Review: A R Rahman fails to hit the high notes in Dubai

Rahman may have looked the part, but his show lacked the flair of his other Dubai appearances

Indian star AR Rahman performed at Dubai's Coca-Cola Arena, but failed to wow the crowd. Courtesy Arun Titan Studio
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I'm an A R Rahman fan. I've seen the Oscar-winning composer perform in Dubai three times now. I go along for the pitch-perfect singing, the way he caters to a diverse crowd, and an all-around impressive show.

Unfortunately, last night, when Rahman took to the stage at the Coca-Cola Arena, I was left somewhat disappointed.

The first time I saw Rahman live in Dubai was a sufi concert at Dubai World Trade Centre in 2014. The second at Bollywood Parks Dubai in 2018. So when we arrived to see him on Friday, we were expecting big things.

As expected, the show was packed with plenty of screaming fans, and Rahman, despite being half an hour late, certainly started off by delivering a solid show.

While everyone was waiting to see him onstage, Rahman just waltzed up from the audience, from apparently where he'd been sitting all along. He then got right down to business with a Tamil remix of his song Nachle – a theme that continued throughout the show.

Popular hits including Muqabla Muqabla, Dil Hai Chota Sa, Jiya Jale, Aye Udi Udi and Kehna Hi Kya were performed in both Hindi and Tamil, which was a nice touch to keep both his north and south Indian fans happy.

He was also in good company, with cameo performances from other well-known singers from India such as Shweta Mohan, Jonita Gandhi, Javed Ali and Benny Dayal, and even a surprise appearance by British singer and songwriter Sami Yusuf.

So far, so good. But that's about where the highlights end.

Despite the impressive pyrotechnics, the 3D graphic backdrop and energetic dancers, the programme itself was far too long to remain exciting.

And Rahman himself didn't bring his A game. The composer, who is known for his singing skills, struggled to hit the high notes, most notably in songs including Patakha Guddi, Enna Sona and Dil Se.

I saw a different Rahman last night – one who looked like a rockstar in his shiny suits and dark glasses, and seemed to come equipped with all the elements of a good production, but failed to translate that into a good performance. After all, he doesn't need all those bells and whistles – the  crowds would still have come to see him sing, and nothing else.

Instead, show highlights mostly came from his supporting acts.

His ensemble of singers were all fantastic, notably Benny Dayal and Jonita Gandhi, who performed in multiple languages.

Dayal, Haricharan and Mohan's fun performance of Veerapaandi Kottayile really got the crowd going, as did the sufi segment that included Kun Faya Kun and Arziyaan and the kalaripayattu (an Indian martial art) inspired dance during Jiya Jale.  

The last few minutes of the show, which included group performances of Mustafa Mustafa, Humma Humma, Urvasi Urvasi and Vande Mataram, nicely rounded out a somewhat lacklustre night out.

Luckily, Rahman did manage to pull a few crowd-pleasers out of the bag, such as several rock remixes of his popular hits, and a performance by Rahman’s son, A R Rameen was a really special moment.

However, in the future, if I'm to attend a fourth concert of the famed composer, I hope it's to see the seasoned performer I know and love, and not the man who was on stage last night.