Music in Manirathnam movies (Part 2- The Rahman years) – From Chinna Chinna Aasai to Dil Se Re…

Last week, in the first of now three posts on music in Manirathnam’s movies, I talked about the prolific and timeless collaboration that Mani and Isaignani Ilayaraja conjured up. Since then, Manirathnam’s latest movie, Kadal has released to average reviews. But we are not here in this blog to talk about the box office prospects of a movie. We are here purely for the music. In that vein, the show will go on. The second post on this topic features the first 10 years of the 20 year old partnership between Manirathnam and Isaipuyal A.R.Rahman


The whizkid jingle composer meets the whizkid director

In the early nineties, as Manirathnam was looking for a new music director to replace his faithful Ilayaraja (for reasons we still dont know), he came across a whizkid ad music and jingle composer, Allarakha Rahman. And thus began one of the most celebrated relationships in film music history. The first movie to come out of this partnership was “Roja” in 1992. It took the entire country by storm. Here was a completely fresh take on music with fresh new voices. It felt totally new and unlike anything else we were used to at that time.

From the sweet innocence of “Chinna Chinna Aasai” to the rollicking “Rukkumani” (which explodes in bass in the theater) and the timeless SPB classic “Kadhal Rojave” to the wonderfully touching “Tamizha Tamizha”, it was brilliant. To me, the standout piece was the gorgeously shot and wonderfully sung romantic piece, “Pudhu Vellai Mazhai”. It was sheer magic. A.R.Rahman had arrived.

Cops and Robbers

The whole country waited with baited breath to see what would come next for the young genius. It was to be the cult classic “Thiruda Thiruda”. Critics may have panned the lighthearted caper movie. But to me, it was an excellent masala entertainer with gorgeous visuals and brilliant music. A.R.Rahman delivered a huge hit with “Thiruda Thiruda”- songs that ranged from the sexy to the bombastic. From romantic to sheer fun. A soundtrack for all tastes.

Some dug into the soaring vocals and visuals of “Veerapandi Kottayile”. Others were blown away by the powerful voice of Anupama and her rendition of “Konjam Nilavu” (and yes, the visuals). Some (myself included) connected with the sweet and operatic “Putham Pudhu Bhoomi Vendum” while others fell for the dramatic visuals and the earthy sexiness of “Thee Thee” or the boisterous “Kannum Kannum”. I fell for everything but more so for the raw vocals of late Shahul Hameed and the almost a capella style rendition of “Rasathi”. It felt real and Hameed made it hauntingly so.

Going national

While Roja was a big hit across the country in its dubbed form, Mani itched to make a truly national movie. The 1993 Bombay riots offered a backdrop for a truly patriotic and national unity driven script in the form of “Bombay”.  And A.R.Rahman delivered a soulful soundtrack for the sensitive movie. There were the light hearted and fun pieces like “Humma” and “Kuchi Kuchi Rakkamma”, the Hariharan breakout piece “Uyire”, the Chitra chartbuster “Kannalane”. I fell hook, line and sinker for “Poovukkenna Poottu” – a wonderful piece that represents the joy of impending parenthood in entirety. But the real star of the movie was its haunting bgm. Every scene needed its own voice to speak for the unspoken and forbidden love (the epic “pasanipa”), and later the sadness and horrors of the riots. And A.R.Rahman gave it the voice it deserved. He also gave the movie its own theme. One that resonated with everything Mani wanted to convey and more.  

 The politician and the star

Tamil cinema and politics have been inextricably intertwined since the nation’s independence. And the relationship that truly shaped the last 40 years of it was that of ex Chief Minister and writer M.Karunanidhi and late Chief Minister and superstar M.G.Ramachandran. Mani built his next movie around their relationship. Iruvar stands as one of tamil cinema and even India’s finest political movies and one that truly shines when the viewer understands the context and history. A.R.Rahman had to come up with something that went with the times and still appealing to the current generation. And he delivered. 

Iruvar is like your aged balsamic vinegar (what is the point of using the old wine metaphor when you don’t drink). The older it gets, the better it tastes. Iruvar offers the discerning viewer and listener one such experience. The music gets richer with age as does the movie. The choice of singers is also spot on- Asha Bhonsle delivers a sultry “Vennila Vennila” , Hariharan belts the uncannily MGR reminding “Kannai katti kolladhe”, Mano belts another MGResq “Aayirathil Naan oruvan” and new voice Sandhya rendering “Pookodiyin” that sounds so much like P.Susheela that you would think its Susheela otherwise. Speaking of Pookodiyin- if this doesnt remind you of the romantic set pieces of 1960, nothing else will. Harini offers a very jazzy “Hello Mister Edhirkatchi” which is splendidly picturised on the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai. To me, the standout piece is the lushly picturized and beautifully written “Narumugaye” sung by P.Unnikrishnan and Bombay Jayashri.

A side note for most of the songs in Iruvar- they are set within the context of the movie. There are frequent interruptions and retakes that make it an engaging and unique experience. And a last note on this movie- just watch this scene. There is some background music but its all about the words. 

 National Stage

By this point, the national stage beckoned Mani and he couldnt ignore it any longer. In 1998, Jhamu Sughandh and Bharat Shah launched what was to be Mani’s opus. It featured national stars in Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala with a debutante Priety Zinta. A.R.Rahman and Gulzar collaborated on the music and Mani made his first true Hindi movie in Dil Se and it was dubbed and released in tamil as Uyire. The movie bombed but the soundtrack went to become a classic for the ages. 

Dil Se’s soundtrack really starts with “Chaiyya Chaiyya”. I fondly refer to it as one of the rare perfect pieces in cinema. A song written, composed, sung and picturised to perfection. Nothing was wrong really and everything just is perfect. Gulzar(Vairamuthu’s lyrics) found their voice with Sukhwinder Singh and Swapna Awasti(Malgudi Shubha). SRK and Malaika Arora danced on top of a train and the world seemed to stop to watch it. 

 Sample this:

unnaal enmanam adaindhadhu paadhi

unnaal enmanam izhandhadhu paadhi

kaadhal joadhiyae vaazhvin meedhiyae

dhaevadhai nee meyyoa poyyoa


But here is the kicker. To many Chaiyya Chaiyya was not necessarily the best the film had to offer. The soundtrack and the picturisation was so good, it was hard to pick one definitive best. To some, the enigmatic “Satrangi Re” was the one. Who else could deliver a song that encompassed .To others, Rahman’s raw vocals in the title track “Dil Se Re” was the winner. And many a fan fell for the dimpled Zinta in the lush backwaters of Kerala in “Jiya Jale”. I love all the songs in the movie. A lot. But I would personally direct you to the rich vocals and the mesmerizing pull of “ Ai Ajnabi”. It just feels right.

What next?

When I started this series, I was hoping to do all of Mani-ARR stuff in one post. Turns out that would make this too long. So look for the concluding part of this trilogy in a week to ten days.

Until then, enjoy the early part of Manirathnam and A.R.Rahman’s collaboration. The public playlist for the songs featured in this post are here

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