Sunday August 12, 2007
15 years of A.R.Rahman’s music – 1992 to 2007 and continuing!
I still remember August 15, 1992. I was at school, pretty annoyed at the Independence Day routine while the rest of the world was glued to the telly, watching the then-favorite, Oliyum Oliyum (OO), the default program for new Tamil film songs – the Tamil equivalent of Chitrahaar. An August 15th OO means brand new songs, films of which may have been released that day. As I finished the school’s flag hoisting ceremony and entered home, OO was long over. I checked with my Mom if there was anything striking among the songs played that morning. She vaguely recalled some interesting song starring unknown faces and a strangely alien but alluring sound.
That was ‘Chinna chinna aasai’ from Roja. My first brush with Rahman’s music on screen was ‘Kaadhal rojave’ that was aired in the subsequent week’s OO! And, I was captivated by the sheer difference in everything from vocals, the choice of instruments…the overall sound. It was excitingly fresh, unlike anything I’ve ever heard before.
Pudhiya mugam, Gentleman, May Madham…one by one Rahman delivered some mind bogglingly varied tracks that only increased my interest in his music. I finally had someone who’s music I can rush and buy on the day its released. I still remember bunking college to get my hands on the first tape of Kaadhalan. Or the days we used to annoy our lecturer by humming the prominent hmmm portion in Kaadhalan’s ‘Kaadhalikkum pennin’. Or even the first time I heard ‘Hello hello premalekha’ on Zee TV’s limited Telugu feeds on weekday evenings and instinctively guessed that it has to be Rahman. Since I could not find Gang Master in the shops in my city, I had to ask one of my pen-friends (found via Target!) in Chennai to send me the tape. She sent me a double-film tape that had Gang Master and Super Police, the two of the only four direct Telugu films by Rahman (the other two being Naani and Nee manasu naaku telusu – Naani was made in Tamil as New, while the latter was dubbed as Enakku 20 Unakku 18)!
I joined my first job in Delhi and besides the minimal internet access in my PG, got my first exposure to full fledged internet at office! And the first thing that struck me was that there was no single, online source for Rahman’s songs. Thus started arrmp3, hosted at Geocities. It was, at that point, perhaps one of the most comprehensive audio destinations for Rahman’s songs and included rare tracks, latest interviews et all…updated at amazing speed! Geocities used to frown at mp3s back then and I had to break each mp3 into 4-5 pieces, rename them as jpg/ gif and upload them. Geocities usually yanked these too and I had, at one point, as many as 80+ Geocities accounts, since each account gave me just 20MB!
My interest in his music gradually came down to more earthly levels, from the initial, literal worship as time progressed and I gave up on arrmp3 too, shortly, as a result. I moved on to creating the plagiarism-tracking website, I2FS (or ItwoFS!), back in 2000 and decided that I need to distance myself from the online image of being a devoted fan of one composer, so that people assume that I2FS is being managed without any bias. But people continue to ask me why Indian’s ‘Telephone manipol’ and its so-called original by Ace of Base (All that she wants) is not listed yet. I’ve responded to perhaps 500 odd mails on this topic and continue to refuse spending anymore time on this non-issue.
There have been so many new composers who have been influenced, either directly or indirectly by Rahman, but Rahman himself has evolved significantly over the years. He perhaps reserves his most creative work for Maniratnam and Shankar, but has gone on to deliver gems in other directors’ films too. His current music is perhaps far removed from his initial repertoire, from an instantly appealing sound to a more mature, evolved sound that people tend to listen multiple times before they can grasp the nuances and start appreciating it.
But, the music landscape is a lot more competitive now and Rahman, though a pioneer at one point, is, for me, just one more better peddler of the mod, new, filmi sound. The truth however, is that no other composer, post Rahman, has excited me to that extent. It was also probably because of the limited choice we had at that time and that I was personally witnessing a gradual decline in my all time favorite composer’s (Ilayaraja) body of work.
These days its fashionable to name Rahman as your influence. And rightly so. He was indeed the one significant point of deflection in Indian film music that captured the attention of a large number of gen-next. Rahman has withstood the onslaught of many other conventional composers both in Hindi and Tamil since 1992. At the same time, conventional filmi music has continued to flourish in Hindi with astounding success stories like Nadeem Shravan and Jatin Lalit – alongside Rahman.
To be honest, I’m not the same dreamy-eyed fan of Rahman that I was in 1992. And, my friend Gopal Srinivasan, who I met online back in the late 90s, through the Yahoo Groups on Rahman that he manages with alarming devotion, knows this all too well. He’s perhaps the only person who may have seen the entire arc in my excitement vis-à-vis Rahman’s music. I have graduated to a state where I can confidently say that his music sucks sometimes (The Taj anthem?) and I’m quite content with that dispassionate mindset.
I do continue enjoying his music and would want to listen to it as soon as its released. But, the fact that I look forward to the music of even a Salim Sulaiman or Mithoon perhaps shows that Rahman’s task is far tougher these days. However, 15 years of this man’s music, in my opinion, has changed our idea of film music like very few composers’ work, before him. Taking names here is unfair to both Rahman’s creativity and the combined talent of the other composers in question, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
My Top 5 Rahman soundtrack picks, in order of my personal preference!
1. Thiruda Thiruda (Tamil)
2. Yuva (Hindi)
3. Roja (Tamil)
4. Dil Se (Hindi)
5. Kaadhal Desam (Tamil)