“I will play song after song after song if you have the patience,” promised Indian composer A. R. Rahman to a 20,000-strong audience at Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Friday evening. Rahman lived up to his promise at Mathrubhumi A. R. Rahman Live 2017 and the audience was patient too.
The performance by the Mozart of Madras — a title he’s not particularly fond of — was awesome and adding to the awesomeness was the monstrous stage with LED screens. It is claimed to be the largest stage ever put up in Sharjah, and I admit I have never seen one on such a large scale before.
The evening had a pulsating start with an audio-visual presentation about Rahman that included a display of graphics on the LED panels against the background score of Lose Control. But Rahman was in total control of the proceedings.
Though most of the songs were in Malayalam and Tamil, the Oscar-winner laced the three-hour show with some of his popular Bollywood songs, too. But then, who could complain, as music transcends all language barriers and has only to be experienced and enjoyed?
Rahman emerged, quite literally, on the stage with a mesmerising display of his keyboard mastery following it up with his song O Naadaan Parinday Ghar Aaja. Other songs he played included Dil Se Re, Ye Jo Desh Hai Mera, Chaiyya Chaiyya, Mustafa Mustafa, Patakha Guddi, O Humdum Suniyo Re, Tu Hi Re, Tere Bina, and Jana Gana Mana.
But a Rahman concert is incomplete without Sufi songs. To get into the mood he changed into a sherwani and white turban. He ditched the keyboards for the traditional harmonium and his percussionist accompanied him on the tabla instead of the drums. He took the audience into a trance with Arziyan, Kun Faya Kun, Khwaja Mere Khwaja to name a few. That the fans were bewitched was evident as those in the galleries switched on their mobile phone lights giving the impression of thousands of fireflies swarming on a rainy night.
Talking of rain, the concert went on uninterrupted though rain was forecast for the weekend.
The maestro displayed his serious side in response to current issues affecting society by twisting the lyrics of his career’s earlier hits Urvasi Urvasi to mean “even though [US President Donald Trump] has become the US friend, take it easy”.
Sweta Mohan, Karthik, Benny Dayal, Ranjit Barot, Haricharan, Jonita Gandhi, Neeti Mohan, Alphons Joseph and Javed Ali took the stage when the National Film Award winner took breaks, entertaining with their solos, duets and group songs.
Narumugaye Narumugaye by Karthik and Mohan, Chali Re, Enna Sona, Chinna Chinna Aasai in Tamil and its Hindi version Chhoti Si Asha, which bagged the maestro the first of his four National Film Awards, were some of the foot-tapping songs that everyone enjoyed.
Rahman paid a tribute to his father R.K. Sekhar by performing Manasu Manasinte, which Sekhar composed for the 1976 Malayalam movie Chottanikkara Amma.
With no breaks, except a brief interlude to honour Sekhar by Malayalam heartthrob Dulquer Salman and others, the music stopped at the stroke of midnight, but not because the audience had lost patience or that Rahman forgot about his promise.