You are warned. Long Post Ahead.
I’m pretty sure every urban South Indian has one of these. Quite obviously… Rahman would score music for all those feel-good flicks that would be megahits. And even if they were not, the music would be a superhit for sure… which meant you’d hear of them. And hear them over and over again. Either on the radio or in the interval at the movies, or in weddings, or in someone’s car, or on TV…. basically there was no escape. And no one wanted one either… the music was different, and good. So you end up having a lot of memories tangled with quite a few of these songs. Some of these songs manage to stick with you through the ages and enter the hallowed portals of what you consider ‘alltime great’ songs. Here are mine:
- Mettu Podu from Duet: A very nice fusion-ish song. I suspect the lead character was made a saxophonist just so that ARR could use nice sax melodies for the songs in the movie. It’s a nice idea to have a wedding musician who plays the sax (in the movie)… it just sounds like the nadaswaram with a more fusion-ish feel. The same movie had some really soulful songs like En Kaadhalae and Anjali, all rendered awesomely by SPB. But Mettu Podu is the feel-good song in the album, and no matter how many times I listen to it, it only seems to get better.
- Margazhi Poove from May Madham: Sonali Kulkarni’s debut. Movie’s about a young girl yearning to be free from her overbearing father and a stuttering fiance. And this song is where she talks about all the things she’d love to do, while on a morning walk. This song had the suprabhatam as its opening…. gives the song a really good feel. The whole zest for life and freshness Sonali Kulkarni is supposed to have in the movie is reflected in this one song.
- Signore Signore from Kannathil Muthamittaal: People might like Vellai Pookal for its social message about peace and all, or adore Jayachandran’s soulful rendition of the title track. I however can’t get this song out of my head. The baila tunes and Sinhalese words demand to run through my head atleast once a day. It’s stock baila, just like Surangani, and possibly many other songs in the genre, but the cheerful mood of the song stands out against the serious mood of the rest of the movie. It’s the current song stuck in my head.
- Pettai Rap from Kaadhalan: This song needs no introduction, does it? I like the lyrics too… deep philosophical ponderings about life and death… appropriate for a song to be sung at a funeral procession. And I have fond memories of this song from school 🙂 when our seniors choreographed it awesomely for the annual day, transvestite and all.
- Allay Allay from One Two Ka Four: Sad movie, sad SRK, boring Juhi Chawla, irritating kids, silly villain. And this cute song comes along. I’ve never watched the video ever. Just as well, I guess… I’ve had it upto here being disappointed by insipid videos for great songs.
- Paarkaathey Paarkaathey from Gentleman: Yet another let’s-live-life-and-have-fun song sung by a funloving girl. And this singer was called Minmini – with such a cool singer with such a cool name, which teenaged girl wouldn’t love this one? Turns out my bathroom-singing-neighbor-akka definitely did. I hadn’t met this much-older girl ever… she stayed in the next street, her house was behind mine, and I could hear her sing in the bathroom. I used to hate this girl because she sang classical songs in the bathroom very well, prompting mom to begin comparisons… and then one day she begins to sing this song… and thus became my first pop idol. I don’t think I’ve seen her, ever. But her 8 am voice singing Mangta Hai and Maragathavalli manasasmarami with the same zest continues to be an inspiration, more than a decade since I heard it last.
- Nila Kagirathu from Indira: Suhasini Mani Ratnam’s directorial debut. It had some extremely Suhasini-ish lines in the screenplay. And no, that is not a compliment. The tagline was very Suhasini too: Idhu peNNin kadhaialla, idhu maNNin kadhai – This isn’t the story of a girl, it is the story of the land. I didn’t much understand the movie, but the music was godawesome. Back then, Arvind Swamy was still goodlooking, if a bit chubby, and his intro song was good enough to keep humming every now and then. And then there was one patriotic one picturized on Anu Haasan and a bunch of schoolchildren. But Nila Kagirathu was the one that made the most impact. The more famous version was a little girl singing it.. on her own, and not because a band of aunts and grannies tempted her with promises of chocolates, unlike me. I dreaded being in the room when the song/video played – some or the other adult would invariably compare the girl singing with me and say ‘You should also sing like her’. My biggest doubt back then was how could this little girl, all of six years old, manage a tanpura without letting the whole thing fall down with a spectacular crash that left its bottom broken and top mutilated.
- Strawberry Kannae from Minsara Kanavu: Known to some as Strawberry Aankhen from Sapnay, but I listened more to the Tamil version. It sort of reminds me of Bohemian Rhapsody… is this what is opera? I liked the video, too. Kajol never looked more beautiful and more confident when she was listing out to Prabhudeva why she’d rather be a nun than be married and baked in an oven. And never more pissed off than when he makes a comment about her nose. I preferred this one over Kajol’s intro track where she’s trekking and having some girlie fun… the song wasn’t so awesome, or Vennilavae…. though that’s a fine track.
- Aye Ajnabi from Dil Se: Flawless. The title track comes close, but I don’t like the ending chorus…. I totally hate the ending chorus that Rahman adds to his songs when he can’t think of a decent way to wind it up. That apart, apparently Mani Ratnam made Priety Zinta a Malayalee solely because Rahman was hearing some awesome Mapilla tunes in his head… and there you go, you got Jiya Jale.
- Veerapandi Kottayile from Thiruda Thiruda: Folksy song with a Rahman feel. The background instruments, and Chitra’s strong vocals make this song awesomer than the others on the soundtrack – Thee Thee and Chandalekha.
- Ishq Bina from Taal: Anuradha Sriram did an awesome job here. Actually, the whole arrangement is so awesome, and all the instruments and vocalists seem so perfect – be it the solos by Anuradha Sriram (who sings impromptu in her interviews for the silliest of reasons even when no one asks her to, so much that you feel like asking her to just shut up for godsake… and you don’t for once feel like asking her to shut up in this song) and Sonu Nigam, or the chorus by Rehman and some others. And they didn’t mutilate the video, thank god.
- Dheeme Dheeme from 1947-Earth: One of the best romantic songs I’ve heard. Made better by the soundclip of a bird singing in the background. Of course, it was all integrated into the song and all that – there’s a musical instrument synchronized to play when the bird stops to breathe. Though… I like birdsong in a track better in Blackbird by The Beatles… the bird just sings in the end, it’s not synchronized and all.
- Des Mere from The Legend of Bhagat Singh: It really sounds patriotic, the tune atleast. I don’t know how he does it. I like this track much better than Maa Tujhe Salaam, maybe because I hear Maa Tujhe Salaam so much and so often I’m tired of it. Or maybe because Des Mere is a much better track. Just listening to it gives me goosebumps. I also liked Jogiya Jogiya from the same soundtrack – it was much better than the Jogiya Jogiya in the Deol version of Bhagat Singh.
- Dol Dol from Aayutha Ezhuthu/Yuva: You can’t do anything with this song except listen to it. Which makes it a perfect song for a montage. It might initially sound jarring on the nerves, but if you watch the video, it seems to fit it very well, like nothing else could have. Which is a lot more than I can say for Fanaa in the same movie – awesome song, awesome beats, and it’s ruined by the video which is too slow and can’t seem to keep up with the pace of the song and the passion it conveys. Plus, in the Hindi version, you had Kareena and Vivek Oberoi, who don’t look like teenyboppers and that ruins the whole song for you. Though if you want to go by video alone, Hey Goodbye Nanba is the best of the lot… man, does that even look like Marina beach?
- Yaaro Yaarodi from Alaipayuthey: So artfully out of tune – it’s actually quite in-tune, but sounds like it’s being sung out of tune. So much that people actually think it is meant to be sung out of tune, and mangled beyond recognition. By the time this soundtrack came out, Rahman was pretty famous even outside South India… I was pleasantly surprised when, on a train to Delhi, I found this five-year-old Bihari kid singing this song.
Uh…. don’t I seem to have missed out something? 🙂 I can see purists and Rahman devotees going “How Could You?!’. No, I haven’t forgotten or overlooked it. I was merely saving the best for the last.
- Chinna Chinna Aasai from Roja: When this came out, it was the only audio tape I possessed, and I listened to it till it wore out. And I used to wait all week for Chitrahaar and a couple of other shows, waiting through all the tacky songs of those days, just to watch the video of this song. Somehow watching Madhoo talk about all her little-little wishes made my day a bit better. And the colourful video with no overweight hero-heroine attempting to tease each other silly or make out in secret was so refreshing… maybe it was all the natural beauty. And the cute things they showed Madhoo doing was so new to us – playing in water, holding a baby goat… and then the video has this shot of a little boat floating in the stream, with a little light in it. I don’t know what it was, but I totally loved that particular shot, and wouldn’t take my eyes off the screen till I saw it. Even now when I watch the video, I wait just to watch that particular shot.
So what is it that sets Rehman apart? He experiments and innovates. Which you don’t see very often. He takes bits and pieces from everywhere and puts them together and packages them in a way that most people find very appealing – all of them have a yuppie ’90s feel alongside which they also sound new and futurish – which appeals to the looking-to-get-globalized generation of the ’90s who wanted to break free from the mould of tacky Indian film music while not really wanting to listen only to Indian Classical or sticking with only Michael Jackson and GnR. His compositions favored singers with younger, lighter voices over the heavy-voiced singers Bollywood had seen till then, and as a result, the youth identified more with these songs.
And Rehman was also at the right place at the right time. Other composers might have innovated, or introduced new sounds in the past, but they weren’t equipped with a Moog Synthesizer (his father owned the first one in India) back then. Cable television was breaking ground, thus making any and every sort of film music accessible to everyone who owned a TV set. And the music video was beginning to take shape. Which meant, Rehman’s songs were also nicely picturized, and more appealing. People also had more money to spend on music and movies.
And this was also the era when the Western world began to see India as a hot market and so all of a sudden, you had India all over the globe – beauty queens, films winning international awards, or atleast getting worldwide attention – mostly thanks to the diaspora abroad, and… our composers getting to make music with Andrew Lloyd Weber. I don’t mean to trivialize the achievements of ARR, but it was more a question of being at the right place at the right time than most other things. Talent did matter, of course, coz otherwise you’d also have Harris Jeyraj or Yuvan Shankar Raja or Jatin-Lalit attaining the same level of fame.
This was an era when we were gaining self-confidence as a nation, and who better than Rahman to serenade us through it, and provide us our clairon calls, our march songs, our war-cries, our wake-up calls, our joyous shouts when we win and our inspiring power ballads to not give up when we lose by a whisker?
He was our official provider of melodies for all occurrences from waking up (Margazhi Poove) to going to bed (Rukmani Rukmani), all occasions from weddings (Mangalyam Thanthunanena) to anti-wedding requests (Kariye na) to funerals (Pettai Rap, or if you prefer mellower, Luka Chupi), realizations of love (Kandukondain Kandukondain) or cries of desperation (Evano Oruvan), secrets to success (song of the same name from Boys) or when you’ve lost everything (Vidu Kathaiyo), dancing in the rain (Thenmerku paruvakattu) or dancing in expectation of rain (Ghanan Ghanan), frustration with the system (Break the rules) or praying for good luck (O Paalanhaare) gender war (Boys-a yaenga vekkadhey) or cheerful rebellion (Paarkathey Paarkathey), flirty serenades (Signore Signore) or serious declarations of love (Nahin Saamne)… he’s such an integral part of our lives and everyone loves him for that.
If you don’t believe me on the last one, google for “I hate AR Rahman’ or variations of that, and all you’ll get is stuff like “I hate him because he doesn’t compose music for all movies’ or “I hate him because his music is so lovely it makes me cry’.