By: Greg Gargiulo
Slumdog Millionaire paints a graphic, gritty and realistic picture of life in some of the lowliest neighborhoods of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. It reveals plots of land that remain grounded in poverty while rapid technological and architectural transformations occur in their surroundings. It displays a culture very much still rooted in tradition, yet struggling to balance it with the demands of modernization. Packed to the brim with friction, pain, loss, strife, love, humor and aesthetic beauty, it contains all the staunch elements of a moving cinematic experience (especially if the many and varied controversies attached to it are temporarily disregarded.) And while many of the stunning visuals in the film have the power to easily teleport the viewer directly to the heart of some Indian slums, without the accompaniment of A.R. Rahman's provocative and all-encompassing score, the picture would lack substantively in completely coming to life.
Slumdog director Danny Boyle - whose works such as Trainspotting, The Beach and Sunshine have all featured scores of nearly equal grandeur to the movies themselves - chose Rahman due to his unparalleled success (he's sold over 100 million records and 200 million cassettes worldwide) and ubiquity in the Bollywood world in order to add to the film's authenticity. Planning and completing the score in only two and a half months, Rahman worked out a sharp composite that reflects both the present day electronica/house/hip-hop sector of flashing lights, street life and constant movement, along with the long-inherited Indian flavor of heavy sitars, vibrant tablas and hypnotizing voices.
"Ringa Ringa" featuring Alka Yagnik and Ila Arun has the chanting essence of a snake charmer summoning a sweet-talking belly dancer in a motion that's as swift as it is consuming, and its beat can easily send even the most suspect listeners into a trance. Rahman borrows the vocals of some of India's prominent singers like Yagnik and Arun on the soundtrack with the effect of further developing the score's richness and realness. "Latika's Theme" and "Dreams on Fire," a pair that lends to the mushier romantic themes of the film, showcase the gentle hum of Suzanne D'Mello on top of a twangy sitar. "Gangsta Blues" (featuring BlaaZe and Tanvi Shah) is a direct depiction of the Mumbai street scene, while "Millionaire" (featuring Madhumitha) could be considered India's answer to The Orb. Both resonate profoundly.
Also making her way into the mix, an artist with Sri Lankan and Indian ties who has enjoyed an American omnipresence of her own over the past year or so, is none other than M.I.A. Guilty pleasure, crowd-rejuvenator, unavoidable poppy jam you can't help but listen to all the way through "Paper Planes." It's difficult to not dig the gunshot-and-cha-ching melody that latches onto the skull after each subsequent listen. Here M.I.A. plays her part with the original version and an extended DFA remix, plus she contributes some of her b-girl vocals on the chaotic "O…Saya," all of which highlight some of the film's brighter moments.
Whether you've seen the flick or not, the Slumdog soundtrack can seize you just the same. Though we're likely underprivileged in the heaps of worthy audio and video that pour out of India, this is at least one opportunity to sample just a taste of their distinct old-meets-new musical fusion and a tiny peek at their world.
JamBase | Sub-Continental
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