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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

20 years of a new sound....20 years of A R Rahman

Today [Aug 15, 2012], it's 20 years since the release of the Tamil Movie 'Roja' which marked the debut of A R Rahman who has gone on to win 2 Academy Awards (Oscars) apart from a multitude of other awards.....well, reams of papers and Giga bytes of data have already stated the kind of impact he has had on the music scene, and on a music lover, and I do not intend to add to those. Instead, I'm trying to recount the effect he and his music had on me...

I do not recall when it was exactly that I found the connection between the name ‘A R Rahman’ and the kind of music I used to like, but I think it was in my Class 8, after listening to ‘Ooh La La La’ from ‘Minsara Kanavu’ that I decided that I have indeed become a ‘fan’ of this man’s music. Till then, through 1992-1995, though I had been finding songs from ‘Roja’, ‘Gentleman’, ‘Duet’, ‘Kadhalan’, ‘Bombay’ and ‘Rangeela’ (I had not heard tracks from films like ‘Puthiya Mugham’, ‘Thiruda Thiruda’, etc till much later) likeable, the attention I used to pay to his music (and later, his persona and the values he stands by) grew thereafter only.

Grew it did, and how!

It cannot be easily expressed in words – but everyone aged 4-15 in 1992 will be able to relate to it; let me make an attempt, though.

The period from 1996 is what I’d call as the ‘golden age of my fanboy-ship’ – replete with instances like the following:

  • Incessantly arguing with my friends about how AR’s music is better than anybody else’s: This tempered down after I watched AR on Simi Garewal’s show wherein he mentioned “Appreciate good music”; and I stopped arguing after he won Oscars – one, coz by now almost everyone I’d meet had at least one AR song among their favourites and two, I began to appreciate the fact there’s absolutely no use in trying to convince anyone about that, coz I can spend that time in listening to his songs.
  • Spending time on listening to whatever his I could lay my hands on: This ‘laying my hands on’ meant the (original) cassettes my parents would occasionally buy for me from my Class 10 onwards, those I would (sometimes, beg and) borrow from like-minded friends, etc. This sort-of ‘graduated’ to mp3s after I got a PC, (back to Original) CDs after getting a job, and now, legal mp3s from ‘Flyte’ at flipkart.com
  • Rote-learning the details in the inlay cards of cassettes and thus have all details of his tracks at my finger-tips: The important, positive fall-out of this is that I learnt the names of a variety of musical instruments and this would make me try to locate the instrument in the songs I’d listen to; this further made me realise the intricate layering AR adorns his songs with. Later, I also learnt a lot about the music-making process in vogue today – to the extent I once used to say that ‘Neve 88R’ is my fav mixing console, though to this day I have never been to a recording studio!
  • Reading all his interviews wherever they’d appear: initially it was in print, and now it’s all digital. Interestingly, from the time I developed a keen interest on AR’s works, it now seems that that the universe conspired to further that interest of mine – without much effort on my part, these would reach me! In the early part of the last decade, I came across the AR Fans’ group on Yahoo! and since then, collecting the trivia on him and his works has become a breeze.
  • I fell in love with Flute, Veena, Piano, Cello – well, all those instruments AR used in his songs.
  • Liking and adoring all those singers who sang for AR and being bowled over by how they used to be at their versatile best when with AR.
  • Developing a keen ear for the background score of movies and revel that AR’s BGM scores are the best.
  • Trying to figure out which all ads of late 80s had AR’s music; plus, trying to identify all those non-AR songs [in the 4 South Indian languages] of late 80s and early 90s that had the un-mistakeable AR touch in them (coz AR as Dileep had worked as keyboard programmer for all the leading composers then). It turns out that many songs I had so noted as having the AR touch in fact had his involvement – this gets revealed in the interviews / talks given by people associated with those films and I feel proud that my instincts were indeed right!
  • Occasionally feeling that AR’s position is under threat when some new composers came along – fed by some stupid write-ups, of course. But, AR kept surprising me through his songs; the said other composers surprised too, by their very short stints and shelf-lives, repetition, arrogance, lack of versatility, etc. I grew out of this insecurity after his Oscar wins. Well, no composer in India now is that versatile, as AR is.
  • Looking forward to every new soundtrack release of AR and being a part of whatever little hype is there for it (most of AR's films are notorious for low profile marketing).
So, what were the other impacts on me? Let me recall a few.

The more I read about AR, the more I liked his personality traits – the important ones being Humility, Hard-work, Spirituality, Patriotism, Tolerance, Courage to tread the path not taken (Risk-taking), Loving one’s family and Treating one’s job like worship. These traits, I believe, everyone needs to incorporate into their lives.

Learn to accept variety and heterogeneity – not just in music, but also in everyday lives. There is the need to be open-minded and also keep our expectations low.

Being ‘open’ means, I now listen to other composers’ works too and also develop a liking to a few of them – but, after every such bout of 'Other Composers', ultimately I return to AR’s fold;  like they say about having food from hotel once in a while, but being too fond of that cooked by our moms!

There’s no end to it if I were to start writing / speaking about AR, but time constraints prevent me from going the whole hog now.

So, on this special occasion, let me thank you AR – for bringing tonnes of joy to millions of people thru your music. May God shower his blessings on you and your family and continue to inspire you to compose soulful tunes.

Like every AR fan knows, it’s difficult, nay next to impossible, to name just one fav AR track – still, if you were to ask me to name just one song of AR that gives ultimate peace of mind, I’d recommend ‘Silent Invocation A’ from 'Connections', a non-film album of his. But, do listen to ‘Himalayas’ from the same album too....!! Yes, it’s difficult to name just one!

As a closing note, let me also add that, AR featured in one of my job interviews also – towards the end of one, one member of the panel sought to know what my hobbies are and I blurted out, “Listening to AR songs”; the next question was “What’s so special in his music?” and that was his mistake! I talked on end for the next 10 min or so on this!! The panel rounded off the interaction saying, “Pucca Rahman fan!” Yeah, they haven’t met the others!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Short takes - The Coal India Ltd's dilemma

Last week, by a Presidential directive, the Govt of India advised (or arm-twisted, depending on the way one views it) Coal India Ltd [CIL], a GoI-owned listed company to enter into long-term Fuel Supply Agreements with Power Producers - to supply at least 80 percent of the requirements of these power producers - who have been troubled by the prospect of having to cope with sudden price spikes and even non-availability of coal. The decision has been in the line of fire from a number of quarters, starting with the CIL's own Independent Directors and other investors, prominent among them The Children's Investment Fund, Coal India’s largest foreign share holder, which recently initiated legal action against the government to protect its investment in Coal India.

The decision has been sought to be justified ostensibly with the public interest angle brought in, saying guaranteed coal supplies to power producers is vital to ensure the latter's viability given the unexpected spike in coal prices in international markets. Coal prices are currently ruling above the levels they had projected while bidding for the Mega projects. The FSAs effectively will ensure that the power producers are insulated from price changes of coal, but CIL will have to supply coal to them at the agreed price (at a deep discount to market price), either from its own production or by buying from the market. The latter scenario now appears highly probable, as CIL has not been able to add to its capacities due, again, to governmental restrictions on mining. Thus, we now have a situation where a company has been forced - through a government diktat - to supply its produce at below-market prices to a group of predominantly private sector players (NTPC is a beneficiary too), who had engaged in competitive under-pricing at the auction stage. The price risk has thus been willy-nilly transferred to CIL, whereas ideally this price risk ought to have been factored in by the power producers while bidding, either through hedging or through appropriate pass-through clauses in the Power Purchase Agreements they signed with the Power Distribution utilities. The audacity with which a few players threatened to stall work at their sites lest assurance on fuel supply came through was to be seen to be believed!

Only time will tell the impact of these FSAs on CIL's bottomline, if it is not able to augment its capacities soon.