Already victorious at the Golden Globes, where the music he crafted for director Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" won best original score, Indian composer A.R. Rahman is poised for even more accolades this weekend at the Oscars: Not only is his score once again in contention, he's been nominated for two of the best original songs ("Jai Ho," which powers the big dance number at the end of the film, and "O... Saya," which features underground darling and Sri Lanka-born rapper Maya Arulpragasam, a.k.a. M.I.A.). With the scores to 100 Bollywood films to his credit and sales of a staggering 200 million albums, critics have been comparing the 43-year-old composer to everyone from Bernard Herrmann to Andrew Lloyd Webber--though Webber himself says that Rahman is a talent akin to Paul McCartney.
Along with claims that the soundtrack stands on its own as a brilliant beginning-to-end album, much of this praise is hyperbolic. Yes, there is a deliciously invigorating and exotic buzz to his mix of techno, hip-hop, African rhythms, syrupy Bollywood string sections and timeless Indian drones, especially on the first half of the 13-song disc, with standouts including the opening "O... Saya," "Riots" and "Ringa Ringa." But M.I.A.'s 2008 hit "Paper Planes," which appears in two mixes, is better appreciated in the context of her 2007 album "Kala," while both the sub-"High School Musical" rah-rah cheerleading of "Jai Ho" and the beyond-Celine Dion ballad schlock of "Dreams on Fire" bring to mind comparisons to the very worst of Hollywood soundtrack smarminess, if not Lloyd Webber at his cheesiest and most forced.