16 January, 2009

Bollywood Millionaire

I recently watched the movie Slumdog Millionaire, and beside being struck by its beautiful and story and filmed brilliance (kudos Danny Boyle), I found myself completely entranced by the soundtrack. The music is like a cocoon over a butterfly, it covered and consumed me at various points during the film, almost overwhelming, but always encompassing and encouraging the dream within.

A great portion of this soundtrack was created by the Tamil artist A.R. Rahman, who has crafted scores of scores for movies from Elizabeth - The Golden Age to Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. His sound combines the mechanical and "industrial" feeling of Nine Inch Nails with highly artistic and delicate styles of Classical Indian music. It is post-modern in a very ironic and beautiful way. "Riots" sounds like something pulled from Blue Man Group's Bollywood excursion, while "Ringa Ringa" is repetitive and fragile, but has a strong percussion section that supports the rest of the song. "Latika's Theme" could have come from a Zero 7 album, it hums and throbs with the heartbeat of the love story that is the soul of this movie. "O...Saya" is the song that best chronicles the feeling of intensity and the racing pace of the movie. It completely encapsulates the feeling of running from and towards something momentous.

There are three songs on the album that do not include A.R. Rahman. The first is the surprise hit of the year "Paper Planes," while the second is the remix of this song by DFA. In the movie, "Paper Planes" has a strong place, soundtracking the main characters' movements into the world of crime. The song has a certain amount of the innocence and resignation that makes it a perfect backing track for frightened youth corrupted by necessity. It is for this same reason that the sample of the song "Paper Planes" does not work at all in the song "Swagga Like Us" by Jay-Z, T.I., Kanye West, and Lil Wayne. These artists may have once been as caged by their circumstances as the boys in Slumdog Millionaire, but as adults they have little connection to the innocence of youth, and their song only comes off as a venue for showcasing their lack of humility. The DFA remix of "Paper Planes" is a funky version that adds some bass and a dynamic feel to a smooth song. The final smooth song is "Aaj Ki Raat" by Sonu Nagam, Mahalaxmi Iyer and Alisha Chinai. The song has a danceable club beat with strong vocal work, and various backing sounds that continue to promote that feeling of the old and the new, the mechanical and the organic.

Overall, the soundtrack is a strong casing for an amazing movie. Each song propels the plot forward and adds to audience enjoyment. On its own, the album is highly danceable; it also makes you think.

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