In early 1995 ‘Kadhalan’ was dubbed into Hindi as ‘Humse Hai Muqabla’ and needless to say, went the same way as the original. In April 1995, Rahman’s third film with Mani Ratnam, the controversial ‘Bombay’ was released. The successful partnership that he had forged with his mentor went to new heights with the music of this film. The music of ‘Bombay’ was one of the most awaited scores and was hailed as a classic.
With this film, Rahman also formally took to playback singing. Rahman had lent his voice to his compositions earlier too but they had been part of the chorus or bit pieces like ‘Marhaba’ in ‘Urvashi’ in ‘Kadhalan’ or background pieces and interludes like ‘Yelelo’ in ‘Chinna Chinna Aasai’ in ‘Roja’. But ‘Hamma Hamma’ in ‘Bombay’ was Rahman’s first complete song. With ‘Humma Humma’ Rahman came to be regarded as much a playback singer as a composer. It became an amusing and common sight at various award functions to see the comperes trying to cajole Rahman into singing on stage and Rahman coming up with hilarious excuses to avoid the same. ‘Bombay’ also became the first Rahman film to be released in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi simultaneously. ‘Humma Humma’ became an instant chartbuster and went on to become the blockbuster of the year.
Rahman composed a haunting and surreal instrumental theme with a long and eerie flute prelude to capture the sombre mood of the film. The evocative, soul-stirring and sensitive theme music, with a remarkably outstanding flute interlude by his flautist Naveen, of ‘Bombay’ touched the hearts of many and was included by popular British-Indian Artiste Talvin Singh as a part of his album “Sounds from the Asian Underground’ and aroused a great deal of curiosity in A. R. Rahman’s music among international music connoisseurs.
A critic named Kingsley Marshall had this to say of the Bombay Theme – “Establishing itself through soundtracked strings, which sits menacingly in a cradle of drifting flute rises – epic horns introducing a full orchestral progression. Although classical music is more than a little unusual in a compilation of dance music, the beauty of the piece warrants its inclusion – in a class above most of the material I’ve heard in the last couple of months with regards both production and arrangement. Simply stunning.” The music of ‘Bombay’ became the biggest seller in the history of Indian films toppling ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun’ from the top. Till date ‘Bombay’ has sold close to 15 million units in all languages.
Following closely on the heels of ‘Humse Hai Muqabla’ and ‘Bombay’, Rahman’s first original score in Hindi, ‘Rangeela’ was awaited with great expectations. Carrying the tremendous burden of the enormous expectations of the public once again, Rahman did not disappoint. ‘Rangeela’ became an instant runaway success. With ‘Rangeela’ Rahman had successfully stormed the Bollywood bastion. Though Aamir Khan’s performance in the film did help in sustaining the film at the box-office, it was Rahman’s music that brought the crowds in droves to the theatres.
Every song in the film became a phenomenal hit. With the songs ‘Rangeela Re’ and ‘Tanha Tanha’ Rahman brought veteran singer Asha Bhonsle back into the limelight. Crowds danced to the music in the theatres and forced the theatres into showing the songs again. People whistled in the theatres as his name appeared in the credits of the movie. He hogged equal space with the actors on the publicity material of the film. For the first time a music director was also considered as one of the ‘stars’ of the film. The Tamil Nadu distributor of Rangeela, apprehensive about how Rangeela would perform there, since it was a Hindi film and none of the stars were particularly well known in that part of the country, took the advice of his brother-in-law, Ganshyam Hemdev, of Pyramid Music, and did away with the actors altogether from the posters and replaced them with a mugshot of Rahman with the catchline “The first original score of A.R.Rahman in Hindi”. And sure enough, crowds flocked to watch the movie like crazy and for the first time a Hindi film was a runaway success in Tamil Nadu.
Late 1995 saw the release of ‘Indira’ directed by Suhasini Maniratnam where Rahman came up with a score with a rural touch. The score met with lukewarm success with a couple of songs ‘Thoda Thoda’ and ‘Nila Kaigiradhu’ becoming popular. By the end of 1995, Rahman was the No.1 composer in the country, all at the age of 28. Hailed by various critics as ‘the true successor to R.D.Burman’ and the ‘Messiah of Music’ he had endeared himself to the Bombay film crowd as well but Bollywood music directors were none too happy about his success.
Not only were they now unable to rip off his tunes without a care but they had to compete with him on their own turf to boot. Rahman began to reportedly charge over 1 crore rupees (10 million) per film, more than three times that of his nearest competitor. But most producers were readily willing to shell out even that amount forcing him to further hike his fees as a deterrent and keep the producers at bay. The ones who could not sign up Rahman took someone else and asked him for a ‘Rahman jaisa gaana'(literally – Rahman type song – meaning a song in the style of Rahman’s music). He had become a national idol and cult figure. His style of music had become the rage of the day.
Rahman’s music also began to arouse interest internationally. He was treated like a God and crowned with titles like ‘Isai Arasan'(Emperor of Music); ‘Isai Puyal’ (Musical Storm) and ‘Melody King’. Adulation that was reserved for the biggest of film stars was showered on him. Moviegoers cheered wildly and threw money at the screen when his name appeared on the credits. Films that were sold on the strength of the stars in it or its directors now began to sell just on the strength of the name A. R. Rahman attached to it and attract fabulous initial responses when released.
The music rights of the movie, till then just a nominal source of additional income for the producer, became a separate territory in its own right and commanded prices equivalent to the distribution rights. Any Rahman sound track used to sell out within hours of its release. For the first time one could see crowds queuing up outside music stores on the morning of the release of any Rahman soundtrack. Crowds that used to leave the movie hall for a break during the songs stayed put firmly in their seats and took in every note of the songs in Rahman’s films. People came in to music stores and asked if there were any new releases by Rahman, instead of the practice of asking for a film by name or by a that of a starring popular actor. But Rahman had a sound head on his shoulders and took none of this overwhelming acclaim to mind.
He had his feet firmly planted to the ground and went about his work with the same devotion and dedication as before. He did not give a dozen interviews a week and shoot his mouth off like most others did. In fact he became very elusive and remained as media-shy as ever. He rarely if ever met the media, going to great lengths to avoid them and would not even say more than a ‘Thank You’ at awards nites inspite of rpeated requests for rendering a song on stage. This earned him the nickname ‘Artful Dodger’.
In 1995 he yet again won the Filmfare Award and the Tamil Nadu State Award , among many others, for ‘Kadhalan’. He was also a very strong contender for the National Award. But according to Chetan Anand, the Chairman of the Jury for the National Awards for that year “Rahman’s music in ‘Kadhalan’ had a great deal of variety which established the versatility of the composer and swung most members in the jury to his side, but since ‘Kadhalan’ was a typical masala movie, we thought it would send the wrong signals to film makers and decided against giving it the award”. End 1995 also saw the release of an album of his favourite lyricist, Vairamuthu’s double album of poetry amp;’Thenvandhu Paayudhe’ where he scored the background music for Vairamuthu’s recitation. But the album remained very inconspicuous. He consolidated his hold on Bollywood and signed more Hindi films with Shekhar Kapoor’s ‘Tararampampam’ (which is yet to be made), Boney Kapoor’s ‘Pukaar’ to be directed by Raj Kumar Santoshi and Ramgopal Varma’s ‘Daud’.
Fresh from the success of his “Bandit Queen”, director Shekhar Kapoor planned “Tararampampam” as a mega musical with 10 songs. Rumours that Rahman himself would be producing the movie abounded. But Kapoor took for foreign shores leaving the movie unmade as yet. He also agreed to do a film in Hindi for his schoolmate turned director Shivendra Singh titled ‘Waqia’ and later a second film with him titled ‘Ittefaq’. Rahman was to work with Gulzar on both the movies. Both the films never got made unfortunately.
Rahman’s first score for Rajnikanth was released, with ‘Muthu’, in 1995. The score was awaited with high expectations and one witnessed serpentine queues outside music stores on the morning of the soundtrack’s release and cassettes were even sold at a premium. Though the music did very well it was criticised for not suiting Rajnikanth’s superstar image. The song ‘Thillana Thillana’ became a chartbuster. He also did ‘Lovebirds’ the same year where he sang a song with the international Bhangra-Rap star Apache Indian.
His music also received international recognition when his tracks were used on the BBC Clothes Show and other international fashion shows. He was invited to compose the theme music of the 1996 Cricket World Cup that was to be held in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Rahman accepted the offer but later backed out for unspecified reasons with some sources saying that he had quoted lack of sufficient time to do a befitting job.
He also signed three films with Hollywood-Indian producer Ashok Amritraj, one film each in Tamil(Jeans), Hindi(Love You Hamesha) and English(Jungle Boy). He was also offered ‘Kamasutra’ by the Indian-American director Mira Nair and ‘Fire’ by Indian born Canadian director Deepa Mehta. He accepted only the latter. He would go on to do ‘Earth’ and ‘Water’ with Deepa Mehta, to complete her Elements trilogy. He later said in an interview that much as he wanted to work with Mira Nair he turned down Kamasutra because he did not want to be known internationally as the ‘Kamasutra Boy’.
Reflecting on the runaway success of his rhythm based tunes, he says, ” I had some golden rules when I started my first film, ‘Roja’. These rules were – good lyrics, good thought, good melodies, good recording and good presentation. But I think Gentleman was to break the rule completely because Shankar wanted commercial music for the film to break the monotony of the serious subject. So we did it, and gave it full blast to them.
Unfortunately the success of the rhythm-based compositions reached the masses much faster than normal ‘Roja’ type of music and the trend became an epidemic because it was easy and safe. I was pushed by producers to make similar kind of stuff. But rhythm-based compositions can be listened to only for a very short time, though we put in too much energy in polishing it. But later, I realised that the golden rules were going out of my hand. I think we are back to normal.”
On the personal front, 1995 proved to be a momentous year for him. That year, on March 12, he got married to Saira Banu, sister-in-law of the Tamil actor Rahman and the daughter of a Madras based businessman.