A.R. Rahman’s latest concert may not hit all the notes, but it still displays his musical genius.
When it comes to concerts, there are certain performers that come loaded with expectations. Indian composer, musician and singer A.R. Rahman, already of the stuff of Indian cinema legends, is undoubtedly one of them – with hundreds of hit film songs to his credit, not to mention two Academy Awards, two Grammy Awards, a Bafta award and a Golden Globe award for his work, you can’t blame a fan for expecting to be blown away at one of his concerts.
Hence why A.R. Rahman Infinite Love Live In Concert, held on April 26, was slightly underwhelming.
It was an entertaining concert by most standards, and one would be hard-pressed to find many flaws; the sheer excitement of the 15,000 fans gathered at Stadium Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur, was testament enough to the huge following the man has worldwide, and the thrill of listening to his music performed live.
The show only comes up short, however, in comparison to Rahman’s own legacy.
The problem seemed to be song selection and flow.
It is completely understandable that Rahman would want to highlight his newer compositions at the concert, but with over two decades of songs to choose from, it is a pity that many of his older hits were not featured in the line-up.
The pacing of the show seemed a little odd too, with one song shifting to the next rather abruptly, for instance a rendition of the classical-influenced Narumugaiye (from Iruvar) being immediately followed by the techno number Irumbile Oru Irudhaiyam (Enthiran), which then leads to the R&B-style Hosanna (Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa).
That is not to say the three-and-a-half hour concert did not have its high points, and when they came, they were indeed sublime.
Rahman has always had the magic touch when matching his compositions to singers, and this was amply proven at the concert.
South Indian singer Mano, for instance, garnered the biggest cheers for his enthusiastic rendition of the 1990s superhit song Mukkabla (Kadhalan), which he performed with Neeti Mohan.
Equally popular was a medley of hits that he performed with gusto, accompanied by vocalist Vijay Prakash, which included catchy numbers like Veerapandi Kottaiyile (Thiruda Thiruda), Kuchi Kuchi Rakkamma (Bombay) and Yen Peru Padayappa (Padayappa).
Acclaimed singer Chitra, meanwhile, put her crystal clear voice on full display with numbers like Nenjinile (Uyire), Narumugaiye, and one of her earliest works with Rahman, Malargale (Love Birds).
One of Indian cinema’s most acclaimed singers, it was indeed a privilege to listen to her live.
Vijay, meanwhile, blew the audience away with his mellifluous voice in an unplugged rendition of Ennavale (Kadhalan), accompanied by Rahman on piano and Naveen Kumar on the flute; a stirringly beautiful performance that displayed the strength of Rahman’s melodies.
A similarly understated segment was another of the show’s highlights, an instrumental collaboration between Rahman, Naveen and mohan veena (a string instrument) player Vishwa Mohan Bhatt.
Though without vocals, their performance of the hauntingly sad Uyire (Bombay) spoke volumes as the yearning strings and melancholic piano contrasted with the wails of the flute.
In a lovely shift of tone, the trio next performed the lilting, youthful Chinna Chinna Aasai (Roja), Rahman’s very first hit, much to the delight of the audience.
Equally arresting was the Qawwali segment of the show, which saw Rahman, together with vocalists like Javed Ali and Mohit Chauhan, performing two of his Sufi-inspired numbers: Kun Faaya Kun (Rockstar) and Khwaja Mere Khwaja (Jodhaa Akhbar).
The hypnotic rhythms, coupled with the soaring, layered vocals, made for excellent listening.
Ironically, these low-key portions of the concert were more successful than some of the splashier performances, though the dynamic stage settings and wonderfully-choeographed background dancers did make for great visuals.
While newer songs like those from upcoming movie Kochadaiiyaan and Jiya Re from Jab Tak Hain Jaan kept the crowd going, they weren’t particularly memorable.
Harshdeep Kaur and Neeti, however, performed an infectious version of Rahman’s latest hit from Highway, Patakha Guddi, while Mohit’s performance of rock anthem Sadda Haq, from Rockstar, definitely had the audience hyped up.
Rahman’s band and accompanying orchestra, too, deserve top marks for the sheer skill with which they performed the incredibly diverse numbers in the show.
The concert wrapped up with Rahman’s single Infinite Love, followed by his Oscar-winning song from Slumdog Millionaire, Jai Ho.
It was a finale that had most of the audience on its feet, dancing to the catchy number, and it was not difficult to imagine most of them humming their favourite Rahman tune as they left.
If only more of them had actually made it into the show itself, it would have been a perfect night.