One of the best use of saxophones in a soundtrack came in Duet, and AR Rahman without an ounce of doubt used this to great effect to present us with what was arguably his his most diverse albums so early in his career. Duet, a tragic love story featuring Prabhu Ganesan and Ramesh Arvind which was directed by K Balachander, featured ARR’s first collaboration with the famed KB. KB’s script and tempo resulted in an amazing, word-class score that feature timeless classics that remains relevant until today, including songs such as Anjali Anjali, Vennilavin Therril, and En Kadhale, which were great romantic compositions.
There were also quirky numbers such as Kathirikka and Kulicha Kuthalam, and also Mettepodu, a sweetly composed introduction song.
The background score, regardless to say, is a masterclass of its own.
Dil Se/Uyire (1998)
I mean, I can’t possibly compile a list of ARR’s top ten soundtracks without including in it a movie directed by Maniratnam, ARR’s guru and mentor, right? It is difficult to pick what has been the duo’s best collaboration, but Dil Se/Uyire was definitely a bilingual marvel. The music was such a marvel that it peppered cracks in the movie itself, and shot Shah Rukh Khan into some sort of global fame.
The original soundtrack was in Hindi for Dil Se, which was Maniratnam’s first attempt at a full on Hindi film, while the music was replicated for the Tamil dubbed version, Uyire.
Chaiyya Chaiyya was the song that won most popularity, and remains extremely famous to date. It has been featured in more than one Hollywood productions, and that image of Shah Rukh dancing atop a moving train became an iconic image that propelled ARR, and by extension Shah Rukh, into global recognition.
Jiya Jale head a beautiful raaga to it set in Kerala, and sung by the inimitable Lata Mageshkar, and has gone one to become another timeless classic of its own. It’s Tamil version, Nenjinile, was sung by another female singing legend, S Janaki, and was good on its own stead.
Dil Se Re, and Sandhosha Kannire, the Hindi and Tamil versions of ARR’s own romantic rendition in the backdrop of bombs and wonderful scenery in war-torn north India, is a majestic composition which was sung with such fervour and passion by the composer himself. The lyrics from Gulzar and Vairamuthu encapsulated one-sided passion in love so well.
Saatrangi Re explained the theme of the entire movie, which is the seven shades of love leading to obsession. Its setting in a dessert and ARR’s rather Arabic influences to the music added to the enigma.
But the best underrated jewel in this album is “Poongatrile”, the Tamil version of the Hindi original “E Ajnabi”. Unni Mennon brings out such pang and such depression in his voice and you can almost “feel” this heartbreaking song of a lover’s yearning. The Hindi version, in my opinion, did not replicate that magical level of emotion because Udit Narayanan’s voice didn’t contain just as much emotions.
Dil Se and Uyire were magical albums that deserve to be one of the best works a music composer had ever produced, world over. It is arguably the best ARR work. Yes, ARGUABLY. It’s bit redundant to say that when I’m compiling a list of his ten best albums and I’ve just place this album at number four. That’s because there are three albums that are more majestic, better, and perhaps more underrated than this. Read below.
What can be better than Dil Se? One word-ROCKSTAR. This was one album of Rahman’s recent works that completely blew me away and would have jerked any music connoseiuers off their comfortable seats.
I have already reviewed the album before on this same website here: http://www.ramyuva.com/voice-of-the-winds/378/
But heck, it’s so good I’ll repeat my laurels. Rockstar was ARR’s maiden collaboration with Imtiaz Ali (the second one was Highway, which also featured in part one of this list), but given that the movie was, well, about a troubled “Rockstar” and his troubled love story, the rich variation of emotions that came in this album is stuff legends, no, stuff of folklore even. Mohit Chauhan delivered a singing masterclass, singing almost all of the songs in the album as ARR and Imtiaz uniquely attempted to retain the authenticity of Ranbir Kapoor’s performance.
Phir Se Ud Chala was a brilliant and Jo Bhi Main were soul singing at its best, while Kateya Karun brought forth the quirky Punjabi music elements.
Kun Faya Kun sits right up there with AR Rahman’s best Sufi masterpieces, while Sheher Mein demonstrated Mohit’s singing prowess. Hava Hava had a distinct Eastern European touch to it, while Aur Ho had so much passion and grandeur.
Tum Ko and Tum Ho were two beautiful renditions of slow melody in female and male voices respectively, something ARR is so good at doing regularly.
The best two, however, would be Nadaan Parindey, a legendary composition on which ARR and Mohit combine behind the mic to encapsulate the lead character’s angst, yearning and love with generous use of soulful rock music, and of course, Saadda Haq.
The latter is a one-of-a-kind, brilliant, timeless nerve pumper which is akin to holding the middle finger to capitalism and the system it perpetuates. It’s a song any political revolutionary can sign to the power elites, at any corner in the world. A blood rush can can typify any mass demonstration or major rally in this world.
Rockstar gave ARR the opportunity to delve into rock music and capture the sojourn of a musician’s life. It was an opportunity he did not miss to deliver the third best work of his career, in my view.
Iruvar isn’t about the songs alone. Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman’s best combination to date, both musically, and cinematically, is also about AR Rahman’s best background music work in his career, added to it songs that retained a period era feeling but were highly delectable on its own right.
The film was peppered with beautiful rendition of poems, recited by Arvind Swamy, and two such examples in the soundtrack, Udal Mannuku and Unnodu Naan Irundha, typifies this. The minimal instruments but the heightened emotion in each poem gave the words of a poet a brilliant platform to shine on. Also check out the background music in the climax scene of the movie, shortly before, and during Prakash Raj’s recital of a heart wrenching poem mourning the loss of a friend in an empty hall while the old friend’s body is being paraded in the streets filled with crowd. If you never lived you to feel how MGR’s funeral might have been, this scene would have given you an idea.
There is also this one scene where Mohanlal’s character is introduced to a huge crowd waiting downstairs of his home by Prakash Raj. The music that accompanies the gesture of slowly raising one’s hand to the crowd and the crowd going berserk is why this was a world-class movie with world class musical work.
The songs were timeless as well. Kannai Kattikolathey and Aayirathil Naan Oruvan is like listening to MGR’s best hits being remastered and rebranded to make them sound contemporary, catchy and periodic at the same time. They remain unique compositions that still fall sweetly on the ears almost 20 years after being produced.
Narumugaiye is high on the ARR’s classical qualities, a combination of two distinct raagas, and a brilliant composition. Vennila Venilla is a jazzy number with a classy treatment, so is Hello Mr Ethirkachi, which is faster and catchier. Pookodiyin Punnagai is another brilliant slow melody reminiscent of movies of old.
Mastery. Legacy. AR Rahman’s had always, in his entire career, been most passionate about patriotism more than anything else. Very few ARR works tops works that he does for movies or albums that carry a patriotic statement. I have no doubts in my mind, in my decades of following his work, Swades is one album whose level of depth, genius of music, and overall feel is almost unmatched. It can give even a person who had never been to India a glimpse of how you will fall in love with India despite its imperfections. The background score, for which ARR won a Filmfare Award, can move you to tears. Shah Rukh Khan delivered was was arguably his most restrained, best performance over the past decade. He felt the script. He felt the music. The emotions showed in his eyes. Ashutosh Gowariker treated the film as carefully, as patiently, as a father would bring up his daughter, or a son would find beauty in an ailing mother.
This film’s music was all about beauty. In every word that Javed Akhtar penned, in every tabla beat that came with the music, with every scenery of rural India. This was just a complete musical experience, unmatched, unrivalled. The work of a lifetime.
Yeh Tara Woh Taara can make you smile and cry at the same time if you had understood the lyrics and had watched it with the video. Udit Narayanan’s rendition won him a National Award. At over seven minutes long, this song is a marvel that didn’t try to overshadow brilliant lyrics that had so much of depth and message, but at the same time, had great music that can send you to someplace beyond earth. When they say God is in Music, I understand that through many ARR compositions, but this album has many such songs, and this is one of it.
Saanwariya had such sweetness and innocence in it and was very sweet to the ears. Alka Yagnik’s voice was pitch perfect for the song, and it was one song where Gayatri Joshi’s simple beauty was encapsulated.
Yu Hi Chala was a song that had defined my entire life, from the moment I heard it. Javed’s lyrics were a masterpiece. The picturisation by Ashutosh, having Shah Rukh sit in a caravan along with a quirky saadhu who was showing him the path on a gravel road, with the lyrics blaring about how the traveller keeps on travelling in an unknown road were stuff of magic. The song talks about ambiguity of life- appreciating beauty while not knowing your final destination. That’s life. That’s how a journey should be. Sitting atop a caravan and enjoying good music while not knowing where you are heading to. Hariharan’s voice was sweet, Udit gave passion to the song, while Kailash Kher was brilliant as the voice of the saadhu, who through the words of the saadhu, says the wisest things you will ever hear being written in film lyrics. The song of my lifetime.
Aahista Aahista had such pain, longing and nostalgia packed inside it, that it is another brilliant composition. It is one song that you would love to close your eyes to, and enjoy the emotions poring through it. Udit Narayan and Sadhana Sargam combine to great effect here, but the dubbed Tamil version, Thai Sonna Thallatu packs an even better punch- with KJ Yesudas’ voice tugging at your heartstrings. This song might be slow, but you must be missing a lot on life’s finer details if you can’t appreciate the beauty this number entails. This was written soulfully, and composed even more soulfully. By someone who was in touch with the elements around him.
Yeh Jo Des Hera Tera had already become a song for a generation. ARR goes behind the mic and delivers the best rendition he had ever done for a song. There’s so much subtle longing and passion in this song, so much so you can imagine the character’s struggle without having to watch the scene. Lyrics such as “your motherland is calling out to you…” takes patriotism and one’s affection to homeland to a new level. The love of a man to his motherland, and the need his motherland has for him, as never been married so well as it did in this song. This song can move you to tears, no matter which country you are from. Try going away from home for a long time, and when you miss it, listen to this song.
Paal Paal Hi Bhaari was another peach of a beauty from Madushree and Vijay Prakash. It is the sweetest song you can imagine Seetha singing while being kidnapped by Raavanan. The use of the Ramayan analogy to relate to struggles in a rural village was brilliant, and so was ARR’s flute-based composition.
Dekho Na is a slow romantic song that builds up nicely and is extremely sweet to hear to. Not to forget, the album has two magical instrumentals, a flute-only version of Paal Paal performed by Naveen and a shehnai-only version of Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera, performed by Madhukar T Dhumal.
I basically ran out of superlatives praising this album. End of. Nothing more to say.
I rest my case. AR Rahman’s best works were spread throughout his career. Not just 90s. You are musically deaf if you don’t appreciate how he had innovated himself and music for the industry.
And give us some more albums to make this list seem irrelevant.