About 25 years from now, I remember sitting in an old theater near my house and watching the film ‘Roja’. The Mani Ratnam-directed drama had become a sensation that year and people were thronging the cinema halls for repeat viewings. Apart from its incredible story, the film had also become immensely popular for one more thing – its music.
Roja introduced me and most of India, to one of its greatest ever musicians: A.R. Rahman. While watching Roja, I remember when the song ‘Yeh Haseen Waadiyaan’ came on screen, my mother, who sat next to me, exclaimed, “His music is so soothing.” I nodded quietly and instantly became in awe of him.
My elder brother, who, too, had become an ardent Rahman fan, then helped in intensifying my fascination for this genius over the next few years. He would excitedly buy the audio cassettes of all his famous albums – even dubbed versions of his Tamil hits. Dozens of cassettes and countless wonderful hours of listening and re-listening to numerous chart-busters of this musical maestro followed in the coming years. Those were very special days. Bombay, Dil Se, Humse Hai Muqabla, Vande Mataram, Taal and Lagaan, among a host of his other delightful gems from different films, made my growing up years that much more magical and memorable.
Even today, I always look forward to a Rahman album eagerly, even though it’s quite few and far between these days and despite the fact that people keep trying to write him off and prefer the younger generation composers in these times. I love listening to Rahman as he still offers something different and his compositions still have a unique soothing effect on me.
Last week, a friend of mine on Facebook - Nishant Mishra - who happens to be a devout Rahman fan himself, tagged me in an article which had listed 20 underrated gems of A.R. Rahman. After going through the list, which had some very obvious selections, I scoffed at it and proclaimed I could easily come up with a much better one. Nishant then urged me to do precisely that. And thus came the idea for this article. In the last few days, I and Nishant compiled this list of some truly underrated and forgotten gems of Rahman. It was fun assembling the list with him, really. It gave me an opportunity to travel back down memory lane and listen to some golden hits of my favourite musician. Both of us kept exchanging songs with each other and debated which one should be kept and which should be excluded. And if we had it our way, the list would have gone on to over 50. But mercifully, we have shortened it out to just 27.
I genuinely believe that our list is unique. While we have all heard of the legend’s famous chart-toppers on umpteen occasions, some of his underappreciated melodies deserve to be heard and given due merit as well. And I can vouch that every Rahman fan if they go through this list patiently, will have a smile on their face and have their memory tingled after they are through with it. So, enough of my rant now. I will let Rahman’s compositions do all the work from here.
Gurus Of Peace – Vande Mataram (1997):
Sung by Pakistani legend Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, along with Rahman himself, this was a true treasure hidden in the album Vande Mataram which had the monster hit ‘Maa Tujhe Salam’. A genuinely heartfelt and touching number whose lyrics, perhaps, stand true today more than ever.
Kismat Se Tum Humko Mile Ho – Pukar (2000):
A delightful romantic track from the movie Pukar which had bigger hits like ‘Que Sera Sera’. Sonu Nigam and Anuradha Paudwal were fantastic in this track which should perhaps be heard while traveling to the mountains. Evokes a sense of longing this one.
Na Shiqwa Hota – Tehzeeb (2003):
This is not one of Rahman’s more popular albums. But the song is a real treasure. With soulful lyrics from Javed Akhtar and a profound rendition by Sujata Bhattacharya, the track has a terrific usage of lovely instruments and goes straight to the heart.
So Gaye Hain – Zubeidaa (2001):
It’s real unfortunate that Lata Mangeshkar – the nightingale of India – worked with Rahman on very few instances. But whenever she did, the two created magic. As was the case with this number. An absolutely haunting melody which, if you are listening to it in solitude, sort of goes deep into the soul and churns it upside down.
Thoda Thoda – Indira (1995):
This is, apparently, a translated version. Regardless, it is a soothing romantic track, with the classic Rahman feel and is sung by two of his favourites - Hariharan and Chitra. The duo has given countless hits with Rahman and this one really tugs at the heartstrings delicately.
Ghoom Parani - Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2004):
In an album which had a lot of wonderful gems, Ghoom Parani was a subtle and lovely number which has that old-world charm of Bengal in it. This Hindi-Bengali song has been sung by Sapna Mukherjee and Satyanarayan Mishra and feels like a soft lullaby being crooned by one’s grandmother.
Ek Mohabbat - Taj Mahal (1999):
It’s cruel how little Rahman utilizes his own brilliant voice. His charisma infuses life into this beautiful anthem for the film Taj Mahal. Lovely, uplifting and rousing. A true Rahman number.
Sun Ri Sakhi - Hum Se Hai Muqabala (1994):
Hum Se Hai Muqabla was a colossal musical hit. And this romantic song was drowned in between ‘Muqabala Muqabala’ and ‘Urvashi Urvashi’. But Hariharan is yet again at his marvelous best here in this song which leaves one all warm and fuzzy.
Do Qadam Aur Sahi -Meenaxi (2004):
Meenaxi is probably one of the most underrated Rahman albums ever. It is filled with some fabulous gems. And this one here is one of them. Sonu Nigam pours his heart into the romantic song and Rahman’s tuneful chords just caress our hearts lovingly.
Heera – Highway (2014):
Another song which was drowned in the bigger hits of its album. Highway’s ‘Pathaka Guddi’ and ‘Maahi Ve’ stole the show completely, but Heera was such a soulful piece that it should be given due significance. With lyrics penned by Irshad Kamil, Kash, Krissy, and Sant kabir, this beautiful song feels like a sweet lullaby which a mother is singing to her child at night. Really endearing.
Mera Rang De Basanti - The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002):
A patriotic Rahman number which doesn’t get enough credit. The Legend of Bhagat Singh has a few classics up its sleeve and Mera Rang De Basanti stands right up there. The lyrics, obviously, are well-known, but Rahman’s deft use of musical instruments and the vocal chords of Sonu Nigam and Manmohan Waris make this a classic patriotic song that will stand the test of time for years to come.
Dheemi Dheemi - 1947 Earth (1998):
This is another truly underrated Rahman album and features some wonderful tracks. Dheemi Dheemi by the evergreen Hariharan is a deeply endearing romantic melody and should be enjoyed in the evenings while sitting on your balcony, watching the sun go down.
Nahin Samne – Taal (1999):
Taal was one of Rahman’s biggest hits as a composer. We are well aware of ‘Taal se taal mila’, ‘Ishq Bina’ and ‘Ramta Jogi’. However, ‘Nahin Saamne Tu’ is such a stirring, profound and heartfelt number that it should get much more acclaim. Hariharan is in tremendous form here and the track really plucks at the soul poignantly.
Man Mohana - Jodhaa Akbar (2008):
Jodha Akbar will always be cherished as one of Rahman’s best works. Sadly, this track did not get the praise it should have. A beautiful devotional song, rather an expression of love from a devotee to her Lord, which is just charming to listen to. The more you go deep into the song, especially towards the very end, you will realize that this is an absolutely haunting melody sung spiritedly by Bela Shende.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2004):
A song which makes us yearn for our land, our country. Although not in the same vein as ‘Ye Jo Des Hai Tera’ this is a really wonderful composition that deserves to be kept in your playlist, especially for times when you are away from home.
Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna (Sad) Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002):
Sonu Nigam gave all his soul to this beautifully composed patriotic song. While these lyrics were legendary much before this song was released, but the poignant manner in which it has been presented deserves kudos. This is a sad, heart-rending, and extremely passionate piece.
Festival (Instrumental) – 127 Hours (2010):
Rahman should also be celebrated for his beautiful and innumerable instrumentals as well. This one here is from the Danny Boyle-directed film 127 Hours. The music leaves you feeling roused, uplifted, inspired, emotional, and happy. It is one of the best ending music used in a film and is a must-listen when one is down or seeking some inspiration. Trust me.
Khamosh Raat – Thakshak (1999):
A song which has, perhaps, been long forgotten even by the most ardent Rahman fan. Roop Kumar Rathod breathes life into the sublime lyrics from Mehboob in this real underrated Rahman treasure. The song has an eternal feeling of longing and, as the name suggests, deserves to be heard on a silent light while gazing up at the moon. Guaranteed to take you into some other world.
Hawa Sun Hawa – Ada (2010):
This terrible film was lit up solely because of Rahman’s fantastic numbers. Among the many, Hawa sun hawa, deserves a mention as it has the perfect magical blend of Rahman and Sonu Nigam. A truly brilliant romantic number.
Dheeme Dheeme - Zubeidaa (2001):
Rahman is a master when it comes to composing period pieces and Zubeidaa was no different. Dheeme Dheeme sung by Kavita Krishnamurthy is a charming and delightful song that has an evergreen essence to it. You can hear it at any time of the day and this lilting composition is bound to lighten your mood up.
Boondon se Baatein - Thakshak (1999):
This is a melodious tune which deserves to be heard for Rahman’s masterful use of the flute interspersed with superb beats, and for Sujata Trivedi’s smooth and flowing voice. The song has amazing depth and heart and has an overall cheerful warmth. A true underappreciated Rahman composition.
Do Nishaaniyan - Jhootha hi Sahi (2010):
This song went completely unnoticed but was a real find. Sonu Nigam and Rahman yet again come together to create a soulful and calmative number. It makes us yearn. It makes us feel and has real heart-melting qualities. Really deserves more appreciation.
Chikku Bukku Raile(Tamil) – Gentleman (1993):
This is a Tamil dance number and might feel a tad odd in this list. But this one holds a lot of prominence in my life as it was my eternal favourite through my boyhood days. I was crazy about this song, really. Without knowing the lyrics, I would attempt to garble out the words while listening to it on our old cassette player and dance like mad. Prabhu Deva’s incredible dance moves obviously played a significant part in making me love this song, but Rahman’s mix of traditional with western music in this one is outstanding (especially of the moving train). Even when I listen to it now, I feel like getting up and dancing my heart out. A really uplifting dance number if ever there was one. A timeless Rahman classic.
Masoom - Vande Mataram (1997):
For some reason, this lovely song went unnoticed from the album which had other, more renowned hits. Regardless, it is a superb track sung beautifully by Rahman himself. It is meaningful and emotive. It makes you think and fall in love with your country and countrymen. Perhaps this mellow number is much needed in these times.
Pyare Panchi Bahon Mein –Hindustani (1996):
It's been close to 20 years I think since I last listened to this wonderful song. The very moment I hit the play button on this, I was instantly transported back to my childhood and immediately my eyes welled up. Within a second...The very first memory that came with it was I and my elder brother listening to this song on our old cassette player. The song has simple and beautiful lyrics, a soulful rendition by Yesudas and, of course, the magic of Rahman. Really takes you back to time when life was simple and reminds you that it still can be.
So here is our exhaustive list, then. If you have gone through it, I am certain you would have felt pleased somewhat; in spite of feeling that some of your own underrated favourite Rahman classics should have been featured here.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed doing this. It was something unique and not something I have ever done for my blog. The process allowed me to fall in love with the genius of A.R. Rahman once again. More than anything else, though, this activity reminded me of those simpler times... I, my brother, our old cassette player, and A.R. Rahman...Good days they were...
So I will sign off now, in the hope that the legend of A.R. Rahman will live on forever. And in the hope that I may somehow turn back time one of these days and then get to rediscover his magic … Much like that wide-eyed kid who once listened to him for the first time while watching Roja in a dingy, little theater.
In collaboration with Nishant Mishra