Monday, January 19, 2009

'Just the beginning’

Source: The Hindu


What the maestro had to say after the news broke.

In the finest hour of Indian film music, the Mozart of Madras is smiling. As accolades come in thick and fast, he soaks in the real meaning of becoming the first Indian to win the Golden Globe for the Best Original Score in Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire”.

No loud pronouncements, no yelling out after attaining glory. Just a wave of the hand, and a solemn promise that tomorrow will be better, even if today is better than all yesterdays for the Indian film industry.

Really, A.R. Rahman makes it difficult not to like him. He is endearingly simple even at a time when he can afford to brag! But isn’t the ’Slumdog Millionaire’ the best thing to have happened not just to him but to the country and its film industry? Rahman merely says that it is just the first step. “It is just the beginning...I hope that this would happen sooner. I want to do it for my countrymen who all crave for Golden Globe and Oscars.”

Cautious as ever

As all music-lovers celebrate, we seem just a shot away from the much-coveted Academy Awards. After Golden Globe, isn’t it realistic to focus on the Oscars? Again Rahman is cautious “The score has won six reputed awards already...It is better to keep the hype on Oscars low since it is a very unpredictable!”

But at least at the Golden Globe night, did he expect the award to come his way considering the film had got rave reviews the world over? “I didn’t want to feel confident because I would have been dejected if they had not given it for the music. But the award has affirmed my faith that music has no barrier.”

And pray what does his first Golden Globe read? “It is just a trophy. There is nothing on it.” Of course, a lot comes with it: pressure of expectations, for instance. “Umm. But I am not looking that far ahead.”

As the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ team, including director Danny Boyle besides Indian actors Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Mahesh Manjrekar, Madhur Mittal and Dev Patel prepares for the Oscars, how did the project start for Rahman?

Addictive score

How did he prepare for the music score; surely it would have been different from say, “Roja”?

“The award has actually brought back memories of ‘Roja’,” he admits, adding, “I just went by my instincts for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. This is a score that blurs the line between songs and a score. That is one of the reasons it became very addictive to the viewers.”

He should know. He knew his mind when he dropped out of school after eleventh standard to go to Trinity College of Music. He knew his mind when he played the keyboard for Illaiyaraja. He knew his mind when he decided to cross the barrier of the Vindhyas and give music with equal felicity to Tamil and Hindi films. He knows he is on the threshold of something even bigger! Jai Ho!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Take My Kidney, Please

Source: The Daily Beast

Divorce settlements have always cost an arm and a leg, but as the shocking Batista case demonstrates, vital organs are now fair game. Can altruism ever be regulated?

She stole his heart so he gave her his kidney. And now he wants it back.

So goes the story of 49-year-old Long Island physician Richard Batista and his estranged wife. In 2001, Batista gave one of his kidneys to Dawnell, 44, who had suffered from renal disease for many years. According to the NY Daily News, he said that Dawnell initiated an affair with her physical therapist two years later. She then filed for divorce in 2005 to end their 15-year marriage. "I saved her life," Batista told the Daily News. "But the pain is unbearable." At a news conference in Garden City on January 7, Dr. Batista's lawyer said his client was demanding return of the kidney or $1.5 million (its estimated worth).

It is not difficult to sympathize with Dr. Batista. He is having an extreme form of donor remorse. While the vast majority of donors report a lasting feeling of self-worth and experience a deep sense of gratification from the act—according to surveys, about 95 percent of donors say they would do it again—some regret having donated. It may be that a hoped-for closeness with the recipient failed to materialize, an anticipated demonstration of gratitude was not forthcoming, or the donor felt he did not get the social recognition he deserved. These dynamics prompted sociologists to coin the phrase "the tyranny of the gift." It represents the dark side of altruism; the sense of entitled reciprocity that can be a burden to both donor and recipient. This is not part of the standard gift-of-life storyline, however, and few people are aware of it.

It is easy to get carried away with the comic potential of the Batista drama. Should pre-nuptial agreements now specify the fate of a kidney given during the marriage?

For Dr. Batista, the betrayal he felt led to outrage and a demand for restitution. But it is easy to get carried away with the comic potential of the Batista drama. Should pre-nuptial agreements now specify the fate of a kidney given during the marriage? Should human organs be counted as marital assets akin to bank accounts and property? The cynical side of organ donation was laid bare two years ago with the Dutch television program The Big Donor Show which had the feel of a sick parody of Survivor. In the show a terminally ill woman, Lisa, was to select which of three needy contestant-patients would receive one of her kidneys after she died. Viewers could express their preference by voting over the Internet. Dutch lawmakers were outraged.

To international relief, the show was a hoax. As Lisa was about to announce her choice, viewers learned that she was really an actress, not a cancer patient looking for a worthy recipient. Lisa and the potential recipients, all of whom were real people in need of kidney transplants and aware of the subterfuge, were part of an enactment to dramatize the shortage of transplantable organs.

The Batista tale touches the same issues highlighted on The Big Donor Show. There are now over 100,000 Americans waiting for a new kidney, liver, heart or lungs. Kidney patients represent more than three-fourths of the national waiting list, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which collects and distributes organs from the newly deceased under contract with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Only one in four people on the list will get a kidney transplant this year. The rest will languish on dialysis while their names crawl to the top of the list, an ordeal that can take five to eight years in big cities. Every day, 12 people die waiting for a kidney that never arrives.

Last year 6,000 people gave a kidney to a loved one—the lowest number since 2000. Policy makers must face the fact that altruism alone isn't enough. The government should devise a safe, regulated system in which would-be donors are offered incentives to donate a kidney. The sick person would not personally reward the donor; rather the government would provide the benefit, perhaps a tax credit or lifelong health insurance. And, in keeping with the current system for distribution of organs from the newly deceased, the kidney would go to the next person in line.

Organ brokering and remuneration to donors from patients are illegal, but there has never been an explicit prohibition on the government's use of incentives to encourage organ donation. These misconceptions have prompted Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) to draft the Organ Donor Clarification and Anti-Trafficking Act. The bill clarifies that it is not a criminal offense for state and federal governments to encourage organ donation through the use of non-cash incentives, and maintains existing bans on organ brokering and direct patient-donor payments.

Which brings us back to the Batistas. Within hours of Dr. Batista's news conference, his story was making international tabloid headlines. But if this episode is to serve any purpose greater than satisfying our inevitable thirst for the scandalous, we need policy makers willing to press for reforms in transplant policy that can bring hope and life to thousands in need.

Sally Satel is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a practicing psychiatrist. In 2006 she received a kidney from a friend. She is editor of When Altruism Isn't Enough—The Case for Compensating Kidney Donors (AEI Press, 2009)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

One Movie Composer Who Knows the Score

Source: Wall Street Journal

When British director Danny Boyle needed a composer to capture the frantic and violent hustle and bustle of Mumbai for his film "Slumdog Millionaire," he turned to A.R. Rahman, Bollywood's best-known composer, whose dozens of film scores span romantic symphonic themes, classical Indian music, and catchy pop confections. In India, Mr. Rahman is a megastar, having sold an estimated 100 million albums, or roughly the same number as Madonna or Billy Joel. Not only has he scored such Bollywood film classics as "Roja" and "Lagaan," but he has a growing slate of international credits, including the 2002 Andrew Lloyd Webber-produced London stage musical "Bombay Dreams" and last year's film "Elizabeth: The Golden Age."

Mr. Boyle's exuberantly paced story -- about an orphan from the Mumbai slums who gets a shot at winning a fortune on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" -- is a distant cry from Bollywood, where Mr. Rahman has worked for nearly two decades. "He didn't want any sentimental or sad stuff. He wanted only throbbing and edgy and pulsating sounds," Mr. Rahman said of Mr. Boyle's request to avoid emotion-tugging themes and maudlin arrangements.

[A.R. Rahman] Ken Fallin

"The music came as a kind of counterpoint actually," added the soft-spoken 42-year-old composer. "When there's something really serious happening on screen there was a fun soundtrack underneath. It would make the movie more enjoyable."

With its intoxicating Indian rhythms blended with Western hip-hop beats, the "Slumdog Millionaire" soundtrack has received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score, making Mr. Rahman the first Indian composer to receive such an honor. (Music from the film is collected on a new soundtrack release.)

Mr. Rahman said that after receiving Mr. Boyle's commission, he had just three weeks to study early DVD cuts of the film and compose the cues (the musical themes that correspond to moments in the plot). On two tracks, he quotes well-known Bollywood tunes, while in one of the film's most talked-about sequences -- the rousing chorus "Jai Ho" -- he pays homage to splashy Bollywood song-and-dance routines. Mr. Rahman also worked with M.I.A., the British-born, Sri Lankan-reared rapper to create "O . . . Saya," which is heard in a pivotal scene. "She speaks my language, but her sensibility is completely different," noted Mr. Rahman, who grew up speaking Tamil.

While a typical Bollywood music director may score up to 150 movies a year, Mr. Rahman limits his annual commissions to between five and 10 films (still a considerable number by Hollywood standards). In popular films like "Kadhalan," "Rangeela," "Dil Se," "Taal" and "Rang de Basanti," Mr. Rahman introduced styles relatively foreign to Bollywood -- including dancehall reggae, hip-hop, hard rock and Baroque counterpoint. Even so, he acknowledges that experimentation often bows to commercial pressures.

"The demand in India is to have a hit, which becomes a promotion for the movie and makes people come to the theater," Mr. Rahman said. "You have five songs and different promotions based on those. But when I do Western films, the need for originality is greater. Then I become very conscious about the writing. However, the good thing about Indian cinema is because there are so many ragas in it, you can take a raga and make it a little bit funkier and people can relate to it. Half of the stuff I get away with is like that."

Mr. Rahman identifies with the rags-to-riches tale of "Slumdog Millionaire." "A lot of people write you off when you have an idea or something good to say," he said. "This is to give hope to those kind of people. Take the right road and you will definitely be there."

Mr. Rahman was born into a middle-class Hindu family that fell on hard times after his father, the film arranger and conductor R.K. Sekhar, died when he was 9. The young Rahman, who began studying the piano at the age of 4, began helping to support his family as a keyboardist for television productions. As a teenager he performed with Indian musical luminaries like tabla maestro Zakir Hussain and violinist and singer L. Shankar. These gigs led to a scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford, where he earned a degree in Western classical music.

Returning to Madras (now Chennai), Mr. Rahman worked as a jingle writer for an ad agency. A turning point came in 1991, when at age 25, he was hired to write and direct music for the Mani Ratnam film "Roja." The film and soundtrack became smash hits, and Time magazine listed it as one of the top 10 movie soundtracks of all time. Today, Mr. Rahman remains based in Chennai, although he considers Mumbai his second home -- feelings that intensified after the November terrorist attacks.

"We were all affected by that," he said, noting the many press events that he's attended at the Taj Mahal hotel, the site of one of the attacks. "For me, it was a shock. I could have been there with my family. Some of my friends had a dinner reservation there. Then 10 minutes before they heard the news they stopped going. They could have been victims."

Even as the Mumbai attacks signaled growing religious and ethnic strife, Mr. Rahman, whose family converted to Islam in 1989, sees music as having the power to cut across class and religious divisions. "When I listen to Bach or Beethoven, I don't see them as Christians," he explained. "And when people listen to my music, or that of [the late Qawwali singer] Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, they don't see the religious element in it; they just see the spiritual element. At this chaotic time in the world, music can play a very important role as a spiritual force."

Mr. Rahman said that despite Hollywood's allure, he has no plans to leave the Indian film industry, although he's ready to work with any director who appreciates his music. In 2002, Sony Pictures hired him to write the score for "Warriors of Heaven and Earth," a costume epic by Chinese director He Ping that included songs in Chinese, English and Hindi. Coming to movie theaters are his scores for "Paani" (Water), by "Elizabeth" director Shekhar Kapur, and "19 Steps," an English-language martial-arts film co-produced by Walt Disney and starring a Japanese actor.

"It's very difficult to get a director who understands what you're capable of," said Mr. Rahman. "Danny Boyle was definitely good luck for me. He could get what I was trying to do, and in my own little way I could get what he wanted. So if I can get another director like that I would definitely love to work in Hollywood."

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