“Any person who doesn’t want to listen or sing a song is a mad person,” says renowned folk singer Lourembam Bedabati, quoting her forefathers. The notion of the thought rings true. We are all consumers of music. It is a relationship that travels beyond geography, cultural ethnicity, language, caste, religion, creed etc. With music, we are all on a journey to a place which is ‘far away from the evils of life’, as AR Rahman puts it. Harmony with AR Rahman, a web documentary that delves into our musical heritage, is a reminder that we need to have several of such paths, ensure that the trails that few have ventured into don’t get lost. It also shows that it is okay for these paths to be interconnected; cultural exchange only gives more to the art itself rather than diminish its significance. At a time when Carnatic musicians are being brick-walled with hate for singing songs of other faiths, this is a lesson we would do good to keep in memory.
Harmony with AR Rahman has been charted out in five episodes of forty-five minutes each. In the first four episodes, the anchor AR Rahman travels to the abodes of four different musicians (Sajith Vijayan — Mizhavu, Bahauddin Dagar — Rudra Veena, Lourembam Bedabati — Khunung Eshei, Mickma Tshering Lepcha — Lepcha music), interacts, learns about their musical culture and journey. Each episode ends with a small musical interaction between Rahman and the musician, just an exploration of sounds. These conversations are filled with profound details and picturesque visuals, that capture the mind and the eye. Director Sruti Hariharan Subramaniyam deserves a shout-out for finely straddling the line between maintaining the honesty of these exchanges but also having enough to keep the layman engaged. The punctuational silences are captured in equal glory as the dynamic thoughts. Despite having a star anchor in AR Rahman, Sruti ensures that the story doesn’t deviate from the talent it has chosen to celebrate. Harmony charts the course of the musicians, culminating in a space that Rahman orchestrates.
There is a common thread to the stories that Sruti has picked to showcase. These are beautiful, intricate, niche musical cultures that have very few propagators. However, there is a rich legacy and history associated with the art. These musicians have also broken barriers when it comes to their art, choosing their own way to give something back. In the case of Sajith Vijayan, it was not letting his caste determine his career and also choosing to explore newer avenues where his music stays relevant. For Bahauddin Dagar, it is about the enjoying the high that music provides; the only motive to pursue music is to enjoy it he says. For Bedabati, it was about making sure her art continues to exist and that there are people to carry it on after her. For Lepcha, it was about inculcating other threads of music into Lepcha music, creating a unique sound that furthers his music. These stories and the conversation push you into deeper chambers in appreciating art — there is no hierarchy only art.
Another of Sruti’s accomplishments is to show us a Rahman we have never seen before. We know of Rahman’s humility but Harmony captures Rahman in all his boyish glory. “I was touching your veena,” says Rahman and gives a sheepish smile of a boy caught stealing sweets by his mother. There are so many such moments that leaves the viewer with a smile at his charm. Rahman also shows us that he can be a great interviewer, asking some incredibly perceptive questions also providing some relevant, interesting anecdotes from his own journey. He also constantly learns from these other musicians — it is tough to believe that an Oscar-winner could still be so visibly, excited about learning. However, Rahman makes sure that he doesn’t take all the limelight. “Mostly, I think I am just going to complement what you are going to do,” he says, explaining the idea behind Mann Mauj Mein, the musical magnum-opus that is the collaboration of these musicians. One can say that he does the same through the series as well.
And Mann Mauj Mein (The heart is in ecstasy) is liberation. Rahman puts on his experimental hat and breaks all notions of what we are used to hearing in film music. There is no form, as Rahman himself explains. Having consumed music in a set form throughout my life, Mann Mauj Mein is a brilliant culmination of the different cultures that constantly surprises us. It takes through the highs and lows, keeping us in eager expectation of what’s next. For someone for whom music has become a place of comfort, Mann Mauj Mein left me in a realm of emotions that I struggled to make sense of. Then I realised, why struggle to explain when you can just sit back and let music tide over you.