Some 18 years ago, singer Unni Menon was given a call way past midnight, awoken in his slumber, and was told that accomplished director Mani Ratnam is recording songs for his new film and Menon’s voice was required for one of those numbers. Who works at this hour, Menon asked himself.
But due to the fact that the name involved was called Mani Ratnam, Menon freshened himself up and rushed up to the mentioned recording studio, where he saw a young composer calling the shots.
Mani Ratnam, who so often works with Maestro Ilayaraja, has discovered a new talent to associate with in the music department. Menon wondered continuously if this young guy- whose name is AR Rahman, could really live up to the humongous expectations of having to compose for a Mani Ratnam film. He was given the song lyrics, the tunes were discussed, and on the wee hours of that one day back in 1992, Menon recorded a song called ‘Pudhu Vellai Mazhai’ (A new white rain), and went back home, back to his slumber.
The doubts that he had before recording the song existed even after that- he didn’t think he had sung the catchiest of tunes. Little did he know, that when he went to sleep that day, just like lyrics of the song proclaims, he has witnessed a new white rain, that will reign the Indian music arena over the following two decades.
All the uncertainties over the song that he had sung vanished into thin air as he listened to the final version of the song one day- and as he listened, he realized that this song is not catchy, but instead it makes the hair on the back of one’s neck stand up and applaud.
That AR Rahman back then was 26 years old. Today, as he turns 44, that white rain has poured down not only in Tamil Nadu, but up until on Hollywood’s most famous stage- the Oscar stage. Rahman was the very first composer in Indian cinema history to win a National Award for his very first film, an award that he would go on to claim two more times. An honorary doctorate and a Padmashri, India’s fourth highest civilian honor, are just a little peek into a mass collection of awards and applauds that this modest, humble, soft-spoken name with an ever present smile on his face has achieved in his career. That innocent smile never waned even as he stood next and around the best luminaries of Hollywood while collecting his piece of the biggest cinema cherry in the world, nor did it wane as he stood flanked by beautiful girls in Akon’s Beautiful Girls music video.
What is so special about his music, some may ask. Who introduced Hariharan and Shankar Mahadevan, two of the most famous, most accomplished male singers in the industry today? Who made Hariharan sing ‘Thamizha Thamizha’ with such sensitivity? Who is it that managed to evoke the atmosphere of an unborn child who is going to be born into a world of chaos and uncertainty through Vellai Pookal? Who is it that managed to re-create a 50s and 60s atmosphere without sounding like direct throwback in Iruvar? Who is it that re-composed India’s national anthem with such passion and ferocity? Who is it that made the whole nation re-kindle a long-buried Vande Matharam?
AR Rahman is not only a good composer, he is a symbol- a symbol of a nation struggling to unleash itself from the strangling, rusting ropes of past differences and attempting to move forward as one, as one whole country. He is a symbol of passion, of the ultimate craftsmanship an artist could ever express with his own work. Above all, he is the perfect symbol of an artist, a celebrity.
A man who has the talent to put the world at his awe, but has the humility to not take all the credit for his achievements. A man who has the calmness to rise above petty differences and embrace goodwill as his nature, and has that smile that shows, without having to tell, that he loves what he is doing, that we love what he is doing, and God loves what he is doing.
Ever lost hope? Ever lost faith in goodness? Ever lost faith in the beauty of life? Ever lost faith in the impact of talent and artistry? Look up to AR Rahman.
Today as this man turns forty-four, there is no gift that we could possibly give him that would override 18 years of him showering us with gifts of music. But what we could do is to forget that he is forty-four, and make him immortal along with his music.
Many more happy returns of the day.
AR Rahman- You are the rare white flower (Vellai Poo) that tomorrow needs. May there be more white flowers like you to come in this world