Saturday, July 23, 2011

INTENSE 2011: Atif Aslam and Sunidhi Chauhan

Last night I attended INTENSE 2011 featuring Atif Aslam and Sunidhi Chauhan at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. I had a wonderful time and thought I would share with you a bit of my experience.

(You can also check my review of
IMPACT 2010 which featured Atif and Shreya Ghoshal.)

Things started more or less on schedule, which was a welcome surprise - as was the minimal number of opening acts. One of the biggest complaints I have with these Bollywood tours is the poor quality of the warm-up acts and the length of time we must suffer through them. INTENSE 2011, whether a cost-saving measure or no, made the smart choice to open the show with local talent, specifically a local youth dance troupe. If given the choice between some third string Indian Idol contestant or adorable kids in spangly outfits dancing to remixes, I’ll take the latter. The dance music really got the crowd going, which, after all, is the purpose of a warm-up act.

Sunidhi Chauhan took the stage looking like an ultra-sex kitten in skintight sparkly gold trousers, black boots with a spike heel, and a sheer black shirt. She was looking both happier and healthier than when I saw her in 2009 and the change suits her. Her band, wearing matching tee-shirts that had “SC” on them in big letters, was rather stripped down - with just bass, guitar, keyboards, and three percussionists - but they still managed to sound nice and big.

Sunidhi ran through all her dance hits with energy and
joie de vivre. “Crazy Kiya Re” was up first followed by “Marjaani Marjaani” from Billu and by the time the backup dancers came out in spangly pink outfits for “Dhanno,” Sunidhi had the crowd where she wanted us. With a warm smile and a fun glint in her eyes, Sunidhi then treated us to “Ainvayi Ainvayi,” whipping up the audience and then breaking it down to sing us her favorite line. Then came “Desi Girl,” the song that always makes me feel super awkward - although that doesn’t stop from singing along, in appreciation of desi girls.

Although Sunidhi’s catalog is heavy on the club numbers, she gave us a small romantic-
gaana break with a medley of songs including “Surili Akhiyon Wale” from Veer and “Bin Tere” from I Hate Luv Storys (the title that gives me pain every time I type it.) Personally, I don’t think Sunidhi’s voice handles these ballads very well. This is going to be a super-nerdy reference but I always think of the pure sine wave tone when I hear her - and I feel like these romantic songs need a voice with a bit more heft. But what is a negative in some situation is a positive in others and that pure tone is perfect for cutting through cluttered dance remixes, which is one of the reasons Sunidhi sings those dance songs so well.

She finishes up the romantic-
gaana and ends the set with a bang. First “Udi Udi” from Guzaarish and then the one everybody had been waiting for... “Sheila Ki Jaawani!” Have you ever heard hundreds of people yelling for “Sheila?” It was pretty incredible. Tees Maar Khan may not have been a hit but Sheila most certainly made an impression. Sunidhi really worked the crowd, having us chant along with certain lines and teasing us by slowing down and stopping... (such a Sheila-tease!) Then came “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom” and she ended with an amazing version of “Beedi” that brought down the house. Sunidhi danced, did some incredible improv, and just had fun with the song. Overall it was a fantastic set - everything felt very organic and she seemed much more relaxed and happy than the last time I saw her at the Patriot Center. Was it the smaller venue? The choice of songs? Something else? Whatever the change, Sunidhi is better than ever these days.

After a short intermission came Atif Aslam, amusingly (to me, anyways,) he was both looking and acting as if he had partaken in some herbal refreshment before the show. Dressed in a white tee-shirt, denims, a Justin Timberlake hat, and some fashionable sunglasses, Atif Aslam proceeded to spend the next hour working magic on stage. His band was just the rock basics - guitar, bass, drums - but they were a really tight combo and reacted pretty seamlessly to all of Atif’s improvisations.

One of the interesting things about the Pakistani rock sound is how heavily it draws from the
album oriented rock sound - i.e. U2. It’s a style of music I generally associate with middle aged white guys who are scared of anything with a bass line. You would never catch me in a million years listening to the moldy old sound of bands like U2 but interpreted through the Pakistani influence, the music somehow becomes fresh and vital. I don’t know how to explain it except that the vocals are generally more rich and the bass more present and perhaps the rhythms are less staid than in the AOR I find so boring. This is a lengthy way of saying that I enjoyed Atif’s set quite a bit.

I dropped my pen while I was cheering for Atif at one point, so as much as I can remember, here are the songs he did - “Woh Lamhe,” “Mahi Ve,” a new song from
Bol, an acoustic “Pehli Nazar Mein,” a fabulously jazzy interpretation of “Tere Bin,” “Tu Jaane Na,” and I think “Tera Hone Laga Hoon,” too. Atif’s style of performance last evening was to wander around with his guitar and then flirt with pretty girls who came up to the stage whenever he wasn’t singing. It was really amusing to watch.

The finale was pretty fantastic. Atif stopped the concert to announce that there was a
gora in the audience... everybody starts looking around, like somebody famous is going to appear. Up on stage comes this guy really ordinary looking guy - Todd Shea. He’s a white guy, a bit older, overweight, dressed in tee shirt, denims, and running shoes. Somebody gives him a guitar and, simply put, he BLOWS THE LID OFF CONSTITUTION HALL. Todd starts singing in Urdu and the crowd just erupts in cheers. He joins Atif and the band for the final song. All in all, the crowd was sent home happy.

While the show wasn’t as polished or flashy as other Bollywood concerts that I’ve attended, I really appreciated the human effort that went into it. Sunidhi and Atif were wonderful and though I’ve seen them both before, I think I got a new appreciation for them both.


JinnahkaPakistan said...

I had the ticket for first row but had to get a refund due to a management mishap. Glad it was a good show. I'm a big fan of Todd Shea & his humanity.

Oye Kakke said...

Brilliant! I missed the Bidi song.. very mad about that :)The act from Indian Idol guy with chudidaar jeans wasn't bad either.. and it was hilarious when Atif jumped up on the boxes (speakers?) in the last song.. and his organizers were trying to get him down :) He was definitely out of it! All of it added to the fun though!


Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
.article .article-content { word-break: normal !important; }