Going back in History, the following question arises. Six years ago, who listened to Tamil music? Only Tamilians. Five years ago, what did teenagers dance to at discotheques? What else but Michael Jackson, Dr.Alban or the latest Western dance hit of the day. But one man singlehandedly changed all that. With his universally appealing tunes, A.R.Rahman has demolished all conventional rules in Indian film music.
He amazes with the manner in which he seamlessly integrates traditionally incompatible harmonies. If anyone can make a perfect potpourri of the latest dancehall rhythms, electro-pop, Latin melodies, Western and Indian classical and pepper it all with a local folk touch or even something as otherworldly as Reggae and serve it all in a contemporary Indian manner that mesmerises listeners, it is A.R.Rahman.
His music transcends all barriers – geographic, age or linguistic. Everyone from 6 to 60, Kashmir to Kanyakumari, as the cliché goes, are fans of his music. He was the first to successfully and solidly bridge the gap across the Vindhyas with Hindi speaking denizens who did not understand one word of Tamil enthusiastically lapping up his music. He gave film music a trendy legitimacy, a legitimacy that made Indian youth who were till then ashamed of admitting in public that they enjoyed Indian film music, dance to Humma Humma, Muqabla Muqabla, Musthafa Musthafa and Chaiyya Chaiyya at every pub, club and disco. Overnight, Indian film music considered ‘infra-dig’ by the youth became ‘cool’ and ‘hep’. All in all, quite arguably, no one has influenced Indian music as much as Rahman has in recent times.
He is the man who helped south Indian cinema go national in a way that was considered impossible even a decade ago. He bridged the gap between Tamil (and even Telugu on occasion) and Hindi with that most universal of all languages: music. Predictably Rahman would later say “I hate the discrimination between south, north, Tamil, Hindi. If I represent India that is good enough for me. But we should cross all these barriers.” Rahman did more: he made, to use film industry jargon, music a territory in its own right. Thus, the soundtrack of each movie was sold as if it were a separate entity from the film itself. And as if to prove him right, his music assumed a life of its own, flying off the shelves at record speed even when the film in question bombed at the boxoffice.
Rahman’s strength lies not only in his perfect sense of melody and rhythm but also in his immaculate sound engineering. His music has been hailed as that of the digital age and has also been assailed for the very same reason. His music can never be adequately described in words. One has to personally experience the pleasure of his creations. Many of his compositions might actually sound ordinary the first time. But his music has this amazing capacity to grow on you and establish a firm hold on the listener. His compositions are an intriguing cocktail of musical pieces that literally blow your mind. His music is unique in its offbeat instrumental interludes, unconventional harmonies, and use of far from perfect voices and thumping rhythms.