This week’s highlight was the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing the music of A.R.Rahman at the prestigious Royal Festival Hall at Southbank. Needless to say, the event was sold-out: made distinctive not only by the South Asians of every hue and age crowding the venue, but also the huge number of non-Asian fans. He is now so well known to the foreign audience that they just automatically mumble ‘Jai Ho!’ the moment they hear his name! Alas, for many fans, ‘Jai Ho!’ was one number not played —though all of the chosen pieces were taken from film sound tracks composed by Rahman.
Rahman’s personal journey deserves a film by itself : catapulted from an innocuous background to Hollywood and worldwide acclaim at a comparatively young age is a very distant dream for most Indian musicians/composers. While he ( with great humility) credits his own spirituality for his amazing success---the rest of us are convinced that he has been born with a prodigious talent. The latter, of course, is something Rahman does not mention : he remains almost inarticulate in his responses to any form of interview or cross examination. Obviously, razzmatazz is not something Rahman has picked up along the way despite sharing platforms with other celebrities—and one felt almost sorry for the interviewer ( DJ Nihal, from BBC Radio 1) who struggled , and failed spectacularly, to get any information out of Rahman, at the end of the concert.
It was a wasted opportunity for the 2000 strong crowd who had waited till the end for the maestro to speak, but it is not an unusual experience. I often think that this is because interviewers in the UK , are just not used to celebrities ( especially from India) who are not overwhelmed by their own success. In the West, people usually push their own brands so much that DJs and interviewers have a very easy ride. But with so many really talented Indians now being showcased abroad, the interviewers here have to cope with a huge cultural gap – made worse by an inability to understand the almost Zen like indifference to success or failure that Rahman embodies, and which DJ Nihal was totally unprepared for. After the wonderful music, beautifully interpreted by the London Philharmonic Orchestra—the q and a was a complete disaster—because the DJ could not fathom either the world Rahman comes from or even the music that he composes.
The bottomline is that sharing the same skin colour , or even the same genetic background, does not make us belong to one global community or even automatically understand each other…unless the language is universal, ie, music.
Therefore, the music conducted by the very versatile Matt Dunkley , and played (and sung) by a 100 piece orchestra was a truly unique experience of Rahman’s genius. As he himself pointed out in his brief introduction--most of us would be surprised by his repertoire. And we were surprised-- both by the range of the music and the fact that he has been speaking an international language of music that works wonderfully right across from America to China. There were familiar themes from Roja, Slumdog Millionaire, and Lagaan, but also from Couples Retreat and Lord of the Rings. So even though the q and a did not help, we all understood Rahman very well at the end of the concert!
Meanwhile –the interest in the Scarlett Keeling case refuses to die out in the UK, especially since the trial of the case has now begun in India, nearly two years after the body of the beautiful teenager was found on Anjuna beach. A further twist has been added by the fact that the mother, Fiona MacKeown has pleaded guilty for falsely claiming £19,000 in benefits in the UK and is gearing up for a jail sentence here. This may not endanger her fight for justice for her daughter –but it will definitely make it difficult for her to freely attend the trials in India. It will be a strange moment in the fight for justice for Scarlett when both her mother and her alleged tormentors simultaneously face the prospect of incarceration. Even if the mother’s supposedly dodgy behaviour is used by the defence to deflect accusations of guilt—for the sake of Goa’s reputation as a safe haven for tourists, it is essential that the case is resolved soon. The media here have already reported that the case may last the rest of the year! This is an international scandal and to drag it on and on creates an impression of neglectful, and possibly corrupt, governance. As someone who has a vested interest in Goa’s reputation I find it quite depressing.
However, there is nothing like a piece of artistic conceit to cheer one up. The recently unveiled plan to construct a peculiarly twisted monument called the ArcelorMittal Orbit as the ‘artistic centrepiece of the 2012 Olympic park’ has left many completely gob smacked. Of course, given the fact that Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, persuaded the chief sponsor Laxmi Mittal to part with £ 19.1 million over a 40-second discussion in a cloakroom during the World Economic Forum at Davos, makes me wonder how desperate was Mittal to actually go to the loo? Had Boris Johnson blocked all the avenues of escape and said ‘Give me the money or else?’ These are tough times in the UK ( as the out-going Prime Minister Gordon Brown never tires of telling us) and anything is possible. Given the size and scale of the impending disaster to be designed by artist Anish Kapoor ( whose previous work I have sincerely admired) and structural engineer Cecil Balmond , the 115 metre tall red tower will definitely consume a lot of steel—1400 tonnes, which say some politer critics, could be better used. Johnson himself admits to some puzzlement over what it truly represents: a giant treble clef? a helter skelter ?or even a hookah…? There are many willing to explain to him what it actually does represent ( according to them) but then, this is a family newspaper, so I cannot tell you.
But the ArlecorMittal Orbit will definitely represent a cementing, oops!—steeling of the relationship between the erstwhile colony and the erstwhile ruler. I only hope Sheela Dikshit does not run into Mittal in a cloakroom before the Commonwealth games. Luckily there are very few chances of that happening—but don’t say I didn’t warn you!