- Born to a wheelwright, he left home at age 6 to sing in Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral. When his voice broke, he was dismissed.
- Haydn like wine so much, he insisted that part of his salary be paid in it.
- The greatest mistake of his life was marrying his wife. Initially, he fell in love with her sister, but she became a nun. Considered a shrew, Haydn’s wife used to rip up his scores and use them as hair curlers.
- Haydn and Mozart used to play string quartets together. Haydn played violin and Mozart played viola. Whose music do you think they played?
- When a Viennese pianist sneered at a Haydn passage, saying, "I would not have written it that way," Mozart replied, "Neither would I. And you know why? Because neither of us would have had so excellent an idea."
- At his last public concert, Haydn had to be carried out in a chair, held aloft by adoring musicians. As he passed up the aisle, Beethoven kissed his hands. The audience shed tears. Before reaching the door, Haydn turned and raised his hand to the orchestra, as if in blessing.
- Mozart’s Requiem was played at Haydn’s funeral.
- For 150 years, Haydn’s skull was displayed at the famed Musikverein (concert hall) in Vienna. Brahms, who couldn’t afford his own home, slept in an apartment there and liked to take Haydn’s skull at night, when he was composing, and put it on his desk for inspiration.
- Read the full article: Haydn vs. Mozart: the battle of the classical composers.
Who am I? What do I stand for?
When I started this meme, I did not need to think which film for ‘I’, but rather, the other way around – that Ikiru already fills the ‘I’ slot. That sums up my love and respect for this profound, quiet, and the most personal film by the giant Kurosawa. It is a deeply inspiring film every time you remember it later.
Ikiru (‘to live’), is about the life and death of an ordinary bureaucrat, who discovers at the beginning of the film that he has less than a year to live, since he is dying of cancer. Watanabe has spent 30 years of his meaningless existence stamping papers at a desk. When he discovers he has only a few months to live, he is in despair and finds himself estranged from his family. He also realizes that he has led a meaningless existence all his life. The narrator tells us that death won’t be such a big change, since he has mostly lived like a corpse his entire life. What follows is incredible and extremely moving.
Watanabe has been compared with Sartre’s Roquent, Camus’ ‘foreigner’, Kafka’s Gregor, and Dostoevsky’s Prince Myushkin, but I know only Watanabe, the rest are all strangers!
The first scene is a close up of an x-ray. We are thus shown Watanabe’s inside, before we see his outside. The cancer defines the character. In the first half of the film, we are shown his body and actions, his physical manifestation. At the midpoint, Watanabe dies. In the remaining half, the body has disappeared, and through the conversations of others, we are shown what remains of Watanabe – his soul. I have not seen such structural ingenuity in any other film.
After a series of despairingly hedonistic flings, Watanabe realizes that he needs to do something worthwhile if he is to give some meaning to his life. Is he successful? Watch the deeply moving closing scene, and you’ll know.
No one other than Takashi Shimura, a Kurosawa veteran, could have played Watanabe. Shimura has the uncanny ability of personifying characters who do not personify anything.
Greater lessons can be learnt in the latter half: how one man’s actions can confuse, inspire, or frustrate others. Our empathy with Watanabe increases because we are not simply shown what he does, rather we find ourselves rooting for him, championing for him, in the cynicism and gossip of others. One interpretation is that what ultimately matters regarding the meaning of one’s life is what one decides for himself. What others think about it is meaningless and futile.
There are many sequences of poignant film-making at its best. In a heart-rending scene, Watanabe goes home and cries himself to sleep under his blanket, while the camera pans up to show us a commendation he received after 25 years of service. The scene at the bar, when amidst the drunken, rambunctious revelry, Watanabe slowly starts to sing, and the entire bar becomes silent. The long shot of his stubborn, submissively bowed head, unyielding, in the office of pencil pushers. And the closing shots – one of the greatest in cinema.
Ikiru stands so high above every other ‘I’ movie I have seen, that there is no runner up.
- Immortal Beloved, a romantic fantasy of the search of Beethoven’s unknown lover that is disturbingly and passionately evocative, like Beethoven’s music. A must-see if you are a classical music buff. A memorable scene is that of Beethoven as a boy running into the forest and floating on a lake. He appears afloat in the starry sky reflected in the water, while the ‘Ode To Joy’ from the Ninth plays in the background.
- Il Postino, a charming, quiet, emotionally fulfilling movie, with a bit of everything.
- Ijaazat, Gulzar’s sensitive drama about an estranged couple with excellent performances and an unforgettable soundtrack.
- Intermezzo, Ingrid Bergman’s American debut, a romantic triangle with beautiful cinematography and magnificent music.
Yet To Watch
It’s A Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s acclaimed masterpiece, which would probably have figured somewhere above had I seen it!
As I continue this series, I am getting exhausted. A writer has only so many words in his vocabulary, and I am just an amateur film viewer and writer. It is difficult to go on and on writing about genius!
This choice was a no-brainer. Walt Disney makes us want to keep our eyes open while listening to classical music. The first motion picture with stereo sound, it was a highly ambitious project, financially risky, original and provocative. Disney was treading unchartered waters, going where no film-maker had gone before.
To ask whether the 2000 version is better than the 1940 one is like asking whether Mozart’s 41st is better than the 40th. To ask which of the episodes is the best is like asking which of Beethoven’s symphonies is the greatest.
Mickey Mouse as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the cute centerpiece. Who can dream of visualizing Beethoven’s Fifth or Bach’s Toccata and Fugue? Who can bring the cosmic reaches of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring to the screen and how? Did Elgar write Pomp and Circumstance for Donald Duck ushering animals into Noah’s Ark? Gershwin definitely composed Rhapsody in Blue for the Fantasia episode. This is simply mind-blowing creativity.
The honesty and dignity of a simpleton with the most atrociously unlikely life story, made believable and heartwarming by Zemeckis and the only actor who could have carried it off, Tom Hanks. The ingenious script requires walking a tight rope between comedy and sadness, and Hanks excels at it wonderfully to get your heart intertwined with this very likeable character.
There are awesome special effects of the non-sci-fi kind. There are plenty of hilarious moments. There are plenty of emotionally touching and uplifting moments. To weave all these together into a constantly engaging, constantly surprising, and constantly entertaining drama, is an achievement. Zemeckis comes a long, long way from his technology obsessed Who Framed Roger Rabbit, focusing more on content and emotional substance.
Finding Nemo, an animation classic for all ages
Fanny and Alexander, Bergman’s masterpiece with Sven Nykvist’s beautiful cinematography
Some people watch films only for feel-good entertainment. “Going to the movies” is often a synonym of “having a nice time”. I respect their wish to avoid serious, dark, or depressing films. Somehow, I was able to nurture an open-mindedness that allowed me to appreciate a wider range of films than those intended purely for the box-office. Some of these films have affected me personally to a profound level, and hence I will include them in my list.
To say that I’m a big fan of Mozart would be a gross understatement. If anyone will believe it, I spent 16 years searching for a Divertimento that I ultimately discovered was composed by him at the age of just 16. Child prodigy, genius, art, artist, come together in this compelling drama of music in the 18th century. In Amadeus, the score is not secondary to the visuals, it is an equal and integral part of the cinematic experience.
Characterizing Mozart as a 18th century classical hippie rock star brought him down from a pedestal and made him accessible to the masses. Forman says he needed an unknown face, not a well-known celebrity, for playing Mozart and this explains the casting of Tom Hulce. Both Hulce and Abraham deliver strong performances – Hulce’s slight overacting was required of the script.
The film is based on Peter Schaffer’s fictional play, which takes plenty of dramatic license in altering Mozart and Salieri’s true character and relationship. Composition did not come easily to Mozart (the supposed ‘dictation from God’), they mutually respected each other, and Salieri did not squeeze The Requiem out of him during his last hours. Peter Brown’s “Amadeus and Mozart” set the record straight for those interested in separating fact from fiction. However, no other art work has popularized Mozart in over 200 years since his death, as Shaffer’s play and Forman’s film.
The filming of Don Giovanni is in the actual opera house where Mozart conducted its premiere. The costumes, streets, apartments, and palaces provide lots of ‘eye candy’. The Making Of Amadeus documentary describes the difficulties of shooting on location in Prague. The Director’s Cut has 20 minutes of additional footage, most importantly the scene of Salieri asking Constanze for sexual favors, Constanze visiting him at his apartment, and the burial of Mozart’s corpse.
Independent producer Saul Zaentz worked with Milos Forman to bring us Amadeus and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and we should be eternally grateful. Forman went on to direct the excellent The People vs. Larry Flynt.
Adapting the germ of Heart of Darkness to the Vietnam War, Coppola paints a masterful cinematic canvas unparalleled in its operatic scope. Brando’s Kurtz discovers the horror of war that we hope never to discover. The exhilarating and terrifying helicopter attack with Wagner at the background is an achievement in film-making. If the ending doesn’t make sense – it is not supposed to, for that is the brutality and horror of war, and there is no light in the heart of darkness. Coppola transports you magnificently into the insanity of war.
Other contenders were:
I have been comment-tagged by Dev to take on his exciting A to Z of Films Meme. You can get many more nice recommendations from others who have done this: La Vie Quotidienne (Shefaly), Visceral Observations (Poonam), My Random Thoughts (Reema), A Nomad’s Musings, and A Wide Angle View of India (Nita). Also check out Time And Again’s (Ruhi’s) wonderful list of recommended movies.
I am idiosyncratic about cinema, but neither am I a snob, nor is my list elitist. I believe one of the gifts one movie lover can give another is the title of a wonderful film they have not yet discovered. If these words ring a bell, it’s because Roger Ebert, my beloved film critic, writes them in his Introduction to Great Movies. His list of First 100 Great Films has often been my inspiration to choose a film.
Needless to say, I do not always like acclaimed films of great directors. Each film viewing is a unique and personal experience, and what works for one may not always work for another. Ambience, state of mind, age, ethnicity, gender, culture, generation, role, life situations, etc. all affect the chemistry between the director and the viewer. The entire cinematic experience is thus very subjective.
Finally, it would be impossible for me to simply list films along with a couple of sentences. Hence I will write about 2-3 films at a time, and spread out the meme over several posts.
A sci-fi film unlike any other sci-fi film, and unlike any other film. I am in love with this cosmos and fascinated with man’s relationship with it. That is why when commemorating 50 years of Atlas Shrugged, I also commemorated 50 years of the Sputnik launch, boldly ignoring Ayn Rand’s hatred of Soviet Russia. I also like to remind myself time and again, of the need to cherish what we have, like I did in my tribute to 9/11.
This was one of Kubrick’s more accessible films for me. 2001 is the film equivalent of that famous pale blue dot image of the Earth taken by Voyager. The Blue Danube and Thus Spake Zarathustra almost seem composed for 2001. The stunning special effects. The longest flash-forward in history. The deadliest non-human, non-alien, man-made villain. The film does not extol man’s infinitesimal existence in the vastness of the universe, it does not awe viewers with the grandeur of space. It awed me with its portrayal of man’s rightful place in the universe, as a meaningful actor, not an insignificant biological accident of mutation in evolution.
This is an audio-visual meditation that inspired me, awakened me, once again, to the miracle of human existence.
When I watched Sidney Lumet receive a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 2005, I felt sad that I had not seen more of his films, other than 12 Angry Men. I love courtroom dramas. Justice is the pillar of Democracy, and subtleties and challenges of difficult moral situations fascinate me. 12 Angry Men is a crime drama, but not a courtroom one, because most of the film takes place within the confines of the jury room.
The 12 jurors are a kaleidoscope, a spectrum of ordinary people, as is reality. The characterizations are deceptively simple – the result is simple, Lumet’s masterful technique is profound. Astonishingly, we are never told whether the defendant actually committed the crime or not. The guilt or innocence of the defendant is irrelevant. What is of paramount importance, and is thus the focus of the story, is the jury’s ability to uphold the principle of reasonable doubt. Lumet shows how upholding this principle may seem easy at first glance, but is often difficult in practice.
It was only in successive viewings that I was able to appreciate other film-making aspects. Lumet shot the first third of the film from above eye level, the second at eye level, and the third below eye level. This impacts our first viewing as well: the room gradually becomes more and more claustrophobic and the dramatic tension increases as the film progresses. We start by looking down at the jurors; by the end, the personalities of the jurors overwhelm us.
The only Indian film I was able to consider for this segment is Deepa Mehta’s 1947: Earth.
I am grateful to Dev as now I do not need to think about what to write for the next several posts! Finally, as this is essentially a recommendation sharing exercise, please feel free to share in the comments! (It would be helpful to everyone if your comments pertain to the alphanumeric segment being written about).
I’m not much of a fiction literature guy. In fact, you could say I’m fictionally illiterate. When I read blogs with prominent bookshelves, or ‘Literary Experiments’ in the tag line, I get an inferiority complex. My Unquiet Mind has to confront the reality that I’m pretty much a moron when it comes to ‘literature’. Discounting Ayn Rand, my involvement with fiction is pretty much limited to Ludlum, Asterix, and Three Men In A Boat. The only reason I’ve heard of T. S. Eliot is because of the graffiti that it is an anagram of Toilets. In order that I don’t need to use one when educated folks discuss literature, I occasionally read friend’s posts of Book Memes, or better still, browse their real bookshelves.
I was thus perusing Asuph’s impressive library, seeing if there was any chance there might be something I would consider myself worthy of actually reading. After some time, the only book I could request to borrow was an old, decrepit, Perry Mason. But being the good friend that he is, he thrust Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music in my hands, saying “you’ll be able to appreciate this, as it deals a lot with music”. I hesitated, but he goaded me on. That’s one of the reasons friends are for, isn’t it? They lead us to explore new avenues, ultimately enriching our lives, and we feel so grateful in the end.
So, without further ado, here’s my first attempt at writing a book review.
Music, such music, is a sufficient gift. Why ask for happiness; why hope not to grieve? It is enough, it is to be blessed enough, to live from day to day and to hear such music – not too much, or the soul could not sustain it – from time to time.
An Equal Music is narrated by Michael Holme, a second violinist in a Quartet based in London. It is a nicely woven braid of his love of music and his love of Julia, with whom he studied music in Vienna. He has lost her when he ran away from Vienna to escape his autocratic mentor. The story is about his tenuous reunion with Julia, who is married with a family of her own, and about Michael and his Quartet’s struggle in the European classical circuit.
His past haunts Michael to such an extent that the story progresses as if walking forward while continuing to look backward.
The strongest element of the book. It acted like a glue holding the story and characters together, and my interest till the end. Seth indulges in the works of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and Haydn, offering a unique glimpse into the world of chamber music. The interpersonal dynamics of the Quartet that influence their performance. Their approach and method of rehearsing. The commerce of instruments. The business of a Quartet.
Throughout, I enjoyed the intimacy with music and identified with the characters. The almost sub-conscious habit of thinking of the great composers as if they were living acquaintances. The fascination and romanticizing of specific works. Michael has a less laborious pursuit to obtain a rare Beethoven Quintet than I did in search of a Mozart Divertimento.
The weakest aspect of the book is the shallow character development. Michael is so strongly influenced by his past that his nostalgia, his obsessive brooding, make you realize that he will never shape his future. Why exactly does he leave Vienna abruptly? He comes across as a nervous wreck and in other matters, incredibly stupid. He needs a 101 on relationships, finance, and professional networking skills. He loves deeply, but I could not empathize with his love for Julia.
Other than her ability to play well, why is she so lovable? Why does she suddenly sleep with him again? What influences her decisions as she deals with the conflict between a family life and an extra-marital affair?
Zone of Silence
Julia’s progressive deafness may be considered as a hackneyed plot device by some readers, but Seth handles this challenge extraordinarily well. He engages us in the ‘zones of intersection of the world of soundlessness with those of the heard, mis-heard, and of imagined sound’. Recollections of Immortal Beloved are but natural.
I doubt if musically uninitiated readers would enjoy this book. If you’re not amused by likening three tall and one short persons in a group to Beethoven’s Fifth, you will miss the most enamoring aspect of the book: the profound love of music that permeates throughout. Seth lives and breathes music.
PS: Connect on Shelfari if you’re a real, non-fiction (a tautology?) lover. Many thanks to Asuph. Oh yes, and I did read the Perry Mason first.
The year was 1995, the place, Berlin. The Berlin Wall collapse was still in public memory, and a personal wall was collapsing for me in the form of my first stay abroad. As a twenty-something year old young man, this trip opened new doors for me – exploring the WWW, developing personal friendships with Europeans, attending live classical concerts and an Opera, and buying 50 western classical music CDs to bring back with me (as they weren’t available in India then).
There are many unforgettable memories of those days. My partner from India was a Jew, and we once searched for the only synagogue in the capital of the Nazis. On wandering unsuccessfully in the area near the address, we finally gathered courage to ask a couple of security guards outside a government building. The guards were holding the most lethal weapon I had ever seen up close, and since my partner couldn’t speak German, I had to do the deed. We finally discovered that that building itself was the synagogue, and it was closed on a Sunday, and the guards were part of routine 24×7 security.
I made many friends during my stay. Wild weekend partying with a couple of graphic artists who spent half the year working in Germany, and the other half partying in Goa. A French colleague who programmed, cooked, sailed his yacht in the Atlantic, with whom I discovered common interests like astronomy, philosophy, and quantum mechanics. A gentle German friend who played the Moonlight Sonata for me in his living room, and showed me videos of Herbert von Karajan rehearsing with his orchestra. Techno music was the ‘in-thing’ in Europe at the time, with all the pubs and discos grooving to it.
Another colleague, Stefan, told me that he too played the Tabla, and I was taken aback. It turned out that he had it as one of the instruments on his synthesizer, which he had also hooked up with his PC. When I visited him, I fiddled with the keyboard and soon my Dhumali bhajan taal (rhythm) had his curiosity piqued. He added a cool techno beat to it. I then added some Tambora with a twist, and he added some drums. A flute, some vocals, and some techno sound effects completed the track. It was Stefan who finally used software to edit and give structure to the track, but this was my first (and only) experiment with composing music!
I recently played a real tabla after a very long gap of over 20 years, and realized that if I wanted to play anything worthwhile, I’d have to give up working and blogging!
This is a low fidelity MP3 version created from a 1995 audio cassette, using the recording and noise filtering technique described in my first article on MakeUseOf.com. Now, I couldn’t pass up plugging that could I?
Disclaimer: This techno-bhajan is not meant to offend the religious sentiments of any ultra-conservatives, including all types of human or ape ‘Dal’s and ‘Sena’s. Clicking the Play button absolves the author of any moral transgressions.
I touched upon Indians not making it easy for others to appreciate their art recently. I then mused about the melting pot that is India, and how difficult it can be for Indians to appreciate their own regional arts. Hence I would like to experiment sharing my affection of a Marathi song, and see if music is indeed a universal language as they say.
The song is “Mana Tuzhe Manogata” from the Marathi feature film “Kalat Nakalat”, composed by Anand Modak and sung by the versatile Asha Bhosle. Not only do I love the song immensely, I think it can be a learning experience to examine how Modak uses the composition to express the meaning of Sudhir Moghe’s lyrics.
It helps to visualize as follows:
- Voice: Soul, the being expressing itself.
- Flute: Close Friend, representative of the Child in a person.
- Piano: Friend, who punctuates the entire vocal expression. It plays host to the whole scene.
- Violin: Friend, who enters the scene later, but is the most eloquently empathetic.
- Chorus: Group of empathetic friends.
मना तुझे मनोगत मला कधी कळेल का? Mana tujhe manogata mala kadhi kalel ka?
(Dear Mind, can I ever understand you?)
This question sets the context of the entire poem and song. Are we able to fully understand ourselves? Are we able to empathize with our deepest thoughts and emotions?
The mood of the song is introspection and sharing. Introspection invokes a panorama of thoughts, emotions, memories, fantasies, etc. It typically happens in a situation of conflict, as in this movie drama of an extra-marital affair. The song provides a musical backdrop to this conflict, and its instrumentation evokes empathetic sharing.
The poem describes a being trying to understand itself, a soul addressing its mind. A soul, with a great magnitude of sensitive and often irreconcilable thoughts and emotions is wondering whether it can understand its mind. Usually, this is represented as a conflict between thoughts and emotions, mind and heart, but this song transcends all that. It does so by providing a harmonious backdrop to the interplay between the mind and heart, an intimacy between emotion and thought. Is this a dialogue between a thinking heart and an emotional mind?
तुझ्यापरी गूढ सोपे होणे मला जुळेल का? Tuzhyapari goodh sope hone mala julel ka?
(Can I be enigmatic and simple like you?)
Will I be able to make any complex thing appear simple, like you do? The soul is thus respecting the mind by saying that the mind can solve each and every mystery in the world. The descending order of notes reflects this ability of the mind.
The multiple notes of pari preface the word goodh (enigmatic) to highlight its complexity. The word goodh is in simple notes, highlighting the ability of the mind to simplify complex things. But, this simplicity is achieved only after traversing the complex notes of pari. Such is the action and capability of the mind.
The flute, a close friend, is the expression of the Child, adding emotional value to the voice. Whereas the voice has a relatively simple tune, the flute adds all the intricacies denoting the Child’s emotional convolutions.
The flute is a friend who understands not only what is explicitly conveyed, but also empathizes with what is shared emotionally. It says: “Yes, I understand how it must have felt”. It acts like a friend who resonates and encourages one to share further.
In the ending notes, it tries to anticipate the intense emotional experience that the soul needs to share and entices it into sharing further.
कोण जाणे केवढा तू व्यापतोस आकाशाला; आकाशाचा अर्क देशी, एका मातीच्या कणाला
Kon jaane kevadha tu, vyaaptos aakaashaala; aakaashaacha arka deshi eka mateechyaa kanaala
(Who knows how much you engulf the sky; you can extract the essence of the sky into a single soil particle)
Observe the helplessness in the notes of the words “Kon jaane” (who knows). This helplessness suggests that nobody knows.
When the tune reaches ‘aakaashaalaa’ (sky), it literally flies. It roams the sky. Its notes are like the flutter of a bird taking flight.
Meanwhile, the chorus is behaving quite empathetically, letting the soul know that it is understanding. It’s rising notes also anticipate, that the peak of the emotional expression, is yet to come. It anticipates the high notes, like a friend who anticipates what we’re going to say. This pattern of the chorus is repeated again with the same effect in the following stanzas of the song.
The stress and emphasis of the second line is in the word ‘ekaa’ (single). The word is given importance by its position in the meter and its low note, making it a fulcrum. The low note and emphasis on this word provide the necessary impact for the meaning of the line.
तुझे दार माझ्यासाठी थोडेतरी खुलेल का? Tuzhe daar mazhyaasaathi thodetari khulel ka?
(Will your door open, at least a little, for me?)
The peak arrives poignantly, the voice expressing a yearning desire to let the soul get a glimpse of the mind! The notes are as if a futile, yet persistent attempt is being made to open an automatically closing door. There’s helplessness in the tone, expressed also by the pauses in the voice as if taking a breath before trying to push the door open. The task seems impossible, unachievable.
The piano arpeggio takes off from where the voice left, and completes the emotional expression. It also returns the ear to the main note, forming a bridge or circle.
The flute continues acting as a friend, also inviting the Violin into the scene. It implores the Violin into joining its empathetic understanding. The Violin enters, reservedly, as if saying, “Yes, I am trying to understand”.
कळीतला ओला श्वास, पाषाणाचा थंड स्पर्श Kaleetla ola shwaas, pashanaachaa thanda sparsha
(The wet breath in a flower bud, the cold touch of stone)
तुझ्यामध्ये सामावला वारा काळोख प्रकाश Tuzhyamadhye samavala vaara, kalokh, prakasha
(Within you are encompassed wind, darkness, and light)
The notes span and traverse the scale, expressing how the mind encompasses everything in the universe – all dimensions of nature.
तुझे अरूपाचे रूप माझ्यापुढे फुलेल का? Tuzhe aroopaache roopa mazhyapudhe phulel ka?
(Will your formless image blossom in front of me?)
The soul is helplessly trying to understand the mind. It is yearning to comprehend and formulate the formless mind.
Now, even the so-far-reserved Violin understands the saga. It reaches the peak of its emotional expression. It becomes completely overwhelmed by emotions, languishing in them, as if reaching to the Chorus for support.
The soul is desperately trying to calm the Child in itself.
खुळा ध्यास आभासांचा पाठ्लाग कोणासाठी Khula dhyaas aabhasaancha paathlag konasaathi?
(For whom, this idiotic unremitting contemplation and pursuit of sophistry?)
तुझ्या मनातले आर्त माझ्या मनी ढळेल का? Tuzhya manaatale aarta mazhya manee dhalel ka?
(Will your intense longing yield to my mind?)
The poetic climax! While the soul has been addressing the mind so far, here, it is also referring to a mind of its own! This is symbolic of the fact that though there may be conflicts between them, the soul, mind, and heart are entwined together in an inseparable fashion. The listener is cajoled into this discovery, by the piano arpeggio. It is as if that this was what it was trying to convey since the beginning!
The film doesn’t feature the complete song – rather, it uses it in two sections for two scenes. As far as I know, a soundtrack album was never released, hence the song is not publicly available in its entirety as a single song (you can listen to 2/3rds of the song here). I was fortunate to get the full version but have split it into sections to respect copyrights.
So, I heard about all this Rahman stuff, you know, with the Oscars and all. But who’s this guy? He crooned into the microphone at the Academy Awards ceremony, but to be honest, I couldn’t make out what he was pouring his heart into, whatever it was. Was it some kind of charity-raising cry; an attempt to enthuse dollar-wielding Westerners to donate to Asian slum development? (You can be sure, I haven’t seen Slumdog Millionaire yet. Whatever does “Jai Ho” mean?).
Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try. I Google for “a. r. rahman guide” and the first search hit is something called “Paisa Vasool – Or Not: The Newbie’s Guide to A. R. Rahman”. Guess what? It’s written by a Westerner who loves Bollywood and is doing her best to bridge the cultural gap between it and Hollywood. Oh no, I don’t want that. I’m looking for an authentic source.
So I Google simply for “A. R. Rahman” and the official website turns up. Is it just me or does this look like some poorly designed website? There’s no “Who is” or “About”, no FAQ, no First Time Here? The site assumes you already know who this dude is, so this is not for me. A Google search simply for “Rahman guide” is worse – it turns up a Female Genital Mutilation Guide in the first page of results. Oops!
Finally, I realize there’s no better way than to search this guy on Wikipedia. The Wikipedia entry is – to say the least – intimidating. There seems to be more blue link text than normal text! The Answers.com entry doesn’t seem to help either! This Rahman, or whatever, was supposed to have composed the soundtrack for one of TIME Magazine’s Top 10 Soundtracks for all time! Help – isn’t there a decent site to help me get started?
Yeah, by this time I know this guy is supposed to be a genius and all, but help me god, where do I start? What do I listen to? I’m a discerning music aficionado, with my own favorites in various genres, and I’d like to quickly and easily learn and discover this Rahman. I’m a music-addicted, open-minded Westerner, who’s trying to learn about that Indian musical dude who just won all the music Oscars. How are you Indians helping me find and learn more about him?
Isn’t it the Indians who were usurping our IT jobs? Where are these guys when it comes to helping the world appreciate its culture?
You know what? It was a foreigner who brought Gandhi to the world and it was a foreigner who brought Dharavi to the world. Is it surprising that it is a foreigner from TIME Magazine, who brings the best Westerner’s Guide to A. R. Rahman to the world?
And you know what? There’ll be lots and lots of articles, newspaper reviews, blog posts, etc. in the Indian media after Rahman won the Oscars, but this TIME article, exhorting Americans to listen to him, was written way back in 2005.
I saw Out of Africa in 1986 on the big screen in Mumbai, when I passed my Xth grade. I was mesmerized by the movie’s visual grandeur and swept off my feet by the music. Later in 1987, I managed to rent a VHS video cassette and savored it several times. There were two hypnotic sequences in the film that had the same background score – a Western Classical piece by Mozart:
First, when Karen (Meryl Streep) is walking alone in her farm and hears the sound of music for the first time in her farm. She seeks the source of the sound and discovers Denys (Robert Redford) playing a gramophone. “Look, they finally made a machine that’s really useful!”, he exclaims.
Second, when they’re on safari, Denys places the gramophone with a string attached in the wilderness near a pack of baboons. He pulls on the string to play the music and see how the baboons react. After the baboons jerk off the pickup, he says “Think of it: never a man-made sound…and then Mozart!”.
The music sounded devilishly simple, yet there was subtle complexity. It was spirited, vibrant, mischievous, and relentless.
I was obsessed with that piece of music. Through the ending movie credits on the overused VHS cassette, I could identify it as a Divertimento, but could not discern the Kochel catalog number. This was 1987: Western Classical music was virtually unheard of in India. There were no western classical cassettes available in shops – and if there were a few in Mumbai’s Rhythm House, they were beyond my middle-class, student’s pocket. Moreover, how could I get this piece without knowing the full details?
My elder brother then went to the US for a year and on my insistence, brought back the Soundtrack CD of the movie. I was elated, and then disappointed when I found that the Divertimento was not on the CD!
I then learnt that Max Mueller Bhavan in Mumbai had a large western classical collection and offered a free student’s membership, where you could borrow 3 music cassettes a week. I traveled to the Bhavan every weekend, poring over the collection. Unfortunately, most of the cassettes didn’t even have any titles or identification of the contents. I didn’t relent, and picked my lottery cassettes every week. And one day, viola! I got the Divertimento on one cassette and immediately created my copy. I still didn’t know the Kochel catalog number, but I had it on cassette. This miracle happened in 1988.
In the 90s, I discovered a site called “Classics of the Silver Screen“. It was an excellent resource for identifying operatic and classical works used in popular Hollywood films. However, the Divertimento was not listed for Out of Africa. I wrote to the webmaster, and he didn’t know about it either. Neither did IMDB. (Both these sites now list it). But soon, the Internet exploded, and by 2000, I discovered that it was the 1st movement “Allegro”, of the Divertimento in D Major, K. 136.
In 2001, when I discovered in Gutman’s Cultural Biography of Mozart, that this Divertimento was composed by Mozart in 1772 – when he was just a teen of 16 years – I wept.
What a journey through the years! What is this obsession? Insane? Stupid? Call it whatever you wish, this is the way I am! It took me almost 16 years to find out the music composed over 225 years ago by a 16 year-old. It will take less than 16 minutes today. Here’s the YouTube version conducted by Menuhin:
This is what technology does – aren’t our children lucky?