Rahman’s Terrific Ten

When my editor suggested I write about AR Rahman’s ten best songs, I let out a nervous laugh. As if there were any mediocre songs to pick from! What do you write about the report card of a student who gets straight A’s; how can you pick the best stone out of glittering diamonds: such thoughts raced furiously through my head. My editor tried helping with a ‘make it your personal choice’ reassurance. Once I started the piece, I realized I needed to go back several years to pick my real favourites. It’s been an exhausting and fun-filled journey, and here’s the list. Not all the songs on the list became the chartbusters they should have. But in a way, that makes them even more special.

This album remains my favourite Rahman yet, for it was a formal introduction to his music. As a lover of music, I am indulgent and listen to an album till I wear it out, but even after all these years, I find Rangeela’s music extraordinarily fresh and experimental. This particular song is a sensuous, romantic one set against Indian classical instruments, and Rahman infuses drama in its every pore. You have vocals by noted singers Swarnalata and Hariharan, and their voices contrast beautifully. The lyrics are by Mehboob who has also wrote songs for Bombay and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

No one has touched the experimental tone of this song and this was in 1995! I remember people’s reactions to this song were tad hesitant, as this song (such a mad medley of world music) confuses at first before casting its spell. And the more you hear it, the more you enjoy its complexity. The song was sung by Rahman and Shweta Shetty.

I didn’t like the song as soon as I heard it; though everyone kept raving about it. But it was during a long trip home, after a tired day, when I warmed up to it. Then the film came, and I saw Shah Rukh Khan match the energy of the song, on top of a train that too, and I was mesmerized. It’s never happened before, and I’m sure this is not the correct manner to fall for a song; but I began to appreciate the song’s worth after “seeing” it. Chaiya Chaiya remains very special to me, and always brings back memories of my earlier years, so fraught with idealistic debates in media school.

Lata Mangeshkar and Udit Narayan team up for this lilting bhajan that I was surprised to have fallen for. Not big on bhajans any way, I was mesmerized at being mesmerized by this song. It has that effect that devotional songs across religions seem to have, regardless of whether you are a believer. The music sweeps you to another place altogether; and this enigmatic journey’s yours as long as you choose to hit rewind.

This enigmatic song is my favourite out of favourites. I’ve had long-winded arguments with those who called the song “nice” and “beautiful”, because I thought they weren’t worthy enough adjectives to describe the song. Once the song is on, you feel like the heavens are singing for you; you just cannot remain unaffected. Rendered by Murtuza Khan and Qadir Khan, incidentally it is writer-director of the film M F Hussain himself who penned the lyrics.

Two things bound me to the song: the lyrics that were mischievous and romantic at the same time, and Rahman’s aalap that elevates the song to another level. Classical singer Madhushree’s voice worked perfectly with the tone of the song and she added her own nuances making it that much more special.

Lata Mangeshkar had sung for Rahman before; but this was the first time she was singing with him. The evocative lyrics by Prasoon Joshi are about a mother worrying about her child as evening dawns. The duet between these two legends is so electric and magical, it makes your heart swell with emotion.

The star of the album, according to me. In an interview recently, Aamir Khan said that this song, one of his favourites, was a difficult one but had the potential of becoming a superhit leaving the other songs from Ghajini’s album behind. Bekha has been sung splendidly by Karthik. The music has several hooks and plays around with varied music genres like pop, hip-hop and jazz. Lyrics are wonderful; but it’s not so much the words as how they are rendered that sets the song apart. Bekha reminds one of the songs from Rangeela, especially Kya Kare (what a coincidence for both to be picturised on Aamir Khan).

When I heard it, alone, for the first time, I could swear I felt affected to the soul. The clichéd term `soul-stirring’ wore an immediately new meaning for me. Rahman’s voice seemed to call from the heavens, and there was so much integrity in the song, it was disarming. I don’t recollect how many times I rewound the song that particular evening.

The song, like all songs sung by Rahman, convinces you why Rahman is a genius twice over. With singing as soulful as the music, Rehna Tu is a masterpiece. Utterly romantic, the lyrics are beautiful with lines like Tujhe badalna naa chaahoon ratti bhar bhi sanam, Bina sajaawat milaawat naa jyaadaa naa hi kam. The ending is an unexpected music monologue with strings and the flute. In his booklet that comes with the album, lyricist Prasoon Joshi mentions this to be one of his favourites with Rahman.

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