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Chaiyya Chaiyya plays in Hollywood
Arthur J Pais | April 17, 2006 21:11 IST
Eight years ago, perhaps two million people heard the song Chaiyya Chaiyya in movie theatres while watching the film Dil Se. By Sunday, at least 18 million movie fans will have heard the song, not once but twice, in more than 3,000 theatres in over a dozen countries including America, Canada, Britain and Italy, after watching the hit film Inside Man. The movie is in
its fourth week. With more countries to be added, the thriller starring Denzel Washington and directed by Spike Lee will soon have many more millions listening to the song at the very start of the film. And at its end.
The song has nothing to do with the film's theme, except that it caught Spike Lee's attention when the musical Bombay Dreams with A R Rahman's music was on Broadway over a year ago. Chaiyya Chaiyya was one of its highlights. The song sequence also received applause in the London version where, unlike on Broadway, the show was a big hit.
There are two versions of the song in Inside Man, which opened at the number one position in North America three weeks ago, and has grossed a strong $115 million worldwide so far. The first time, we hear the original recording, with a bit of enhanced music. The second time around, a hip-hop song is laid atop the Sukhvinder Singh number.
Although Bollywood songs are occasionally featured in Western films including Moulin Rouge, this is perhaps the first time a Bollywood song is heard over six minutes in a Hollywood film. That too in a film far bigger than Moulin Rouge. While that film grossed about $140 million worldwide, Inside Man could end its run with more than $160 million.
Audiences and critics were surprised and, in some cases, startled by the inclusion of the song.
"The opening and closing musical tracks of Spike Lee's Inside Man immediately attracted the attention of film critics and moviegoers alike because Lee chose an unexpected piece of Bollywood music as a curtain-raiser for his urban thriller," wrote Hollywood Reporter. The influential trade publication quoted the film's composer Terence Blanchard, saying that the song was in perfect keeping with Lee's "distinct musical choices."
Some critics had no idea what the song was about. While Blanchard says Lee chose the number to give "an energetic edge" to the bank heist thriller, a handful of critics begged to differ. The music "sounds like some sort of African or possibly middle-eastern folk music with a techno/funk edge," wrote The Northern Light. "It's a strange choice for a film about a New York
The inclusion of the song could not have come as a bigger surprise to Rahman. When a reporter told him that 2006 could be his best year -- with half a dozen of his songs in the $20 million plus The Lord of the Rings now being staged in Toronto, and Rang De Basanti turned into a big hit -- Rahman merely said: "No one can plan anything like this. All this means that while I have to work even harder, it is also a reminder that one must remain humble even more than ever."