| AR Rahman rehearsing at the Salt Lake stadium on the eve of his concert. Picture by Pabitra Das
Calcutta, Jan. 31: It’s still a surprise, but here’s a sneak peek: A Rahman classic — one of the first — not in Tamil, not in Hindi, but in Bengali. The rest is under wraps till tomorrow evening, when the moon shines on The Telegraph Unity of Light concert, presented by Hero Honda in association with Emami Beauty Secrets by Madhuri.
If the “translation” isn’t treat enough for his formidable Calcutta fan following, he has more surprises up his synthesiser.
Allah Rakha Rahman never takes his music lightly. Proof of this pudding will be in the hearing — all 56,000 watts of it. With over 70 musicians on stage, the man who shot to fame with Roja is doing his best to take his Calcutta fans inside his studio.
“I am trying to recreate 10 years of music, from 1992 to 2002,” he said, fidgeting like a schoolboy before an exam, barely 24 hours before he takes the stage for the first time in India.
Rahman, who arrived in Calcutta late yesterday, spent the morning at the Salt Lake stadium, tinkering around on the keyboards, looking into the “teething trouble” even as the construction of the 90ft-by-70ft stage was in full swing.
The music whizkid, who also made time for a trip to a Park Circus dargah, still travels with his family. Mother Kareema and sisters Rehana and Ishrat are with him in Calcutta. “My sisters sing with me. My mother came along… After all, someone has to pray!” smiled Rahman, casual in grey trousers and black full-sleeved shirt.
Admitting that he is “not a performer, more a studio person”, Rahman has been “getting over inhibitions” on foreign turf (he has previously performed in Malaysia, Dubai and the United States). “I thought that would be a good way to learn, before having shows here,” he said, having never performed before a crowd comparable to the Salt Lake stadium capacity of 1,00,000. In Dubai and Malaysia, the Bombay and Bombay Dreams boy drew a maximum crowd of 40,000.
Those working with the man himself don’t take his performance anxiety as a negative, rather the mark of a perfectionist. “It is Rahman’s vision to deliver the same quality of sound of the studios,” explained H. Sridhar, chief sound engineer for the music director-singer since “well before the Roja days”.
“His presence is something magical for us… and for audiences. He can always feel the pulse. Even if he changes two notes, he can work miracles,” Sridhar added. In terms of sound input and technology and number of musicians, Sridhar feels the first Unity of Light extravaganza, co-sponsored by National Insurance and ITC Sonar Bangla, is “bigger than any concert in India”, so far.
It is also bigger than any of Rahman’s gigs abroad, according to Deepak Gattani, managing director of Rapport Global Events, which managed the foreign tours and has worked closely with the music man to conceive the show.
“Rahman is a shy man, not vociferous at all… But he is getting used to performing and wanted to put up a show which involved communication,” says the Mumbai-based Gattani. So there are sections designed for the audience to sing along with the pros on stage.
, with a line-up of S.P. Balasubramanyam, Udit Narayan, Hariharan, Sonu Nigam, Shankar Mahadevan, Sukhwinder Singh, Sadhana Sargam, Mahalaxmi Iyer and Vasundhara Das.
And as Rahman walks to the distant ends of the stadium to make sure everything is just right, while the sun sets on Salt Lake stadium on the evening before the show, “performance anxiety” gives way to a man immersed in his music.