Celebrating a Prodigy: 30 years of AR Rahman’s world of Music!

To many many more years of soulful music!

It was the year 1992.  Mani Ratnam, a leading director in the Tamil film industry, approached A R Rahman to compose music for his 11th film, ‘Roja’ starring Aravind Swamy and Madhubala. There is no doubt that the movie was and still is a grand hit. But, it was an important year in the history of Tamil cinema and music, as a prodigy, the one and only AR Rahman was brought to limelight. With his first album, he showed us the heights he could go as a Music director. From Roja in 1992 to Atrangi Re in 2021 and a huge lineup in 2022, AR Rahman is still the prodigy he was, 30 years ago!

This year, Rahman celebrates his 55th birthday. As a composer, the artist stands out for so many reasons. Rahman’s songs are unforgettable, more so because he has a song for every occasion Now, every single album of Rahman is unique for some reason and is worth a mention, but the list is too long. So, we stick to the best ones, the ones for which we mostly celebrate Rahman today. 

Roja’s Pudhu Vellai Mazhai background score is what we should begin this list with. The climax scene where Roja finally gets her Rishi back and hugs him with all the love and concern is still etched in our hearts because of the Kadhal Rojave that runs in the background, perfectly explaining the emotions Roja goes through at that very moment. 


Cut to 1998, Rahman composed music for Shankar’s Jeans. Just one scene and its background score is enough to explain Rahman’s work in the movie. After the intermission, Aishwarya Rai dons a new avatar. An innocent Vaishnavi gets off the train and the hero falls in love with her at first sight. The music in the background is enough for us to not only make sense of what is happening, but also become Vaishnavi or Ramamurthy at that very minute. 


In the same year, Rahman gave us an anthem of sorts with Shahrukh Khan literally shaking his feet to Chaiyya Chaiyya on top of a train. A song that is still very Indian in its origin, Chaiya Chaiya still makes us want to stop everything we’re doing and go ‘Chaiya Chaiya’ with our body. This song from Dil se, made even the non-dancers dance. 


Now, coming to the most celebrated movie of Mani Ratnam and the album of Rahman, Alaipayuthey. The movie and the songs go hand in hand. Karthik looks at Shakthi and falls in love with, then sings Pachai Nirame as he imagines her around him. When Hariharan goes ‘Manjal Manjal Manjal’ in Rahman’s wonderful music, we just lose our mind over the song for a second.


Immediately after Alaipayuthey, Rahman gave us Kandukondain Kandukondain. The movie has a whole range of emotions and pairings and the music did just the required justice to those emotions and sentiments. The movie has Bharathi’s ‘Sutrum Vizhi Sudar’ when Srikanth first meets Meenakshi. The same movie also has ‘Enge enathu kavithai’ when Meenakshi realises she has lost her Srikanth. The song ‘Enna solla pogirai’ is enough for us to relive the entire love journey of Manohar and Sowmya. Indeed an unforgettable album with all songs that became a hit. 


Aayutha Ezhuthu makes its way into this list for just one song out of the lot. The clubbing culture was being discovered by millennials back when Aayutha Ezhuthu came out in 2004. At that perfect moment, Rahman came up with Yakkai Thiri. A song set in a club, engulfing the western idea of party and enjoyment, but keeping it all Indian in music style and lyrics. Yakkai Thiri is one of its kind because no other clubbing song has even come close to this one. 


Jodhaa Akbar, which came out in 2008, was a period film that narrated the story of Akbar and his wife Jodhaa. The movie’s songs stand a class apart, because of the kind of match that the songs had with the visuals. Take for example, ‘Khwaja mere Khwaja’ in the Sufi background and King Akbar losing himself in the sufi song’s trance. Or ‘Jashn-e-bahaara’ for that matter which just slowly brings out the kind of relationship Jodhaa and Akbar share. ‘Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah’ requires special mention as it is still a song that fully brings out royalty and richness. This album of Rahman brings out the colours in the movie, without even having to watch the visuals again. 


This list will be incomplete without doubt, if Slumdog Millionaire is not a part of it. We all still feel the horripilation when we think about that minute the announcement said, “And the Oscar goes to AR Rahman!” ‘Jai Ho’ the song and original score for the film were phenomenal in its making, so much that its outreach was just unimaginable. When we say ‘Jai Ho’ some kind of proud and gratified feeling just automatically comes to our heart. Yes, the movie was a great one, but not without the background score that helped us celebrate the movie as much as we did. 


Entering the 2010 decade, Gautam Vasudev Menon and Rahman joined hands for the first time for Vinnaithandi Varuvaya. Again, the movie has both love and pain and the songs, every single one of them, will always be in our memory forever for the kind of composition and score. ‘Anbil Avan’ for example, is a celebratory song in the feeling which gives us both feelings of celebrations and sadness, because we then know that their relationship is as much a dream as the song portrays it. With Vinnaithandi Varuvaya, Rahman set a different rhythm to the songs and albums he was to compose in the entire decade. 


The next two most mention-worthy albums are Maryan and OK Kanmani. Although both movies embark around the romance journey, Maryan’s tone to romance is very different to that of OK Kanmani. When Maryan misses Panimalar and thinks of her in the desert, looking for a way to escape ‘Netru Aval Irundhal’ just gives us so much yearning, even more than his yearning for her. “Nenjae Yezhu’ for that matter also makes us believe in ourselves. 


The album of OK Kanmani on the other hand, has a very light, breezy, yet traditional touch to it, which goes deep along with the Mani Ratnam’s Aadhi and Tara. Maybe because Rahman has worked on every single movie of Ratnam’s after Roja, their coordination is so perfect that what they produce together is just so unique that can have no comparison whatsoever. OK Kanmani is one such album, because the music takes us lightly through the movie although Naane Varugiren’s score keeps us waiting for the major conflict in their love story. 


Now, there are so many albums and songs that haven’t been mentioned, because then this list will just become endless. While there are many many more hits of Rahman, the last addition to this list are 2 songs, Singapenney and Maadherey from Bigil. Whether Bigil is a women empowerment movie or not is a discussion for another day. But, both these songs summarised what Bigil really wanted to convey to its audience. Singapenney really makes women feel proud of themselves, while Maadhrey acknowledges the struggles women face on a daily basis. These two songs are worth a mention, mainly for this reason. 

As mentioned in the beginning, Rahman is a prodigy and his work cannot be confined to an article or a list. The best reward or recognition Rahman has been getting for 30 years, is the love given to him by us, his fans. AR Rahman’s world of music is a cult that is incomparable whatsoever. Here’s to many many more years of celebrating Rahman and his songs!

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