Friday, August 10, 2012

20 years of A.R.Rahman

It is amazing how much of an impression a musician can make in your life. Especially if the musician was at his peak of his art in your teenage years. The first time I heard the name A.R Rahman was as a gossip in the context of a Ilayaraja and Manirathnam disagreement. Its been a long time since I read cinema gossip sections in Thamizh magazines.It used to be very interesting to read those at that time. Now its just a fond memory tucked away in some corner of the mind. I think it was "Lights On Sunil" and "thunukku Mootai" who began the gossip that Manirathnam failed to picturise the "Puttham Pudhu Poo Poothadho" song that Ilayaraja had composed for Thalapathy. The song apparently was composed as a romantic number between Rajini and Bhanupriya. It was cut-off because Mani didn't want to develop the two characters as having a romantic relationship. Ilayaraja doesn't appear to collect the Filmfare award for Thalapathy, which Mani collects on his behalf. And then comes the news that Manirathnam has signed on with Kavithalaya, which totally eliminates Ilayaraja as a possibility as MD because KB and IR were split for good then.  Pushpalatha Kandasamy in an interview years later discloses that Manirathnam had approached her with 2 movie ideas. One was about a Kashmir terrorist issue and the other was a road-comedy about 2 thieves. And they went with idea #1. A.R.Rahman's name figured as the guy who did jungles for Bru Coffee. It was speculated that the Advt was probably picturised by P.C. Sreeram and so the connection to Mani was established (I don't know if this is true).

Roja was a big event. In Thanjavur, my physics tuition teacher had a reputation of having never watched movies. That elderly mama cancelled a tuition session to go watch this movie with his family. It was the talk of the class. I will never forget the first time I listened to Roja. I was so mesmerized by Kadhal Rojave and Pudhu Vellai Mazhai. This was a new sound and unlike anything I had heard in Indian music. It started off a trend where ARR made you listen to his music in hi-tech head phones and stereo systems just so that you could catch all the little itsy bitsy nuanced instruments that he used. My biggest joy was the fact that he began the revolution of introducing new singers almost every album. Carolyn, Islam Mustafa, Subha to name a few. The liberation from S. Janaki cannot be described in words. Having been in Gavaskar Vs Srikkanth, BoneyM vs Abba, Tendulkar vs Lara fights and more importantly Kamal vs Rajini arguments with friends I always had a clear favorite (Gavaskar, BoneyM, Kamal, Tendulkar). Some have gone to the point of getting into physical confrontation. However, I have never been so torn as I was in Ilayaraja Vs A.R.Rahman fights. It has been hard to pick a clear favorite in the past 20 years. I haven't obsessed over a music director like I have obsessed over Rahman. But I truly consider myself to be an IR fan at heart. If forced to pick the genius among the two, I'd pick Ilayaraja in a heartbeat. But ARR revolutionized the industry and Thamizh music in ways Ilayaraja was not capable of. ARR used flutes much better than IR. And of course IR was a genius with violins. Ilayaraja was clearly superior in background music as he melded the music to the situation perfectly. But ARR developed theme based background music much more successfully (Thiruda Thiruda's BGM as a standout example).

I haven't listened to ARR that much in the recent years.  His nativity has changed in his second 10 years and so has mine. So I haven't been able to relate to his music a lot nowadays. But here and there he produces a gem that still  is gush worthy. His first 10 years will always be my favorite. As he created album after album that fascinated the senses. In many ways I feel truly lucky to have grown up in the 90s. It was the generation of change. India's economy opening to foreign products, advent of Satellite/cable television, massive growth of Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar and ARR obsession captured the essence of that generation. I've met innumerable number of people who find the strange intersection of Tendulkar fandom and ARR obsession as a completely natural thing. There is some strange un-namable similarity in the growth of these two people who've defined a generation.

Below is an old post of mine that I wrote during ARR's 10th year in movies. Its very silly to read it now. But I'll unashamedly just reproduce that. I haven't listened to him that much in the last 10 years to really update the list. Some songs that don't feature in the list that I like a lot are - Nahi Saamne (Taal), Thiruvallikeni Rani (udhaya), Girlfriend (Boys), Vaaji Vaaji (Sivaji), Porkalam (Thenali), Azhagaana Rakshasi (Mudhalvan), Ye Ye Enna Aachu Unakku (Kaadhal Virus), Gokulam (Azhagiya Thamizh Magan), and Aaromale (VTV)


It is 10 years since ARR hit the scene with "Roja".  The 10 year anniversary couldn't be better celeberated than releasing such a high profile album as Baba.

After years of enjoying ARR's music and finding out small small instruments and sounds every time using headphones, ear phones and different speakers. I have to say ARR is the person apart from Sachin Tendulkar :-) Who has captured the imagination of millions of Indians with a brand of youth and passion unseen before.

My Top 10 songs of these 10 years would be

10) Poraale Ponnu Thayee ( Karuthamma): Wonderful song from my favorite Swarnalatha. Won the national award deservedly.

9) Tu hi tu (Kabhie Na Kabhie): A relatively Unknown song because the movie was not released properly. This is a rare gem from ARR. I especially love the beginning hum in that song.

8) Nila Kaigirathu (Indira): Ah! Who can forget Hariharan's memorable voice ( Harinis version was good to ). The melancholy of this song is completely representative of what music is all about.

7) Pachai Nirame ( Alaipayuthey): Can a song be more intoxicating. What string arrangements What a wonderful voice. Brilliant picturization! It captures all moods to perfection. Wonderful lyrics.

6) Dilse (Dilse): The initial thump of drums and slowly building up the crescendo. ARR's voice blends so well with this tune. The middle "sa sa ni dha pa " hum is wonderful. As usual this song was met with good

5) En Kaathale ( Duet): This according to me is the best song SPB has sung. No one can hold on to such a tempo for such a long time. The voice just silkily runs through without wilting even for a moment. The smoothness this song achieves is unparalleled. What sadness this song brings out. Makes anyone feel they can also sing (but is it easy???).

4)Thee Thee (Thiruda Thiruda): Agreed this came out as an Advt first. But what a different song. Carolyene's indifferent Tamil adds more to the cuteness of this song. I suspect the Jathi voice as Jathiraja is ARR himself. There are only a handful of songs that were picturized better than this one. 

3)Mellisaye ( Mr. Romeo): I always thought this wud be my #1 ARR song but I am so sad this is just # 3. Only ARR can out do himself with a song better than this one. What a tune. The raw tune of the song itself is so mindblowing. The slow female voice which starts the mesmerising drum rhythm is awesome. "ethanai nilavu.." the up and down of the tune is like a wave rising and falling and slowly becoming a tide.

2)Kathal Roja (Roja): Ah! this is in my opinion the first gem of ARR. The rawest musical passion of ARR is brought out i the song in just the humming that Sujatha does. The sad (melancholy is ARR's forte??) hum that rises in tone blends so well with the movie and the moment. The beat pattern changes with rarae precision.SPB's voice was so new to us. This SPB voice was a new avataar. Dude this is how you should break into movies.

1) Konjam Nilavu ( Thiruda Thiruda): According to me this is the consummate music done by ARR in his 10 year career. BGM included ARR will never be able to beat what he did in Thiruda Thiruda. Konjam Nilavu had a amazing voice that oozed sexuality and passion. The hard natured voice and the novel song structure is mindblowing imagination. No song has ever been picturized in Indian movie history. PCSriram, Mani and ARR is just a dream come true. Look athe diting and the fireworks exploding synchronously with the beats. WHat a voice, what a find. This song pumps one with adrenalin. This to me is ARR's song of the millenium(s).


Alan Smithee said...

thiruda thiruda is the consummate Rahman album.

Anonymous said...

Ilayaraja ever went to pick upa filmfare award?!.

austrian said...

Khamosh Raat from Takshak? I think that was 1999.

There's too many brilliant songs he produced in the first 10 years.

I would agree wholeheartedly with your IR and ARR comparison too.

Hawk Eye said...

Alan Smithee,

agree. it was his best album ever.

Praveen said...

Agree with you Hawkeye.
Have you heard the Tamil version of Tu Hi tu?

Listen to Veesum Thendral here

I said...

The gossip was, on the 100th day function of Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal, KB did not credit Isainyaani enough for the success of the movie. Isainyaani walked out of the function. (Isainyanni was reported to have been seen walking alone on Arcot Road). After that KB never went back to Isainyaani. He brought in Maragadhamani (known as Keeravani in Tollywood), and later worked with Deva and Rahman.

When Iruvar was commenced (rumored to be originally named Aanadhan, Mohanlal's character), it was speculated that Maniratnam was going back to Isainyaani because he was better equipped for bringing out MGR-era musicality and nuances. Which turned out to be wrong eventually.

Isainyaani by sticking mostly to Tamil film music and almost completely radio-jamming Indhi music in Tamil Nadu for 20 years gave Tamils that exclusivity. Rahman by nationalizing and internationalizing his music made us "One World, One Music" bimbos. That, and freedom from Janaki but enslavement to other random aadu, maadu singers might be called a revolution I suppose.

Anonymous said...

/100th day function of Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal, KB did not credit Isainyaani/ This is some madeup Info. PPA used some generic music as BGM without IR's knowledge. From which IR refused all Kavithalaya movies, including KB, AmirJan, Vasanth etc from Kavaithalaya. This IR himself has said in a interview.
This is known fact. I don't think

IR attended any function, etc in that time (he had no time or patience). except Thalapathi audio release.

Anonymous said...

You might want to watch both the parts of this interview

You can see A.R.Rahman feeling the most satisfied with Thiruda Thiruda. It was the most eclectic, amazingly crafted and brilliantly picturized songs from the great Mani.

I think nostalgia is a huge influence on the way you perceive things from your past. To many people, they grow out of most things they loved during their teens. But, it would seem, not you. No wonder you prefer ARR's earlier ones and Mottai's earlier works.

To me personally, ARR wins over IR for the sheer genre-busting and singer-monotony-shredding (No more single singer for an entire movie) he did.

I agree with you for the choice of your songs though.

- The Indolent

sreekrishnan said...

Great post. Maniratnam talked about this very briefly in a televised interview. He said you'd love a music director, genre or something and say its nothing like that today because you listened to it at a very impressionable age. At that time when your ears and eyes were ready to register something you like and remember.

i liked that explanation and it works for me because i grew up listening to arr (4th std when Roja released and i'd sing Roja songs all day).

But the best thing that Rahman did to our generation is open up our ears to different genre of music and different styles. Your ability to appreciate instruments, different singers and different style which actually helped me discover Ilaiyaraja and now MSV.

If it wasnt for Rahman most of us who grew up that way may not go back to Ilaiyaraja this easily.

I was a die hard fan and still am one of Rahman. When i say Die hard, something i depend on to unwind myself any day. Today he helped me discover Raaja such that we tend to have music from 2 poles in one playlist.

My some North indian friends often ask me how i am able to listen to Raja and Rahman back and forth and appreciate them with the same enthusiasm - and i still think the reason is rahman.

Thiruda Thiruda is by far the best Rahman album for sure - with that Rock Guitar / Drum combo in Kannum Kannum.. To think it was 92/93 even now blows my mind.

Some one mentioned it somewhere that the current generation will never understand that shift of Raaja to Rahman with Roja. The surprise and the energy.

As to MR-IR fight, i heard it was a lot of bad blood between KB-IR during PPA where IR said stuff during re recording that made KB use some one else to complete it and IR-VMuthu where IR made Vaali write 4 lines for some title that made them put his name first and same with BharathiRaaja also.

All of them went off IR except Kamal B'Raaja KB and MR signed up Rahman for their next films and KBs victory lap of making a SindhuBhairavi'sh musical film in Duet with a Non IR and making it a Hit - which ARR scored so well.

I said...

People who drank Maltova and Bournvita at home inexplicably become coffee addicts after getting Infosys campus interview job. Then they do "I can't write (buggy) code without coffee!" routine, Bistro this that and fond references to "Madras filter coffee."

Anupama said...

Amazing post. Something to which I can totally relate to!
How did you miss Minsara Kanavu btw? :)

Babs said...

Machi remember my Sony Walkman I had in hostel....Pudhiya mugam never stopped playing in it :-)

TT was one of the best but for me Iruvar, Kandukonden K, Minsara Kanavu are up there too.

SathyaRam said...

Duet a hit in comparison to Sindhu Bhairavi. Duet is a feeble attempt to cook up a story to use Rahman's music with Kadri. Cant even compare Duet and Sindhu bairavi in terms of story or dialogues. in music though it will be close battle Sindhu bhairavi will win

Anonymous said...

"There is some strange un-namable similarity in the growth of these two people who've defined a generation"

I think the common facor between them is that they both inspired a generation of young indians and showed that one can reach for the stars even from middle-class backgrounds with just passion and individual effort inspite of all the drawbacks of "the system". The Indian economy opening up around the same time made it all the more spectular and just an exciting time to live and experience everything happening.

I always thought that one of the striking features of ARR's music is that he is able to blend the right amount of Western with Indian music. His songs always had that Indian soul in them inspite of sounding pep and contemporary, which imho made his music appeal to wider sections of the society and across age groups.

ganga das said...

thiruda thiruda is the best ever album..
the song then then is just mesmerizing!

Anonymous said...

Which was more responsible for Ilayaraja's fall in the 90's/Rahman's rise - The Ilayaraja KB split or the Ilayaraja Vairamuthu split? Remember Tenali? It was Rahman's album without Vairamuthu and except for swasame, it was strictly mediocre.

Anonymous said...

Blue(Bollywood - 2009) & Rockstar(Bollywood - 2011) :- Simply out of the world

gils said...

i was surprised to see gentleman missing..but SHOCKED to see Kadhalan not finding a mention..."chikku bukku raile" and "ennavale" would be the joint second for me...only to be topped by "take it easy".. and "chinna chinna aasai" divine even today..never realised evn the jing chuk could sound so melodious


Anonymous said...

karuthamma ...thenn merku paruva kaatru ...thoda thoda malar from indira , minnale ..from may maadham ..also madrasa suthi paaka porain again from may maadham , then sevannam from pavithra many more kannalaney ..tanha tanha ..

Anonymous said...

kizhaku seemayile all the songs are awesome, thillana thillana, sahana pookal , anjali anjali ..from duet ...

I am a ComplexNumber said...

Thiruda Thiruda is the best album because it made us hear sounds and acoustics in a tamil movie song...which was *totally new*...

A lot of us needed special bose-like speakers so that we dont miss our even a single "sound"...

Who can forget the "glass-breaking" sounds in Konjam nilavu....

Thanks for choosing that as the top most song...

theepr said...

really a stunning experience even reading about arr. I just completely gone away! I could read articles like this lov U all