Dreams is misinterpreted in the West and misunderstood in the East"
Although Rahman's wake-up call to the West comes with corny words, it is not without its bright moments, says Stithaprajna
Bombay Dreams, Rahman's wake-up call to the West, did not exactly set the Thames or the Ganges on fire, despite its reasonable commercial success. While a vast majority of the critics bracketed the music with the positives of the show, a few of them were less than effusive in their praise. Rhoda Koenig of The Independent found the music "routine oriental stuff, the sort of thing one would hear in an old movie behind a snake charmer or a treacherous veiled lady". Another reviewer called it "A Dosa served with English Chutney".
Bombay Dreams, in my opinion, is an album that was misinterpreted in the West and misunderstood in the East. Misinterpreted because the "routine oriental stuff" that I grew up listening to does not sound anywhere close to this album, and misunderstood because its boundaries extend nautical miles beyond the first impressions that a few hasty and superficial hearings would convey.
Bombay Dreams is not exactly a flawless score especially when seen against the huge expectations preceding its release. Rahman's melodies do not bend effortlessly to fit into the West End/Broadway mould. The initial listens are awkward, with the album demanding more than a fair quota of repeats for one to get used to. The lyrics, at times bordering on the very mundane ("Life's never easy, everyday you struggle through, you lean on me and I lean on you") to downright corny ("I think I'll die if we don't kiss here"), stretch our patience levels. The single Shakalaka Baby, masquerading as the flagship track, would not knock on the doors of my Rahman Top 20. Its pop overtones can be justified from a commercial perspective but not from an aesthetic one.
On the brighter side, there are several factors that make the album work. It flirts with diverse genres from the nouveau techno-qawwali (Wedding Qawwali) to the cliched bhangra-pop (Like an Eagle). Lush orchestral strings transparently blend with Indian rhythms and Oriental instrumentation is invisibly cocooned in Occidental beats. Led by the theme motif, the unheralded slow numbers form the emotional core of the album and are at the very least arresting. The melancholic Only Love sinuously winds up to a crescendo before the chorus and the strings envelope you, and my favorite I Could Live Here stands strong, propelled merely by a lonely pathos-driven flute. Closer than Ever and The Journey Home perfectly complement the faster tracks, and Rahman, seamlessly switching languages, pulls off another 'O re chori' in the latter.
The 'recycled' numbers (barring Chaiyya Chaiyya), with subtle changes and refurbished instrumentation, have received noticeable facelifts and etch out characters of their own. Rahman morphs Ooh la la into a more adorable animal, thanks to a funky bass loop and a clever variation in tempo. To the discerning listener, the album is replete with disguised Easter eggs that offer ample moments of aural delight. Case in point -- the simulated locomotive sounds camouflaged in The Journey Home and the wispy honey-laced flute motifs caressing Happy Endings.
Bombay Dreams is an album that I would listen to with rapt attention when I have the leisure that it demands. And on days when I am looking for immediate salvation, Instant Karma beckons.
Published on 25 October 2002
to the editor