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

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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!

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