Wednesday August 15, 2012

20 years of A R Rahman – what does it mean to me?

Posted by Karthik

Note: Besides this one, by me, I found quite a few noteworthy pieces on the same topic. Here’s a list that I enjoyed reading (and listening, in some cases). I thought I’ll simply tweet this list, but that may get lost… so, adding it on top of my own post, so that it remains as a compilation for easy reference.

1. Anil Srinivasan (The Hindu): The Rahman Effect
2. Balaji (@bbthots) – ARR 20
3. P.S.Sureshkumar (@ursmusically) – 20 Years of Rahman!
4. Vipin Nair (@musicaloud) – 20 years of Rahman OR How I learned to love music
5. Hawkeye a.k.a Bharath Ram – 20 years of A.R.Rahman
6. Ajay Nair – Rahman at 20: Rehna Tu Hai Jaisa Tu
7. Manoj Mohan C – 20 years of a new sound… 20 years of A R Rahman


I have written about my musical tryst with August 15, 1992 twice (first and second) in this blog. So, without repeating that, let me simply link those two posts.

The point of this post is, however, to explore the ways I have moved on, from being a hardcore A R Rahman fan.

There was indeed a time when I used to voraciously go after anything associated with Rahman. I still remember how goosebumpy I became when I insert a new Rahman soundtrack cassette tape and wait for the first sound to emanate out of it.

This included some incredibly eclectic sounds – Chinna chinna aasai’s (Roja) soft rhythms, followed by the reggae’ish sound; Kannum kannum’s (Thiruda Thiruda) Tu tu tu turoo roo roo!; Chikku bukku rayile’s GV Prakash-sung opener; Netru illaadha maatram’s (Pudhiya Mugam) incredibly pleasant prelude and my personal favorite – Urvasi’s (Kaadhalan) ‘Marhabaaaaaa’!

Most Rahman soundtracks back in the 90s were massively diverse for the kind of genres and sounds they traversed. In a way, that vibrant fusion was Rahman’s unique signature.

To me, Rahman’s first pivot, in terms of the sound, was in 2000, with Alaipayuthey. The sound was more mature and in some strange way, international. It was as if Rahman was trying to cover new ground at least as far as his target audiences were concerned.

Post 2000 did see some lemons too (in my opinion, of course), but that may be due to prior commitments, older soundtracks releasing late and so on.

But, after a certain point… perhaps 2008 or so, I seem to have lost the obsessive interest in Rahman’s music. It could be my growing up… my exposure to more kinds of music… the lesser number of films that Rahman started doing… and perhaps, the more interesting kinds of composers in the scene. Or, all of the above. Plus, Rahman’s own change in the way he approaches music… away from film-based songs to something broader and freer.

The disappointment in listening to a substandard Rahman soundtrack was quite harsh, initially. The first Tamil soundtrack that I personally thought was ‘bad’ from a Rahman’s output perspective was Padayappa. In Hindi, that would be Kabhi Na Kabhi. That feeling progressively grew distant with other soundtracks like Thenali, Lakeer, Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha, Kisna, Mangal Pandey, Varalaru, Ada… topped by what tops that list – Yuvvvvrrraaajj. It was almost as if Subash Ghai was channelizing his complete lack of form into Rahman’s music.

But my view is not a yardstick by any stretch of imagination. I have loved his so-called ‘bad’ albums like Blue and Komaram Puli.

The point is that Rahman was perhaps trying different things in his music. After all, he has crossed major milestones like a decade, 15 years and now 20 years in music. He can’t be doing the same thing again and again. He has consciously tried things out – some of them work very well and some don’t. Many of us have liked his newer attempts and many of us don’t.

The thing that works from all this is the fact that, as a composer, he seems to be constantly looking for something different. That’s perhaps what makes him relevant even today. I don’t even know what his next release is going to be. Yash Chopra’s under-production Shah Rukh Khan – Katrina starrer? Boys Hindi version? I’m not sure and I have stopped keeping track religiously, as I used to, earlier. I’m sure the world hasn’t and there are more people tracking it than a few dedicated individuals, back in the early 90s.

At a very selfish level, I want that magical feeling of hearing something unique when I play his next CD for the first time. I’m sure he will not cop out and repeat the same thing that he did so well in the 90s, though pieces like Nimma nimma really push me to think about where he is really heading to. His music has been an integral part of my growing up – and, as people do, his music seems to have grown too. Evolved, rather. Here’s hoping that this evolution appeals to me and offers me (and other listeners too) an opportunity to savor the feeling of listening to the first sound of his forthcoming releases in an all new light!



  • Continuously listened to ‘Dhakka Laga’ from ‘Yuva’ yesterday, after a long time. The kinds of ‘sounds’ he used in it really fascinates even today. Most of today’s music has variety, but also brings lot of ‘noise’ along with it than ‘sounds’. Hope we still get to see more of a different Rahman !

  • Excellently put! I’m sure it would reflect the feelings of many.

  • Thenali is definitely not a bad album, and even the other movies you mentioned have some songs worth remembering for decades.

  • Delhi-6, Rockstar, Jodha Akbar (recent and some real outstanding tunes)

  • I think the lack of WOW when listening to his songs is more down to the age we live in than anything.In 90’s his music was a breath of fresh and there was not much else to look forward to .But today any ordinary person is exposed to a huge variety of music ,The WOW factor has come come down.But still it’s his real strength that he is still relevant today and not only relevant but at the top.IMO does two kind of movies
    1) Commercial reasons : he takes up a project and the producers rush him to get the music delivered .Ex : Blue,Lakeer , Thenali

    2) Personal Reasons : Where he does the music irrespective of time it takes to develop .Another pointer his association with good directors usually yields good soundtracks.Ex : Delhi 6 ,All Mani Rathnam movies i guess..
    i know the above reasoning is over simplification of a process .

  • sunilssounds

    Today marks the completion of two whole decades by Rahman Ji as a music director and I would like to take this opportunity to list my favourite song from each year till now.

    Kaadhal Rojave from Roja (1992)
    Then Kizhakku Cheemayile from Kizhakku Cheemayile (1993)
    En Mel Vizhunda from May Madham (1994)
    Ini Achcham Achcham Illai from Indira (1995)
    Mel Isaiyae from Mr. Romeo (1996)
    Anbendra from Minsara Kanavu (1997)
    Kannodu Kaanbadhellam from (1998)
    Chinna Chinna Mazhai Thuligal from En Swasa Kaatre (1999)
    Evano Oruvan from Alaipayuthe (2000)
    Haye Dil Ki Bazi Laga from One 2 Ka 4 (2001)
    Mera Rang De Basanti from The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002)
    Warriors in Peace from Warriors of Heaven and Earth (2003)
    Kalayil Thinamum from New (2004)
    Hum Hain Iss Pal Yahan from Kisna (2005)
    Munbe Vaa from Sillunu Oru Kaadhal (2006)
    Alive from Provoked (2007)
    Zindagi from Yuvvraaj (2008)
    Jason & Cynthia Suite from Couples Retreat (2009)
    Namakame from Puli (2010)
    Kun Faya Kun from Rockstar (2011)
    Kya Hai Mohabbat from Ekk Deewana Tha (2012)

    Phew, I’m glad this daunting task is over! Would be nice if others could share the favourites too πŸ˜€

  • Boys was ultimate. Not a fan of Blaaze’s works before but in Boys, he killed it (in a good way!) And the Hindi version is written by Abbas Tyrewala (JHS and JTYJN fame), so unlike the PK Mishras and Swanand Kirkires, I’m sure he can come up with words that don’t have any archaic history or literal translation of Vairamuthu’s version.

    Yuvvraaj’s the best recent Subhash Ghai album till date. Surprised you didn’t like it. Anyways, your mileage may vary (that’s the beauty of criticism.)

    Best of ARR would have to be Raasathi. First accapella to hit Indian soundtracks and a damn good one too!

  • IMO, every artist starts out as novice, reaches his/her creative peak and then goes to inevitable decline. Has happened to Naushad, Shankar Jaikishen, RD Burman, Lata/Asha/Kishore/Rafi, Amitabh, Gulzar.. (SD Burman may be a rare exception). Same thing is/will happening/happen to ARR.

    Fortunately, ARR entered Bollywood in a phase where creativity was at its nadir (and still is) and hence reached a position where it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to replace him.

  • sunilssounds

    Apologies for the lengthy post!

    Thought I’d set myself with another task of picking my favourite song according to musical genre, collaboration, theater score, etc.

    Just as Nerd listed his pick from every language, I’ll share mine:

    Thamizh – Taj Mahal
    Hindi – Rockstar
    English – 127 Hours
    Favourite original Thamizh song – Mel Isaiyae
    Favourite original Hindi song – Kun Faya Kun
    Favourite original English song – Alive

    The rest of the task is like shooting yourself in the head but to show my appreciation for these 20 years, I’m going to go ahead with no holds barred.

    Solo Song by Rahman Ji – Aararai Kodi
    Male Duet – Urvasi Urvasi
    Duet – Athiradee Karan

    Conventional music genres

    Blues – Aaromele
    Bhangra – Thaniye (Nachle)
    Classical (Western) – Tum Ho meri Nigaho Mein Chayee (Kabhi Na Kabhi)
    Classical (South Indian) – Marghazhi Thingal Allava
    Classical (North Indian) – Hai Rama (Rangeela)
    Dance – Muqabala
    Disco – Maramkothiye
    Electronic – Dating
    Folk – Balleileka
    Hip hop – Collumbus
    Gospel – Anbendra
    Instrumental – Bombay Theme
    Jazz – I’ve Been Waiting
    Latin – Zindgai Hai Dua
    Middle-Eastern – Afghanistan Theme
    Patriotic – Thamizha Thamizha
    Pop – No Problem
    Reggae – Satyameva Jayate
    Religious – Kun Faya Kun
    Rock – Mustafa
    Traditional – Dandiya Aatamum

    It’s definitely difficult to decide what genre is being displayed sometimes…

    No Synth – Naan Varuvane
    Non – Music (Accapella/ Minimal music) – Rasathi
    Experimental – Sabaq Aisa
    Fusion – Anbil Avan
    Best Collaboration – Gurus Of Peace with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
    Non – Filmy Single – Tyota Etios
    Non – Filmy Album – Connections
    Advert – Door Darshan
    Featured As A Guest On Another Artist’s Album – Cairo To India (Rock The Tabla)
    Best Shot Song – Barso Re
    Best Theater Song – How Many Stars (Bombay Dreams)

    Need to take a breather now, hopefully don’t need to expand on this and I think I’ve covered most points. Apologies if I haven’t

    Happy Listening

    • IMO this comment deserves a post….

    • nth human

      This is the reason some ppl call him as music’s all rounder.

    • rnjbond

      Good list, but I am going to nitpick a little:

      Not sure you can call Thaniye (Earth) as “Bhangra”. Rang De Basanti’s title track or “Pagdi Sambal” from Legend of Bhagat Singh may be better options

      “Dating” from Boys isn’t really electronic. I’d say “Fanaa” from Yuva is a better example of electronic music.

      But that’s just me nitpicking. Your list does a great job showing how versatile AR Rahman is and how he’s been at the top of his game for 20 years.

  • For sure, AR’s music in 90’s had much more new and thrilling sounds than his music has now. Now we have lots of talented musicians heavily exposed to western music but still AR’s tunes are original and his sound recording still sound world class.

  • Joe

    “and perhaps, the more interesting kinds of composers in the scene” –

    Karthik, an honest question. Of all these interesting kinds of composers, is there anyone whose albums you look forward with the same kind of expectations you had when you played that ARR cassette/cd for the first time? I’d say NONE and I’d expect the same from you. Ether ways, which composer comes the closest to you today?

    I don’t look forward to any cricket match/player these days with the same wide eyes that saw Sachin 10 years back. Not even when Sachin bats these days. And I can’t expect him anymore to get me to sit the same way in front of the TV when he’s about to start his next innings. The problem is not with him. Well it’s not my ‘problem’ either. It’s just that I’ve grown old and the thrill I’d experienced at that age at that moment has passed and most probably will never return to me.

    ARR is the same for a guy like me, born in the early 80’s and who really got into DRIVEN into music through ARR, the same way Sachin got me into watching/playing cricket. I still watch cricket. I still hear music.

    It’s like I can’t expect to get that same feeling how porn/sex used to thrill my senses as a teenager. I can’t expect to go thru the same at this age when you’ve seen it all or most. Well It’s different now – call it ‘matured outlook’ or ‘getting harder to get excited so easily’ πŸ˜›

    All said and done, even now, nothing blows my mind away( though less frequently than before) like a Rockstar/VTV/Delhi 6, just like the Sachin straight drive/cover drive which have become a rare entity. Even in the ages of Amit Trivedis and Virat Kohlis, I still look forward to these moments and cherish them the most when they happen.

    Cheers πŸ™‚

    • murali

      but still i say there are some genuine and better composers now…i do accept no1 can match to ARR i think wee shud stop comparing and start enjoying

    • mzmrizmy

      Aptly said Mr. Joe. Its like we loved our childhood toys, but when we grow up the connection exists but diminishes slightly(Emotionally we are always connected but physically not). Twenty years on listening to Roja is like watching Toy Story pure magic!!

      But ARR has grown up musically as well. He does not cater to certain audience he entreats everyone. I think the spark is there and always will be. Its the ‘child’ inside many of us who have attached themselves to that 90s Rahman fear they would lose him forever. One cannot blame that feeling, it is special. Andy might have outgrown for his toys but his childhood experience will be always special just as ARR 90s.

      BTW your post is a real eye opener for me.

    • Ravi Parikh

      It’s not the same Rehman last few years. Has gone from brilliant to boring stuff. Look at Pritam now. Going strength to strength. I get same excitement with Pritams music which I used to get from Rehman. The melody which Pritam gives is heavenly.

  • jeanjohny

    Honestly, I wish that we never matured and still followed him religiously! Nevertheless, no other Composer could replace him in my heart!

  • mzmrizmy

    Your lament of loosing a childhood friend and encountering a mere acquaintance in rahman is acceptable in a certain context.
    Even i want ARR to do similar stuff he did in the 90s. But he’s moved
    on in a healthy manner and i know at times it was hard but i’ve moved on
    as well with the sheer brilliance he incorporates to his work.

    The 2000s brought a mild hiccup in his career but it was a prelude to
    the success thar he garnered by winning 2 oscars. I liked Padayappa,
    obviously it blended perfectly with Rajini+Ravikumar+Rahman combination.
    But the first album that i lost faith in was his remake in ‘Star’ &
    ‘Alli Ajuna’. In Hindi it was ‘Mangal Pandey’. But the movies them self
    lacked the musical quality.

    Post those albums not just he is bounced back but he is moved into a
    different gear. His recent albums are up to the current standards and
    trends. I don’t understand why you don’t treat them as his earlier work,
    but it is your opinion.

    Surely his work takes time to settle but once it settles its
    immortalized within my mind. I hope he continues with the same mindset.

    The world from ‘Rahman only’ category to there are many other fish in
    the sea came to me when i started to listening western pop, rock music
    in the beginning of the 2000s. But just like EMINEM says no matter how
    many fish in the sea it FEELS SO EMPTY WITHOUT RAHMAN JI.

    There have been moments when the genius has let down but there have been periods where he has completely soaked us in heaven.

    Jai Ho for Mr.ARR

  • aww come on tenali wasn’t that bad, you have left out one of his bigger bombs in parsuram :).. i think rahman’s music grows on you when you listen to it.. the layers of the songs are amazing..

  • Umesh

    In ur opinon , Rahman may be not as wonderful as his 90s avatar but still Rahman is the only composer to get more than one 300 word reviews from u showing that even a mellowed down Rahman is far ahead of all composers put together πŸ™‚ He got one each in 2009,2011,2013 . Now eager to know which will be the next πŸ™‚

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