May 4th 2005…. Chennai mail was zipping through the Deccan plateau amidst sweltering heat…In an unreserved compartment that was almost overflowing; passengers were waiting for the ordeal of the journey to end … There was nothing special …nothing to romanticize about this jaunt!! It was completely an unplanned trip for me and predictably I was languishing on the floor and had been trampled over by passengers, police, ticket examiners, hawkers several times during the 36 hour trip.
But yours truly was then a rookie journalist … an intern with Star News and was looking forward to something really special … An exclusive interview with the Mozart of Madras … A R Rahman … at his Karmabhoomi Panchathan Record Inn in Kodambakkam … It was a twenty five minute appointment with the maestro … Time magazine had picked the Roja soundtrack as one of the top 100 all time great soundtracks.. I finished the interview in exact 22 minutes and was about to leave the studio…. My videographer requested us to talk for a few cutaway shots … I was very very happy inside and was struggling to maintain professional calm in my body language … and a big compliment came from the legend …. He rated the interview as of one the best till date and said a few kind words about my musical ear…. I was about to wind up…. I mentioned that I am an avid fan of the western classical genre … I was promptly asked to name my top three favourite composers … I said Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky and Bartok…. With eyes lit up and a raised eyebrow (out of suspicion that I had mugged up these names to impress him) ARR asked me which Bartok composition was my favourite … “The Wooden Prince, Music for strings, percussion & celesta (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB_PTA4dGws&feature=related) and Divertimento for Strings”, I replied. That answer reversed the roles…. the Maestro rewarded me with 90 minutes of his precious time and asked me several questions about my musical tastes and what enjoyed the most in all genres including his compositions… those two hours will remain etched in my memories forever!
It was not just a big hero worship moment for me … I learnt a lot about music, composition and most importantly how this man takes every opportunity to gauge how his work is being received … and treats even a music enthusiast with such respect and sincerity … But my madness for his music began a decade earlier
1994: Roja Musically those times were so different … Bollywood music had begun to sound stale … There were sparks of acoustic brilliance in Qayamat se Qayamat Tak or Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar … Even Salman Khan’s debut film Maine Pyar Kiya had some interesting numbers … Pehla Nasha Pehla Khumar had left us spellbound … I used to listen to that song again and again … there was no digital player with loop play mode … Listening to a song again and again meant going through rewind-forward process … I was convinced it is difficult to make a better romantic song than Pehla Nasha … You had to be a tough not to be able to tolerate heart wrenching melodies by the likes of Nadeem Shravan with extremely loud and out of tune Dholak tapping on rhythm … Legends like Laxmikant Pyarelal were producing some annoying music that perhaps even they would not like to own up … Remember Roop Ki Rani Choron ka Raja …. or Lamboo ji lambooji !!!
There were a few soothing voices like Udit Narayan ( I love Udit ji for his unique vocal projection … he sounds as if he is smiling and singing … no nasal tone and booming voice … emotional renditions ) & Sadhana Sargam … and some dominating but super monotonous voices like Kumar Sanu …
And how could you ignore those chorus pieces …. 4-5 women trying to evoke romantic emotions in shrill soprano voices doing too roooo rooo and la la la …..
And then ARR arrived like a messiah to rescue us with Roja … Dil hai chhotasa resonated … Rukkamani Rukkamani had thumping percussions ( Sivamani was not such a popular name till then) the Aalap in Roja janeman showed how a small vocal piece can give a song a strong identity … Ye Haseen Wadiyan had the visual appeal and exuberance to take you into open skies .. and Bharat Humko jaan se pyaara hai made your blood boil …
A year later Bombay released … and Naveen Kumar’s enchanting flute with beautifully arranged strings created a magic … Bombay theme was perhaps the first stand alone instrumental track of a movie that became so popular (barring short theme melodies like flute piece in hero etc.)
My dad had introduced me to western classical music and symphonic sound…. and I felt proud that an Indian composer could get that feel in a movie song … Bombay was a complete package … Kehna hi kya was classical based …. with Qawwali style table and harmonium pieces with a touch of Raga Chandrakauns …. Tu Hi Re was a gripping melody … Hamma Hamma introduced us to singer Rahman … Kuchi Kuchi Rakamma had playful energy … and Halla Gulla took me straight to Mumbai’s street music … Post Bombay I started looking forward to ARR’s next release … Which meant I would also pick up Tamil cassettes and check out ARR tracks released down south
A year later in 1995-96 Rahman had scored his golden goal … the final winner …. Rangeela was out … and we were completely bowled over … Film music never sounded like this …. It was fresh … It was revolutionary …. Asha Bhosale’s renditions were youthful and witty … We had never heard rhythm patterns like Rangeela before …. Every track stood out …. Whether it was Yaaron sun lo zara or Rangeela re …. Asha ji simply rocked …. Kya Kare kya naa karein just touched every young boy’s heart … Mangta hai kya bolo was like a culture shock … It was quite different …. iconoclastic … but we just loved it …. Hai rama was seduction portrayed through a classical melody … Spirit of Rangeela sounded so international …. My parents had become helpless since they could never stop me from playing the cassette 24×7 … and all songs were mega hits …. So there was no need to rewind or forward ….
I had become an avid ARR fan …. and within no time two more tamil songs that I heard converted this admiration into passion and hero worship …. Netra Illadha Matram ( Kal nahi tha ye kya hai) and Ennavale adi ennavale (Sun ri Sakhi) convinced me that this man was not just a good composer …. I genuinely felt that this man is going to be a trendsetter … The way Netra illadha started with a grand sitar stroke just shocked me with a pleasant surprise …. and the carnatic violin, flute interludes in Ennavale inspired me to pick up a bansuri and play it …. All ARR cds had a comprehensive list of musician credits … and it was so nice to know the names behind those wonderful sounds …. I had become a Rahmaniac …. I told myself I am going to buy every piece of music this man composes and sells … regardless of the language and medium …
This is how I became ARR devotee at 14 …. and in last 15 years he has been around like a family member …. every song of his is linked to some strong memory …. some vividly visual and some anecdotal … His compositions have always encapsulated a complex spectrum of human emotions and touch our hearts with exquisite ease … Those who called him an overnight wonder have vanished …. Today he is a global figure…. He is the face of India’s commercial music…. And there are multiple facets to his virtuosity …. I am going to try and express my views as an ardent fan and a keen music listener in this 15 part series …. starting today … Those parts are –
1. ARR the sound wizard
2. Music & Technology
3. His singers & musicians
4. Arrangements and Orchestration
5. A director’s delight
6. ARR melodies & Rhythms
8. Background scores
9. Humane side of Rahman
10. Influence of Sufism
11. Cultural ambassador
12. Trend Setter
13. International acclaim
14. Versatile Composer
Would come back soon to talk about ARR’s sound wizardry!!! Till then have a musically pure time!!
1. Anjali Anjali – Duet
2. The Bombay Theme – Bombay
3. Ennavale Adi Ennavale – Kadhalan
4. Tanha Tanha – Rangeela
So go listen and come back with lots of comments
The Bombay theme by ARR is so haunting, reminding of troubled times with just a glint of hope, so many emotions expressed brilliantly through orchestration. For me, it also evokes many what-ifs of those troubled times; would the city have been different today? Just brilliant!
was spellbound listening to his music and after which reading to this article!! fantastic one bro 🙂 almost replica of my thoughts and we wish you to continue this
Thanks Uday … a lot more to share!! hope i am regular this time around
Very nice memories Chinmaye, Keep them coming !
Wow Chinmay well said! loved reading and remembering your and bhave kakas basuri vadan in our good old bayaghar.
Wow ! Was a musical trip down the memory lane.