Thamizh Talkies: The Raja-Rahman question
The author talks about the quintessential question that every Tamil music lover gets asked
On World Music Day, which just went by, I shared two songs on Twitter: Ilaiyaraaja’s Rakkamma kaiyya thattu and AR Rahman’s Ruby Ruby from the upcoming Hindi film Sanju. It just struck me that these two composers, forces of film music, are 'essentials' for music lovers. That quintessential question -- Are you a Raja fan or Rahman fan? - can possibly be met with only one answer: “Both."
Ilaiyaraaja is the music director of my childhood, my teenage, and my twenties. Rahman took over from when I began working. It’s the 'sound' of Rahman’s music that set him apart from whatever we had heard up until Roja (1992). It must be remembered that Rakkamma Kaiyya Thattu had topped the U.K. music charts just a year earlier (Thalapathi was a 1991 release). And in 1992, It was not just Mani Ratnam who made the transition from Raja to Rahman... the music album of Roja heralded a whole new era which to me is similar to what happened in the 70s. Mellisai Mannar MS Viswanathan (King of Light Music and another favourite of mine) saw a sensation called Ilaiyaraaja bursting into limelight with a female-centric film called Annakili that ran to packed houses mainly due to its lilting music.
Ilayaraja represented his 'village band of brothers' and his guitar strings and harmonium brought in waves of Western classical and folk music in equal measure. With Rahman, we learnt a new word in film music -- programming -- which only adds to his rich melodies and mellifluous meters.
It’s as if the aural seas brought in one high tide after another in the form of Ilayaraja and Rahman. It is the only way to view this eternal debate of taking sides because... why should we be deprived of the music of the other? There will be preferences of individual songs, of whether the music of the evergreen 80s surpasses Rahman’s every new release. There will be this tug at the heartstrings when one has to choose playlists based on genres and a Raja song gets followed by Rahman’s and vice-versa. An Oscar (or two) alone does not set Rahman apart. It is also his consistency and his staying relevant to the changing times which needs our applause.
Being evergreen also means endless worldwide tours that Ilayaraja takes every year to perform for Tamil film music lovers across the globe, with every song on stage getting met with a thunderous ovation. Ilaiyaraaja may be composing for lesser films now but his appeal amongst the younger audience has not diminished.
Raja and Rahman remain eternal favourites because of one common element: Their longevity. Rahman takes a slight edge as his music also traverses Hindi cinema and Hollywood, and he has made the world look at Indian film musicians and music with renewed interest and churns out chart-toppers with every new film. Ilaiyaraaja on the other hand is perhaps the most prolific music director we have ever had who has straddled all possible genres (classical, light music, folk, pop) in film music and has given super hit albums in those genres (for every Mudhal Mariyadhai, there is one Sindhu Bhairavai). He churns them out as if he has a magic oven to bake the musical goodies in no time!
With so much music to behold, why even bother to question loyalties when we can instead relish the goodness in both Thendral vandhu theendum bodhu and Thallipogaathey with equal fervour?