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‘One Heart’ review: AR Rahman’s concert film is 80 minutes of musical goodness

AR Rahman and his handpicked group of musicians deliver familiar classics with unexpected verve.

The best part about AR Rahman’s concert film One Heart is the music.

The 80-minute concert film encapsulates performances of Rahman and his band across the United States of America and Canada in the Intimate concert tour of 2015. Between splendid footage of the performances is Rahman talking about stage fright in his initial years, the process of getting the band together, and broad-stroke impressions about making music and dealing with fanfare. The talky parts are filler material, but it is hard to complain if the individual is as genial and forthcoming as Rahman.

The documentary has been produced by Rahman, and does not feature a director’s credit. With no authorial voice in place, Rahman is the subject and the overlord in One Heart. The interviews featuring the composer are, therefore, as milquetoast as they can get. The music is what stands out here. The film is currently available on Netflix.

The principal leaders of the band are Rahman and his longtime collaborator Ranjit Barot. When they set out to cherry-pick the rest of the 10-member team, the memo was to sound like a 25-piece orchestra. And do they deliver. It is an incredibly well-oiled machine that is not afraid to improvise. Everyone gets room to showboat. From the young bass queen Mohini Dey to Barot (on drums) and violinist Ann Marie Calhoun to vocalist Annette Philip, all musicians get their time of the night as a popular song is allowed to veer into unexpected directions like a jazz piece. (A special mention for singer Jonita Gandhi, who can pull off any Rahman composition with flair.)

One Heart.

A particularly entertaining moment comes when Philip scat sings to her heart’s content as part of the band’s performance of Tu Bole, Main Boloon from Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na (2008). It is heartening to see the audience applaud when Barot steals the spotlight by doing a drum solo in the beginning of the song Naadan Parindey for no apparent reason.

This audience respects music quite unlike the one the maestro had to encounter in Wembley earlier this year, where people walked out when he began singing in Tamil. The audience appears to be enjoying the songs, regardless of them being in Hindi or Tamil, making Wembley seem like a bad day. That said, the number of Hindi songs featured in the film is more than half the number of Tamil tunes. Considering that Rahman’s best work is unarguably in Tamil, it appears that Hindi was given preference n One Heart to give it more widespread appeal.

Rahman and his band chose the setlists mostly by instinct with some thought put to the ease with which the songs can be performed live. Songs involving a lot of orchestra are avoided. Rahman does speak of the inevitable scenario where regardless of what he will play, an audience member will shout “Telugu!” or “Punjabi!”

There are classics such as Chinna Chinna Aasai (Roja), Dil Se (Dil Se) and Munbe Va (Sillunu Oru Kadhal) and recent hits such as Nenjukkule (Kadal), Patakha Guddi (Highway) and Naane Varugiren (O Kadhal Kanmani). The odd surprise includes Warriors in Peace, the theme song of Warriors of Heaven and Earth, a 2003 Chinese film Rahman worked on.

They all sound perfect. There are great bands which have been out there for years but sound terrible live. But Rahman’s band for the Intimate concert seems to have been playing together for ages.

What is fascinating is how Rahman is able to rearrange the studio sound with which we identify his songs as a watertight mix of electronic and acoustic elements for a live audience. In One Heart, Rahman admits that in the beginning of his career, he did not know how to recreate the polished sound of a film song in front of an audience. He would record parts of the songs, play the pre-recorded pieces through Pro Tools on stage, and then the live instruments would kick in.

In the Intimate concert, Rahman turns his songs, even angst-filled ones such as Dil Se, into funky and cheerful tracks. He is not following the script, but simply having fun. This is the maestro at his peak and at his sassiest. Watch him sway and swing while playing the accordion during the Nenjukkule performance – it is everything that the soft-spoken Rahman in interviews is not.

The Intimate concert.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.