Five years after his debut at the Hollywood Bowl, Indian composer A.R. Rahman tried something different — performing scores from his films with the L.A. Phil, which gave a pleasing twist for those familiar with his music and an introduction to newbies. And yet without his more uptempo songs the concert was rather staid, lacking the rock ‘n’ roll energy of his previous stagings, which had the audience dancing in the aisles.
Even though the concert was billed as “Journey to India,” Sunday’s concert — with music spanning from his first film, the Tamil “Roja,” to the pic for which he’s most famous to American auds, “Slumdog Millionaire” — was as much a showcase for Rahman’s journey from India.
Mixing crowdpleasers such as “Lagaan” and “Robot,” which appealed to fans of pics’ stars Aamir Khan and Rajnikanth respectively, the Phil performed scores for lesser-known pics such as the Chinese “Warriors of Heaven and Earth” and Deepa Mehta’s “Water.” Rahman lent his vocals for the latter’s “Chanchan,” but mostly confined himself to introducing numbers while choruses (Raagapella and the Cal State Fullerton University Singers) provided backup. Giving a special touch was flutist Naveen Kumar, who replaced the vocals in “The Cry of the Rose” and “Theme From Bombay.”
Some of the scores were better suited to the symphony treatment notably “Roja,” Chinese pic “Warriors of Heaven and Earth” and “Lagaan,” but not so much for “Raavanan” and “Robot.”
The music was accompanied by a montage of clips from the pics, which was a mixed bag at best since the visuals frequently didn’t match the music, with happy notes coinciding with clearly tense moments in movies like “Raavanan” and especially “The Rising,” which included the disturbing image of a noose. The “Raavanan” video interspersed images of Rahman on a helicopter, on a beach and playing the piano, which actually worked better with the music than the clips of pic’s beautiful star Aishwarya Rai having a rough time.
The piece de resistance was a three-number set from “Slumdog Millionaire,” in which Rahman joined in for a piano duet with Asad Khan’s sitar and a rousing rendition of “Jai Ho,” which ended the evening on a decidedly up note.
The evening started off with the Rhythms of Rajasthan singing folk songs followed by percussionist Karsh Kale, who was the opening act. He was followed by Sher Foundation, Punjabi hoofers, and Bollywood Step Dancers, who performed vigorous numbers with risque lyrics from various Hindi films.