Guest Blog 6 – Anand Chandrasekharan

One can hardly forget the haunting voice of Rani Mukherjee and the piano as the Bengali lyrics of Akashe Jyotsna (Moonlight in the Sky) are recited in Hey Ram just before the song Nee Paartha Paaravikku unfolds. The poem is written by Jibonanda Dass. I pestered a Bengali friend to translate it for me when I first heard the song (and he did a pretty good job of it!), only to find a good English translation online:

Akashe Jyotsna
Moonlight in the sky
On the Forest Trail the Scent of the Leopard
My Heart is like Deer
In the Silence of this night, which way am I going?
The silvery shadow of leaves on my body
No more deer anywhere
As far as I go I see the moon bent like a sickle
Cutting the last golden deer-grain
Then sinking slowly
Into the darkness of all the sleep
In the eyes of a 100 does.

The analogy of the deer (the heart) wandering about in the forest trail, and the moonlight (love?) shining wherever she wanders paints a very vivid picture in the listener’s mind. The mention of the sickle and cutting of the grain also evokes abstract memories a la Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet. Is it just the capturing of a random walk in the mind of the singer, or is there is a deeper meaning?

Funda on Fanah

Guest Blog 4 – Anand Chandrasekharan

Just like a book on Oprah’s list suddenly sees sales go through the roof, words used in a Rahman song suddenly come find themselves in vogue. Fanah may have come into popular conversation that way, but it actually has both spiritual and philosophical meaning in Islam.

One of the early Islamic writers (Ghazzali) used Fanah in the Ihya to refer to self-actualization, in a Buddhistic Nirvana Sense. In the state of Fanah, the individual loses the person in the temporal world. This kind of writing met with opposition from some interpreters, who claimed that such a moral world had never existed except in the Quran.

The general theme of the song, that love leads to a higher plane (a la Piravi pizhai, kadhal thirutham) resonates with Ghazzali’s writings, which says that an understanding and following of the Tawhidi in daily life, leads to the state of Fanah.

There you have it! When Vairamuthu says Yakkai thiri, Kadhal Sudar (My body the wick, your love the flame!), we know nothing can follow but Fanah!… It probably also explains why, this is one of those rare occasions when it’s hard to come up with a single word in Tamil which conveys the same meaning (and hence the Urdu word is re-used in the Tamil version).

Social Influence in Media – Art or Science?

Guest Blog 3 – Anand Chandrasekharan

When I was in India recently, I heard about several younger actors aspiring to the title of Superstar. Having grown up in Tamilnadu, I know that is a title Rajnikanth has been holding on to for two decades. The aspirants have several things going for them, and have created varying degrees of influence and acceptance among the public and in the industry.

One of the best books I have read, Robert Cialdini‘s Influence, came to mind immediately. It presents social influence not as an art but as a science – a combination of six simple human psychological tendencies, based on years of experiments that provide insights into consumer behavior.

No better industry to apply it to than to media – one where careers are made or broken based on consumer whims and social acceptance by the public. It’s hard to think of many artists who have been successful without one or more of these techniques working for them subconsciously. The six techniques and some garnishing in terms of who it may have worked for (or not) are:

1. RECIPROCITY: People generally tend to respond to a small favor with a larger one. Rajnikanth is a good example of an actor for whom the reciprocity factor and his direct relationship with his fans and the public has worked wonders. In addition to making it work for him, he has also shown what a powerful factor of influence it can be.

2. COMMITMENT AND CONSISTENCY: People tend to believe in something and do everything they can to stick to it. For instance, Hollywood actor Jim Carrey fell flat on his face as a serious actor because the public wanted to stay true to their long standing belief that he was only a comedy actor. This type of pigeon-holing does not help an artiste’s cause, and artistes trying to reinvent themselves have to take the commitment and consistency factor very seriously.

3. SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE: People tend to accept things they believe their peers have accepted. Artistes who have benefited from this factor include directors Mani Ratnam and Shankar. This factor has also worked well for Steven Spielberg. Their universal themes that resonate with people’s daily lives and their ability to consistently appeal to the public with their stories have rightfully earned them the social acceptance they have today.

4. LIKING: People tend to be swayed by people they like. Traditionally, MGR has benefited immensely from this trend as has NT Rama Rao. Audiences in Andhra apparently still identify Lord Krishna with characterizations by NTR during his acting days. Shah Rukh Khan in Bollywood and Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp have all had this factor work to their advantage.

5. AUTHORITY: People tend to respect people who have been perceived as leaders or figures of authority in their chosen fields. The Passion of the Christ and The Lord of the Rings are two recent films that have benefited from positioning themselves as the authority in portraying themes that people already have intense emotional connection with (the last hours of Christ, JRR Tolkien’s trilogy). Amitabh Bachchan (father figure of Bollywood), Aamir Khan (perfectionist with intense focus on his roles), Shekhar Kapur (unique understanding of the trends behind Asian entertainment) and Charlie Kauffman (a unique ability to delve into the working of the human mind) are some of the many artists who have made this factor work for them, leading the public to trust them immensely.

6. SCARCITY: People tend to take whatever is scarce seriously. Good cinema is scarce and Kamal Hasan has made his career from consistently taking risks to deliver new roles, try new things and in the process raise the standards that audiences use to rate good cinema in the South. Needless to say, there are quite a few examples of such artistes in the west – Rowan Atkinson and Woody Allen being two examples that come to mind. Another angle to this factor is overexposure, something that has not served artistes well unless done in combination with the reciprocation factor in mind.

Comments and other examples of how these factors have worked in the industry are obviously welcome!

Guest Blog – Abirami A

Here’s a blog note from Abirami who currently lives in London. She had written a mail to me about her experience of running the London Marathon. I liked it and I hope you would do the same. email her at Sakeths[at]aol[dot]com.

I’m a 31-year old mum, a former Chennai-vasi. I’ve visited your site a few times and found it quite interesting. The reason I’m writing to you is that I ran and completed the London Marathon yesterday. Being so far away and having few relatives and fewer friends, I’m really short of people I can share my excitement with. Hence this mail. Anyway, here’s a little piece I wrote upon waking up this morning and I’m thrilled to share my experience with you.
-Abhirami A


Guest Blog 2 – Anand Chandrasekharan

Satrangi…Only You… now Fanah!

The fact that AR Rahman has sold a cumulative 20 million plus records is common knowledge. The fact that (together with Sachin and Bachchan) Rahman now carries the India brand on his shoulders is something we all have come to be proud of. But the fact the occasional song from his stable is nothing but divinely inspired is not well recognized.

Dilip Kumar became AR Rahman after much family tragedy. And that pain and the metaphysical effects that severe loss and tragedy brings is reflected in his music – and in a way that the audience is able to relate to.

Depending on whether or not one counts Thee Thee from Thiruda Thiruda,
Satrangi (in Dil Se) was one of the first songs that carried a clear Sufi bent, combined with enchantingly metaphysical lyrics (seven layers of being et al). Then came Only You in Vande Mataram, which was dedicated to the Sufi saint who became Rahman’s support during their tough times.

And now, Fanah! Notwithstanding a techno beginning in the first 30 seconds, this song could only have been inspired from sources not easily traceable in our daily lives (birds, sunshine, a face)… the last 30 seconds almost seem taken directly from a pain, from a suffering.

Another common thread in these songs is the separation from lyrics, the separation from rhythm in the last parts and the outpouring of music almost in an unadulterated form.

There is little doubt that ARR swims in worlds out of our own to come up with these occasional pieces. Come May 21, India will swim in an ocean of Fanah!