In late-1994, ‘Roja’ was dubbed into Hindi. Needless to say, both the movie and the music become phenomenal successes. This heralded a new trend where every Rahman film was necessarily a trilingual with the film getting dubbed into Telugu and Hindi. ‘Roja’ was also later dubbed into Malayalam, Marathi and Bengali. At the time of Roja’s success in Hindi, Rahman’s second film for Shankar, ‘Kadhalan’ featuring dancing sensation Prabhudeva was released.
It was as if the movie was structured around the brilliant score that Rahman produced for Kadhalan. While the entire score was a runaway hit, one song ‘Mukkala Muqabla’ caught the imagination of the entire nation, never mind if the song was in Tamil. “Muqabla’ became the flavour of the year. The song was played at every club, disco, restaurant, marriage hall and street corner across the country and went down in Indian movie history as one of the most popular songs of all time. There was not a soul in the country who was neither dancing to it or humming it. With this song Rahman became a nationally recognised figure. The song was plagiarised freely by Bombay’s tunesmiths and nearly a dozen versions of the song were churned out, a feat that earned ‘Muqabla’ and Rahman a place in the Limca Book of Records, the Indian equivalent of the Guinness Book of Records.
But Rahman was more pleased about the immense popularity of the song ‘Ennavale Adi Ennavale’ which won Carnatic vocalist Unnikrishnan, making his film debut with this song, the National Award, because he felt that it is easy to compose a dance number like ‘Muqabla’ which is here today and gone tomorrow but is real hard work to produce an everlasting gem like ‘Ennavale’. He said that he had been inspired by a 2000 year old Tamil composition. Overnight most Rahman tunes in Tamil reappeared in Hindi albeit under the baton of other music directors.
Three other releases of Rahman that year were ‘Pavithra’ , ‘Karuthamma’ with Bharathiraaja and “May Maatham’, a film that was originally supposed to be made by Mani Ratnam but was later made by his cousin Balu. One interesting story about May Maatham went thus. Producer G. Venkateshwaran, incidentally Mani Ratnam’s brother, sold the rights of the music of the film to three companies simultaneously on the strength of Rahman’s score. Lahiri, Pyramid and HMV shelled out huge sums, sure of the score’s success but unaware of the producer’s subterfuge.
When the deed was discovered the companies took GV to court. He finally sold the rights to Pyramid who had offered him the highest sum, mollified Lahiri by offering them the rights of his next film with Rahman, Indira -diretced by Suhasini Maniratnam, and had an out-of-court settlement with HMV. In 1994 Rahman also won the Filmfare Award, Tamil Nadu State Award and many others for ‘Gentleman’. He also won the Filmfare-R. D. Burman Award for best new musical talent.
Following the unprecedented success of ‘Muqabla’ Rahman realised the importance of not only having to do original Hindi scores but also ensure that the dubbed Hindi versions of his Tamil films were released simultaneously, to prevent the continued blatant lifting of his tunes by Bollywood tunesmiths.
He stepped into the cutthroat world of Bollywood when he signed two Hindi films, one for director Mahesh Bhatt and one for the Seengals of Compact Disc India to be directed by Priyadarshan. While the film with Mahesh Bhatt was shelved even before a scene was canned the other film was taken over by R.Mohan(‘Good Knight’ Mohan) of Shogun Films and would appear much later as ‘Kabhi Na Kabhi’. But his first original release in Hindi would actually be the third film that he would sign.
Popular Telugu director Ramgopal Varma was also setting foot into Bollywood just then with two films, one a remake of one of his Telugu films ‘Gaayam’ which had a script by Mani Ratnam and the other titled ‘Rangeela’. Following a strong recommendation from friend and colleague Mani Ratnam, Varma signed on Rahman for ‘Rangeela’. Following this, directors from Bollywood clamoured to work with the ‘whiz-kid’ and Rahman also signed Bollywood movie mogul Subhash Ghai’s Magnum Opus ‘Shikhar’ and noted art film director Govind Nihalani’s ‘Droh-kaal’.
But ‘Shikhar’ was shelved and Rahman was forced to opt out of ‘Droh-kaal’ when he lost all his compositions for the movie owing to a computer system crash. But later Rahman would work with both directors, with Ghai in ‘Taal – The Beat of Passion’ and with Nihalani in ‘Takshak’. Rahman was very frustrated about not being able to work in ‘Droh-kaal’ and rued the loss of his compositions for the movie. He recounted later that it was one of the most unique experiences for him.