Who am I, a mere blogger to talk about the Mozart of Madras? I am not a musical prodigy and I do not belong to a musical family. Come to think of it, I haven’t even played a full game of musical chair! But, I somehow think that I have some music in me, perhaps because I spent the best part of my life in the music mad city of Chennai, perhaps because I spent much of the idea forming stage of my life in its musical sea shore. Or may be, like crores of others, I find that songs and music are part of my life. And this I think entitles me to talk about ARR. I am one of those who think that they are the biggest fans of ARR, one of those who wait for the announcement of a Mani Ratnam or Shankar movie so that we get to listen to ARR. Much as I can appreciate and admire Ilayaraja, I like ARR better. Perhaps because I grew up with him.
Comparing ARR’s creations and trying to find out which is best and which ones I like better is for sure going to be a futile attempt and downright dishonest. Much of his music has coincided with the events in my life and hence is very special and dear to me. From Roja to Raavanan, the journey has been incredible – filled with memories and dotted with beautiful milestones. I am just attempting a ride through that winding path of life already gone past, a rewind of sorts.
The year was 1992, I was 9 and there was a youth with dishevelled hair whom everyone was talking about. That young man had composed then, the music of a film called Roja. I do not remember appreciating the music at the time but I do remember relishing it. The movie had enough to hold the interest of a child of 9 until its end. The music was captivating to say the least. I remember nodding my head left and right for "Chinna chinna aasai…." and moving my palms up and down in the rain like Madhubala and her gang of girls. I did not know it then but an era of freshness had been heralded.
I was growing and so was ARR. My growth was limited to the physical and mental aspects of my self, ARR’s growth was in music and stature. Sigmund Freud has said that "If you want to know the mindset of people of a society in a given time frame, watch the hit movie of that time." Indian cinema is characterized by its music and songs. And the generation of the 90s me included have grown up with Rehman for a major share. He is an inseparable part of our adolescence and continues to be part of our adult life. Rehman brought a sense of freshness into our adolescent thoughts, waves of new ideas and added a different dimension to our existence. It is part of my south Indian nature to attach sentiments to the persons/ things I like most. I was attached to ARR and would relish anything that he created even if others said it was bad. Well, what did they know? I would feel one with ARR as though he would give me part of the glory that was to become his. I defended his music and songs from the Raja lovers and others as though I owned it. I basically shunned anyone who said they didn’t like ARR. I felt that they would someday know of his genius. Now, after the Oscars, many of those disbelievers chant the ARR mantra.
My journey with ARR has been very impressive as he took me from the freshness of "Pudhu vellai mazhai…." to the more sophisticated "Netru illadha maatram….", "July maadham vandhaal…." and "Sambo Sambo…." of Pudhiya Mugam, through the spellbinding "En veetu thottathil….", "Ottakatha kattiko…." and "Usilam patti pen kutti…." of Gentleman. From these, we traversed the folk path in "Aathangra marame…." of Kizhakku Cheemayile. Then "Chandralekha…." came binding everyone in ropes. Till date it is one song that I listen to when testing a new audio device. It has a grand variation of sound and a unique combination of musical intruments. The world then swam in the waters of May maadham and Kadri’s saxophone in Duet pulled at the strings of life. Then the completely western Kaadhalan. "Marhaba Marhaba…." and "Oorvasi, Oorvasi…." are so vivid in my mind even now. "Pettarap…." was a revolutionary number at the time.
1995 – Bombay – a celebrated milestone in the legendary ARR – Mani Ratnam association. "Uyire Uyire…." and "Kannalane…." are till date the best of Hariharan and K S Chithra. The theme music of Bombay raised goose pimples not to mention the film’s other songs. "Nila Kaaigiradhu…." from Indira announced the arrival of Harini to the music world. With Rangeela, ARR went to Bollywood with a bang. Never before had a music director from the south been so successful in the north. ARR became a national icon. When great meets greater, the greatest ensues. Rajnikanth gave a new life to ARR’s music in Muthu. "Oruvan oruvan mudhalaali…." is still the first song that ARR sings in many of his live concerts. With this, ARR crossed the borders and reached the Japanese.
Then came the synthetic songs of Indian. Classical music and the modern synthetic sounds blended to perfection and gave a new meaning to the movie. After that "Mustafa Mustafa…." of Kadahal Desam. This went on to become a standard feature of all farwell parties. By now, I had started forming my own opinions and I had grown enough to appreciate the "Thendrale…." and "Malargale…." of ARR. Apache Indian was a youth symbol of those days and his appearance in "No Problem…." proved rocking. I was now also able to differentiate the "Oru Naal….", "Thanga thamarai…." and "Oh la la la….". "Narumugaye…." and "Kanava Illai Kaatra…." followed suit.
Around the time of Minsara Kanavu was when I left the middle east forever and came back to India. I had also left my childhood behind and was moving forward with radically shifting thoughts.