Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A R Rahman and uniting India

"Can't you speak even one word of Hindi?". I was asked this unpleasant question twice by my fellow Hindi-speaking Indians during my stay in the U.S. I passed them off lightly though I did want to give these chaps this answer - "My employer doesn't want Hindi and so I didn't care either". In the U.S no matter how hard these guys try to fight their identity crisis with all the Hindi they can speak loudly no U.S employer actually cares for thier Hindi. Translation services do want Hindi speaking people but then H1 visas aren't granted for them. Unless you want to be employed in some Indian gorcery store or gas station run by some Hindi speaking folks there Hindi is of hardly any use in the U.S. I was surprised when I was told by a Tamil boy how a friend of his (another Tamilian) was chiding him for not knowing Hindi. And even though the Indian paper currency uses other languages I am not complaining why my Hindi speaking questioner doesn't know Tamil or Malayalam.

What many of these Hindi speaking folks in India and abroad don't know is that many in India whose mother tongue is not Hindi have actually learnt Hindi at least up until the X standard and that many can even converse, read and write Hindi quite well. In the south we love Hindi movies and songs. Down south Hindi has never been a problem to understand or to learn or to speak. In TamilNadu, only the imposition of Hindi has been opposed. Most of our singers from the South such as Yeshudas, S P Balasubramanyam, K S Chithra and of course Hariharan and now Shankar Mahadevan sing in Hindi with ease. Hariharan even made inroads into Ghazals and has carved a niche for himself in this genre before making it big in film songs. On the contrary the many Hindi stars who made it big in Tamil movies like Simran, Jyothika, Nagma can hardly speak a decent word of Tamil and that too after decades of being in the film industry in the South. Khusboo is the exception. What to say of those South Indian stars (some of them who still rock Hindi cinema) like Sridevi, Rekha, Hemamalini, Vyjayanthimaala, Waheeda Rahman and Padmini. Both Juhi Chawla and Kareena Kapoor have openly confessed that Sridevi was their sole influence.

South Indian directors also make Hindi movies. Manirathnam, Ram Gopal Varma and Priyadarshan have made big hits in Bollywood with originals.

And now there is one more person from the South, Chennai's very own A R Rahman who not only composes songs for Hindi movies but also sings them. Hindi film music has never been the same after "Roja". Besides introducing elements such as the real good drum beat (as in "Roja Janeman"), "Reggae" elements as in "Choti si Aasha" and a number of other techniques A R Rahman also proved to the Hindi masses that you could be a single composer and yet make good music instead of working as a "duo". That way in the south most composers work alone and not as combos.

Today the nation is singing one tune because of A R Rahman. What a way to unite the country using music. Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu composers have even made singers from the north sing south Indian language songs. Though the diction is still far from perfect (Shreya Goshal being the exception here) the south is always open to experimentation without complaining. Imagine Adnan Sami singing Tamil but that's what Yuvan Shankar Raja has done in his latest offering.

....and we from the south are asked for our knowledge of Hindi???

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