Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Analysis: Slumdog Millionaire (A.R Rahman)

Yeah, I indeed did not get the time to watch the film previously! I did check it out a couple of days back though, and really enjoyed it. Except for the unusual scenes of slum kids and local gangsters speaking perfect English, this film hardly feels like a product of Hollywood. The Indian spirit runs fresh and strong throughout and kept me hooked on till the end. Special credit should go to the performances of the kids and everyone in the cast, the acting was top notch and felt really natural. This is easily my second favourite movie of last year, following only The Dark Knight.

Now speaking about the score… I was initially somewhat skeptical of the music when I first listened to it on the CD. It isn’t really what I expected from Rahman for this kind of film, primarily consisting of a (quite good) blend of electronics, techno beats and synths with traditional Indian instruments and a few orchestral effects. Either way, after some listens I liked two tracks quite quickly – Mausam & Escape (a fast-paced action cue with some frantic high staccato string work and blend of sitar/electronics) and Latika’s theme (featuring a lovely wordless theme by vocalist Suzanne, supported by sitar and tanpura). I think that judging a score solely by what it is on CD is rather unfair, because the music is often more appreciated after discovering its effect in situ in the film, alongside the visuals.

So while watching the film I was keeping an ear out for the score too. I actually noticed the 16 minutes worth of score material on the soundtrack CD is probably pretty much all that was there, with minor variations and edits in places (confirmed after I listened to the Academy promo). The rest of the music largely consisted of the songs playing in the background (I don't consider those as *score*). O… Saya and Paper Planes were used in the opening sequence and a train montage sequence respectively as background music, and I also heard some of the source music from the original Who Wants To Be A Millionaire show. Most of the other scenes didn’t have any music. Not that I find it bad, as I previously had said, silence can often work as a great score itself in the film in certain situations. But I wonder how did this thing even come close to getting nominated for the Best Original Score award when previously Alan Menken’s lovely score to Enchanted was disqualified on the grounds of not having enough score, and that had about 35 minutes of score at least? Not that it bothers me, but it's certainly interesting how the judges sometimes cross their own rules (or conveniently change them at the eleventh hour) to allow their nominee of choice to win.

Either way, I liked how the score that was there worked in the film, for most of the part. Riots, with its layers of pounding and unsettling electronics provided a good underscore for the corresponding scene, though I’d have preferred something more fast-paced and tense.

I instantly liked the use of the opening guitar melody in Mausam & Escape, played when Jamal sees Latika at the train station. It provided a nice and appropriate enhancement of the emotions onscreen. The “Escape” part consisting of frentic sitar and electronics joined by high staccato strings plays in two parts of the film – when the kids are escaping from Maman’s cronies and when Javed’s men kidnap Latika at the train station. And both times it worked well to set the adrenaline pumping. The sheer energy and sense of terror and drama in this piece is remarkable, and for that reason this is undoubtedly my favourite cue from this album, and I rank it up there as one of the best action cues by Rahman.

Latika’s theme played beautifully especially in the final scene of the film (right before the Jai Ho sequence). It also plays when Salim purposely lets go of Latika’s hand when running from Maman, which beautifully highlights the sense of tragedy in Latika and Jamal, and when he and Jamal are searching for her in Mumbai. Suzanne's wordless vocals are sweet and heartwarming, and the gentle touch with sitar and tanpura is very precise and lovely. Initially I thought the piece felt a little incomplete, and some strings thrown in would’ve made it stronger. But in the movie I noticed the character of Latika isn't really developed a lot, and this theme with its haunting, distant and yet sweet quality fits her perfectly.

Liquid Dance is one cue I didn’t immediately notice in the film. It is a concoction of alaaps by Palakkad Sriram and Madhumita on a techno beat supported by synth strings (think of a slower cousin of Navras). Reminded me a bit of Rahman's theme music from Rangeela. Later on looking back I saw it was used in the scene where Jamal is following Salim to Javed’s house. I felt it was pretty much a filler, didn’t really do anything much for the visuals.

Millionaire is a fast-paced techno vehicle played when Latika is going for Jamal when he’s being asked the final question. Played along quite well alongside the visuals I think, nothing overtly special though. And yeah, I’d like to mention I really liked the use of O Saya and Jai Ho (I initially thought the choreography was poorly done, but later I found out it was initially done for the Aaj Ki Raat song instead, so I think in the light of this it still fits acceptably well) in the film, really fun songs and played out very well at the appropriate time. I’m at least very happy Rahman got the well deserved Best Original Song award. The rest of the songs didn't really stand out much for me (Ringa Ringa has a quite catchy tune/rhythm though).

Regarding the score , I certainly liked it a lot and whatever was there played really well on the screen, but I can’t help but still feel it is somewhat hyped. The soundtrack is VERY good, but it isn't the best in Rahman's career, who has produced even superior scores like Lagaan and Bose: The Forgotten Hero previously. I could’ve done with some better music at some points, and the fact there was too little of it doesn’t help it either (something I don't really care about, but allegedly the AMPAS does). I mean, I cannot think of it up there with the likes of Howard Shore’s Lord Of The Rings scores, or Dario Marianelli’s Atonement. Now granted the songs worked well along the visuals, but then that's why we have separate categories of Score and Song awards.

Don't get me wrong, I really liked this score, and Mausam & Escape and Latika's Theme have quickly found a place among my most played tracks. But should this be preferred over the amazing scores nominated alongside it? This is the highest award of honour a film score can get and should it just be handed over without the appropriate fierce competition? This is why I say that while it's a good score, I'd have liked to see the award go to the far superior scores of Defiance and Wall-E.

But I am happy to say isn’t a disappointment in the league of Gustavo Santaolalla’s Babel. The way I see it, this award is the Academy's acknowledgement of Rahman's immense contribution to the world of film music. I’m happy to see Rahman finally getting the recognition he deserves, for a fine score nonetheless, and hope to see him get bigger and better projects (and releases) as a result.

Music Rating - 4 out of 5

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