way the West is conferring one award after another to a film whose USP is the glorification of the appalling face of India’s contemptible hunger and terrible poverty; something which the ‘Occident’ has always associated with the ‘Orient’– a Third World nation best known as a tourist haven for nirvana seeking, beer reeking and pot smoking backpacker foreigners!
No doubt that in the last one year, Rahman’s music has been one of the biggest exports from India. The prodigiously talented composer has all of a sudden become Hollywood’s favourite, courtesy ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’ An ‘oblivious’ West has ‘discovered’ Rahman, who, all this while was invisible in the kitschy and glittering by lanes of Bollywood.

Was Hollywood purposely ignorant of Rahman when he won four National Awards, composed music for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Bombay Dreams,’ gave background music for a Chinese movie ‘Warriors of Heaven on Earth’ and composed the score for the stage production of ‘Lord of The Rings’?

How was the West so impervious to a living legend before ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ happened? Is it just because ‘Slumdog’ was a film by a British director rather than an Indian one? Did no Indian film ever depict the grim face of India’s appalling poverty (remember ‘Salaam Bombay’) with chutzpah? Did Rahman’s music never reach the ears of the hallowed Hollywood studios?

It is possible if one considers India to be on a different planet.

And that is surely not the case as even we sway to the tunes of good old Rock, Pop, Jazz and R&B, gorge McDonald hamburgers and french-fries, sport latest fads right from live-ins, Emo hair, body piercing, tattoos, black nail paints, ‘dangerously’ low waist jeans, size zero, follow Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, and dream about the latest Hollywood heartthrob, the ‘Twilight’ star Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and et al!

When there is so much of West in India, how come there is not even an iota of Indian influence on the West (racial hatred against Indians and ‘yoga’ or ‘kamasutra’ won’t make it to this list)? Is it ignorance, naivety or is it just the First World being itself?

Coming back to Rahman, the rare breed of musicians was always there, belting one hit after another while the West chose to ignore the prodigiously talented Indian musician till ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ saw the light of the day and showered him with numerous awards like never before. With scores of national and international awards, it’s high time that the Hollywood bosses acknowledged the fact that AR Rahman is worth more than the Oscars and Grammys of ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’

He is a rare master and comes from a land which has produced maestros since forever. Jai ho to that!

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