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Friday, June 19, 2015

Los Angeles Film Festival 2015 Reviews

The Movie Report

  • The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce *** Q&A video
  • The Final Girls **
  • A Girl Like Grace *** 1/2 intro video by Ty Hodges Q&A video
  • It's Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong *** intro video
  • Sweet Micky for President *** Q&A video
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Thursday, June 11, 2015

A.R. Rahman brings an Intimate Concert to Los Angeles

Film Flam Flummox

Last night, Wednesday, June 10, 2015, will go down in history in the Los Angeles entertainment scene, for it marked the first event to be held at the newly rechristened Microsoft Theatre L.A. Live, which since its opening in 2007 had been known as the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live. It's fitting, then, that the answer to the inevitable trivia question of who or what played the first official Microsoft Theatre show would be no less than a pioneering and iconic figure in the global music and film scene, Academy Award®- and Grammy-award winning composer A.R. Rahman, whose work has famously, historically bridged the worlds of Bollywood and Hollywood and the general entertainment culture spheres of India and America.

The Rahman project most responsible for building that bridge is, of course, Danny Boyle's 2008 sleeper sensation Slumdog Millionaire, for which he won the Oscars® for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, for the rousing closing credits anthem "Jai Ho." Predictably, that particular tune was reserved for the concert's finale, not only for its conception as a conclusion and its celebratory spirit, but also because it's likely the one song of his that Western audience members are most familiar. But in the terrifically tuneful, intermission-free three hours (!) that preceded that number, Rahman, his talented orchestra musicians, and a gifted team of featured guest vocalists familiarized those acquainted only with Slumdog and his other Oscar®-nominated score and song from Boyle's 2010 drama 127 Hours with a rich and richly rewarding set that covered substantial ground from his decades-long career in India up to his Hollywood credits.

As a longtime admirer of Rahman's work since I first saw Ashutosh Gowariker's Foreign Language Film nominee Lagaan in 2001, I was pleased and impressed by the varied set list, which dug deep into his dense catalog. Classics from various points in his filmography were included, and sometimes the choices were a little unexpected, such as including the ominous title track "Dil Se Re" from Mani Ratnam's 1998 drama Dil Se.., but not the most famous number from that film, "Chaiiya Chaiiya," which Spike Lee later used in Inside Man. The nods to his stature in both his native Tamil/Kollywood film industry and the more widely known Hindi/Bollywood sphere manifested in an unexpectedly refreshing way in bilingual mashup numbers. Two songs from Shaad Ali's hit 2002 Hindi romance Saathiya seamlessly switched back and forth with the Tamil lyrics from the film of which it is a remake, Ratnam's Alaipayuthey (2000); an even more surprising code switch came during Jonita Gandhi's performance of the timelessly smooth and soothing "Ishq Bina" from Subash Ghai's Taal (1999), which was mixed with lyricist Don Black's English language adaptation "Love's Never Easy" for Rahman's stage musical produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Bombay Dreams. The largely South Asian audience seemed to share in my enthusiasm with the wide-spanning program, but the big surprise for me was which number got the most ecstatic reaction from the crowd: "Mental Manadhil" from this spring's Ratnam-directed Tamil-language OK Kanmani, which had audience members literally crowding the aisles to dance.

While uptempo numbers such as that one were not in short supply, this tour is billed as "The Intimate Concert" for good reason, and the melodic, heartfelt ballads proved to be the driving force for the night and provided what I consider not only the defining showstopper for the show but a perfect encapsulation of Rahman's talents as a composer, performer, and music collaborator. The one song I was hoping would be included in the show--the Jim Steinman-reminiscent epic tearjerker "Ennodu Nee Nee Irundhaal" from Shankar's Tamil-language fantasy/action/romance i, which opened in January--not only was, but was performed, in an unannounced guest appearance, by the singer who originally recorded the song for the film, Sid Sriram, accompanied by Gandhi for a verse. The intensely emotional song is not only a testament to Rahman's melodic gift, but in simply playing the piano for this number while Sriram (who proves to be an even more emotive and powerful vocalist live) got a well deserved standing ovation-worthy spotlight moment and various other instrumentalists had solo moments, he also showed what a generous artist and team player he is. No doubt that attitude, in support of other artists and the greater good of music in general, will spell many more years to come for Rahman in the global music and film arenas.

A.R. Rahman continues his Intimate Concert tour for three more dates in North America, two dates in San Jose, California tonight, Thursday, June 11, and Friday, June 12; then this leg of the tour concludes in Redmond, Washington on Sunday, June 14.

(Special thanks to GSA Music)

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