After his stint with director SA Chandrasekaran, as an assistant director, a young man named Shankar was just starting off as a director, with a new script title ‘Gentleman’. The screenplay had lots of fantasy elements in it. A hero akin to ‘The thief of Baghdad’, his adventures, bubbly young heroines, outstanding dance moves – each frame of his screenplay were running on his mind. He had made up his mind that each song should be of a different genre like folk, western and carnatic.

He had signed up Balakumaran for dialogues, Jeeva for cinematography and Prabhu Deva for choreography. But, he couldn’t find a music director, who could satisfy him. He listened to samples from so many music directors, but he wasn’t satisfied. Since he was a newcomer, he couldn’t dictate terms with established composers to get what he wanted. His expectations were simple – a young composer with fresh thoughts, with a ability to create music which would capture the hearts of the young.

One day, he was watching TV while having his breakfast, and ‘Chinna Chinna Aasai’ was being played. He was looking for such modern music. He immediately found out who the composer was and signed him on for his project. A new storm called ‘Gentleman’ hit the shores. It was the beginning of a grand partnership!

Director Shankar talks about Rahman, with pride – “A.R.Rahman – just this one word is enough to convey everything. I’ve not met anyone else who is as talented enough in composing music matching to the mood of the situation. His judgement on what will work and what won’t, will always be right. His extra effort is visible in the way he makes those minute decorations in his songs. He makes sure he doesn’t give anyone an opportunity to tell him that the music in his song is not right. The thing I admire most in Rahman is his perseverance. It’s that never-say-die attitude of his that impresses me the most!”

Many composers had commented back then that, this kid’s (Rahman) music would stop if the computers were taken away from him. But, Rahman proved himself in his next album, Pudhiya Mugam. Techno-melodies like ‘July Maadham Vandhaal’ and ‘Netru Ilaadha Maatram’ became super hits. In Yodha, his Malayalam album, his music had flavours of Tibetan, Nepalese and Buddhist traditional music matching perfectly with the screenplay. His Telugu albums ‘Super Police’ and ‘Gangmaster’ had great music, but the songs didn’t attain popularity because the movies failed at the box office. Critics started opining that Rahman could give only soft music in the same pattern.

Shankar knew that Rahman had amazing talent. He wanted rocking, fast music for his film. And, for one song he wanted music, which should represent the speed of a train. Entire Tamilnadu should dance for that song. Could Rahman accomplish this?

Associate Director Madhesh tells more – “When Shankar met Rahman at Panchathan Studio, Kodambakkam, he was amazed how this kid was rocking the music industry. Rahman didn’t speak much, apart from the technical details, and Shankar liked him a lot. Sitting with a harmonium in a room, on which the entire floor was spread with divans, was the usual style of composing, back then. Unlike them, Rahman worked in a complete studio setting. Shankar liked all of this, and they both were on the same wavelength. Rahman liked the way in which Shankar narrated the story of Gentleman. They parted with a handshake, promising to meet again.

“The entire setting was different for us. ‘Tell me the situation. I’ll take some time to work on the music, and will send you the tune’, Rahman told us. We briefed him on the situations and returned. Within a week, we got a cassette with tunes, and all of them were superb. Shankar and all his assistants were elated. Shankar met Rahman again, and discussed more ideas with him and gave him more situations. The songs gradually started taking shape. Especially, the song “chikku bukku rayilu”… It was a tune, which could be a challenge for a director. The speed and energy of the song was so infectious that it had such a great impact on our entire team. Shankar sir started picturising the song with lots of enthusiasm.”

The song which started with ‘Chikku Bukku Rayile’ in the innocent voice of GV Prakash, reached top gear within a the first few seconds, in Suresh Peters’ tough voice. Gentleman movie was a super hit. Along with this song, other songs from the album, like “Un veetu thottathil’, ‘Paakaadhe’, ‘Ottagatha Kattikko’ too became super hits. Shankar had expected Chikku Bukku Rayile to create a mini festival each time it was shown in theatres, and that is what happened. This album proved that, not just melodies, but Rahman coulc give punching songs, which could rock the entire country.

Rahman had then remarked – “Not just in high tech stereo sets, but the songs should become popular even in tape recorders and radio sets in small parota shops. Only then, I can reach the public”.

At a time when other music directors were giving a western feel using Indian instruments, Rahman tried just the opposite – he gave Indian music using western instruments. There’s no doubt that this was a musical revolution. On this note, one thing has to be mentioned – Rahman was interested in fast songs, but till this day, never once has he given a song, which if of low-standards.

Post the success of Gentleman, Shankar made his next movie – Kadhalan. Rahman had progressed to the next stage in music. Carnatic singer Unni Krishnan’s debut film song ‘Énnavale adi ennavale’ won the national award. Music fans were entranced by the lilting carnatic melody. Rahman had then mentioned that it was there in Indian culture for more than 2000 years. A traditional carnatic tune, in Rahman’s state of the art recording quality mesmerized everyone – especially the flute interlude.

‘Muqabla’ – Another song in that album was the sixer that Rahman had hit then, to rock the whole country. Many of Rahman’s brilliant tunes have been wasted on failed movies, with pathetic visuals. Very few directors like Mani Ratnam and Shankar do justice to his music. The perfect example for that is Muqabla.

The cowboy styled song, with astonishing graphics, vali’s lyrics, and Prabhu Deva’s choreography became a rage all over India. Till then, songs like Michael Jacksons ‘Thriller’, ‘Beat It’, inspired many composers and directors. But, Muqabla was the song, which made many to copy it.

Hindi composers were shaken by this new sound from south, and started copying Rahman’s tunes. These composers who are mockingly referred to as ‘tunesmiths’ shamelessly copied Rahman’s tunes with minor changes.

‘Muqabla’ entered Limca Book of Records, as the most popular song in India. Songs from albums like Indian, Jeans, Muthalvan, Thiruda Thiruda and Duet, which followed were again shamelessly lifted in Hindi. Rahman was shaken by this.

He felt that the only solution would be to enter Hindi film industry directly. Ram Gopal Verma was then, looking for a new music director for his new film Rangeela. His friend Mani Ratnam recommened Rahman to him.

The victorious wild horse named Rahman, turned towards Hindi.

Article Credits to Vikatan Magazine. Original article was published in Tamil and was exclusively translated to english by Aravind AM.