Mumbai, India 11/26/2008 – The bustling city of twenty million was brutally shattered by an unprecedented string of highly-sophisticated and coordinated attacks never witnessed before. The horror continues fifty-five hours later, as I painstakingly write these very words.
During these moments of such deep sorrow and tragedy, writing on a film may seem rather frivolous…even insensitive. However, God works in mysterious and miraculous ways my friends.
Rarely, if ever, does the Western world catch a glimpse into the beauty and majesty of such a dynamic city as Mumbai. Yet, today, her innocence has been ravaged and raped, left to bleed in front of the entire world. A hostage within her own land, her booming image will vanish within the minds of many internationals worldwide.
However, like a godsend in the nick of time, Danny Boyle brings the Western world a cinematic marvel that places Mumbai right back in the centre of attention…but for all the right reasons this time. Simon Beautoy’s script, based on Vikas Swarup’s novel, “Q&A,” touches on the life of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), an impoverished orphan raised in the slums of Mumbai, who unexpectedly reaches the Rs. 20 Million question on India’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Accused of cheating, he defends himself against the authorities by narrating his life on the streets - a sequence of mesmerizing tales which hold the key to all his right answers.
Through Anthony Dod Mantel’s exquisite cinematography, Beaufoy’s beautifully orchestrated script, and Boyle’s breath-taking execution, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE pays homage to Mumbai – The resilient city of unwavering spirit and unbridled passion. She is the city of dreams…
Many of the few who have been fortunate enough to view this film will tell you that in addition to the cinematic landscapes, the film’s background score and OST are equally important in the its attempt to open your eyes and ears to a whole new world. The living masterpiece behind the music is the legendary A.R. Rahman, India’s most treasured and prized composer.
The gentleman is having himself a year that even the greatest musicians could only dream of. After taking India’s domestic market by storm with five critically acclaimed soundtracks, he pours the icing on the cake with an International project set to light the global stage on fire (many are already handing the Oscar over to the team of Slumdog Millionaire). All hype aside, the soundtrack is an absolute explosion of genres, cultures, and sounds. Rahman’s sound, coupled with Boyle’s vision, sculpts a gorgeous three-dimensional statue of one of the most underrated cities in the world…and one kid’s struggle to survive it…
We’ll first have a listen to the four original songs, followed by analysis of the six thematic/instrumental pieces.
Rahman lifts off with O…Saya, a song that is, much like the rest of the soundtrack, an electrifying detonation of sound and style. Filled with some riveting electronic tones, Rahman ups the tempo with a breath-taking drumming performance that features throughout the backdrops of this flashy and rhythmic track. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of this number is the international collaboration between A.R. Rahman and M.I.A., both of whom are featured vocalists. Lyrically, the song doesn’t hold much scope. Verdict: It is the composition’s raw attitude and thumping grooves that will absolutely light your body on fire!
Ah…as if out of nowhere, Rahman throws in a little cultural flavor into this otherwise progressive soundtrack with some traditional Indian film sounds in Ringa Ringa. Bringing a slight touch of familiarity to his Indian listeners, the track bears resemblance to the early 90s cult-classic “Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai.” Despite the nostalgia of many of the styles and sounds of the 90s, Rahman infuses the number with a sultry blend of old and new elements, couples it with an alluring melody, and ultimately creates a unique sound that is both traditional and progressive simultaneously. Alka Yagnik, one of India’s most prolific and seasoned playback vocalists, does complete justice to her role as one of Rahman’s favorites. Raqib Alam’s lyrics culminate the musical trinity of Ringa Ringa with class. Verdict: This song is sure to add a splash of color to Boyle’s ambitious portrait.
“You are my waking dream. You’re all that’s real to me. You are the magic in the world I see. You are my prayer I sing. You brought me to my knees. You are the faith that made me believe. Dreams on fire...higher and higher. Passions burning…right on the pyre…” – Blaaze and Wendy Parr
Rahman begins to show us his sensitively beautiful side in the absolutely gorgeous Dreams On Fire. Rendered with exquisite passion by Suzanne D’Mello, your heart skips a beat as your soul is captivated by the inspiring melody amidst the softly lit acoustic ambiance. The vocal layering is another example of where this song soars in creative ingenuity. And just like all the other pieces of Slumdog Millionaire, Rahman has provided a steady blend of east and west – a phenomenon that gives the music its universal textures and borderless emotions. However, the true splendor of this composition would have gone unrealized if it were not for the awe-inspiring lyrics by Blaaze and Wendy Parr, whose words rewrite the very essence of romance. Verdict: Rarely do we earn the opportunity to experience such purity in music…rarely…
Just like that, Rahman re-invites sheer power, brute force, and pure energy into the soundtrack with Jai Ho. An out-and-out dance track, Jai Ho passes with flying colors thanks to the breezy melodic riffs and trans-genre feel in the arrangements, enabling the song to take you wherever you want it to! Interestingly enough, the song has Latin traces throughout as well. Leading the charge is another Rahman favorite, Sukhwinder Singh, who always seems to shine in such exhilarating environments. Mahalaxmi Iyer and Tanvi Shah provide Sukhi with perfect backing support. Lyricist Gulzar, India’s legendary and revered poet/lyricist, writes on ambition, passion, and victory in the most poetic of ways. Verdict: Another vibrant composition that is sure to blow the roof off cinema halls.
Riots marks the beginning of a series of powerful and vigorous thematic pieces by Rahman. While the piece is fairly short, it packs a mighty punch. Rahman, amidst the electronic sounds and synth-ambiance, seems to have been inspired by many of the tribal sounds of Africa. Once again, Rahman tames a composition to liquefy cultural sounds to create the voice of Slumdog Millionaire.
Mausam & Escape is the best thematic instrumental on the lot! Rahman simply shows off as programmer. He synthesizes a mesmerizingly wicked aura of sound that explodes all over you! The piece opens up on an extremely serene note, courtesy Rashid Ali and Sanjay Joseph’s enticing play of the guitars, before we are completely engulfed by a musical explosion! Be it the heart-pounding bass lines, Asad’s ridiculously thrilling sitar plucks, the soul-thumping synths, or the haunting orchestral strings…Rahman’s genius is sculpted into a musical monument that will set screens ablaze!
What you hear in Liquid Dance is a masterful blend that you’ve never heard before, and most probably will never hear again. Apart from using some very cool new sounds and effects, Rahman once again blends east and west, as he superimposes a pair of synthesized sargams (Indian classical vocals), courtesy Palakkad Sriram and Madhumitha, atop an electronically programmed hip-hop rhythm. Trust me, it’s hard to classify a sound that has never existed before! Adding to the flair, Rahman’s orchestral strings give the piece a hauntingly unique signature. It’s yet another phenomenal piece of work from the genius of Rahman.
Latika’s Theme, in essence, is the instrumental of the very soulful “Dreams On Fire.” However, Rahman realizes that the beauty of the original song lies within the melodic power and vocal gentleness. Hence, the only possible way to fully harness the beauty of the original is not through instrumental rendition, rather by asking Suzanne D’Mello, the original singer, to simply hum the entire melody. And although the original song was lifted furthermore by Blaaze and Wendy Parr’s inspiring words, this silent version creates its own inspiring poetry, uninhibited by the boundaries of language. Ultimately, it is the sweetest of musical fragrances.
Millionaire is perhaps the one and only track that sounds conventional in its production and overall treatment. It is another fast-tempo background piece filled with thumps of bass and panning synths. However, this piece doesn’t allow for much creative interjection. In any other Background OST, this piece would have been extremely well received, but not here, where Rahman has taken Slumdog Millionaire to ridiculously high levels.
We’ve heard Rahman try his hand at almost every genre in existence, including many that aren’t. Yet, I don’t think we would ever predict Rahman to tackle a Gangsta Rap track – but he does just that and so much more with Gangsta Blues. Rahman lays the cement with a Techno-esque hip-hop rhythm, while also adding some Jazz elements, including some Blues organ sounds. With a bad boy attitude all laid out for him in the arrangements, Blaaze struts his stuff with a relaxed reggae ‘n’ rap rendition alongside Tanvi Shah. So let’s count it up, we have a little Techno, some Hip Hop, a splash of Jazz, a hint of Reggae, and a shade of Rap…the end result of which is pure entertainment and attitude. How do you do it Rahman?
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE’S background OST is a brilliant landscape of cultural textures, global sounds, and cross-genre transformations. Rahman’s musical voice for the film is one that screams volumes on screen and entertains wildly in audio.
A.R. Rahman has just ended a year for the ages. It is safe to say that this score will go down as one of his greatest works ever, and by far his most satisfying international project. If you ask me, Rahman is leaps and bounds ahead of his competition for Oscar honors. Some call him God. Others call him a Musical Prophet. Regardless of what you believe, this masterpiece proves that Rahman is an international phenomenon producing music at a level higher than anybody else right now. Listen to him…