Thousands flock to catch A R Rahman in action
Piling up one exciting showbiz piece after another, and unfolding against dazzling, fast changing backgrounds, with over a dozen dancers and acrobats adding additional thrills, the A R Rahman Jai Ho Concert: The Journey Home World Tour got on to a rousing start in New York on Friday, continued in Atlantic City the next day, and arrived in DC-Virginia on Sunday.
An estimated 24,000 people saw the show in three days which will be moving to cities across America and Canada before going to London and a handful of European cities.
The concert with its eclectic mix of music including rousing songs from such films as Jodhaa Akbar and Roja and foot-tapping numbers from Jane Tu...Ya Jaane Na, also included a tribute to classicist Bade Ghulam Aki Khan (by Hariharan) and the king of pop Michael Jackson (by Rahman). It has been drawing such huge, capacity full crowds at each venue.
"Rahman is always big but now with winning the Oscars and Grammy awards, he is even more powerful," said man in his 50s.
"None can resist his music. When the Rang De Basanti title song was played, I was also dancing in the isle. And I saw around me there were hundreds of kids, some of them must be in high school, dancing and singing. This was a show that had everything, music and spectacles."
Image: A R Rahman and his troupe
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
'This was one of the shows I will remember for many years'
In Atlantic City over 85 percent of the 10,000 seats at the Boardwalk Hall were sold out, even as some insiders wondered the expensive show would be able to recover the investment (unless of course it does 100 percent business in a few key cities).
"Is Amitabh or Shah Rukh Khan performing tonight?" asked a Bangladeshi cab driver. Told it is A.R. Rahman and that the show has no movie stars, he said shaking his head, "And so many people?"
Most of the passengers he had driven that day were Indians, he said. "Go to any of the motels and Ramada Inn or Holiday Inn today," he added, "you see only Indians. Taxi business very good today."
Many people had driven from 200 miles away; many had taken trains and buses from Philadelphia, Cincinnati and several other cities.
"I have been saving money for this concert for more than three months," said a Philadelphia student who had bought a $150 ticket. "I did not see a film in a theater for two months, saved on the pizzas and worked two days extra last week at a gas station," he said. "This was one of the shows I will remember for many years. I wept when Rahman sang the Swades song. (Yeh jo des hai tera) I felt like I should go back to India today."
Image: A R Rahman and a singer perform
A glimpse of Bombay Dreams
Among the highlights which also included couple of famous songs from the hit London musical Bombay Dreams was the Ganesha dance which began with a half a dozen performers parading through the audiences with brightly lit umbrellas and approaching a beautiful image of Ganesha followed by vigorous dancing and singing.
It was another item inspired by a Bombay Dreams act. The famous Journey Home song from Bombay Dreams also created some magic, with a young boy sensuously dancing in the crowd to illustrate the words.
Image: Dancers perform the Ganesha dance
'To pay $100 for a desi concert is a very different thing for an American'
The concert got plenty of coverage in the mainstream media in the New York tristate area.
'The performance featured some elements of Bollywood performances,' wrote The Press of Atlantic City. 'Such as immense colours, frenzied dance exciting music, but it was more of a multimedia concert that showcased various Indian cultural themes.'
The appearance of the Indian flag and its chakra drew huge applause during the show.
Despite the mainstream coverage, the audiences were mostly South Asians, most of them Indians. "I guess it is different thing dancing to Jai Ho in a club or see Slumdog Millionaire in a movie theater," said a young business executive.
"But to pay $100 for a desi concert is a very different thing for an American."
Image: A R Rahman strikes a pose
Like Broadway, but only better!
In the past decade the Rahman shows have become more spectacular with each concert but there has never been anything as glittering and eye-poppingly beautiful and seductive as in the current show which was also shown on high definition TV screens in the auditorium.
It was like an extra smart Broadway show except that the women dancers were modestly dressed.
Image: A R Rahman and dancers perform
Blessings from Lataji
The high-tech production had its sublime moment during a recorded performance of the famous Rang De Basanti melody, Luka chupi, with Lata Mangeshkar, joined in the auditorium by Rahman.
With the final image of a smiling Lata Mangeshkar, it felt that the veteran singer was right there and blessing the show.
The item which was received with roaring cheers also tugged thousands of hearts in the older audience.
Image: A R Rahman gazes at an image of Lata Mangeshkar
'A celebration of melody'
But for all its high energy, the show directed by Hollywood veteran Amy Tinkham which had one exciting act segueing into the next without wasting any time, was essentially a celebration of melody.
While it offered giddy excitement through fast moving songs such as Taxi Taxi from the Tamil film Sakkarathi and Pappu Can't Dance from Jane Tu..., it also had three contemplative prayer songs one after another: a Sikh hymn was followed by the famous Palan hare number from Lagaan, succeeded by the fervent devotional Kwaja mere kwaja from the film Jodhaa-Akbar.
"I had never thought it would find its way into a movie," A R Rahman had said before the tour had started. "I had composed it for my own soul but when director Ashutosh Gowariker heard it at my home, he insisted it should be heard widely."
Image: A R Rahman sings
An unforgettable sight
Rahman hardly left the stage throughout the two and half hour show, often joining the musicians or back up singers when Javed Ali or Benny Dayal belted out hit numbers.
When Hariharan presented a lovely medley of classical and folk music, which was greeted with thunderous applause, Rahman sat down next to him, playing the harmonium.
An unforgettable sight and experience was to watch the maestro singing Kwaja mere kawaja. He must have forgotten he was singing it before some 8,000 people. For it was like he was in a trance, his eyes closed for good part of the song.
Image: Second from left: Hariharan, A R Rahman, Vijay Prakash
So was Hariharan who was moving when he sonorously sang Bhart humko jan se pyara hain from the movie Roja, ending with a few lines in Tamil.
It was the Tamil version Thamiza, Thamiza and then the Hindi version which reignited and firmly established his career as a film singer 18 years ago.
Dressed in Indian costumes bearing the colours of the Indian flag, Hariharan stirred the audiences throughout the rendition.
Image: A R Rahman sings
For all its exuberance and precise movements, some in the audience wished there was more of Javed Ali.
"We loved him singing Chaiyya Chaiyya," said Ashok Patel, a tech programmer. "But where was his famous song from Jodhaa Akbar? And why didn't we have a song or two from Raavan or Ghagini?"
And there were many people at least at the Atlantic City event who wondered why the singers were not introduced.
"We know who Rahman is and how Hariharan looks, said a few. But how could we make out who is Benny Dayal or Javed Ali?"
Image: A singer perfoms