THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY – A.R. Rahman
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
The Hundred-Foot Journey is a film about a clash of cultures – physically, geographically and gastronomically. It stars Helen Mirren as Madame Mallory, the perfectionist owner of a high class Michelin-starred restaurant in a quaint French village, whose life is thrown into turmoil when the Kadam family, recently arrived from India, moves into the building across the street from her restaurant. Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), the eldest son of the family, is an enormously talented chef in his own right, and with the help of his father (Om Puri), wants to open an Indian restaurant in their new building – much to the disgust of Madame Mallory, who snootily thinks that the new arrivals will reflect negatively on her legacy. So begins a ‘merry war’ of philosophies, coq au vin versus chicken tikka masala, as Madame Mallory tries to sabotage the Kadam’s dream, while Hassan falls for Madame Mallory’s pretty sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte le Bon)… The film is based on the novel by Richard C. Morais, is directed by Lasse Hallström, and features a lovely original score by the Mozart of Madras himself, A.R. Rahman.
It should now be clear to most film music aficionados that A.R. Rahman is a superbly talented composer capable of writing outstanding music in a variety of styles. He followed up his Academy Award winning score for Slumdog Millionaire with a series of light orchestral scores for Hollywood studio pictures, including Couples Retreat, 127 Hours and Million Dollar Arm, all of which showed a deft talent for melody, dramatic flair, and a mastery of both western and Indian instrumentation. The Hundred-Foot Journey continues this trend, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rahman is a legitimate member of the film scoring fraternity.
As much as the film is about a clash of cultures, so too is Rahman’s music. In this delightful work, he seasons traditional French classicism with the spiciness of several Indian instruments – sitars, sarod Indian lutes, santoor hammered dulcimers, bansuri flutes, and tabla drums – to create a delicious platter of musical ideas and influences, mirroring the piquant mix of ethnicities in the film’s central characters. The score is also highly rhythmic, making use of several light and bouncy ideas that frolic through the string and woodwind sections. Cues such as the opening “Hassan Learns French Cooking” is a perfect example of this, with Rahman presenting a series of lush string phrases, tender woodwind textures and classical piano melodies, but peppering them with various Indian orchestrations to add a little sense of the exotic. It’s a gorgeous cue, redolent of the score as a whole.
The idyll of the French countryside is captured through a pastoral piano and flute duet in “The Village of Saint Antonin”, while the personal attachments that develop across the saffron and cumin-flecked work surfaces are highlighted in cues like “The Gift”, which features an especially attractive guitar solo by the omnipresent George Doering, and the sweetly romantic “You Complete Me”, which features some soaring string writing, a restatement of the St. Antonin piano theme, and a soothing, hypnotic vocal performance by Rahman himself, singing in Hindi.
Conversely, cues such as “New Beginnings” and “Vintage Recipe” are much more heavily Indian-influenced, with Western instruments generally taking a back seat in favor of the more striking regional orchestrations. Most notably are the dreamily wistful “Mr. Kadam”, “India Calling” and “Reunion”, the latter of which both incorporate the mesmerizing breathy vocals of Alka Yagnik, who also performed on the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack.
Interestingly, there are also a few moments of quite unexpectedly dark drama, which occasionally reaches towards action music territory, with the last few moments of “New Beginnings” and later cues such as “The Clash” and “Destiny Fire War” becoming quite powerful, with more insistent percussion rhythms, and an increased brass section, illustrating the lengths to which the protagonists will go to sabotage the others’ establishments and menus. “The Clash” is especially notable for its impressionistic vocal outbursts and frantic virtuoso string writing, which has more than a touch of Beethoven about it.
Three original songs close out the album; my two favorites are “My Mind Is a Stranger Without You”, which features a French-language vocal performance from the Argentine-Armenian mezzo-soprano opera singer Solange Merdinian that is sublime and sexy in a Jane Birkin sort of way, and “Afreen”, an upbeat dance track co-written by Sampooran ‘Gulzar’ Singh Kalra (who co-wrote the Oscar-winning “Jai Ho” from Slumdog), and featuring a spirited contemporary central vocal performance by Nakash Aziz, a new star in the Bollywood playback singing world after appearing on Indian Idol a few years ago.
So, we know that A.R. Rahman is Indian. His last two significant Hollywood films – Million Dollar Arm and this one – were either set in India, or about Indians. We know he can write music in the Indian idiom standing on his head; he’s been doing it for decades. What needs to happen now is for someone in Hollywood to hire him for a comedy, an action movie, a straight drama, anything, where there are NO Indians involved at all, purely on the strength of his music alone, and not his ethnic background. Alexandre Desplat doesn’t only score films involving French people, and Hans Zimmer doesn’t only score films involving Germans, so let’s show Rahman the same respect. As scores like this one show, he’s a composer with range, intelligence, and emotional subtlety, who can succeed in any genre he chooses.
In summary, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a slight, small-scale, but warmly appealing score, which will be especially favored by those who enjoy restful world music sounds, and scores which take Western orchestras and spice them up with a touch of the exotic. Like a good rogan josh or a perfect saag paneer, this is a score that takes common ingredients and blends them together into a mouth-watering collision of tastes and textures that initially feels quite foreign, but which becomes more comforting and familiar the more you experience them.
Buy the Hundred-Foot Journey soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Hassan Learns French Cooking (6:10)
- The Village of Saint Antonin (4:02)
- New Beginnings (4:40)
- Vintage Recipe (2:06)
- Mr. Kadam (1:55)
- The Clash (1:44)
- Destiny, Fire, War (5:40)
- The Gift (3:08)
- You Complete Me (4:39)
- Alone in Paris (3:11)
- India Calling (4:34)
- Reunion (1:25)
- End Credits Suite (2:36)
- My Mind Is a Stranger Without You (written by A.R. Rahman, performed by A.R. Rahman and Solange Merdinian) (4:18)
- A La Hassan de Paris (written and performed by A. R. Rahman) (4:05)
- Afreen (written by A. R. Rahman and Sampooran Singh Kalra, performed by A.R. Rahman feat. Nakash Aziz and the KMMC Sufi Ensemble) (4:05)
Running Time: 58 minutes 18 seconds
Hollywood Records (2014)
Music composed by A.R. Rahman. Conducted by Matt Dunkley. Orchestrations by Matt Dunkley, Tony Blondal and Richard Bronskilll. Featured musical soloists George Doering and Henry HeySpecial vocal performances by Alka Yagnik. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster. Edited by Jon Mooney. Album produced by A.R. Rahman and Geoff Foster.