Today (August 15th), A.R.Rahman celebrates 20 years in the film industry. I have been reading with interest, quite a few Facebook posts and blog posts with different people on their 20 best Rahman songs or soundtracks. If I were to write one such, it would be derivative. Instead, I wanted to relive that part of my life where I grew up listening to ARR (as he is known to most).
In 1992, I was (and continue to be) a big fan of Tamil film music’s then superstar- maestro Ilayaraaja. One morning at school, my good friends Kishore and Sriram pointed me to a new album from a new music composer A.R.Rahman titled Roja. I heard the tape and was just awestruck by the instrumentation and the completely fresh take on music. I mean it was utterly and completely different from everything we had heard before. Given my loyalty to Raaja, I was reserved in my praise for ARR. In an industry of one hit wonders, what guarantee did one have that ARR wouldn’t be one such?. History would prove me completely and utterly wrong but more on that later.
With Roja, ARR had arrived and he was the toast of the young crowd. While I have grown to love “Pudhu Vellai Mazhai” more than the rest of the album, at its time, “Rukkumani” was my favorite. Add to it, Mani’s spectacular picturisation and two young stars in Arvind Swamy and Madhu and a blockbuster was born. Blockbusters like Indian, Gentleman, Pudhiya Mugam (musically speaking), Bombay, Thiruda Thiruda, Duet and many many more cemented ARR’s cult status.
I remember listening to “Mettu Podu” and “En Kadhale” from Duet over and over again. There was a purity in those compositions unlike any other. Thiruda Thiruda ushered in a completely different and unique set of voices and instruments that would never be reproduced.
The following years a routine was established- Sriram (the most intense of all my Rahman fan friends) would scrounge for any little bit of info on ARR’s next big release. I would visit my local cassette shop which also happened to be the Coimbatore distributor for a bunch of audio companies. The week of release would be epic. I would visit the shop multiple times in a day. Tapes would be made available to other local retail shops prior to official retail release. But I wanted the tape in that window before the world got it. I would listen to the tracks and then call Sriram to update him on how the music was. He would be haunting the shops in Sai Baba Colony while Kishore would visit shops in R.S. Puram like Saraswathi Stores and Ceedees Pujak to get their respective copies. The next day, after school, we would convene at Sriram’s place or Kishore’s house for a joint listening session. Sriram would continue his listening through the day- 7-8 times of the entire album. He was that much into ARR’s music.
An interesting offshoot of the Rahmania was having to see the movies. This was unfortunately not the greatest of experiences. We ended up watching pretty average movies like Pudhiya Mugam, Indira and what not to real bad ones like Rakshagan and Vandicholai Chinrasu. All in the name of ARR’s music.
School was soon over and we all went our ways to college. We werent as much in touch as before (a shame really, given how close we were in school). But the love for ARR’s music lived long after. Even today, we talk fondly of ARR’s old and new releases. We are much older. Some of us have kids. But ARR’s music reminds us of who and when we were young once. When a young musician’s music wowed us and brought us together just as he brought an entire nation together with his enchanting music.
Here is to wishing many more years of fantastic music from ARR…