Posted in AR Rahman

To the west of “Shire” – back from the middle-earth

“ This is probably the most expensive musical ever made and most dramatic…I think.
The music was different…very different ! Who was it? ”

Overheard just outside the Princess of Wales Theater, Toronto, Canada on Mar 25, 2006 at about 11:30 PM.

If you stepped right outside the theater that night, on to King Street, you would have noticed that the drafty drizzle and the frisky breeze didn’t dampen the spirits a bit, of the Saturday night revelers. It was a warm night for the season. As the sassy theater goers walked out of the hall one by one, the cab drivers had a merciful night. My wife and I were caught in the cab-catching melee and that’s when we started eavesdropping.

Two thousand in all – that’s the capacity of the theater and I cannot possibly remember seeing a single vacant seat, using my sectional vision that night. I am not a theater critic nor is my wife, but when it came to being spellbound that night, we certainly were… in the midst of a largely amused crowd. When the doors open at 7:00 PM for the 7:30 PM show, you hardly expect any action on stage for the next 30 minutes. But it felt like we had stepped into the Middle-earth (albeit in our hulking twenty first century attires), once we started walking in the auditorium. There were a few male hobbits knitting and socializing on the stage, during what seemed like a very relaxed spring evening accompanied by their women lot who were busy in their own right in their sorority, all with a backdrop of what now is the famous icon of LOTR, the wooden braids resembling roots & branches. A lilting solo on the fiddle kept my musical antennae tuned, as a couple of hobbits started chasing some glowworms (fireflies) in the aisles, plainly ignoring the still settling audience. The solo piece that lasted almost thirty minutes made me imagine “Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan” playing Nordic folk in his own style.

What J.R.R.Tolkien created in writing in his cult classic and what Peter Jackson created out of the same classic in a visual medium, has once again been created on stage by Kevin Wallace and Michael Warchus. It is not an easy task to try to present the story through a similar medium again, in three and a half hours, especially after the astounding success of the three part movie which when put together ran for about 10 hours and odd. But the Kevin Wallace productions managed to create what possibly can be termed as the most scintillating spectacle that can be brought in front of you, on stage. We had decent seats in the Orchestra section and were may be 100 feet away from the stage. Whether it was the tragedy that horrifically ended “Act One” on a thunderous note with a Balrog from the mines of Moria spraying confetti on the audience with heavy winds circulating the hall or the attack of the Orcs to break the fellowship or when Aragorn was entering the paths of dead or the scene outlining Sauron’s evil figure or the final battle at the cracks of Mount Doom, the effects that were served to our naked eyes were feasts indeed.

Lighting was ingenious, crafty and masterful. Imaging was one notch above…and the stage – I can’t even praise the creative team enough for putting together the stage and managing the scene changes in a quick and a nimble way, artfully choreographed, echoing the passion of the team, with every move and with every second.

As for casting, it must have been a tough call… but may be not. Not many know that some of the popular Hollywood actors are from Canada – so it shouldn’t be surprising to spot abundant talent there. But the members of the cast, most of them Canadians, convinced me that stage artists too are aplenty in the maple state. Michael Therriault , who played Gollum very rightly deserved the incredible applause & standing ovation he received. It is a very difficult part to play – a split character of sorts, changing your tone, modulation, body language, literally in a split second in front of a live audience. I think he did better than Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in the movie, although it is an unfair comparison.

“I hope there will be no song you can point and say, ‘that’s by AR Rahman’ or ‘that’s by Varttina’!”, Christopher Nightingale, musical supervisor, LOTR.

When I read this statement after watching the show, I really thought he had achieved his goal. The part that stood out in the show was that it was not your regular West end musical or a Broadway musical. By the same brooding token, it was not Hollywood music either, which may be one of the reasons why some critics who slammed the music did what they did. So what was it like? To me, it was sort of like what “Roja’s” music was to the Indian film industry – something new, something different, something radical and something that none expected. Based on the initial reactions, unlike Roja, I suspect LOTR’s music will end up being termed as a “trendsetter”. But I am pretty affirmative that people will wonder what the music is all about. Clearly and distinctly, this was a show, with visceral and innovative music. The sound was totally original – presumably “middle-earthish” (hey, that’s the liberty that the composers had – to be able to create the sound of Tolkien’s imaginative world). Although there was no need for your stereotypical ballads to be interspersed in a story of this nature, if you closely follow the story, there is plenty of room for a lot of music, which is precisely what Michael Warchus & his creative team did – spotted that room. Barring a couple of Webberish ballad numbers, I think the show lacked everything you normally look for in a typical musical, from a musical perspective. I think that is a great feat and a great achievement -To try to do what everyone does not and what everyone is not used to.

AR Rahman – what can I say about his music? One of the main reasons for me traveling to Toronto during the opening weekend to catch the show was to show my support and pride (with a glimmer of hope that I would run into the man himself when I go out to get a drink or something, ha!). This project was such a risky thing to do from his career perspective not just because of having to work with 9 other composers (all part of Varttina) but also because of stepping into an unchartered territory. “Bombay Dreams” was a musical, alright, but it had familiar elements in the story for Rahman. Not LOTR. Even musically it was not the same. He had to work with Christopher Nightingale who apparently was the gluing factor between AR Rahman and Varttina to create a common thread for arrangements. It could have been hard for Rahman (just my speculation) when a piece or a melody he had envisioned gets across to Varttina through Christopher Nightingale and gets modified by them and comes back to Christopher only to be arranged and orchestrated based on his interpretation. Again, like Christopher mentions, AR Rahman is like a chameleon, capable of absorbing all forms of music and interpreting them & creating something original on his own. So may be all the pieces that I thought were Varttina’s were really Rahman’s..At the end, I couldn’t honestly pick out any piece and brand them confidently as Rahman’s.

My guesses on what could have been Rahman’s compositions from among those I still can remember:

* About 4 or 5 percussion bits (similar to the Dacoit Duel from WOHE, only in nature)

* The Prancing Pony Inn lively dance (which was probably the happiest song in the show and they played it again after the end credits)

* The Arwen-Aragorn ballad

* Galadriel’s solo ballad

* The Shankar Mahadevan aalap during a battle scene (who else but Rahman could have visualized this?)

* The pre-show fiddle solo

All of the above were simply awesome pieces and I really hope I get to listen to these in a CD. For someone who is trying to expand the horizons of his music, this effort is a grand feather in Rahman’s cap. I just hope it gets duly recognized by everyone alike around the globe.

As we drove back the next morning, my wife and I were pretending to be the theater critics that we were not, by simply munching over tiny bits of the show one moment at a time, as much as our memories could soak and serve, yet tacitly disappointed over not running into AR Rahman at the coffee bar.

Just like Frodo Baggins, we traveled west over the water (Lake Huron in our case), to the blessed realm of our home where we would find rest from our drive and rejoicing.

Posted in Miscellaneous

Apathetic Apothecaries

Started off the day, today, on a very relaxed note (even though I got only 5.5 hours of sleep last night thanks to some D&B gaming and team drinking)…and as Soledad O’Brian went through her customary good morning with a broad, white and charming smile, the CNN morning news started listing the previous day’s tragic incidents. It is quite depressing when all that a news channel talks about is tragedies and on top of it, you don’t get a world’s view on the news because every American news channel is so US centric. I did write about how much more information you can gain if you listened to BBC for 10 minutes which you can never get even if you watched an American channel for 24 hours. That’s a message for another order and for today, I am going to focus on pharmaceutical industries – kind of a jog down the memory lane triggered by certain news items from the recent past.

There was a news report on ADHD medication and its side effects & addiction among children with constant use. Parents and patients should consult with doctors before taking these prescription medications and make sure they are ok with the side effects. To me, that is common sense! My grand father considered doctors who practice “conventional medicine” (the ones who go to med school and get degrees in allopathic medicine) as Satans or reincarnations of evil sent out to get patients’ lives. Well, not exactly in so many words but he believed that the doctors and the pharma industries had a common goal to exploit the public and to use them as guinea pigs for their experimentation. He himself was a doctor – a Homeopathic doctor, which according to the “conventional practitioners” is really practicing unconventional medicine or alternative medicine – Quacks in their minds! I personally did not buy into the whole “satan” concept however I do believe the drug industries aided by their powerful doctor agents try to push their “treat everything with medicine” idea. Obviously end of the day, money talks.

A nice segue into a movie that I watched recently – “The Constant Gardner”. The basic premise of the movie is how Africa has been made the testing ground (live beta test lab!!) for a lot of new medicines that the drug companies want to introduce into the market. A great alternative to laboratory mice & monkeys! Probably not as cheap but definitely a better result producing tool – and needless to say, no one cares for the lives of these cursed souls who have inhabited the planet longer than any other race or creed..Longer than the Whites, Indians, Chinese, Arabs and Asians.

A very traumatizing movie, with a very realistic ending which was more like presenting a problem to the audience through some fictional work and yet not concluding with any solution but making the audience ponder over it.

I just wonder why we can’t let the human body be itself. Do we have to treat everything just because we think we can? After hundreds of years of evolution of this science of medicine, physiology or whatever you want to call it, aren’t the super brains still struggling to understand the complex nature of the human body? Doctors still keep inventing new diseases, disorders, symptoms and deficiencies every other day. The pharmaceutical companies keep inventing new medicines to treat these new diseases every third day spending millions and millions of dollars in their R&D. And then what happens? Out of the small proportion of these medicines that make it to the consumer market, almost every single medicine has at least one known side effect and the manufacturers sell these drugs with warnings, basically letting the customers know that when they use these, they are using them at their own discretion. So all these known and unknown side effects end up creating new symptoms, disorders or diseases which the doctors have now to invent and name. Don’t you see?? It is a vicious cycle – quite vicious because it involves human lives and human bodies.

Again, why do we have to try to cure everything? Or try to make everything perfect..? Perfection is a matter of perception. Why do we have to fix our sagging eye lids? Why do we have to fix our twisted tooth line? Why do we have to worry about a 12 month old having attention deficiency? Why do we need to treat sleeplessness with medicines? Why do we need to treat obesity with medicines and surgery (tummy tuck)? Why do we have to go against the law of nature and try to rectify its perceived flaws? Is there any conventional medicine that has no side effect at all? Is there any drug that a pharmaceutical company can come forward and vouch for its safety for all? The list never ends.

Evil incarnations or not – the so called conventional medicine, thanks to the altruistic (sic) nature of the drug industries is really all about going against the convention. And you, me and our neighbors are all part of this drug chain. Those of us who are forced into believing that conventional drugs really can cure all ailments get sucked into the drug chain.

We are still better off than that poor little malnourished 4 year old African boy, who doesn’t know that he lost his mom to AIDS, his Dad to some Pharmaceutical experiment and that he has got just 1 more year to live due to inheriting HIV from his mom.

Such is the curse of the apathetic apothecaries!

Posted in Uncategorized

All that and more

Another harrowing terrorist incident in India and people just moved on. So did the dead people – the dead innocent people. I may be a little late in trying to shed my tears for the loss of innocent lives in Varanasi. But an interesting post I read in a blog ( made me think about this and actually write about this. The dead people have moved on. Indeed. But their loss, I am sure is being felt by every single family member and every single friend they had when they were alive. This blogger was just amused by the inexplicable (may be not) media phenomenon – which tends to glorify the living for their spirit to move on. Of course, it would be hard to argue if the spirit really needs glorification or not because it deals with human mind and castigating such glorification would make me inhuman. Yet, I agreed with the blogger’s view and questioned the media – What else would these people do?

Censuring apart, the arguably satisfying yet surprising factor was that there were no major flare-ups. There was no major sectarian violence reported in any part of the country, at least as a result of the above incident. So, another Ayodhya was averted.

Well. My script writing hobby(!!) finally took off this past weekend. The Magic Screenwriter tool that I purchased about 5 years ago was finally put into use although I managed to finish only 2 pages in one sitting. It is kind of odd that a project team movie idea should finally motivate me to write this script. But now, I have kind of pushed myself into a corner. I have to get the script ready this weekend for this 6-7 minute movie so that I can shoot the movie the following week and spend the following week editing it. Sometimes, discontinuity dampens your drive to do something. Just don’t want that to happen to my first attempt in making a movie (doesn’t matter if this is going to be quite a damp squib). So much fun to look forward to before a family get together Easter weekend which is going to be immediately followed by a 3 week Indian Summer in ……
well …India.

Much to the chagrin of myself, I have recently not dwelled deep (in blog terms) into stuff that have definitely affected me, interested me and more importantly kept me entertained. Getting busy at work is just an excuse. What have I got? Hmm…Godfather music (of course by AR Rahman), Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu (Kamal Hassan starrer, yet to be released but has generated quite a bit of an interest), Lord of the Rings stage musical, recently read books, upcoming concerts, my racquetball scene, my recently concluded teaching venture (much like the one I did last year), some movies and of course the always passionate topics around politics & Republican bashing.

Have to mention one thing that caught my cricketing ear recently was the amazing Aus-SA game where runs were scored at utopian pace. Who would have believed 434 can really be chased? I need to get hold of that DVD sometime.

All that and more – so much happening around that I do sometimes feel disconnected & look up to people who stay on top of these things. I need a dynamic priority generating chip in my brain.

Posted in Movies - General, Politics - General

Pat on your own back

Another Oscars just rolled over the weekend and from my past 8 years of existence in the US, I have come to realize that Oscars is simply an unscrupulous opportunity for Hollywood to give a pat on its own back for yet another year of successful bearing of the torch of world cinema, by illuminating the entire globe with its star power. All the glamour and glitz associated with the ceremonies are all metaphors of the American dream that every man in the universe wants to live through. To bring it all to prominence for three and a half hours and to make a few hundred millions watch the show at the same time with red carpet reviews, glowing celebrity faces, designer dresses & expensive jewelry is something only Hollywood can think of producing, much like the many fantasy movie productions which serve as escapist vehicles for those depressed and deprived who want to get away from their daily miseries.

I am glad “Crash” won – It was certainly the best movie I watched last year. And you can read my archive (link below) where I scribbled a word or two about this movie. I rarely get moved by movies to the point where I really analyze it. So for once, it gives me some sense of satisfaction that I am totally not “out of touch” with the Academy.

Jon Stewart was brilliant and I didn’t think he was nervous to begin with as every Monday morning newscaster projected to be. What was surprising was the fact there was far less Bush chiding during the course of his commentary that evening than what his fans probably expected, notwithstanding the fact that he was in Hollywood, “Liberals’ own country”. George Clooney’s extempore was better than many boring speeches that were read that night (Reese Witherspoon’s was the worst)..made me wonder at times, “Where is Michael Moore?”

Oscars or not, the gossip columns around political alliances in Tamil Nadu kept me glued to the Indian news websites for a few minutes every day. Who would have imagined Vaiko would decide to hold on to Amma’s “mundhanai” for the sake of getting 13 more seats? Guess, however principled a leader you are and however commendable your leadership is, you have to give into the political pressures of your party workers – well at least that’s how it seemed when MDMK joined the AIADMK ranks for the 2006 polls. Dirty politics just got dirtier. But what is exquisite about this alliance is the amazing clout Karunanidhi has on the state politics even when everyone knows he is literally counting his days (personally as well as politically). How on earth does an entire new generation think that an 80+ year old is capable of governing the state in the 21st century? Why couldn’t the rational thinkers think rationally and see the political gimmicks through & decide on a more constructive path for their betterment? I know I am talking about what seems like an utopian world in Tamil Nadu. The point is why have it to be an utopian world?

Or may be just like the Oscars, the elections in TN are a way for the Dravidian parties to pat on their own backs for having successfully governed another term exploiting the electorate, spreading their ideologies over the innocent & blind public.