This revelation will possibly change your life, reorient your belief system and make you take a sabbatical in order to turn over the proverbial “new leaf”.
There are languages other than Hindi used in India. Incredible. I know. But it had to be said.
What’s that, you say? You knew about it? Really?
My apologies, dear reader. But you can’t expect me to assume the same since I heard that people walked out of a concert by A.R. Rahman because he sang a few songs in Tamil.
Apparently, one of the most recognizable musical figures in India was performing live at Wembley Stadium. He made the mistake of including some Tamil songs in his set list. Consequently, a number of fans walked out of the concert, and began hashtagging their displeasure and asking for refunds on Twitter.
Brace yourselves, guys. A.R. Rahman is Tamil.
He was born in Madras, now Chennai. His father, Rajagopala Kulashekhara, composed for Tamil and Malayali films. He began his career with compositions for the Tamil cinematic masterpiece Roja. He has been consistently delivering some of his most creative and experimental material for Tamil film soundtracks.
The name of the concert in which fans were so shocked to hear songs in Tamil was named “Netru, Indru, Naalai”. That’s Tamil, which translates to “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow”. How can one walk into a concert titled in a language and not expect that to show up at all?
Tamil is a mellifluous, complex language with a massively impressive repertoire of literature, music and cinema (among other artistic output). Rahman didn’t start off with compositions in Hindi, and despite how incredible his work in Hindi has been, anyone who claims to enjoy his music is deluding themselves if they haven’t played ‘Pettai Rap’, ‘Veerapandi Kottaiyile’, ‘Uyire Uyire’or ‘Strawberry Kanne’ on loop. If you are paying top dollar to watch him at Wembley, it stands to reason that you would know how the songs in Tamil build into the lifetime of musical marksmanship this man has constructed, one track at a time.
The set-list did not consist solely of Tamil songs. Hindi hits like Tu Hi Re and Dil Se to Patakha Guddi and Jai Ho graced a set-list that was about half-Hindi and half-Tamil (give or take a song). The immensely obnoxious nature of demanding that the man should abandon his history and sever himself from his linguistic and artistic roots is an outlook that smacks of parochial disdain and fairly repellent bigotry. If you did this, your entitlement needs to be checked and eliminated. Now.
In addition, this event is indicative of the way Hindi and Bollywood are often fabricated as the representative of the Indian identity. Far too often, Hindi becomes the “Indian” tongue and Bollywood becomes “Indian” cinema. Hindi music is to die for, and Bollywood is fun, but neither remotely projects the astounding multiplicity of cultures, ethnicity and artistic diversities this country is known for.
Hindi is Indian. Tamil is Indian. Bollywood is Indian. Kollywood is Indian. Rahman is Indian.
One cannot be gargling on the words “Unity in Diversity” until they froth at the mouth and then deny one of India’s most masterful composers his own history. You might be the type for whom comprehending the lyrics is of utmost importance, and for you, I’d say you can walk out of a concert if the music isn’t really making your night. The problem emerges when you blame the artist for wanting to play songs in a language that you don’t speak. Did it ever occur to anyone that Rahman might have fans who actually want to hear his Tamil pieces? If you took a minute to look outside Bollywood, you’d know he is as celebrated in South India as in any part of the land. Anyone who makes the point that A.R. Rahman does not exist outside Bollywood is shamefully, astonishingly and excessively mistaken.
Asking for refunds is only valid if the artist fails to deliver by not showing up, by delivering a sub-par performance or if they are a mutant possum. No questions have been raised about the quality of Rahman’s sound. His Tamil songs sound as good as they have ever done. His persona is as magnetic as it ever was. You not knowing Tamil is no reason to get your money back.
Next time you want to catch a gig by a man who has international name recognition, try doing just a smidgeon of research. And don’t be a bigot. Please.