The year was 1991. Ace Tamil movie director Mani Ratnam was on the lookout for a new composer to give music for his films. His long standing fruitful association with the doyen of Tamil film music Illaiyaraja, which had spanned over 10 films and as many years had come to an end when the two had had a fallout after the latter reportedly made some sarcastic comments during the making of Mani Ratnam’s then latest film ‘Dalapati’.
One day, at an awards function for excellence in the field of advertising, Mani Ratnam chanced upon a young man who received the award for the best ad jingle which he had composed for the popular Leo Coffee ad. At the celebrations party that followed the awards presentation ceremony, Mani Ratnam was introduced to the young composer by his cousin Sharada Trilok of Trish Productions for whose company the young man had produced some outstanding work. Sharada had words of high praise for the young composer.
Mani was curious and requested him for a sample of his wares. The composer readily complied and invited the director over to his studio. Mani Ratnam turned up at the studio only after six months, where the 24 year old lad played out a tune that he had been pushed into composing by his school friend G.Bharat alias Bala when they both had been greatly disturbed by the socio-political tensions in South India over the Cauvery river waters issue.
Listening to the tune that was played, Mani was hooked instantly. Without a second thought he signed on the composer to score the music for his next film. That film did not work out but Mani signed him on for a new film which was to be produced by the veteran Tamil director K.Balachander for his respected ‘Kavithalayaa’ banner. That film was ‘Roja’. That tune would become the song “Tamizha Tamizha” in ‘Roja’. The music of the film would be a phenomenal success that would revolutionise modern day Indian film music. The name of the 25-year old composer was A. R. Rahman. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Cut to the year 1998. Mani Ratnam’s then latest film, his first in Hindi and his fifth with Rahman, ‘Dil Se..’ hit the screens. The movie all but bombed in India. But the music, yet again was a resounding success. The music sold like hot cakes even six months after it was released in the market. In a recession hit Indian Film industry, the two biggest hits of the year, ‘Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya’ and ‘Ghulam’ had sold 2 million cassettes each.
Such was the confidence of the music company, Venus, in the Rahman-Ratnam combination that they started with an unprecedented initial run of 2 million cassettes, then notched up sales of 6 million and are still going strong. It even successfully survived the onslaught of what later became the year’s biggest hit, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. So much so, that just on the strength of its music, Dil Se.. succeeded in gaining the distinction of being the first Asian film to enter the U.K. Top 10. Moviegoers in London said that it is the music that drew them to the movie halls. Such is the spell that the music from the Rahman-Ratnam combination has cast over music lovers.
The Rahman-Ratnam combination forged six years ago is now five films strong and has given the world of Indian films some of its best music. The combination has taken music to new heights that has succeeded in captivating millions of listeners not just across India but even in far flung corners of the world. Rahman says about his mentor, “I was blessed to be picked by a director like him. He encouraged me a lot. It was as if I studied in Mani’s own university of music. He is like a brother to me.”