Here’s wishing A.R.Rahman a very very Happy Birthday! I have made a collage of some of his albums. The selection of albums is completely random.
Thank you Viju for sending me the Alai Payuthey screencap and its title.
A.R.Rahman has truly traversed a long path in the Indian music industry starting from Roja in 1992 till 127 Hours in 2010. Here’s a post (broken link) by Viju for Passion of Cinema on the musical journey of A.R.Rahman from 1992-2011. Do read!
Journey of A.R.Rahman from 1992 to 2011
It was not so long back that the music of Roja made ripples in the Tamil music industry and went on to change the face of the music in Tamil films and later in the Indian film music too. Much has been said about A.R.Rahman, his successes (and failures), his highs (and lows), and his innovative composing skills (and the lack of it). This post is an effort to summarize the peaks in the twenty-year long musical journey of the Mozart of Madras on the eve of his birthday. All of the statements made here are with due respect to the many composers that ruled the music industry before A.R.Rahman made a beginning.
In 1992, it was Roja that introduced Rahman to the Indian music industry (he had a release earlier in a Malayalam movie Yodha), and what was a highlight of this movie was the fact that he introduced (and re-introduced) many singers including the legendary Hariharan to mainstream music, and each of them went on to make a great career of their own. The different types and tempo of the drumbeat in the interlude of the song Rukkumani showcased a different touch to the usage of percussion instruments, which were probably mastered only by Ilayaraja otherwise. As said by all, it gave a new dimension to music, a different listening experience, and probably a reason for many people like me to begin learning music to help appreciate the music compositions better.
The problem faced by any new music composer including to the current heartthrob Amit Trivedi, is to be able to deliver consistently without being stereotyped or fading away after a few albums. The competition in 1992 was probably not as fierce as it was in 2009-10, but there sure is an expectation on a music composer following a huge hit, and many composers who started off with a bang have bitten the dust in no time. Rahman continued to deliver critically and commercially in Tamil with timeless classics like Duet, Pudhiya Mugham, Gentleman, Pavithra, May Maadham, Thiruda Thiruda, Karuthamma, Kaadhalan, Bombay and more. A lot of these movies were dubbed into Hindi and gave A.R.Rahman a visibility in the non-Tamil speaking segments.
Colorful Bollywood Entry
The true visibility of Rahman in the Hindi film industry came via a Ram Gopal Varma musical, Rangeela, which was a significant landmark in his Bollywood career. Bringing back Asha Bhosle to mainstream movie music, and Rahman successfully made the nation croon to the sultry Tanha Tanha track whose musical highlights were the flute and the violin usages all through the track. Rangeela Re was an instant hit, with it topping all musical countdowns including Philips Top 10 on Zee TV, which was a reason for me to watch the show. Even though Rangeela brought him to the mainstream Bollywood music scene, Rahman had very few releases in Hindi till the end of the millennium. His strength in the south further increased with albums such as Kadhal Desam, Indian and Love Birds.
When an independent India turned 50 in 1997, it was Rahman’s Vande Mataram track, which yet again became an instant rage among the old and the young. A jean clad Rahman was the new face of music in India, and went on to make the album with six other different songs, including a collaboration with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a bestseller. It was during this time that A.R.Rahman also lapped up a National Award for Minsara Kanavu (dubbed in Hindi as Sapnay), came out with a critically appreciated Iruvar and had another collaboration with Ram Gopal Varma for Daud.
From the Heart
The next peak in Rahman’s career was via a song to which Shahrukh Khan and Malaika Arora Khan danced on top of a train for Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se. Sukhwinder Singh’s energetic Chaiyya Chaiyya was the highlight of this popular soundtrack which also had Lata Mangeshkar singing for Rahman for the first time. It will not be wrong to say that the song Chaiyya Chaiyya was the most popular song of 1998 and beyond, and also appeared in the Hollywood movie, The Inside Man.
Millennium Musical Magic
Following Dil Se, A.R.Rahman became a name to reckon with in Bollywood with musical hits including Doli Sajake Rakhna, Thakshak, 1947-Earth, Taal and Pukar, while entertaining the southern audience with a plethora of releases including En Swaasa Katre, Kadhalar Dhinam, Padayappa, Sangamam, Taj Mahal, Jodi, and Mudhalvan towards the end of the millennium. The new millennium began with a bang with the release of his two best-selling works Alaipayuthey and Kandukonden Kandukonden, with the latter holding a record for the highest amount paid by a label for audio rights, back in 2000.
Crossing the Borders
In 2001, Rahman appeared to cross the borders of Bollywood and gained an exposure among the non-Indian audience, thanks to the Oscar nominated Lagaan, for which he scored the soundtrack and the background score. This was probably the second instance (after Iruvar) when Rahman scored the music for a period film, and won the National Award for the best music composer, yet again. This opened new avenues in Hollywood and beyond, including an opportunity to work with Andrew Lloyd Weber in the stage production Bombay Dreams, which brought him immense appreciation.
This was the time when Rahman reduced his Tamil and Hindi commitments and had no more than 4-5 releases a year starting 2002 until 2008. A few of the key albums in the 2002-2004 time frame include Kannathil Muthamittal, Boys, Kangalal Kaithu Sei and Kadhal Virus in Tamil, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Tehzeeb, Meenaxi, Swades and Yuva in Hindi and The Warriors of Heaven and Earth in English/Mandarin.
Oscar Glory – well almost
Critical appreciation poured in from all quarters when a few songs from the soundtrack of Rang De Basanti and Water were shortlisted for the nominations for the Academy Awards. This surely was a first for a mainstream Indian composer, and brought a lot of recognition to his work, even though it didn’t make it to the final list of nominations. Rang De Basanti was a cult hit, both as a movie and as a soundtrack.
A Slump in form??
Rahman’s further releases in 2007-08 Guru, Jodhaa Akbar, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Yuvvraaj, Ghajini definitely showed a slump in form from an Indian audience and a hardcore Rahman fan’s perspective, even though each of the albums had a couple amazing tracks or even more. The Tamil albums during this time f
rame Sivaji, Azhagiya Tamil Magan, and Sakkarakati were an instant hit among the Tamil audience, but surely the audience had seen a better output from Rahman at an earlier stage.
Oscar Glory and more – Finally
It was Danny Boyle’s directorial venture Slumdog Millionaire that gave him the ever-eluding international attention in the forms of Oscars, Grammy Awards, and the BAFTA awards. The track Jai Ho was probably the first Indian anthem that became so popular, and brought in the most laurels for Rahman till date. Indian audience brushed aside the movie as poverty porn, and the soundtrack as yet another average track, and that Rahman has had better music in the past. It was indeed unfortunate that Rahman was not recognized for his earlier efforts internationally, but Slumdog Millionaire was the vehicle that showed his prowess to the international audience. He further made progress in the international scene with Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours in 2010, yet again.
Rahman’s subsequent releases Blue, Raavan, Endhiran and Jhootha Hi Sahi were not unfortunately well-received by the audience, with the only exceptions being Delhi 6 and Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya, which were well-received by the masses and classes alike.
The Brand ‘A.R.Rahman’
A.R.Rahman is no longer just a composer. He is not just an entity either. He is a brand. Movies like Ada, Sakkarakatti and many others were solely marketed as an A.R.Rahman musical. And as with any brand, there is a certain level of expectation to churn out popular and classy output all the time. Rahman has reached a stage in his career where he surely doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone, but just has to provide the evergreen music that his albums provided in the past. There is not one music lover who will complain about the releases he had in the early 90s, because that was the time when Indian music came of age, and Rahman was the identifying factor for that. His recent albums sure are musically superior to many of the other composers’ albums, and surely a treasure for the hardcore fans. But an eight-year old of today surely needs a Roja to repeat the same phenomenon that happened 20 years ago with many of us. Hope the much-needed sabbatical brings a refreshing change in his style of composition.
Happy birthday, A.R.Rahman, Your music has brought meaning to many a life!