In January 1999, he performed at the Screen Videocon Awards in Mumbai on the 16th where he unjustly lost the Best Music Award, where he had been nominated for ‘Dil Se..’ to some very ordinary music in ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’. In his performance he presented, for the first time, songs from ‘1947-Earth’ – ‘Raat Ki Daldal Mein’, ‘Piano Theme’ and ‘Rut Aagayi Re’. February saw the release of ‘En Swasa Katre’.
He bagged the Filmfare Award for a record ninth time for ‘Dil Se..’ in the same month. The director of ‘Ratchagan’, Praveen Gandhi asked him to score the music for his next venture, starring Prashanth, titled ‘Jodi’. But Rahman begged off owing to his busy schedule. But Gandhi went ahead and reused the music of ‘Doli Sajake Rakhna’ for Jodi. In an interesting move the Producer, Murali Manohar released the music at the Muhurat of the movie in February. He signed Rajeev Menon’s next film ‘Kandukonden Kandukonden’. Continuing with his award winning spree he picked up the Dinakaran Cine Award for Best Music for ‘Jeans’. ‘Doli Sajake Rakhna’ was dubbed into Tamil as ‘Oonjal’.
In late March the music of Rajnikanth’s ‘Padayappa’ was released after a long delay. The expectations were immense and most considered the music to be disappointing. But the sales told a different story as 1.2 million music cassettes were sold out in just two days. A new record in the Indian music industry. In ‘Padayappa’ Rahman tried to compose a score that would be apt for Rajnikanth and came up with a nice blend of the ‘Rahmanesque’ and the ‘Rajnikanthish’.
Some bizarre rumours that some fans of Rajnikanth gave death threats to Rahman for his score in ‘Padayappa’ were also floated. But they were unfounded and Padayappa was a resounding hit. In end March Rahman bagged the Dinakaran Cine Award for his music in ‘Jeans’. This was quickly followed by his 10th Filmfare Award also for ‘Jeans’ in early April. April also saw the release of Kadhir’s much delayed ‘Kadhalar Dhinam’. This was Rahman’s third film with Kadhir who became his brother-in-law the same year when he married one of his sisters. The music was an instant success and was a huge crowd favourite. He signed Aamir Khan’s home production ‘Lagaan’ and the third of Deepa Mehta’s Elements trilogy ‘Water’, a bilingual.
He was also slated to work with the legendary composer Andrew Lloyd Webber on Shekhar Kapoor’s next film which was to be a movie version of Lloyd Webber’s much acclaimed musical ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. Following the lukewarm response to the reused score of ‘Jodi’, Rahman consented to compose two new songs for the movie. He also began working on Maniratnam’s next film ‘Alai Paayuthe’, this being the sixth film of this now legendary combination.
Rahman appeared on a Television show previewing ‘Sangamam’ and described its music as ‘a milestone in Tamil cinema’. A new record was set when TIPS Cassettes and Records Industries acquired the music rights of Subhash Ghai’s eagerly awaited ‘Taal’ for Rs. 5 Crores (Rs. 50 million). The music was released in the second week of June with TIPS struggling to meet the overwhelming initial order of 20 lakh(2 million) CDs and cassettes.
The song ‘Ishq Bina’ made it to the top of the charts even before the release of the music attracting descriptions like ‘When A R Rahman meets showman Subhash Ghai, the result can be nothing short of an extravaganza.’ Producer-Director Subhash Ghai gushing about ‘Taal’ said “My moments with A. R. Rahman at his music studio are embedded in my memory. The voices of Ashaji, Kavita, Alka and Sukhwinder echoing the poetry of Anand Bakshi, had me visualising my characters Mansi, Manav and Vikrant going through the emotional highs and lows of life even before the actual picturisation. That’s the charisma of ‘Taal’ music.
‘Taal’ will always be dear to my heart, and to me it is definitely my most favourite work too date. The credit goes to A.R.Rahman and Anand Bakshi without whom ‘Taal’ would not have happened.” Early June saw the release of ‘Sangamam’. After a long time, Rahman was working in a low-budget film; centered around a village dancer. The score was totally folk music and classical music based. He made use of traditional instruments extensively. The tunes were appreciated widely. Ananda Vikatan magazine called him the ‘real hero of Sangamam’.
June 12th 1999. A momentous day for Rahman. The music launch of Subhash Ghai’s ‘Taal”, Rahman’s first truly Bollywood film, his earlier ones ‘Rangeela’, ‘Daud’, ‘Kabhi Na Kabhi’, ‘Doli Sajake Rakhna’ and “Dil Se..’ being with South Indian directors like Ramgopal Varma, Priyadarshan and Mani Ratnam. The launch was a gala event. Held at New Delhi’s ‘Siri Fort Auditorium’ it featured live perfomances of the songs which was webcast live on ‘Rediff-on-the-net’. The music was praised to the heavens.
At the press conference that followed, Ghai remarked, “I credit the name of the movie to composer A R Rahman. This movie is a romance and I could have called it any thing — Dil, Pyaar, Hum Bhaag Gaye, but it was A. R. Rahman’s presence in the movie that gave me the confidence to call it ‘Taal’. ‘Taal’ means music and music means ‘Taal’. The whole credit goes to A R Rahman and Anand Bakshi. Rahman kept me awake many nights, but after listening to the songs, I felt it was worth all the trouble.” The lead actress Aishwarya Rai commented, “It’s soul-stirring. I’m sure you are going to enjoy the music as much as we did. The music is the easily the best I have heard and it’s definitely going to outlive the release period and it’s divine, soul stirring and straight from the heart.” “The music of ‘Taal’ is a trip which you can never forget. You have to experience it. I feel it is the best music from Mukta Arts till date”, said Anil Kapoor. ‘Taal’ was a resounding initial success when it sold 10 lakh cassettes in two days.
Rahman’s composition ‘Ekam Satyam’ which he recorded in London in May was picked by Michael Jackson for a charity concert in Munich in June 1999 whose proceeds were to be donated to the underprivileged children of the world. On June 19th Rahman travelled to Singapore to attend a concert to honour the composers of yesteryears Vishwanathan – Ramamurthy. At the concert heaps of praise was showered on him. Singer S.P.Balasubramaniam called Rahman his son and said that Rahman was a great human being because he respected elders and was very humble.
Vairamuthu revealed that Rahman came even as the producers of ‘Rhythm’ and’ Sangamam’ were after him to complete the music and background score of their films. He also revealed that Rahman was busy with the music of Maniratnam’s latest, ‘Alai Paayuthe’. Rahman acknowledged all this in his typical unassuming shy style. M. S. Viswanathan went to the extent of hugging Rahman on stage and referred to him as his son. Rahman made a short speech wherein he revealed how as a small child he saw M. S. Viswanathan’s car pass by. He said a few more words in praise of M. S. Viswanathan in his typical Madras Tamil and ended by saying that if he spoke more he would do “olaral” (talk rubbish). A number of Rahman compositions were performed – Padayappa by S.P.Balasubramaniam, Nenjinile by S.Janaki, Jumbalaka by Rafi, Un Pattu Selai Madippula by Maharajan – to thunderous ovation from the near capacity Singapore crowd.
On June 27 he rendered the song ‘Ekam Satyam’ alongwith International pop star Michael Jackson at a concert for underprivileged children in The Olympic Stadium in Munich, Germany. He performed along with a troupe comprising dancers Shobana and Prabhudeva. The song was sung together by Rahman and Michael Jackson. The concert was part of the ‘Michael Jackson Friends’ series. The song was penned by Kanika Bharat. The song, written in English and Sanskrit, was recorded by Rahman in London within a week. According to Bharat, the song has a lot of attitude, reflecting the energy, passion and dynamism of India. Jackson heard the song in Paris and immediately wanted Rahman for his show.
He reserved the best slot of the concert, the final slot, for Rahman. The other performers in the show were Luciano Pavarotti, Stevie Wonder, Alan Parsons, Vanessa Mae and Boyzone. Jackson rendered the English lyrics while the rest of the song was rendered by Rahman. Jackson rendered the English portions of the song while Rahman sang the Sanskrit portions of the number. The crowd was a huge 60,000. This was Rahman’s second collaboration with a famed international ariste, after Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. During his visit to Paris he also met French composer Jean Michel Jarre who invited him to work with him on an album.
In July, he signed noted Indian director Shyam Benegal’s next venture ‘Zubeida’, scripted by noted film critic and the editor of Filmfare magazine, Khalid Mohammed.On the 11th of July, Rahman participated in a Kargil Benefit Evening at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi the proceeds of which were donated to the Central Defence Welfare Fund. He rendered the Vandemataram song ‘Maa Tujhe Salaam’ with the lyrics changed to ‘Hey Jawan Tujhe Salaam’. In July he became part of an unique international project, “Listen” whose aim was to raise $99 million for the downtrodden children of the third millenium. ldquo;Being the only representative from India, it is my responsibility to deliver the composition according to international standards.
Having started to work at the age of 11 after losing my father at 9, I understand the plight of kids who have to work for their survival,rdquo; said Rahman. For the ldquo;Listenrdquo; project, Rahman was to compose a modified version of one of Beethoven’s symphonies. In India, two NGOs mdash; Save the Children, and Consortium for Street Children mdash; were expected to benefit from the proceeds of the project. The ldquo;Listenrdquo; campaign included two one-hour international TV specials, two albums, two videos and a spectacular three-hour international television concert from India. “Listenrdquo; has the support of 99 creative artists. They include film stars Brooke Shields, Liam Neeson, Vanessa Redgrave, Goldie Hawn, Jeff Bridges, Jamie Lee Curtis and Susan Sarandon; musicians Peter Gabriel, John Lee Hooker, Sting and Rahman; visual artists Jeff Koons, Sheela Gowda and Robert Wilson, and songwriters Diane Warren and Lamont Dozier. With this Rahman well and truly made an impact on the International music scene, closely following on the heels of the concert performance with Michael Jackson in Munich. The album was expected to be released the next autumn.
In mid-July he participated in a fund-raising event in Chennai and donated Rs 5 lakh to the Kargil Relief Fund. End-July saw the release of the music of ‘1947’, the Hindi version of Deepa Mehta’s ‘Earth’. On the 30th of July he won the Cinema Express Award for Best Music in ‘Jeans’. The music of ‘Jodi’ was re-released with the two additional songs composed by Rahman.
‘Jodi’ was dubbed into Telugu under the same name and ‘En Swasa Katre’ followed suit as ‘Premante Pranamistha’. ‘Taal’ was dubbed into Tamil as ‘Taalam’. Rahman teamed up with Bharatbala and Kanika once again to give a new sound to India’s National Anthem. He was part of a concert with 30 of India’s greatest musicians in ‘Desh Ka Salaam’. ‘Taal’ was released in mid-July and Rahman’s music was hailed as the true hero of the movie. India Today magazine described it thus “A. R. Rahman’s glorious music fills every frame , becoming almost a fourth character in the triangle”.
Rahman’s new project ‘Desh ka Salaam’ with Bala and Kanika which involved the musical reinterpretation of the Indian National Anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ and was meant to be a tribute of the entire nation to the martyrs of the last 50 years was unveiled simultaneously on all television channels , all radio channels broadcasting in India and the Internet at 8 P.M. IST on the 15th of August 1999, in the process creating media history.
The project involved two musical pieces and videos featuring some of India’s best musical talents. The first video featured the instrumental version composed by Rahman and was played by the best instrumentalists in India and was shot at Ladakh with Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and his son Rahul Sharma on the Santoor, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on the Mohan Veena, Kartick Kumar, Niladri Kumar, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia on the flute, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan on the sarod and also his sons Amaan Ali and Ayaan Ali both on the Sarod, E. Gaayathri on the veena, Vikku Vinayakram and sons Uma Shankar and Selvaganesh on the Ghatam, Ustad Sultan Khan on the Sarangi, Ravi Kiran, Kadri Gopalnath on the Saxophone, Ganesh and Kumaresh on the violin and A. R. Rahman himself on the Synthesiser.
The vocal version featured a rendition of Rahman’s version of the song by Lata Mangeshkar, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Asha Bhonsle, Hariharan, Dr. Balamurali Krishna, Pandit Ajay Chakravarty, Kaushiki Chakravarty, S P Balasubramaniam, Jagjit Singh, Shobha Gurtu, Parveen Sultana, Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, Dr. D K Pattamal, UnniKrishnan, Rashid Khan, Sudha Raghunathan, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Nityashree, Saddiq Khan, Ustad Ghulam Mustafa, Ajay Chakraborty and A. R. Rahman himself. Rahman retained the basic tune of the national anthem and developed a new tempo and instrumentation for both the versions.
The entire project was musically produced, composed and arranged by A. R. Rahman. The videos were directed by Bala and Kanika. After his highly successful and acclaimed musical reinterpretation of India’s National Song ‘Vandemataram’ in 1997 this was Rahman’s unique attempt at the musical reinterpretation of India’s National Anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’. “Its our way of paying a musical tribute to all the poeple who have been martyrs for the cause of the nation”, said Rahman.
In mid-August Rahman signed another English film, ‘The Return of The Thief of Baghdad’ directed by noted anthropologist Douchan Gersi and starring Chiranjeevi, Charlotte Ayanna and Omar Shariff. The film was to be simultaneously remade in Indian languages by director Suresh Krissna. He also signed Govind Nihalani’s next film. He also returned to work with Ramgopal Varma when he signed his forthcoming film starring Jaya Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan and Urmila Matondkar. In early September he won the International Viewers’ Choice Award at the MTV Video Music Awards for ‘Dil Se..’ .
The award was presented to him by the Managing Director of MTV India, Alex Kuruvilla at a special ceremony in New York City on September 9. The music of Govind Nihalani’s ‘Thakshak’ was released on September 15. He agreed to work on Filmfare editor-scriptwriter Khalid Mohammed’s directorial debut, tentatively titled, ‘Fizaa’.
In September, on the occasion of her 70th birthday legendary Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar compiled a list of the ten best songs sung her which included the Rahman composition ‘Jiya Jale’ from Dil Se.. . Calling it her favourite composition of the 90s she said, “A.R. Rahman’s style is amazing. No doubt his style is Indian. But there’s heavy Arabic influence. I don’t think that man thinks of anything except his music.
At first I didn’t think all that much of the tune. But when I heard the recorded song I was floored. I got to sing an outstanding number after quite a while,” Rahman carried forward his ascent on the international music scene when he tied up with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber to work on a dance musical entitled ‘Bombay Dream’. He also performed with Sir Webber at a concert in Dublin in October 1999.
Speaking on ‘Bombay Dream’, Rahman said “It is the increasing popularity of Indian film music in the overseas market which has forced the west to sit up and take note of the `richness’ and `diversity’ of Indian notes. There is a whole new movement of Indian music happening all over the world today. Madonna is singing our songs, Michael Jackson is crooning Ekam Satyam. Even Stanley Kubrick incorporated Indian notes in Eyes Wide Shut. The fact that Taal entered the Top 20 of the UK audio charts has encouraged people like Webber to explore more and experiment with Indian music too. I was lucky to be able to meet him. I know it’s not going to be easy, but both of us are determined to give it a shot.”
Mid October saw the release of ‘Taj Mahal’, Rahman’s fourth film with Bharatiraaja. A rural love story Rahman came up with a brilliant music score to match the flavour of the film. The music became fairly popular but the movie bombed. This was followed by the release of ‘Kadhalar Dhinam’ in Hindi as ‘Dil Hi Dil Mein’. Late October saw the release of ‘Shankar’s ‘Mudhalvan’. This was Rahman’s fifth film with Shankar.
Both the movie and the music became blockbusters. ‘Mudhalvan’ was a native score that reminded one of his ‘Gentleman’ score for the same director. ‘Mudhalvan’ was dubbed into Telugu as ‘Oke Okkadu’. Interestingly Rahman appeared in promos of the movie ‘Thakshak’ wearing the movie’s promotional T-Shirt, with “Thakshak’ and ‘Jumbalakka’ written on it, and playing the keyboard for the song ‘Jumbalakka’. Visuals of Rahman from the ‘Vandemataram’ video were used by an Indian company Bharati Telecom in an ad promoting National Integration. He was also reported to be working with French composer Jean Michel-Jarre on a private album.
Early November saw the release of Rajkumar Santoshi’s much awaited ‘Pukar’. In ‘Pukar’, Rahman took his propensity to recycle his own tunes to new heights when he reused two of his earlier songs, the ‘Nayagara’ song from ‘En Swasa Katre’ and his non-film ‘Oh Bosnia’ number, which was originaly presented in his 1996 Malaysia concert. ‘Nayagara’ reappeared in ‘Pukar’ as ‘Kay Sera Sera’ and was a huge hit.
‘Oh Bosnia’ became ‘Ek Tu Hi Bharosa’ and this was Lata Mangeshkar’s second song with Rahman. TIPS Records released a special collection of Rahman songs in November 1999 entitled ‘The A. R. Rahman Signature Collection’. This was specially autographed by Rahman himself. In its 21 November issue India’s leading newsmagazine ‘India Today’ declared Rahman as one of the ‘Faces of the New Millenium’ saying ‘Only Rahman can replace Rahman’. Rahman signed his fourth Telugu film with veteran telugu director Kranti Kumar. The movie was titled ‘Tommidi Nelalu’. But later it turned out that he was not doing the movie.
As the year and the millenium came to a close encomiums were heaped on Rahman. The Times of India, India’s leading newspaper hailed Rahman as one of the 100 greatest Indians of this century and placed him in the Entertainers and Artists category. Rahman achieved another milestone when he became the first Indian to own the much sought after Apple iBook laptop computer.
Outlook magazine, in its December issue assessed Rahman to be the third highest earning Indian entertainer just behind Sooraj Barjatya and Subhash Ghai and ahead of other icons like Sachin Tendulkar and Shahrukh Khan. He reportedly earned a whopping 25 crore rupees. On December 12th he won the Zee Sangeet Award for the music of Dil Se.. . In its year end issue, India’s leading newsmagazine ‘India Today’ carried a feature titled ‘The Nineties’ Decade-The people who made a difference’ in which it selected Rahman along with Shubha Mudgal in the music category and hailed him as ‘The man who single-handedly reinvented Indian film music.’ Unconfirmed reports in the media said that Rahman would feature in Micheal Jackson’s next release scheduled for early 2000. In the year end countdown shows on Tamil television, 7 out of the Top 10 songs were composed by Rahman.
1999 was in many ways a momentous year for Rahman. 1999 was the year in which Rahman extended his horizons as a composer. A major highlight of his Hindi soundtracks released that year was his effective use of Hindustani classical music and north Indian folk music. After Dil Se.. found mass acceptance across the nation, in 1999 it seemed that Rahman had finally won over the north with his scores in ‘Taal’, ‘Thakshak’, ‘1947’ and ‘Pukar’. This left people in Bollywood with no more ammunition to attack him with.
His scores that year had a breathtaking range and extended from North Indian folk and fusion in ‘Taal’ to Hindustani and Western Classical and period music in ‘1947’ and ‘Taal’, South Indian folk and Carnatic classical in ‘Sangamam’ and ‘Taj Mahal’ and contemporary pop and techno music in ‘Kadhalar Dhinam’ and ‘En Swasa Katre’. It was also observed in 1999 that Rahman was increasingly moving away from what has been traditionally acknowledged as the ‘Rahman sound’. 1999 encountered a more explorative and experimentative Rahman. All in all, nationally he became the only music director who’s music most people bought without batting an eyelid or reading a review or listening to a teaser.
1999 was the year in which Rahman increased his presence on the international music scene. This ranged from interactions with Jean-Michel Jarre to collaborations with Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Bryne and concerts with Micheal Jackson. He also got to work with artists across the entire spectrum of Indian classical music, both Hindustani and Carnatic and instrumentalists and vocalists, when he composed ‘Desh Ka Salaam’.
In the midst of all this Rahman had the busiest year in movies. He had all of eleven releases, the most for any music director this year and the most for Rahman in his entire career, something very unusual for Rahman who normally has 3-4 releases a year. He had ‘En Swasa Katre’, ‘Padayappa’, ‘Kadhalar Dhinam’, ‘Sangamam’, ‘Jodi’, ‘Taj Mahal’ and ‘Mudhalvan’ in Tamil and ‘Taal’, ‘1947’, ‘Thakshak’ and ‘Pukar'(music release only) in Hindi. ‘Taal’ was the biggest hit of the year and at the end of the year had sold over 75 lakh cassettes and 5 lakh CDs and was continuing to figure on top of the sales charts.
The decade began with Rahman entering the Tamil music scene with ‘Roja’ and it ended with Rahman making a global impact albeit in a small way. In the course of the decade Rahman changed many things in music. And as the decade and the millenium drew to a close Rahman was widely and ungrudgingly acknowledged as the man who brought about a revolution in the sound of Indian music and was hailed as the man responsible for popularising Tamil film music in India and Indian film music globally.