Trains, rain, flirting eye contact with your crush. To this add a Rahman track. Tadaa! Magic.

Growing up with Rahman and Ratnam Why Ill always be a fangirl of the Magicians of MadrasFacebook
Flix Kollywood Saturday, March 25, 2017 - 12:36
Written by  Shakti Swaminathan

I still remember that day.  It was the year 1992 and we were travelling to Tirunelveli, our hometown, in a dusty Nellai Express, for the Independence Day holidays.

My father opened the day’s newspaper and drew our attention to the poster of Mani Ratnam’s latest movie, Roja. “This film is set in our town,” he announced rather emphatically. His excitement soon dissipated when he saw a new name amidst the credits.

The music director of this flick was a newbie called A.R Rahman.

Our family was a bunch of cutthroat Ilaiyaraaja fans. We worshiped his music. A little known boy who up until then was scoring jingles for ads was putting an end to the Raja- Ratnam love saga. It smelt like sacrilege. We were fuming and at the same time bewildered. Was he dethroning the king?

It’s been 25 long and glorious years of Rahman in our lives. With the release of Mani Ratnam’s latest venture, Kaatru Veliyidai on April 7, Rahman would be coming a full circle, completing silver jubilee in the industry with the man who started it all.

The partnership of Rahman and Ratnam is mystical, almost like a Khalil Gibran quote-  a union that draws the best of each other, complementary, while maintaining spaces and individual identity, a match made in heaven, the perfect relationship.

Invariably, the best work of Rahman has come under the tutelage of Ratnam, and Ratnam’s box office duds have remained in our collective conscious because though the movie may have failed us, the music didn’t.

As a petulant and impressionable 8 year old, my first love was the chart topper Chinna China Aasai. With each passing day, the Roja album was increasing in popularity and when it was listed among the 10 all-time best soundtracks of the world by TIME magazine, I couldn’t decide if I loved Pudhuvellai Mazhai or Kadhal Rojave more.

Pudhu vellai mazhai is the quintessential romantic song; the glass shattering like opening sequence is in perfect harmony with the visuals of a new bride encountering snow for the first time in her life. “Iru kaigal theendatha penmaiyai un kangal panthadudho”, (The femininity that couldn’t be kindled by hands, ie physically, succumbs to your eyes). How did the trio of Rahman-Ratnam- Vairumuthu, describe a woman’s mind so evocatively?

The falling in love of a married couple, discovering each other while exploring a new territory felt surreal while the love and loneliness was palpable in SPB’s soulful baritone in Kadhal Rojave. But my family was still adamant. Raaja’s songs are evergreen; Rahman’s will be short lived like his jingles they said. However, like many others, I was sold!

For the children of the 90s, summer was all about cousins, mangoes and family vacations to Kodai and Ooty.  Also called the decade of Rahman’s prime, we spent every road trip singing along to the audiotapes of Rahman’s latest. The Bombay tape, for instance, has screeched out of agony. Life hacks then included knowing which song to pause on A side so that it would stop at the song we wanted to listen to on side B.  

While Thiruda Thiruda’s Chandralekha made us, the closet opera singers take a shot at screaming into a make-believe mic, the racy Humma Humma (Bombay) was our rite of passage to sexual awakening. (Every South Indian child remembers secretly enjoying the song on big screen while sitting next to an equally enjoying, but squirming parent)

Soon it was hard to keep our Madras Mozart hidden from the prying eyes of Bombay. It was time to share our legend with Bollywood and so we did with a little bit of pride and a lot of misgiving. We were jealous when Dil Se Re sounded better in Hindi and the Tamil Chaiya Chaiya lacked the punch that the original had. But we truly believed that he reserved the best music for us, the original connoisseurs.

Trains, rain, mirrors, and flirting eye contact with a cute guy across the wedding hall. To this add a Rahman track. Tadaa!  Magic. There is a no greater testimony to the adage ‘the whole is a sum of its parts’ than Mani Ratnam’s films that are a perfect amalgamation of music, lyrics, and stunning visual aesthetic.

Ratnam, they say, also extracts the best performance from his actors (who would ever believe that Iruvar was Aishwarya Rai Bacchan’s first film?)  I admit that I was a hormonal teenager in the early 2000s when Alaipayuthey released, but there wasn’t a single girl whose heart didn’t skip a beat at the opening shot of Madhavan riding a bike while Endrendrum Punnagai played on. We didn’t lust at Maddy in other movies as much as we did in Ratnam’s.

Over the years, I trudged my feet across the line, from being an incurable romantic to the cynic who cannot watch a romantic movie without wanting to sigh every half an hour or hold my head in agony. The irritation simmered to a new high when I watched OK Kanmani, the story of a young couple falling in love over a couple of cutesy zingers before tumbling predictably into holy matrimony.

A goofy Dulquer managed to thaw me a little. I had almost given up on the film when the mellifluous Ay Sinamika, in the velvety vocals of Karthik appeared. It made me want to fall in love all over again, at least for those five minutes.

Chart toppers aside, the underrated Easter eggs of Rahman’s have always been my personal favourites- the achingly beautiful Poongatrile (Uyire), the flirty Nenjam Ellam (Ayutha Ezhuthu) or the classic Ay Hairathe (Guru).

Every time I listened to the brilliantly orchestrated Thee Thee (Thiruda Thiruda), my  brain would choreograph the perfect dance moves, but alas they would sadly translate into a jumble of flaying legs and arms in reality. Perhaps that’s the genius of Ratnam, the ability to execute the images in his mind’s eye into eye-catching visuals like the haunting Naan Varuven from Raavanan set to the arresting visuals of Vikram plunging to death or the slow- motion sequences of Kadhal Sadugu, sung as a mischievous ode by SPB Charan.

Though Rahman is part of several other successful collaborations, with directors Shankar, Gautham Menon and Imitiaz Ali, the Rahman-Ratnam duo have the old familiarity, like the nostalgia and comfort of coming home. They made us long for people we’ve never met. They were balm for the soul.

The release of Kaatru Veliyidai reminds me of a simple joy of life; of buying an audiotape, knowing that the album will be terrific. Rolling on the bed and listening to a track on loop, while the mind happily wanders away.

But, things have changed now. I have downloaded the soundtrack, but I also have a toddler who thinks my lying on the bed is an invitation to bounce on my tummy or bangs on the bathroom door incessantly, noticing that I have smuggled the portable speaker in.

The night falls. The husband and baby are safely tucked into bed. I open iTunes, fish out my noise cancellation headphones and press play. Vaan varuvan.. varuvaan…  I am in a trance.

Vaan varuvan? Yes Rahman is back.  And life is good.

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