Today, 6th Jan, is AR Rahman’s birthday!
I shall pick from where Ratnakar left off, in his fantastic tribute to AR Rahman. I had actually started writing this post much earlier, the day after the Oscar ceremony, but when I found that such a beautiful tribute was already adorned to the Mozart from Madras, I changed track and decided to write a sequel starting from post-2001 phase.
So, Lagaan was out and Rahman won the National Award for his mesmerizing music. He had rasied the bar for himself and he was no more competing with any body but himself. The year 2002 was a great mix of fantastic contemporary music as well as classical stuff from the master. For the younger generation there was Saathiya which had the wonderful vocals of Sonu Nigam in the title track, we had Adnan Sami crooning Aye Udi Udi, Sadhna Sargam sang the melodious haunting Chupke Se, while Rahman himself lent his voice to the Mera Yaar Mila De song; all songs written from the magical pen of Gulzar. Rahman was being played all over the place, songs like Humdum Suniyo Re and Chori Pe Chori were being aired repeatedely on radio. Then, there was The Legend Of Bhagat Singh which brought back old memories of freedom struggle. Its always tough to re-create music for songs that have been in public memory for ages, but Rahman was able to carve a niche of his own with his version of Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna and Mera Rang De Basanti Chola. Apart from the patriotic songs like Des Mere Des Mere and Pagdi Sambhal Jatta, there was the romantic touch with smooth numbers like Mahive Mahive and Jogiya Jogiya. While his songs were played with gusto in up-North, down-South was no different where he created a consternation with the music of Baba which sold a million copies off the shelf within a week due to the combo of Rajnikanth and music of Rahman; and his sensitive and touching music in Mani Ratnam’s heart-warming Kannathil Muthamittal for which he won another National Award was excellent.
Rahman was not quite himself in 2003, not many of his albums did well. Although he gave some very good music in movies like Boys and Tehzeeb, it did not live upto the expectations. Meherbaan was one of the songs from Tehzeeb that actually stayed on people’s mind for sometime, but rest of the songs were as forgetable as the movie itself. Even the movie Boys was quite a let down, not many people connected with the movie, the songs were scattered genius, but could not really take-off. The year also saw the release of Rahman’s first international album which was the soundtrack for a Chinese movie called Tian Di Ying Xiong, named Warriors Of Heaven And Earth. The movie had 16 tracks, in which the theme song Mirage was recorded in 3 languages…Mandarin, English and Hindi. After the release of the movie, the soundtrack was released in a separate album titled Between Heaven And Earth.
After 1994 wherein Rahman had 10 music releases, 2004 was his next busiest year with release of another 10 albums, the best one being Swades. The movie was brilliant and the soundtrack was an amazing mix of patriotism, romance, lullaby, dramatic stuff in the form of ram-leela. Ye Jo Des Hai Tera, wonderfully sung by Rahman, is one of the best songs that I have heard; it has pain, patriotism, emotions and the pangs of separation from motherland. The lorie Ahista Ahista starts off softly and beautifully and ends in a crescendo with Udit Narayan doing total justice to the lullaby. The ram-leela song Pal Pal Hai Bhari gives the feeling of a live drama and the lyrics complement it very well. Both the romantic songs, Saawariya and Dekho Na, had its heart in the right place. And Yuhi Chala Chal is a typical road-song which moves from preachy to passionate lyrics. All the songs were penned by Javed Akhtar who did a terrific job with the lyrics and the thought process behind them.
Yuva also released in the same year. The song Fanaa had a dizzying feel to it while Khuda Hafiz felt like a dip in the pool of music. Kabhi Neem Neem and Badal Jo Aye were soft and sweet numbers while Dhakka Laga Buka and Dol Dol were fast paced numbers. The beauty of Rahman’s albums is the mix that he comes up with, there is always something for everybody. While Yuva and Swades had some great songs, Meenaxi-A Tale of Three Cities and Lakeer-Forbidden Lines were just lack-lustre. Ye Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai and Chinnamma Chilakkamma was hummable but did not have the same Rahman feel to it. While the music of Lakeer and Dil Ne Kise Apna Kaha was indifferent. Rahman did a small guest number in Subhash Ghai’s Kisna and gave, the otherwise dull movie, one good song in the form of Hum Hain Iss Pal Yahan and a good theme music. Rahman also had a couple of Tamil releases, best of them being New. The film took a great opening, but ran into controvery in 2005, with the Madras High Court banning the movie on the grounds that it aroused sexual feelings in youngsters. Nevertheless, the music was a runaway success.
Then came the music of Mangal Pandey in 2005. I loved the music of the movie, I liked the movie too. Once again, there was a heady mix of patriotism, a ballad number, courtesan song and a Holi song. The title track sung by Kailash Kher had a nice ring to it and it went to the extent of becoming a trance, such was the magic of Rahman. Tumhari Adaon Pe Mai Vari Vari was too soft to be a courtesan number, but the way Rahman used the payal-jhankar worked for it. The Holi number Dekho Ayi Holi, which also featured Aamir Khan saying a few lines, is a much under estimated Holi song. It has all the touches of a Holi number, but could not quite get the recognition because of the movie’s short stay at theatres. The ballad number O Chhalia O Rasiya was nice too, a really good attempt in this genre.
The music of Water was also released the same year. The music did not work for a lot of people because it had a strong classical touch, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The sad and haunting tracks Naina Neer Bahaye and Piyo Ho are heart-wrenching and brings a lump in the throat. Vaishnavo Janto is beautifully re-created by Rahman; the only happy songs were Shyam Rang Bhar Do and Ayo Re Sakhi; but the movie had some great background instrumental tracks. It was a collector’s album and certainly not meant for the masses.
The music that the masses swoon for, came in 2006, in the form of Rang De Basanti. Another smashing hit from Rahman with a great title track sung by Daler Mehendi, and a fantastic collection of songs ranging from sufi based Khalbali to country music of Roobaroo, from the revolutionary Khoon Chala to the romantic Tu Bin Bataye, and from the melodic Luka Chhupi to rebellious Apni To Paathshala. It also had a bonus in the form of Aamir Khan mouthing Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna with the brilliant background chorus, really inspiring. The music took the movie to another level altogether, the lyrics by Prasoon Joshi reflected the mundane, preachy, patriotic and romance so well. Rahman’s touch was evident all through the album.
Rajnikanth’s much awaited Shankar directed movie Sivaji came with a bang in 2007. This was the third album for Rajni-Rahman combo, and the album was a huge hit. The song I am white, also called Style, was much appreciated by the masses for Rajnikanth’s make-up and the parrot colored hair dyes. Athiradee featured Rajni saving a girl from a gang-bang where he makes an appearance on a bike with a guitar, Rahman lent his own voice to this song. The song Vaaji had elaborate sets, a la Bhansali, where Rajni is treated like a king. The album also had a romantic song sung by Udit Narayan and Chinmayi called Sahana. Each and every song highlighted Rajni in a different manner and Rahman struck the right chords.
In the same year came Mani Ratnam’s movie Guru. The music of this movie was not a major hit unlike his other Mani Ratnam’s movies, but it was good nonetheless. Barso Re Megha showcased Shreya Ghosal’s learnings of classical music, and Aye Hairathe Aashiqui was soothing to the ears with the delicate voices of Hariharan and Alka Yagnik. But the toast of the album was Rahman’s vocals in Tere Bina, ably supported by Chinmayi. Maiyya Maiyya displayed Rahman’s talent with Persian music and the belly-dance rhythm and Jaage Hain was another masterpiece which had such inspirational lyrics, I only wished that it went on a little longer. In the same year came Rahman’s soundtrack and background score for Elizabeth-The Golden Age in association with Craig Armstrong.
But the most important year for Rahman’s career came in 2008, wherein he was heard in 5 different albums and each from a different genre. Jodha-Akbar was a periodical tale of the Mughal story, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na was for the youth of today who appreciate peppy numbers like Pappu Cant Dance Saala, then there was Ghajini which was a typical masala movie with songs like Guzarish and Behka Mai Behka. Subhash Ghai came out with his Yuvraaj, but the sound of this movie was a little off-track. The only songs that stayed with people was Tu Meri Dost Hai and Tu Muskura. People forgot the movie faster than they forgot the songs. And then came the music of Slumdog Millionaire which won him the BAFTA and Golden Globe. Although, he has given much better music than this, fate would have it otherwise. His soundtrack won him two Oscars as well, for Original Song and Original Score.
Rahman’s strength lies in his great understanding of music from different regions. The way he grasped the pahadi touch in Kariye Na in Taal, the punjabi flavour in title track of Rang De Basanti and Pagdi Sambhal Jatta, the Bengali influence in Kabhi Neem Neem, the Persian sounds in Maiyya Maiyya, its just incredible. Whether he is producing music for Water or for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, whether its Guru or Provoked, whether its Yuva or Swades, which are movies of different genre and different themes, but one thing that stands out is his great sense of music, his wonderful sense of rhythm and understanding the context of the movie.
I want to mention two other particular things about his music. Just listen to his Quawallis/Sufi music in Piya Haji Ali, Khwaja Mere Khwaja, Arziyan and Satrangi Re, Chhaiyya Chhaiyya and you can actually breathe the music. His deep understanding of the music for the soul is unbeatable. At the same time pick up his bhajans like O Palanhare or Eshwar Ya Allah Ye Pukar Sunle or Ek Onkar or Eshwar Allah Tere Jahan Mei or Man Mohana, and its soul-stirring. Rahman’s music is divine, a gift of God. No wonder that when he won the Ocsar he said “All my life I’ve had a choice of hate and love. I chose love and I’m here. God bless”
This post was first published on PFC