Asia

AR Rahman Greatest Hits at the O2 Review

NickyKelvin-0112For India’s Independence Day AR Rahman, held a concert at the O2 Arena to a sold out crowd, accompanied by an orchestra of musicians, singers, table players and qawwalli’s.

The concert was dubbed as « The Greatest Hits of AR Rahman » and whilst driving to the venue, it made me ponder: how can one compound Rahman’s oeuvre into a single sitting?

His musical portfolio is ginormous! In the 23 years of his career, he’s composed over 100 soundtracks for the various regions of Indian cinema, as well as performed stage shows, private albums and dabbled in Hollywood, (If winning an Bafta, a golden Globe,2 Grammies and 2 Academy Award can be called dabbling) whilst never compromising on the quality of his music. (Take that Dr Dre!)

And all this whilst jumping from one genre to the other and mastering pretty much all of them. (I’m a hip hop head and his mastery of rap has been weak since Patti Rap)

When Rahman debuted on the Bollywood scene in the 90’s, Hindi audiences had heard murmurings of some of his offerings down South with Roja and Kadalan (Hum Se Hai Muqabla) dominating video charts.

The music scene was much more fractured and isolated in the 90’s and there wasn’t ever a need to importing talent from another region. If movie producer or music director liked a tune, they just copy pasted wholesale and had the son resung by another local singer and no question was asked. This even happened to some of AR Rahman’s early songs, there were at least 4 Hindi versions of Muqabla floating on the airwaves at the same time.

But Rahman’s talent was such that his unique voice could not be denied. His music has always felt very personal, making the audience feel a sense of misplaced ownership. But sitting in a jam packed arena, I understood, I wasn’t the only one that felt this ownership over « my» AR Rahman. AR, like any musician, understands that his music is not his anymore once it is released to the airwaves but belongs to a collective that needs to be fed.

He tried to deliver on the expectations his audience has with him, he managed to partly on the promise despite some production mistakes.

Javed Ali started things off with a very soulful rendition of Delhi 6’s Arziyan, which seemed to be a prayer to kick off the concert as well as salutation to the audience.

Arziyan was followed up with a selection of classic hits like Chinna Chinna Aasai /Choti si Aasha (Roja), which was in 2 different languages sung by the wonderful and ever present Jonita Ghandi, the seemingly demure Shashaa Kiran Tirupati and the vastly under-used vocal powerhouse that is Neeti Mohan.

NickyKelvin-0181

Tu Hi Re was the sole pick from the Bombay soundtrack (I was hoping for so many more like Satrangi Re of Jiya Jale but alas) by Haricharan who managed to command the song in 2 different languages versions – whilst doing a pretty good Hariharan impression. Then came Dil Se’s title track sung by AR himself as he duelled Natalie Klouda, his wonderful violinist on the piano, which was an amazing spectacle.

The next half hour block was mostly from AR Rahman’s South Indian and private albums, which unfortunately for most of the Hindi audience in attendance felt like watching other people have lots of fun whilst they had a glazed expression over their eyes. Some audience members even started grumbling quite vocally and this might have been the only dip in the otherwise amazing set.

Some of the production choices were very odd, the first half ended abruptly and there was confusion if there was going to be an interval or not, the audience was left to their own devices, which is never a great choice with a South Asian audience. This happened again at the end of the show, there was a definite lack of cues and the band just disappeared without an encore.

The confusing interval ended up lasting only a couple of minutes, the curtain suddenly went up and AR and Jaaved Ali had donned their qawalli hats and tablas for the double whammy of the hypnotizing Kun Faya Kun (Rockstar) and soulful Khwaja Mere Khwaja (Jodha Akbar). Unfortunately some the magic of the Sufi segment was broken by the part of the audience hurriedly running back to their seats with still very wet hands from their bathroom visits.

  Kun Faya Kun Kun (Rockstar): The Qawalli interlude at #ARRahmanAtTheO2   A video posted by asimburney (@asimburney) on

Khwaja Mere Khwaja (Jodha Akbar): Qawalli interlude #ARRahmanAtTheO2 @TheO2 #TheO2

A video posted by asimburney (@asimburney) on

Always being a trailblazer, AR wanted to showcase a movement based instrument but technology failed the crew twice, forcing AR to climb back behind his piano and nervously entertain the audience with impromptu tunes. When they managed to get the tech to work, you realized it was supposed to be background vocalist IsshrathQuadhre time into the limelight but unfortunately for her and the audience the moment had passed.

From then on there was a clear course correction and the hits and performances were non stop, Neeti Mohan brought energy with her RE RE segment (Rangeela Re and Jiya Re) but overall she felt a bit underused compared to Jonita who pretty much dominated the pre-interval as well as jiggy-ing in group songs and some Hindi too. Jonita is a wonderful stage presence and very versatile, definitely one to look out for. Same for Karthik who was an absolute crowd favourite amongst the South Indian and clearly a born showman but only made a fleeting appearance and didn’t sing any Hindi songs. NickyKelvin-8667

During the different sets, AR Rahman would change get ups, some with hilarious combinations like a sparkly hat paired with a biker jacket or in the case of the bluesy Jaane Tu Ya Jaane na, he wore sunglasses like he was Ray Charles from Chennai, luckily the music always delivered and the powerful voice and jazz scatting of background vocalist Annette Philip’s really stepped up to the plate.

The show provided every member of AR Rahman’s band to shine too. The ones that really stuck out were Naveen Kumar’s flute during the Roja interlude, Mohini Dey’s bass (a 19 year old prodigy part of AR Rahman’s band NAFS who is also rumoured to be collaborating with Quincy Jones), Ranjit Barot’s drum and Keba Jeremiah Arul’s guitar solo’s during a very rocky rendition of Nadaan Parindey.

Ultimately the show couldn’t possibly have delivered on every song that a demanding fan might want of AR Rahman’s as we are a spoiled bunch now and even if combining sets from all languages didn’t always works as well as one would hope. What the show does give you is an evening with an artist of the likes only comes around once in a century, and as an audience member, that seems like the highest privilege.

Photo Credit: Nicky Kelvin

For more badly shot videos you can head over to my Instagram here

 

 

 

 

Don 2 Upodcast FlashBack

We recorded this podcast just a day after Don 2 came out in a casual late night chat with our good friend Danny Bowes, from MoviesByBowes and also IndieWire (he’s been firing from both barrels so definitely check out his work).

Unfortunately I’m only now getting to posting it since there were some audio issues that i could only solve now as I didn’t want to give you guys a bad experience listening to Upodcast, but with Priyanka Chopra coming at us with a critically acclaimed performance in Barfi and her career as a popstar starting, as well as just not being to wait long enough to talk Shahrukh until Jab Tak Hai Jaan comes out in November, it was the right time to dig up and dust of our great chat about Don 2 again.

The discussion is still very geeky and very indepth as usually is the case with Upodcast. Bringing you a twist on Bollywood reviews that no one else does.

We talk the Superstar that ShahRukh is, what kind of movies he wants to make and how he wants to project himself, and we even go into the age old Salman vs Shahrukh debate ( in a respectful manner)

We covered Don’s release quite intensly and even did an interview with director Farhan Akhtar in our inimitable style that you can check out here! ( funny story, Shahrukh actually stepped into the room when we were talking to Farhan on the phone so we were only 1 degree away SRK, WOOHOO)

Do check out the episode below or subscribe to us in iTunes:

 

@asimburney

 

 

 

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi Upodcast review

This week Upodcast is on a quest for perfection. Joined by our guests Paresh from the phenomenal music podcast “The CurrySmugglers” and the always insight and thought-provoking Anisha Jhaveri, writer for Urban Asia, we slice through the Japanese documentary by David Gelb, Jiro Dreams Of Sushi.

We follow the life of Jiro Ono, an 85 year-old sushi master and owner of Michelin 3-Star restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, on his continuing quest to perfect the art of sushi.

To give you an idea of what we are talking about in the show, here is a clip of what happened when renowned food author Anthony Bourdain visited Jiro in his Tokyo restaurant.

 

 

You can follow more of Paresh’s work on the Currysmugglers here, a podcast we can wholeheartedly recommend you listen to straight after ours.

Anisha you can follow on twitter or some of her writings on her blog as well as UrbanAsia

As usual you can listen, download to our show below and if you have a minute, we would love if you could write us a review or rating on iTunes. (It only takes a minute, just click here)

@asimburney

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Raaz 3 Poster

Not a huge fan of this genre of movies but at least the soundtrack will be ace looking at the people involved and when can you ever get enough of Bipasha Basu.

The poster seems like a zombie version of Janet Jackson’s 1993 Album ” Janet” handed over to a secondary school student who dabbles in Photoshop

But probably the most scary part of the poster are the words “3D” and directed by Vikram Bhatt.

But in any case BIPASHA!

@asimburney

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Don 2 (3D) Review

Our favorite suave and chique crime lord Don is back after escaping from Interpol agents Roma (Priyanka Chopra) and Malik (Om Puri) in the first part of this franchise. We pick up the story after a 5-year gap (most of which Don has spent growing his hair and getting a butt ugly tattoo probably as the trend of wearing a tie under your shirt wasn’t taking off)

After becoming the ruler of Asia’s drug empire, he has now set his eyes on conquering Europe too. The top gaudy shirted crime bosses of Europe get together to get rid of Don but by doing so they set into motion the return of the king. This time his plan is to steal the currency plates for Euro Notes, I think he probably watched Lethal Weapon 4 a few times when he was kicking back and having his hair braided by Apache Indian’s stylist, but to do this he needs to get a key to a safe containing a video tape from Vardhan (Boman Irani), his nemesis from the earlier adventure who’s locked up in a Kuala Lumpur jail. Will Don be able to bust out Vardhan, steal the Euro plates, wipe out his enemies and finally become the king of crime in both Europe and Asia?

 

Where as the 2006 Don was a remake/re-imagining, the twist it added set the movie up as a slick action thriller franchise. The sequel takes us into the heist genre following the usual tropes i.e. setting up the heist with blue prints and lasers, getting a crew together each with a specialized skill set, things go wrong during the heist and then the big reveal. The movie is quite action heavy and the set pieces are very glossy and precision engineered. The team will be glad to hear that they are on par with stunt sequences reminiscent of the James Bond or Mission Impossible franchises, and that is clearly what the film makers were intending. I particularly enjoyed the initial Muay Thai double cross in Asia and the main car chase in the middle of the movie.

Unfortunately the action scenes are very heavily inspired by some of the above mentioned movies, also they are trying to match that level but never surpassing or adding anything original to the mix. Barring arguments about budgets, this is something that Korean, Thai or even French cinema is able to do much better and hence has a more unique voice in the global cinematic landscape, maybe this is one of the struggles Hindi Film cinema will continue to have until they develop a confident identity and vision.

 

This brings us to the fundamental flaws in the screenplay. As an audience we are trained to inherently root for the good guy. The hero dishooms his way through a pack of villains and vindicates the social injustices we identify with. The original Don’s main intrigue was about a simple guy, Vijay, infiltrating a crime organization for the future of his adopted street children and a sense of civic duty.

You want him to succeed in his mission whenever he is danger of his secret identity being disclosed by police or gangsters. You cared for Vijay’s well being.

When you take that away that suspense from the audience, as was the case in the 2006 version, understandably you feel cheated. You loose track of why you are rooting for the protagonist and only your affinity for the actors on screen makes ithe movie a satisfying experience. The cache of the actors involved for both Priyanka and ShahRukh was on a much higher level in 2006 then it is now.

Although Don is now the king of Asian drug trafficking, in the screenplay as a character his crimes are white washed.  We don’t see him doing any “evil deeds” or get any retribution for his actions whatsoever, Don is and remains a bad guy form start to finish without any character development.

Shahrukh has played anti heroes before in Baazigar and Darr that have been dubbed grey or negative characters but of each characters as an audience member you understood the motivation and story arc, be it obsession for revenge or love. I do think his role in Anjaam was overwhelmingly negative and to my recollection Anjaam flopped because of that. Don is a different beast.

He isn’t a “steal from the rich, give to the poor” kind of criminal. He is a vicious drug lord wanted in pretty much every country (which would make his mom proud as he proudly proclaims).

We are expected to root for this character and many times I was left wondering why we should do that? Just because Shahrukh looks cool? (again his coolness has lost a lot of its sheen since ’06) Or because he says please and thank you? Also where is his gang? Where are his minions? He seems to be very hands-on when it comes to pulling capers?

Director Farhan Akhtar mentioned when we spoke to him on our podcast that he also struggles with why audiences’ root for Don as a character and I don’t think he ever really figures it out during the entire movie and the only thing we are left with is… “Isn’t’ Shahrukh awesome?”  (as a disclaimer, yes he is awesome)

 

The whole set up of Don 2 is that he wants to be a billionaire and wipe out all his enemies, of which all the information is contained on a again a mythical disk that acts as a mcguffin through the rest of the flick. You reach the intermission and ask yourself what are the stakes in this movie?

Are we just here to see a bad guy do more bad stuff (ie  kill hostages and security guards by his henchmen) and if he has planned everything in detail as we are intended to believe then the innocents killed are on his conscience making the character very hard to like.

 

As a side note, I was watching a very interesting Star Wars documentary called “The People vs. George Lucas”, it spoke partly about how George Lucas made the first Star Wars when he started wanted to have control of his own movies and image and wanted to rail against the established studios by being a rebel outside of the system.  But now after living years off of his franchise and desperately trying to protect his “vision” ended up becoming the system himself. Watching Don 2 made me draw a parallel between George Lucas and Shahrukh’s career.

Shahrukh in the same way started out breaking all the classical hero molds. He took on supporting roles, off beat characters and small scales movies when Hindi film leads were not willing to experiment. This became the reason we love our Shahrukh, the reason we want to see him on screen, the nostalgia we feel when we call him King Khan.

And now quite ironically, he has become the one hero who has become most rigidly stuck in the image he has created.

But it’s been a rough year for SRK and I don’t think the detractors will change their tune after seeing Don, which is unfortunate but also understandable after the oversaturation people fell after marketing mayhem of Ra.One and now Don 2.

 

Following the rules of sequelitis, this one is bigger, better, flashier but the ’78 Saleem Javed version delivered something that was still memorable after 20 years. So much so that it has been remade in different eras as well as languages and regions. No one will be remaking Don 2 in 20 years and people that aren’t on board of the SRK or Piggy Chops train, won’t come out of theatres won over by the movie.

 

Although the loopholes in the screenplay, the dialogues penned by Farhan Akhtar himself are fun zingy one liners that had me half smirking in the quintessential SRK way quite a few times. I did purposefully stay away from the “Don Says’ virals on the net as I didn’t want the impact of the dialogues spoilt outside of context and this was a major win for me. Also since I am not a fan of those desperate marketing experiments, which are the equivalent of entertainment fast food that neither the performers nor the audience truly enjoy, and if they do, shame on them!

 

The soundtrack has been a pretty big disappointment and lacks anything catchy or mythical for us to buy or even revisit the album. Unlike Don ’06 we missed Kareena’s sizzling item number and there isn’t a “Khaike paan banaras wala” to lift the spirits either. The background score is slightly better and makes the heist and the action scenes more impactful.

In a way this makes the movie less Bollywood and maybe missing what the French call ” I don’t know what?”

 

The stunts are shot exquisitely shot (actually most of the cinematography is great by Jason West. Who is also playing one of the baddies, if I haven’t misread the cast list) they are very much competing with the MI franchise but unfortunately never taking it ever further. The execution is top notch but it looses out in creativity.

 

I chose to see Don 2 in 3D even if I am not a big fan of post converted movies (I haven’t seen any that I have liked or felt that the 3D added anything more). The 3D adds a sense of depth to the action scenes and but also points out the low budget design of the movies CGI. What 3D can provide something more is to the dance sequences in Zara Dil Ko Thamlo, But again since there was only one song and not much choreography required, there wasn’t much left. (My hopes are still high for Shrish Kunder’s Joker, next year, which IS shot in 3d and not post converted)

I wouldn’t shell out for the premium ticket for 3D if you are on a budget or anything and don’t enjoy wearing the glasses.

Unless like me you are not biased against 3D or just want to see a hindi 3D movie.

 

The 2 other niggles I had with the movie were Priyanka Chopra as performer and the character of Roma and her team at Interpol.

Interpol never provides a foil for Don or any threat, weakening the dramatic tension. Roma was an innocent victim of Don and collaborated with Interpol as an undercover mole, now she seems to be a Special Agent and the bright shining future of the team and there isn’t a moment her ability to do anything except pout and point out whatever is obvious on screen. Here is an example of her investigative method: “We see 2 people in the car, BUT now there is only 1 person so someone must have stepped out of the car” – No shit, Sherlock!

Not even the local German police takes this version of Interpol seriously, neither do the banking officials (who seem to have the power to offer immunity to felons)

 

On top of that Roma struts around every time Don surrends as if she actually did anything to catch him, which she clearly didn’t. Her introduction to the movie is where she has forgotten her colleagues’ birthday… and this is the agency that is chasing Don, the most notorious criminal, no wonder they haven’t gotten anywhere.

Priyanka does look ravishing and is quite impressive in the final action scene where she kicks some ass with really skinny arms.

Too bad for her she again gets outshone by the supporting actress who is wearing a gold dress, last time Kareena, this time Lara Dutta.

 

Overall I would say, I had been really excited for Don 2 and I liked it but it’s not going be on anyone’s top 10 of the year list. It’s a very slick, enjoyable and above all well made movie reminding me of Excel’s Game, released earlier this year. The star power and the brand recognition of Don 2 will carry this movie further in terms of Box office then it did for Game.

And I do have to admit that I walked out of the theater humming the title track, popping my collar and sneer- smirking like only a wanted man does….

 

 

Spoiler Section:

  • Having been cheated once before in the earlier Don, you start to expect a twist at the end of this one. I wouldn’t want the Don franchise become a N Shymalan style movie where most of the impact is lost just because you as an audience member don’t want to me cheated and just sit there waiting for a twist.
  • Hritik Roshan’s cameo: Don goes undercover as Hritik followed by a Mission Impossible 2 style mask taking off, which was illustrated in one of the posters that came out earlier. Although a preposterous set up ( MI did put in the effort to explain how the managed to copy the voice and mannerisms, here it’s not the case) it was quite fun to see Hritik even if it was for a short while. It made me wonder when will we get to see Hritik play a bad ass? But then I thought of the Agneepath traier and it was like my wish will be granted very soon
  • More effort should have been put into establishing Interpol’s credibility, instead of introducing us to them by talking about missed birthdays, maybe talk about a case Roma just cracked? would have given her a bit more development as a character.
  • Some of the influencesI picked up watching the movie:
    • Die Hard and the Nakatomi heist, up to the final climax where Don arches his arms back when he is close to surrendering. I was hoping they would just go completely meta and make SRK say something like: “Yippikay kutte!”).
    • Mission Impossible 1: face masks, heist, poison pen, fire brigade escape, upside down safe crack
    • MI 2: Don’s get up in the finale
  • Shah Rukh’s hair foibles: Seriously what look were they trying to go for?

Let us know what you thought of Don 2? We have a podcast discussion with our good friend Danny Bowes about Don 2 going up in a couple of days so keep your iTunes feeds updated!

@asimburney

 

 

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Ep 38 RDB Interview with Kuly for Sheera Di Kaum

We had a chance to speak with Kuly, one third of the biggest Bhangra band of the moment RDB or Rhythm Bhangra Dhol known for their massive songs, international collaborations with acclaimed rappers like Snoop Dogg and Ludacris and their total domination of the Bollywood charts since working with Akshay Kumar on movies like Namaste London, Singh Is King, Kambakth Ishq and now Speedy Singhs/Breakaway.

Now Upodcast is not well versed in music ( unlike or friends The CurrySmugglers who are back with an amazing season!) but we had a chance to ask some interesting questions about the state of bhangra, the new found international audience and some behind the scenes gossip on how the industry works.

Above all Kuly was a very nice guy to speak with and although he was in the backseat of a car, he really took the time to answer all of our questions.

It’s a fun listen, check it out below and don’t forget to leave us a comment!

Here are some of the tracks RDB is famous for

You can find more info on their website and also their forthcoming album WorldWide.

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Bonus Episode: Bollywood Special- The Art of the Item Number

This week we crack a main ingredient of Bollywood movies. The Item number! Asim is joined by our very own Bollywood Diva Kara also known as FilmiGirl and Paresh, one half of the music mix masters duo, The CurrySmugglers. Together we dissect what makes Bollywood Item Numbers such a unique phenomenon and what makes them really tasty, we pick our favorite tracks that made us throw our hard earned cash on screen and making it rain. We finish off with the Paresh’s “Memorial Picks of Filthiest Item Numbers”. Our mommy’s will be proud. Check out the full episode after the jump!

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Bonus Episode Bollywood Mid Year Wrap Up 2010- Upodcast

Here is the Voltron of all Bollywood Podcasts. Combining the powers of Beth from Bethlovesbollywood, Katherine from TotallyFilmi, Kara from Filmigirl and Bollyspice and a lone Asim sans his usual co-hosts, this bumper episode of  Upodcast  goes through the best and worst  of 2010. No punches are held back and no performance is safe. we review the prominent releases of Bollywood give our take on Twitter Celebs, The Bikini issue and a look forward to  the rest of the year. Listen to this EPIC episode after the Jump! Read More

iPed: Knock Off iPad

China reclaims it’s position of Knock off champion of the known galaxy. Whilst geeks worldwide are going gaga over the latest must-have gadget from Apple, the iPad.( I admit even salivating a little)

The glorious Republic of China has decided to come out with it’s own product which looks eerily similar, check out the video after the jump!

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Teaser trailer Raavan starring Abhishek Bachan and Aishwarya Rai

Fresh off the presses Abhishek bachan has just tweeted the new teaser trailer for his upcoming movie Raavan.

It’s directed by acclaimed south Indian director Mani Ratnam after their awesome collaboration in Guru. It also stars the wonderfully effervescent Aishwarya Rai of which we only see a passing shot. Watch it here now before it get’s pulled by the man!

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