In that part-nasal, part-electronic voice of his that we have come to adore so much, AR Rahman kicks off his concert film—India’s first ever concert film apparently—by telling us about his first concert experience. He tells us that he was so far away from the stage that the members of British band, Osibisa, seemed almost invisible. The stage, he says, looked like a distant speck of light. I know exactly what he means, having felt the same in most of his own concerts. If I could somehow position my head in a precise angle, I could somehow peer through the flailing hands to get a look at the distant moving dot that would be AR Rahman at his concerts. For millions like me who have had the same experience, One Heart comes as great solace. No flailing hands, Rahman so close, an air-conditioned theatre… every one of us who have sweated our way through interminable crowds to get a sight of the composer performing deserve this. The film is mainly made up of on-stage footage from his Intimate concert tour in the US. I say ‘on-stage’ for there’s little about what happens off-stage, which, forgive me for assuming, I thought was the point of a concert film in the first place. If you thought One Heart would be more than simply some edited footage from a single concert tour, prepare to be underwhelmed.
One Heart: The A.R. Rahman Concert Film
Director: AR Rahman
Cast: AR Rahman, Haricharan
It’s got concert footage interspersed with parts from a video interview in which he’s sharing generic truths like, “Fame is a double-edged sword.” There’s almost no real insight into the composers’ methods, into the conception of his concerts, into his choice of music for such events. Unless you count him giving you a generic statement about how hard it is for him to pick songs, as insight. He goes on to add that if he were to play all the songs he’s done, it’d have to be a 16-hour-long concert. Perhaps in self-awareness of how little it delves into the workings of the composer, how little insight you get into, say, what went behind the performances in the Intimate concert, there’s an attempt to lend depth with some slo-mo shots of Rahman as he looks meditative in picturesque locales. He’s standing on top of a cruise, looking at the sky. He’s standing by the shore, as green waves crash into rocks. He’s standing in a hot-air balloon, jokingly threatening to jump. These simply come across as superficial attempts to instill depth. And then, there are miniature interviews of those who were part of the Intimate concert, including Haricharan, Jonita Gandhi, Annette Philip, and Ranjith Barot. Again, you don’t really get too much to keep the fan in you satiated. Jonita Gandhi tells you she’s fortunate about getting to work with her hero. Haricharan reveals about the pub-hopping the team did with Rahman, to savour the local jazz music.
Promotional material suggested that One Heart would be on the lines of Michael Jackson’s This Is It. I’d hoped to understand how a self-confessed introvert like Rahman has now become comfortable with performing at sold-out concerts. How is it that a man who once thought his voice was not good enough, is now able to improvise with seemingly effortless ease on stage? Generally known to be a recluse of sorts, how does this man prepare his team for concerts? What’s their behind-the-scenes interaction like? There are no answers to any of this. And yet, every time they show Rahman and team performing his compositions, you almost forget about these issues. Chinna Chinna Aasai, Dil Se, Tere Bina, Nadaan Parinde, Munbe Vaa… these are all songs that interwoven into our life stories. For a fleeting minute, they hint at Uppu Karuvaadu, but quickly take you to Vellai Pookal. The highlight of the picks was the improvised performance of Naanu Varugiren. It’s glorious to see how guitars and drums co-exist with Carnatic. The enhanced audio of this concert film makes each song so gratifying.
That’s not all. If you look closely enough, you can see that the shy composer of the 90s is still there somewhere. A sudden smile, a glance, still give away that he still doesn’t quite get why so many people love him so. As he sings Mahi Ve and sees the love in the eyes of every member of the audience, his eyes almost well up. These little, precious moments, if you care enough to look for them, add a lot of value to the film. Towards the end of the film, you’re shown how the audience just won’t let Rahman leave the stage. They cry themselves hoarse. They don’t want the concert to stop. If One Heart had been a more revealing concert film, I may have felt the same.
This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.