“It took me several hours to digest the news. I’ve never seen any other musician with so much energy!”, said a shocked Rahman after Michael Jackson’s death.

After he won the Oscars, Rahman had met MJ and had spoken with him for a few minutes. Jackson had danced a few steps for Rahman. He had told Rahman that they should work together on a song for world peace – something like “We’re the world”. If that had happened, the world would have listened to another world-class song. During the ‘MJ and friends’ concert in Munich, Rahman had worked with MJ – he’d composed a song and sung it in the concert.

During his childhood, Rahman was inspired by MJ. Post Thriller, Rahman listened to all MJ songs and was mesmerized by them. The spirituality in MJ’s voice impressed him. Many of Rahman’s songs like ‘Muqabla’ and ‘Maya Machindra’ had visuals inspired by MJ’s music videos (Remember the time).

There are many similarities between MJ and Rahman. Both of them entered the music field at a young age, and tasted tremendous success. They both have collaborated with world music artistes. Both of their songs take time to sink in, and be liked. The reason for that being the minute nuances in arrangements in their songs. Many of their songs are high pitched, and both can touch higher notes with ease. Both of them converted to Islam – Dileep became Rahman; Michael became Mikhail.

The year was 1995 – the landmark year when Rahman’s music was moving on to the next level. Director Shankar’s ‘Kadhalan’ was dubbed into Hindi as ‘Hum se hai muqabla’. The Tamil versions of the songs had already become huge hits in North India, but after it was dubbed, it reached every nook and corner of the country.

In the same year, ‘Bombay’, yet another master piece of Rahman got released in Tamil. Songs like ‘Humma Humma’, ‘Kannaalanae’, ‘Uyire’ and ‘Kuchi Kuchi Rakkamma’ became super hits.

Though Rahman had lent his voice for few short background bits in ‘Chinna Chinna Aasai’ and ‘Úrvasi’, it was ‘Andha Arabic Kadaloram’ in which Rahman debuted as a solo singer for a complete song. That song in his sharp voice rocked the charts. During any public event, Rahman would always be requested to sing this song, and he would shyly refuse.

(One thing to note here. Most orchestras avoid singing Rahman’s fast numbers as they feel it is almost impossible to replicate on stage, the effects that Rahman adds to the song in his hi-tech studio.)

In ‘Bombay’ album, Rahman had composed a very important piece of music. That one piece raised the eyebrows of many world musicians and made them wonder who’s this man! It was a complete flute-treat (played by Naveen Kumar). It is the Bombay theme music. It was a supernatural, haunting music, which served as the soul of the movie. The piece, which was the background music for the riots scenes in the movie, mesmerized Bollywood musicians too. An English musician of Indian origin, Talvin Singh, included this theme music in his compilation, “Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground”. The western music world started getting familiar with A.R.Rahman.

“The flute instrumental gently rocks like a cradle. It is astonishing that classical music can be used even like this. This is the best I’ve listened to in the last few months. I’m extremely impressed by the arrangements and music production”, wrote noted music critic, Kingsley Marshall.

Till 1995, ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’ held the record for best-selling album in the history of Indian films. The shy composer from Kodambakkam, Chennai broke this record. The music of Bombay, broke all records and became the all-time best selling album in India, and sold 15 million cassettes (including all languages). All the leading music labels in India wanted to be associated with Rahman. Even after such huge successes, Rahman’s entry into Bollywood was getting delayed for various reasons.

Ram Gopal Verma created waved in Hindi films with his fresh themes. Each of his films have huge expectations riding on them. He signed on Rahman for his next film Rangeela, as he was impressed by the Rahman’s ‘Bombay’.

The established composers in Bollywood watched Rahman’s entry into their territory, with jealousy. Generally, South Indians are not given due recognition in Bollywood, and are referred to as Madarasis. Many wonderfully talented South-Indian artistes couldn’t survive there for long, because of this bias. Two men broke this jinx – Mani Ratnam and A.R.Rahman.

When Rangela album was released, the musicians in Bombay waited with bated breath to know how the album would fare. With in just a few hours, the result was there for everyone to see – HIT! After ages, movie theatres in Mumbai wore a festive look – it was for the release of Rangeela. Celebrations happened in theatres. Songs like ‘Rangeela Re’, ‘Tanha Tanha’ and ‘Kya Karein’ made the entire theatre danced for the songs. Ram Gopal Verma’s amazing film-making, Aamir Khan’s acting and Urmila’s skin-show welcomed Rahman’s music to Bollywood. The audio sales of Rangeela surpassed that of Bombay.

Other bollywood composers were totally shaken by the scintillating applause in theatres when Rahman’s name appeared on the screen. Veteran Singer Asha Bhosle was away from limelight as she hadn’t got enough opportunities in movies in mid-90s. Then Rangeela happened. Tanha Tanha had the innocence of a child. At the same time, it also had a sultry, sexy feel to it. The song became a mega hit.

The success of Rangeela made Rahman being pushed into the front in all bollywood functions and in media events. This was a new trend in bollywood.

The success of Rangeela made distributors want to release the film in Tamil too. But, the Tamil audience can’t be pulled to theatres by projecting the names of Aamir Khan or Ram Gopal Verma in ads, and the distributors were left wondering how to advertise this movie in Tamil. Then came the posters with the caption – “A.R.Rahman’s first SUPER HIT hindi music”. Rangeela rocked even Tamil Nadu, and there’s no doubt that it was because of Rahman.

Rangeela opened up great avenues for Rahman in Bollywood. Bollywood composers who were copying Rahman’s Tamil tunes till then, were shattered by Rahman’s entry into Hindi films. The only choice they had, was to accept Rahman as a part of bollywood and to compete with him. Accepting him was fine, but could they compete with him – this was their only doubt!

Understanding that he had established himself at the national level, he announced that he would charge Rs. 1 Crore for his next project. That was an amount, which other Tamil composers couldn’t even dream of, in those days. But, bollywood producers lined up with their cash-suitcases in front of Rahman’s house! Others who couldn’t afford Rahman could do only one thing – sign up some other composer, and instruct him to “compose songs like Rahman’s”! Funnily enough, there were many composers who were willing to do that!

Asha Bhosle fondly remembers how Rahman brought her back to limelight through Rangeela – “His music brought in freshness to films. He keeps experimenting with music. He is a reflection of the younger generation. He has created a new revolution in Hindi film music. Any singer is energized by his music. That’s what happened me to.”

After Rangeela, many legends were waiting for Rahman!

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