1991

The public and the music fans hadn’t heard about Dileep, then. But, the film music fraternity and the ad film world knew him well. The music circuit had taken cognizance of how he elevated himself from just renting out music instruments (after his dad’s death) to playing for prominent composers, accompanying famous musicians on world tours and rocking the ad music world. But, they didn’t expect this silent storm to take the next avtar. Not just them, even Dileep didn’t expect the turning point!

In 1987, Dileep set up Panchathan – a state of the art recording studio – in his house. It had many modern instruments and recording equipments, the Indian industry had never seen! Leading ad companies started queuing up in front of Dileep’s house for his music. A picture of Pir Qadri in the studio reception, welcomed them!

Dileep composed jingles for reputed organizations and brands like Boost (the ad featuring Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev), Titan, Premier pressure cooker, MRF tyres, The Hindu, Asian Paints. He also composed the signature tunes of Sun TV, JJ TV and Asianet. He composed for several TV shows, Radio jingles, multimedia AVs and several short films. It was Rahman who composed the title music for “Spirit of Unity” concerts organized by Madras Telugu Academy. He was doing well financially. He had even fulfilled his desire of owning an imported-car. What more?

One day, Dileep was driving in his new car, listening to a new western pop album. The music and recording quality was outstanding, and he enjoyed it totally. After that, he played another cassette, which had his own ad film compositions. He got so tensed at the quality of recording that he pulled out the cassette and flung it off! After the superior sound quality of the western pop album, he just couldn’t listen to anything else. Dileep, who was evolving into a full-fledged recording artiste and audiography technician, had the burning desire to improve our recording quality equal to that in the west.

Though Dileep felt that the recording quality in this part of the world was yet to catch up with the quality in the west, those in the ad industry were totally impressed with his superior recording quality, which was better than those in India at that time! Film composers in Mumbai were jealous listening to Premier pressure cooker jingle. The reason was that there was only one person in India who knew and understood the latest in music recording and that was Dileep!

Dileep had invited Mani Ratnam to his studio. Mani who was looking for a new composer for a new film (not Roja, it was another film idea), remembered Rahman’s this 6 months after Dileep’s invitation. He wanted to give this new composer a try, and he visited Panchathan. Dileep who was extremely busy even then, welcomed Mani and played some of his sample clips. Mani who is “techno crazy” was awed by the hi tech studio. The music that he listened to, impressed him further!

Dileep then showed Mani, his new composition. It was the music he had composed for a Bharat Bala directed short film on the Cauvery river water issue. The music moved Mani Ratnam deeply. He realized that this music was different and it was a flame that’s on its quest to move bigger and better things. Mani immediately confirmed to Dileep that he would be the composer for his next movie. Rahman was excited about this, as he didn’t have any significant interest towards film music.

Dileep went to Mumbai for a music event. Veteran composer Naushad who had already known about Dileep’s talent (RK Shekar had worked with Naushad too) told him – “You should enter film music industry. You are talented enough to succeed there.” Dileep just returned a smile as his reply. Naushad insisted further and blessed him.

But even then, Dileep never moved towards the film music industry on his own accord. He had just invited Mani Ratnam, and Mani offered him an opportunity, as he was impressed with the music. That’s all! He continued his focus on ad films, leaving the rest to Allah!

One day, Mani Ratnam returned. He told Dileep, “I’m doing a new film, titled Roja. K Balachander is producing the movie under Kavithalaya banner. You’re the composer, and you need to start working right away.” Dileep was confused on whether to accept or reject the offer. He accepted it for just one reason – it was Mani sir’s film!

Rahman tells us about this – “I was offered Rs. Twenty five thousand for this project. I could have earned that amount within few hours, composing for ad jingles. But, the prospect of working under Mani sir, attracted me. He is not a director who considers songs as fillers. I knew that he puts in lots of effort for each song in his films. I’ve noticed how he elevates a song which is 100%, to 400% with breath taking visuals. So, I accepted the offer”

“I knew that there would be sky high expectations on a composer instrocued by Mani Sir, and hence, there was pressure on me! But, Mani was extremely friendly, and he brought out music from me. I’d have composed hundreds of tunes. We selected the best out of those, improvised on them…. He’s great!”

‘Roja’ album became a super hit through out the country. For Dileep who was rocking the ad film music world silently as an unknown composer, this was a pleasant shock. He was overwhelmed that not just fans, but even co-musicians and co-composers came forward and appreciated him. Though he had done so much of brilliant work for ad jingles and many of his tunes were popular, public wasn’t aware who the composer was. But all that changed, with Roja. If he had contemplated on whether to compose for just twenty five thousand rupees, he wouldn’t have got such a grand opening. When Rahman joined Mani’s camp, the whole world welcomed him with love!

The super hit song from Roja – Chinna Chinna Aasai – can be considered as the first Reggae song in tamil. After the recording of this song, Dileep had recorded it on a cassette and played it to his mom. How did she feel then?

Kareema Begum talks about it – “I didn’t know much about musica. I knew only one thing – he was rising higher and higher in the music industry, due to God’s grace. One day, he came up to me and said ‘Ma, I’m going to compose for a tamil film. It’s a Mani Ratnam movie. Listen to this song which I’ve composed.’ He then played Chinna Chinna Aasai. It was a happy song, but I don’t know why tears started welling up in my eyes. Rahman was concerned, and asked me what happened. I replied ‘Nothing…. The song is very good…. It moved me… It did something!” The song I liked was later loved by the whole world! I felt that he had started fulfilling his dad’s dreams, and this song was a start!”

Chinna Chinna Aasai became the ‘family song’ in many households, and Rahman won the Rajat Kamal Award – the national award for best music – on debut!

That was the beginning of a new era in Indian film music.

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