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Ustad Autoxerox’s Aria

Perhaps it’s apt that Rahman sold the scam-tainted CWG a lemon

Ustad Autoxerox’s Aria
AFP (From Outlook, September 13, 2010)
Ustad Autoxerox’s Aria

Anthems are devised to make your spirit soar. When they crashland, they can also leave you sore. For some time now, A.R. Rahman has been on song. This time the song is on him. His anthem ‘Jiyo, Utho, Badho, Jeeto’ takes all of four minutes and 16 seconds to expose you to the perils of skydiving without a parachute. But then, this is the anthem for the 2010 Commonwealth Games and, like many other things connected with this year’s CWG, it happens to be just another kind of cruel sport.

The idea of an anthem for sporting events is, it could be argued, to foreground a consistent theme as a focal point of the event and to unify the audiences with the adhesive of a familiar, infectious rhythm. In the present context of a CWG mired in debilitating controversy and hint of sleaze, a rousing anthem could have been the talisman to unlock some positive energy.

But the present offering of India’s own Mozart, which was launched with much fanfare on August 23, has left even the Group of Ministers unhappy. That must be the ultimate ignominy for a composer—that aesthetic cynicism of such crass proportions can even affect the GoM, although one suspects it was not so much the notations on the music sheet but those on the bill that did the damage.

Even as Oscar hero Rahman was concatenating, at super-speed, his CWG jingle that jangles with some of the most pedestrian verses in recent times, he also fed in the punchy figure of some Rs 1.37 crore per minute of the song. Total: Rs 5.50 crore. In 2006, for the inaugural functions of the Frankfurt Book Fair, at which India was the ‘Guest of Honour Country’, a proposal by music composer Ilaiyaraja to present a Carnatic raga using a 120-piece Western philharmonic orchestra was summarily rejected because of the price tag of Rs 95 lakh. But times have changed.

The funny thing about Rahman’s Swagatham number this time is that, after its recitative first part, with lines as stiff and strangulating as ‘Junoon se, kanoon se, maidaan maar lo’, the second performative segment breaks into a beat that sounds like a rip-off of his own composition ‘Ramta Jogi’ in the film Taal. Obviously, Rahman is now famous enough to plagiarise himself and even charge us for it. But the obvious question that needs to be asked is: why did he even try? Why did he not simply offer back the same ‘Ramta Jogi’ as the anthem for the CWG? The song has all the right foot-tapping ingredients, including oblique references to playful charlatans that would have blended well with the CWG.

Of course, Rahman’s anthem cannot be disconnected with the overall plan for inaugural and closing ceremonies of the CWG. The fancy committee for the inaugural events has for a few months now been grappling with the logistics of how to present India in this highly televised event. It is a committee in search of a spectacle. The spectacle of a fake, make-believe India populated with Bollywood dancers and swirling silks, crooning divas and simpering starlets. The last time around, they were thinking of making a sound-and-light show using the sacred ‘Om’. 

It is an India that has no specific location on this planet and is far removed from not just the lives, but even the fantasies, of its own people. This is an India that is the pet project of its numerous, prospering robber barons, who are enabled, time and again, to whisk away some more resources, all in the name of an abstract nation.

That the vulgar Rs 380 crore budget for the opening ceremonies could not set aside a few crores for a group of poets in different languages to write an appropriate song for the opening anthem tells its own story of gross disinterest even in the context of the indefensible. Instead, we have some utterly filmy gibberish like:

Uthi re ab iraadon mein tapan,
Chali re gori, chali ban tthan.

The lines, as much as the composition, are stolen from some other context. So, we believe, is the CWG.

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