In his childhood, Rahman loved going to bed late, playing carom board, and waking up late in the morning. When his mother woke him up early in the morning for his Piano classes, like any other kid he would be adamant wanting to sleep for some more time.

In the present days – Rahman goes to studio at 10 pm, and the musicians too come there as though there is a night shift. Rahman starts working and it is usually 3-4 am when he completes it. That’s when he goes to sleep. The musicians return home tired after the long night’s work, but totally satisfied! That’s a new experience for them.

Initially, they found it difficult to adapt to the new work timings. But, the creative freedom given by Rahman, the recognition that they got, and the good pay were encouraging. They started getting used to Rahmans “night-duty” culture. The red and white curtained Panchathan studio became one of their favourite places. Even today, you can find musicians entering Panchathan, one by one, after 7 pm. (Now, Panchathan has developed so much, and looks very different)

When he composed for his first film, he was not overly excited. He thought that it could be his last film assignment. But, fame took him on a different course altogether. Though he kept delivering hits after hits, the critics could not be kept silent for long.

They fired the next missile. ‘Rahman is a modern youngster from the city. He is not familiar with folk/village based songs. He will be clean-bowled if he attempts such songs’, they claimed. But, composer Gangei Amaren (Illayaraja’s brother) was in full praise of Rahman – “Rahman’s music is indeed the music that’s prefect for the computer age. But it’s not electronic sounds that he’s producing. His music has a soul within it. His is very intelligent music. Even though it is digital music, he doesn’t deviate from the tenets of carnatic music.”

Director Bharathi Raja, who worked with Illayaraja for all his movies till then, had to separate from him at one stage. He joined hands with A.R.Raman at that time. The partnership, which started with ‘Kizhakku Cheemaiyile’ showed the world that Rahman is equally talented even in Folk music. Songs that came out in this partnership – like ‘Kathaazhan kaatu vazhi’ (also referred to as Vandi Maadu ettu vechi), ‘Maanoothu Mandhaiyile’ – captured the hearts of the tamil people, and became super hits.

Following these, Rahman composed for Bharathi Raja for movies like ‘Karuthamma’, ‘Andhi Manthaarai’, ‘Taj Mahal’ and ‘Kangalaal Kaidhu Sei’. If we listen to ‘Then Merku Paruvakkaatru’, even now we get the feel of the rains in Theni (South Taminadu). Same is the case with ‘Sotta sotta nenaiyudhu Taj Mahal’ song – we can feel the wetness and the cold of the rains. These songs totally thrashed the argument that Rahman can’t compose village based songs.

Bharathi Raja speaks about his experience with Rahman. “Illayraja is a born genius. At I joined hands with Rahman when the situation was such that I couldn’t work with Illayaraja. The fact that I wanted a change in the music for my films, was also a reason.

Coinciding with Rahman’s entry in to films was a change that was starting in Europe and Central America – Lesser known Folk music and tribal music from various parts of the world started gaining popularity as “World Music”, which broke all barriers of region, religion, caste, creed and colour. Musicians from across the world joined together and participated in concerts for peace, poverty eradication and AIDS campaigns at prestigious venues like Wembley grounds.

Rahman was closely following these new music trends. He to wanted to bring in changes in music. As a consequence he composed each song of Mani Ratnam’s Thiruda Thiruda in a different genre. Fans loved the innovative songs like ‘Veerapaandi Kottaiyile’, ‘Konjam Nilavu’, Thee Thee’, which were very fresh. These tamil songs became the first ones to be a part of Top 10 charts which only featured Hindi songs. In the album Duet which followed, Rahman’s collaboration with Kadri Gopalnath was magical, and took the listeners to a new world.

After LP records were replaced by cassettes, the next revolution was the introduction of CDs with crystal clear music. Music CDs from all over the world flooded the Indian markets, and the Indian fans were stunned by the quality of music different parts of the world. At the same time, the easy availability of CDs of various genres of music in Inda, made it easy for many composers who effortlessly copied these tunes for their songs.

There’s a story about veteran composer R.D.Burman. In those days when technologies like CDs, Internet, MP3 downloads and music TV channels weren’t around, RDB would fly abroad and pick up the latest music discs from there. Back home, he would listen to them and would make copies of those songs with Hindi lyrics for Hindi films. The ever-popular Mehbooba song from Sholay too is one such copied song.

In his early days, Rahman was inspired by music of ‘Ace of Base’ and Dr. Alban (‘Telephone Mani Pol” song was similar in style to their songs). But, Rahman moved away from all that completely.

(*** We all know that ARR and Dr. Alban used the same beat samples for their song, which is the reason for the similarity. But, the article does not mention it***)

There’s a term called Post-modernism. The concept is very simple – If there are long-standing beliefs and conventions which are blindly being followed, question them. Break the traditions by criticizing them. Let new thoughts be born. Let creativity flow. – This is the principle. The concept had revolutionized every aspect of the society like Literature, politics, cinema, sports, women-rights, arts and economics. How can it not touch music?

Musicians like Bob Marley, Elvis Priestly, Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Santana, Bruce Springsten, Queen, Tracy Chapman followed this concept and broke all the traditions and brought in new styles of music. In a way, Illayaraja’s use of folk/village based instruments like Thaarai/thappattai can also be considered as post-modernism.

There’s a convention in Indian film music, which is, following Pallavi-Charanam-Pallavi structure for all songs. Rahman broke this long standing convention and brought in Post-modernism in to music. The hindi film music industry provided a better platform for this. In 1994, noted directors Subhash Ghai and Govind Nihlani had signed on Rahman as the composer for their respective films. They’re directors with very modern outlook, and Rahman wanted to bring in more changes in music in their films and started composing for these films. But, very soon, those films were shelved, which shook Rahman. That was when Ram Gopal Verma invited Rahman to compose for his film.

Rangeela – That was the beginning of the magnificent all India success story of A.R.Rahman.

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