Leave AR Rahman alone!

It isn’t really a major surprise that we, as a nation of armchair critics, would lash out against AR Rahman after his Oscar win. Failing to take that award in perspective — foolishly and redundantly yelling that he has made other, greater music in the past — we have been writing off his recent work, confident that he has peaked, is overrated, and we can gleefully tear down another hero we have ourselves deified. This doesn’t come as a shocker at all considering, for example, the fact that The Times Of India jubilantly ran the headline ‘Endulkar’ a few years — and roughly twenty centuries — ago, pointing prematurely to the end of a road for even that superhuman so far beyond reproach.

The Commonwealth Games Song was one that didn’t appeal to several. Fair enough, but who is to dictate what is a perfect track? I don’t know many who like Rahman’s theme from the disastrous Blue soundtrack, but current Bollywood toast Amit Trivedi spent twenty minutes explaining to me just why it was sheer genius, and among his favourite tracks of last year. Conversely, there are those who hate even the sublime Rangeela theme. You can never please everyone, and no artist should attempt to pander thus. Going from the outraged reactions from people who went on and on about how much Rahman has charged for the song, it seems they expected Waka Waka and Jai Ho rolled into one. Clearly the expectations are becoming defiantly impossible; it seems we do not want to like Rahman anymore.

The question of cost is a ridiculous one. Sure, Rahman charges more for a film than several leading men, but this is extremely well-deserved, since he is often the only performer holding his end up while a cinematic innings goes through collapse. His last unanimously acclaimed soundtrack came with Delhi 6, a film with fantastic songs but absolutely nothing else. Looking back at his best work, you’ll see this is the norm — even with cinema being the most collaborative of creative arts, you see Rahman working despite mediocre scripts, actors, directors, doing his own thing with elan despite all odds, odds that shouldn’t rightfully exist.

Cinematically, the man has been tragically boxed in. The new, radical Indian cinema is looking elsewhere for its tunes: Anurag Kashyap brings in spectacular talents like Trivedi and Piyush Mishra, Vishal Bhardwaj does everything on his own, and Dibakar Banerjee discovers brilliant people like Sneha Khanwalkar. This leaves Rahman, that virtuoso artist, to deal mostly with the fatcats, the filmmakers loaded with dough — and little else. The lack of creative inspiration must be stultifying for a man of his calibre. Just try and imagine an artiste forced to seek the muse in films as vacuous as Ghajini, Sivaji, Yuvvraaj and Raavan.

Which is why he must look abroad. Toward Danny Boyle and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Western shores where background score is treasured and composers work with different parameters. I do not say that they make better music, but the artist in Rahman has to hope that they present him with fresh challenges. It is why a Naseeruddin Shah goes and does bit-roles with Sir Sean Connery, in the desperate hope that he can expand instead of shuttling between a Mohra and a Krrish, which is all our industry doles out. It is only now that Shah, like his contemporary Pankaj Kapoor, is thankfully being given something with enough meat to justify a bite.

We must start giving Rahman something delicious to work with. Or else we’ll just have to get used to applauding 127 Hours from afar.


First published Mumbai Mirror, October 20, 2010


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  1. sudhir

    how true. the guys who don’t like rahman’s music, can even tell us why..they just say ”not good”

  2. agnivo

    india does not deserve rahman sir’s brilliance

  3. Arka Bhattacharya

    I am so glad that this article is out here in the mainstream.. My sentiments eggzactically!!… ARR was , is and for aeons hence to come is legend.. Leave the man alone if you can’t aprreciate his prodigious genius…

  4. Ari

    Let’s stop defending mediocrity. Would you like his recent output if it didn’t have the ARR brand name attached? I’m guessing NO. That’s bollocks. Nobody’s forcing ARR to work with vacuous “fatcats” making dull movies. He is given scripts. He can pick and choose smaller projects and shine in them. Fact is, every creative artist goes through a lull phase. ARR has reached a nadir now, by his and our lofty standards. I’m sure he will come out of this with a bang. Till then, I’m going to ‘waka waka’ to other people’s tunes.

  5. tmxtp

    Raja sahib, Excellent and timely article! Is there a way you can share with us Amit trivedi’s views and analyses on Rahman’s theme from Blue soundtrack? Thanks!

  6. mockingbird3d

    a r rehman is the best in originality

  7. Twig

    You were talking about Blue theme not being famous?
    What about this? Nobody would have even heard of it.

    The point I’m trying to make is, irrespective of the genius of a particular song,
    it is the market and the PEOPLE who decide what they want to listen to.
    We cannot request the listeners to appreciate the music just because it was
    composed by a ‘great musician’.

  8. Raj

    First write up of yours that is easy to understand. Thanks and well written.

  9. Debayan(Vikram)

    Hi,excellent analysis Sen…completely agreed…strange nation indeed…not saying dis only ‘coz i consider ARR the god but indeed, how can ppl simply forget all his lovely creations like TAAL,BOMBAY DIL SE or SWADES/LAGAAN after hearing 1/2 not-so-good compositions….CWG theme song cudnt leave upto the expectation simply coz every1 thot anoder waka waka in making….dats injustice to the name who is a gem in world music…..

    okay,i can even say dat some of his recent track like ‘manmohini moorey’ from YUVRAAZ,’fiqrana’ from BLUE or even Ghazni songs & ‘ranjha ranjha’ from RAVAAN are something dat only ARR can compose….

    its easy to start bashing but we forget class is permanent…couple of let down here and there is a part of the game….understand this truth…..

  10. Sandesh

    Amazing article Raja… Rahman has done us proud us time and again….and given me happiness and peace time and again thru his wonderful songs… He is a Humble Genuis :) Long live AR Rahman :)

  11. Nishit

    I agree with you for most of the part, but slightly differ on the reactions part. The general feeling I have come across from people around is that of disappointment rather than defiling. Rahman bashing isn’t something I have yet come across and disappointment, I think, is justified.

  12. venky

    It is absolutely unfair to say that Sivaji, Ghajini and Raavanan were vacuous. If you say ARR ought not be judged with a single film but you are doing same to Mani Ratnam. And Raavanan is not as bad as you make it to be, at least whatever i saw in Tamil version enacted by Vikram. I seriously dont know whats wrong with Ghajini? A.R. Rahman had enough scope in Sivaji too.

  13. srini

    Rahman has always grown up because of his business skills and contacts more than his musical skills. There are many more talented composers in this country than music engineer rahman. It is his links that made him grow high and I’m ready to debate on this. A simple example is the “His music will grow in you” concept. I dont think anybody will do it. Does anybody watch a movie even if he dont like that in the first watch for more times thinking it will grow in you. Highly absurd. North always treated South and inferior and hasnt provided their fair share unless they are promoted by some one in Bollywood/mafia. A good example is Ilayaraja. If you people want to understand what BGM really means, watch Ilayarajs’s music (of course with a neutral mentality).

    Rahman has for sure provide a handful of very good songs but that doesnt mean he is the best composer in the country. It is getting exposed nowadays. Thats it.

  14. Kannaa

    Perfect article. Well written

  15. ABU

    I waana say something to you rahman.I am one of your crazy fan of millions of people.Please when you compose the indian films make music as what the indians would love to hear.For the hollywood you must compose like popo music. according to indian movie we just want to hear indian melodies and heart touching music.please we are anticipating this from your magical fingers. Because you are the wizard of indian music.Please

  16. Soundarya Rangaraj

    This is such a beautiful post! I am this Rahmaniac of sorts, the kind of person who thinks AR Rahman writes in a language that tricks the ordinary mind into believing that it is something mundane, something you can find in anybody else. But when you look beyond that deception you realize that it is creativity redefined. It is staggeringly awesome from a man who, as you have so rightly put, is caught in the midst of mediocrity. You need to leave the baggage that you carry from having been subjected to the rest of the noise, switch on the sound of AR Rahman and be prepared to dwell in its heavenliness. Blue is not disastrous by any means, and nor is any other less popular soundtrack of his. If you cannot appreciate his music, nobody can explain it to you; you have to find the magic. He bundles that in every song he writes.

  17. Bhushan

    I liked the article, but my opinion differs.
    A.R. Rahman has given Indian Cinema great music no doubt about that but lets not forget the fact there are better musicians coming into the scene.To name a few Ajay Atul, Amit Trivedi (specially for Ishaqzadde).
    People are not angry but they are disappointed with his recent work (and I am one of them). I mean why one would dislike him if he’d compose great music? (At least I can’t find any reason) as he is one of the best human being ever.
    To be very honest his work in Rockstar (which most of the people think his best work in recent times) is pretty much average and unoriginal for me. I mean song Hawa hawa sounds like ‘just for laugh’ show’s background music. Sadda haq is nothing special with few pentatonic scale riffs.
    The most disappointing thing for me was the music of Jab Tak hai jaan. I mean he had great scope to compose mesmerizing melodies and shut everyone’s mouth. But it is another below average album with songs that lacks originality and magic of Rahman. ( I feel Ajay Atul, Amit Trivedi, SEL would have done better job than rahman if had given a chance)
    I do like Rahman but that doesn’t mean I will just read the name of the composer and start liking the song. I still like his old work and him but he really need to pull his socks to show everyone else why he is considered as India’s best musician. (Which he has failed to do in recent times.)

    1. Arun Nair

      Hi Bhushan,

      I wont say that I disagree with you completely but it’s just your personal opinion on how you feel about these albums. You are one of the very few in this whole world who would say that Rockstar was an average album considering it had some mesmerising songs like phir se udd chala, tum ho, kun faya kun and many more, you did not even touch those? why? Are you avoiding the classic stuff and just looking intentionally at the average part? This is what majority of people are up to these days, just trying to diminish the value of this genius but thank god he himself is unperturbed by these and is still composing gems after gems (tamil movie Kadal is the recent example). For Jab Tak Hai Jaan he himself clarified that he composed what his producers and director wanted, he almost surrendered to their demands and it showed in every song (except jiya re and jab tak hai jaan poem) that Rahman sir’s golden touch is missing. The SEL’s and all are those who are composing songs on Rahman sir’s line only. The sound which they are coming up is the one which was brought about by Rahman sir only, please don’t forget that. Amit Trivedi is no doubt a genius composer who himself looks up to Rahman sir. Even today there is only one composer who is COMPLETE in all respects, that’s A R Rahman, nobody else for the time being at least.

      1. Bhushan

        Riffs of Sadda Haq are copied from Motorhead ( British Punk, rock n roll speed metal band.) and the verse riff is lifted from one of slash’s songs which he did for fast and furious. Same goes for the song Hawa hawa, the tune is almost 90% identical to background music for one of the laughter show ” Just for laughs.”
        Sadda Haq is supposed to be a Rock / Metal song but those lousy drum beats makes it an absolute below average song.
        About SEL, so to be very honest If you compare their work in ‘Rock on!’ which they did like 4 or more years earlier far superior to Rockstar.
        Kun faya kun is a good song but come on that song doesn’t go with the movie. It gives a feeling like Rahman had compose that song long back and just wanted to use it somewhere and he used it in this movie.

        “Jab Tak Hai Jaan he himself clarified that he composed what his producers and director wanted”

        WFT? I mean WTF? This is one of the very common replies I have seen when Rahman fails to impress with his music. Producers and directors would only tell you what kind of song they want , they won’t give you melodies, will they?
        To be very honest what Indian music directors are doing now has been done by western artists at least 30 years back and did it lot better.

        Last but not the least, If we have 3 good songs out of 6 or 7 and 2 of the songs are rip offs then It’s a below average album in my view and that’s what rockstar and JTHJ is.

  18. Vivek

    A wonderful article. All the previous articles I have read about ARR is just about his pride and his newest work. But this is the only article that exhibits the pain behind the CWG. I don’t think anyone can write about Rahman by words, He is something beyond all our thoughts. Rahman is a genius musician and an extraordinary by person. A person like ARR, just because he has his oscar label on him does not mean he could do a nice dinkichika number for CWG. He tried quality music, and this is what he gets. Only directors who realises ARR’s potential go to ARR and they get his best. ARR’s flops sell better than other music director’s hits!!

    1. prerak

      I read all the comments and i am a ARR fan but after getting oscar rehman consider Bollywood a small stuff and this is the reason why rehman loose its charm , Amit trivedi is definitely genius boss !! Any song you pick up from Trivedi’s beg its fab.

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