Aug 16 2012
The phrase ‘dawn of a new era’ is thrown around rather carelessly these days as it is used to refer to anything new or different from the norm. But few, if any, will dispute that August 15, 1992 truly marked the beginning of a new era in Tamil film music. That was the day Manirathnam’s Roja released, introducing to us a brand new music director A. R. Rahman. 20 years later, Rahman is going strong, still giving us the feeling that there’s a lot more to come.
Whenever someone new comes along and is viewed as the one who will topple from the top, someone else who is close to our hearts, the immediate feeling that arises is one of dislike. That was my feeling towards ARR when I heard that he rather than Ilaiyaraja would be composing music for Manirathnam’s next film. The primary target of my anger was of course Manirathnam. How could he not work with someone who had given him songs like Idhayam Oru Koyil…, Poo Maalaiye…, Nilaave Vaa…, Thenpaandi Seemaiyile…, Ninnukkori…, Anjali… and Raakkamma Kaiya Thattu…?! How could he make a movie without the background score that brought to life every scene in films like Naayagan, Agni Natchathiram and Idhayathai Thirudaadhey? I felt a sense of betrayal and viewed Manirathnam as someone who was ungrateful and disloyal. But some of that feeling rubbed off on the new music director too. Though I knew little about him, I looked at him as an usurper; as someone who was too small for those big shoes he was expected to fill.
With feelings like those, I never bought the Roja audio cassette when it was released. But it wasn’t long before the songs started blaring from loudspeakers pretty much everywhere. And as I listened to them, I understood the meaning of the phrase ‘mixed emotions’! I didn’t want to like the songs but I couldn’t help myself. The exhuberant Chinna Chinna Aasai…. The incredibly romantic Pudhu Vellai Mazhai…. The melodious Kaadhal Rojaave…, which managed to exist in the space between a love song and a pathos number. The fun Rukkumani…. And the patriotic Thamizhaa Thamizhaa…. As I listened to the songs I had to admit that Rahman had pulled it off.
While Udhayam theater’s sound system and Manirathnam’s picturization made the songs even better when watching Roja on the big screen, ARR’s background score didn’t make much of an impact initially. But his bgm during the flag-burning sequence made me an instant – even if still reluctant – fan. The music and the chorus as Arvind Swamy charged the terrorists and then doused the burning Indian flag with his body were rousing and exhilarating and capable of igniting patriotism in even the most jaded of hearts.
As good as the songs in Roja were, the Ilaiyaraja fan in me still felt that the album could be a flash in the pan and that ARR could be a one-hit wonder. But as albums like Puthiya Mugam and Gentleman came out, it was clear that he was here to stay. And as he delivered hits with remarkable consistency, introducing us to new sounds and new singers with each new album, I started looking forward to his albums eagerly. He . He was able to soothe us with songs like Kannukku Mai Azhagu…, Ennavale…, Anjali Anjali… and Nila Kaaigiradhu… just as easily as he was able to make us dance with numbers like Oorvasi… and Mukkaala Mukkaabla…. For a while there was the impression that he had a rather narrow range and could compose only western music. But it wasn’t long before he crushed that impression and proved that he was at home in rural films too with hits like Aathangara Marame…, Poraale Ponnuthaayi… and one of my personal favorites, Pennalla Pennalla….
The next big step for ARR came in 1995 when he stepped into Hindi films. Thanks to films like Roja and Bombay, he was already known to Hindi audiences. But it was only after Ramgopal Verma introduced him in Rangeela that he became a national sensation as Urmila swayed and danced to his tunes like Tanha Tanha… and Rangeela Re….
Its hard to imagine now but he delivered more than 5 soundtracks annually in those years and had a remarkable success ratio as he gave us soundtracks for films like Indian, Minsaara Kanavu, Iruvar, Jeans, Dil Se, Taal, Alaipayuthey, Lagaan, Kannathil Muthamittaal and Rang De Basanti(another one of my all-time favorites) and Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na.
After progressing from ad jingles to Tamil films to Hindi films, the next step was going global and that chance came when ARR composed the music for Slumdog Millionaire. The catchy and inspiring Jai Ho… became a global catchphrase and the world truly became his stage as he won 2 Oscars at Hollywood’s glitziest night. If one talks about Tamil cinema’s defining, most exhilarating moments in the last decade, hearing ARR utter Ella Pugazhum Iraivanukke at the Oscars would undoubtedly rank right up there. He has since composed music for a couple of mainstream Hollywood releases and is definitely a well-recognized name in Hollywood. Its difficult to say what he can do to top what he has achieved and where he is today.
As he steps into the 3rd decade of his career, ARR has composed so many hit songs and albums, has earned himself millions of fans, has won several laurels and awards and is associated with some of the biggest, most prestigious films being made right now(Kochadaiyaan, Kadal, I, Yash Chopra’s next with Shah Rukh Khan). But the words ‘Music by A.R.Rahman’ on a soundtrack cover still give rise to the same kind of anticipation, excitement and fervor that they did 20 years ago. That may just be his biggest achievement. Jai Ho!
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