Rahman’s Rustic Rhythms

I am typing this post as I am listening (yet again) to the latest viral Tamil sensation, “Nenjukkule” – a song from the yet to be unreleased movie “Kadal” directed by famed Tamil movie director Mani Ratnam with music by A.R.Rahman. The song premiered on MTV Unplugged (India) and soon became a must share and must listen among the Rahman faithful on Facebook.


Nenjukkule is a very melodious piece with a very rustic feel to it, befitting the rumored backdrop of the movie. It got me thinking back to some ARR classics I have enjoyed over the years which had a strong rustic flavor to them. Here is my list of some fantastic ARR village themed pieces in the order in which the movies were released.

1. Chinna Chinna Aasai (Roja): No brainer. This launched ARR’s signature orchestration and style to the world. I still remember him humming midway in the song as we are treated to some spectacular visuals of Hogenekkal and Banatheertham Falls. Interestingly, my favorite song from the movie is Puthu Vellai Mazhai which is less rural sounding but phenomenal nevertheless. And there is always Rukkumani.

2. Usilampatti (Gentleman): There is something about the late Shahul Hameed’s voice that lent well to ARR’s village themed pieces. Gentleman was a very urban movie but this song captures the rural visuals and music very well. 

3. Manoothu Mandhayile (Kizhakku Cheemayile): Kizhakku Cheemayile was the first collaboration between “gramathu mann singam” Bharathiraja and ARR. The songs in this movie are fantastic and every one fits the extremely rural nature of the movie to a T. Picking one out of the list is hard but there is something about SPB belting this song over some interesting lyrics from Vairamuthu. Another really rural feeling pick from this movie is Ethukku Pondatti, another Shahul Hameed piece. 

4. Raasathi en usuru (Thiruda Thiruda): One of Rahman’s very best soundtracks. Each song rocks and Raasathi stands out with an a capella feel that is dramatically enhanced with some spectacular visuals. 

5. Porale Ponnuthayi (Karuthamma): Another Bharathiraja- ARR collaboration with great music. “Thenmerku Paruvakatru” with more western instrumentation is a great piece but Porale has a very village feel to it. 

6. Nee kattum selai (Pudhiya Mannargal): An interesting movie with an unestablished Vikram featured good music from ARR. This particular song became incredibly popular at that time and I give it a listen even now. A personal favorite in this movie is Eduda Andha

7. Odakara Marimuthu (Indira): Suhasini Manirathnam’s feature debut as director was little noticed but ARR’s music made a mark with the delectable “Thoda Thoda” and a lush “Nila Kaigiradhu” but SPB belts a very rustic sounding and rousing “Odakara Marimuthu”. 

8. Pachai Kiligal (Indian): It is debatable how rural this piece is but when you give the whole soundtrack a listen, you will understand why I picked this. Amidst a cacaphony on instrumentation, this Yesudas gem set amidst all the greenery one can see, makes one feel right at home in the gramam (village).

9. Mazhai Thuli (Sangamam): A movie with high expectations that turned out to be a damp squib, it nevertheless featured some great music. Much of the movie features local tamil village music and art and this song showcases it very well. 

10. Uppu Karuvadu (Mudhalvan): The once gorgeous Manisha Koirala takes a lot away from this piece but it is steeped in the rubric of South Indian village life. “Mudhalvane” is a pretty neat song in this movie. 

11. Thirupaachi Arivaala (Tajmahal): Here is another controversial pick. I just love this song. Simple as that. I didnt see the movie. Just love the feel of this song and what it conveys of village clan pride.

12. Adi Nenthikitten (Star): Immensely forgettable movie, passable video but just a wonderfully hummable song. The percussion on this piece is fantastic. Be it the ghatam, thavil or kanjira. 

13. Kummi Adi (Sillunu Oru Kaadhal): Forgettable movie. Some good songs but this one stands out. Sirgazhi Siva Chidambaram delivers the killer punch in this piece. 

14. Ballelakka (Sivaji): This song is designed to give the protagonist and the audience a very rural feel. It might seem contrived but SPB packs a wallop with the song and it does look gorgeous. 

If you have followed Tamil film music for all these years, you will notice that the rustic classics are earlier in ARR’s career. As he has become more global in his reach, his rustic projects are not as many and the songs scattered in terms of quality. And this is exactly why “Nenjukkule” is garnering so much attention. It is to many, ARR’s return to roots, with a Maniratnam film no less. I cant wait to hear the rest of the soundtrack. Until then, there is always this list.


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