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Gig Review: Rahman & The Rockstar Entourage :: Nov 1st 2011

Not too long ago, I had written a seemingly incendiary article, slamming the soundtrack of the upcoming Bollywood production Rockstar. But in just one night, A. R. Rahman proved me wrong. And how!

Granted, my initial disillusion stemmed from my own pigeonholed view of what Rock music should comprise – a generous portion of guitars, bass and drums aside a stew of chords and melodies, with a dash of disbelief in traditional Indian music; a dollop of musical cohesion atop a coleslaw of each instrumentalist’s individual inclinations – and voila, that was my ideal recipe for Rock. 

I had mentioned that my disdain for Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar had developed initially because every Mahesh, Ramesh and Ganesh now wants to strut around with a Strat, sporting gypsy coiffeuses, armbands and fatigues.

Perhaps even more annoying is how every Sita, Nita and Gita happen to fall for such types – Okay, maybe just Ranbir Kapoor in that getup of his, screaming hoarsely about preserving his birthrights… but I digress. And it was precisely this digression, this image-consciousness that created my bias against Rockstar’s music in the first place. Wrongfully so.

Last night’s live performance transformed my previously stubborn sentiments. But only against the soundtrack. Read on, and you shall see…


The Part Where Bad Boy Squyd Gets Roughed Up

The concert was off to a punctual start, by Indian Standard Time that is, as security started letting people in the gates an entire hour later than the previously scheduled time. When I got to my gate, I was being denied entry in the press box, even though I had ALL the necessary credentials (Score ID, press pass), because the security / press coordinator DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THE SCORE!?

“What magazine? I know not any score-shore magazine. Get out!” Aghast, I tried to go through the adjacent gate, but to no avail – “Hey you, scoundrel, how many times I am having to tell you, clear out! This is for press only!” At this time, I’m desperately trying to punch in the keys on my phone, trying to call anyone and everyone with even an inkling of influence over the circumstances, but guess what – all phone lines were unreachable; massive electromagnetic jamming due to the high fidelity equipment and speakers rendered telecommunications useless.

More Bad Ass Behaviour From Our Man…

So while I stood outside the gate for another hour, pitying myself and furtively casting glances at the stage every time the curtains swung open to let in some lucky loser with a VIP pass, I could see that I was going to miss out on the beginning. 

Luckily, I managed to mount a pile of unused trash bins, to peek over the barricade, barely reaching high enough to catch a glimpse of the onstage activity. At 7:30 pm, they started off by playing some behind-the-scene videos. But within just a few minutes, one of the aforementioned security guards spotted me and raised an alarm, forcing me to scramble and GTFO. Literally.

In trying to run away unscathed, as well as searching the entire campus for my trusty photographer (no network!), I missed the first half hour or so of the event, in which they began with ‘Sadda Haq’, ‘Phir Se Ud Chala,’ ‘Katiya Karun,’ along with some live improvisations.

The Part Where Squyd Is Sad That His Haq Has Been Disregarded & He Walks Away. Or DOES He?

Just as I was *THIS* close to giving up, I accidentally bumped into someone of consequence – the same someone who handed me my press passes for the evening! And taking her with me to the gate, her arm in one hand and my pass in the other, I proudly marched through and rebuffed all the guards who had previously chucked me out.

Fortunately enough, Parizad and her camera were there by the gate, right at that moment too, so she was able to get in just fine. Before I could as much as exclaim my relief at having found her, she was already gone, lost amidst a flutter of cameramen, my shouting diminished by the sound of other shutterbugs. Don’t worry though, she made it in and out with brilliance. Evidence?

The Part Where Squyd Gets His Mind Blown

Now that I was actually in, I forgot all my previous indignation and humiliation at the hands of the security guards (who were, after all, only performing their duties), I was able to focus on the performance. I walked in right when Ranjit Barot and Sivamani were right in the middle of a drummer’s duel, each musician showcasing their signature grooves and beats, thundering away at their toms like there was no tomorrow.

It was almost reminiscent of Godsmack’s “Batala de los tambores” (literally, ‘battle of the drums’), where Sully Erna and Shannon Larkin duel each other. Except this was even more epic, because I was there to witness it.

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And when the maestro, A. R. Rahman himself graced the stage, bedecked in black, I was speechless as he played the piano for us. For a moment it seemed like time stood still, and I was trapped in suspended animation.

I had temporarily gone deaf… or maybe my ears were just rendered numb by the sounds of the audience’s enthusiasm. As the rest of Rahman’s entourage continued to play, I was at a loss of words, moved by the electrifying energy that resonated through the crowds…

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For the most part of the performance, I was unable to think of anything other than what I was seeing on stage – Rahman’s band and the artsy montage on the center screen such as the charcoal animations of a bird struggling to fly during “Naadan Parinde”, The stage was a constant scene activity, and though I couldn’t discern much because of my distance, I was glad to see everything on the side screens, as the cameras kept switching smoothly between Mohit Chauhan (who is definitely a ladies’ man – “Tum Ho”) and the rest of the performers.

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Around this time, I shamefacedly admitted that my previously held constraints of ‘Rock’ had been shattered, as Rahman & Co. moved the entire arena with their on stage magic. I was almost sinking into a feeling of blissful oblivion of everything around me, including numerous gorgeous females, until they got the crowds going as they played another rendition of ‘Sadda Haq

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The Part With Ranbir Kapoor. Yes, Obsessive Female Fans, You Read Right.

At this point, Ranbir Kapoor, who was initially prancing around with a sunburst Epiphone, disappeared offstage for a few moments. Normally, I wouldn’t notice this, but others did, and amidst numerous ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’, he appeared again, moments later, wielding the signature black-eagled guitar from the movie, on top of a careening camera crane, strumming away in sync with the guitar solo within the song.

At this point, I had to grudge myself with another admission:

Either Ranbir had really learnt to play an electric guitar OR that his acting was finally becoming convincing. You be the judge – see if he’s actually bending the strings or merely feinting.

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After this, they concluded the performance, with a brief 2-3 minute encore of the chorus from ‘Sadda Haq’, this time with dances on stage and pyrotechnics going off simultaneously. At 9:25 pm, A. R. Rahman was heard thanking the audience for their patience and their support, requesting them to watch the movie… disappointed, I decided to make my way towards the gate.

As I walked past the press coordinator who had snubbed me before, I couldn’t help but feel a little cocksure and immature – I really wanted to ‘settle my score’, so to speak. Luckily for him, his superiors were already interrogating him, so I had to contend myself with a dignified dirty look in his direction, and exit the pavilion.

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The Part Where Squyd Gets Emo. But The Bad-Assery Remains, Ladies, Just Saying 😉

And thus, after many trials and tribulations, I walked out of Bhavan’s college, blood rushing to my head, forcing me to go home and listen to ‘Sadda Haq’ over and over again. I can’t help it – it is actually a VERY catchy song. So what if Ranbir disgraces every guitar he touches?

It was A. R. Rahman who composed that anthem, and the rest of the music… and it is with a heartfelt apology to his greatness that I would like to retract my snide statements from before. Considering his (and his band’s) ability to move crowds that night, I wouldn’t be surprised if he could part water with his conductor’s baton. We can only hope that he will continue to do so. For ever. And ever



– Shresht Poddar for being the catalytic converter
– Himani @ Ashtavinayak and Kavita @ Universal PR for logistical support
– Hiloni Kapasi for compilation assistance
– Sandhya Ramachandran, for her CONSTANT support.

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