For most Indian film music buffs, going past a day without an AR Rahman song would be an impossible task. All the way from Roja to Sarvam Thaala Maayam, the Mozart has churned out an array of chartbusters which topple every emotion in the list, be it romance, motivation, energy, or party. Specifically, in the Tamil music scene, AR Rahman has delivered some of the most evergreen hits that are adamant on not moving out of our playlists, even today. On his 52nd birthday, here is my list of Rahman’s ten best albums ranked on the criteria of their long-lasting shelf life, repeat value and the newfound listening experience.
In his interview to The Hindu last year, Gentleman’s producer, KT Kunjumon revealed that AR Rahman was considered a ‘classy composer’ who could not fit into the scheme of the film when the discussions on who to pick for the music were going on. Rahman had done just 7 films before Gentleman, and boy, had he earned that tag early. Nevertheless, the magic musician came on board to process one of the most-loved albums till date in what started off a terrific director-composer combo with Shankar. Gentleman’s soundtrack possesses the right mix of innovation for a commercial film, with even flashy dance numbers making a lot of sense.
Favorite: En Veetu Thottathil
Bombay’s soundtrack is still considered a masterpiece for the maturity with which AR Rahman handled the delicate and intense theme of the film. Though the film had space for a smash hit like Hamma, the real beauty of the album lies in songs such as Kannalaney and Uyire – soothing melodies. It is also one of the very few Indian soundtracks which sounds equally good in Hindi as well.
With Jeans, Rahman proved that one can create a thoroughly entertaining soundtrack with diverse variety and control over genres. Shankar upped the ante with his excellent picturisation that made it a regular on music channels. For one of the songs, he even visited the 7 wonders of the world (at that time) and put it together onscreen.
Favorite: Poovukkul Olindhirukkum
Rahman’s compositions for Boys were amazingly trendy, so much so that they made his critics hide in shame for commenting on his ability to keep up with the youth’s liking. The songs broke records in cassette and CD sales and became an even bigger rage post the film’s release in theatres. Apart from the main playlist, Rahman made use of the film’s storyline to churn out some amazing 2-minute songs that were instantly hummable.
Favorite: Maaro Maaro
Rahman blew minds when the soundtrack of Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa hit the stores, with music buffs and fans going crazy over almost all the songs in the album. Even today, the songs of VTV (as it is popularly known) are regulars on radio stations and are a favourite among many. It set such high standards that it would be safe to say that the Gautham Menon – Rahman combination could repeat themselves 100 times and still not meet this magic.
Kadhalan is a Rahman soundtrack that has a hall of fame of its own. This is because the soundtrack’s tunes were so viral at that time, that they were usurped by a lot of Bollywood composers – ‘Mukkabla’ leading Rahman into the Limca Book of Records. The songs keep ringing even today for their unusual pep and peculiar mixing of synths, folk beats and western styles. Guess what, rapper Will.I.Am even bought the rights to use the tune of ‘Urvasi’ in his 2014 single ‘Birthday’.
Favorite: Pettai Rap
Looking back, many would disagree with the worth of Thiruda Thiruda to be held this high, but the album deserves much more praise than what it has today for its breakthroughs in terms of the musical quality and range. Rahman defined ‘elevation’ in many ways with this fantastic soundtrack that made use of the singer in Mano like few other.
Favorite: Putham Pudhu Bhoomi
Roja is easily one of the best ever debut albums by any musician on the face of this earth. It marked the birth of a fabulous composer who knew his music very well and was hungry to explore more genres and club it into the base he came from. In line with the happy-to-hurry nature of the film, Rahman belted out some simple and embracing numbers while also playing risky cards with a patriotic song.
Favorite: Pudhu Vellai Mazhai
Rahman tapped in large orchestrations and instantly addictive tunes with the soundtrack of Minsaru Kanavu, which is definitely an album for the ages. There can be a separate 1000-word article written about the interludes he unleashes here, with the perfect choice of singers adding garlands. Fun, frolic and feels – this one had it all.
Rahman’s Alaipayuthey is simply the best that the man has given us over the years, with every song staying fresh even at this moment. The class of this soundtrack is pretty much unassailable, making it one of the most loved Indian albums ever. Even today, it is looked at as a strong benchmark for a romantic album, with many directors even asking for such songs to their composers. If that is not greatness, I don’t know what is.
Favorite: Pachai Nirame
Other worthy albums that missed the cut: Kannathil Muthamittal, Kandukondein Kandukondein, Sivaji – The Boss, Kizhakku Cheemaiyile, Muthu, Mudhalvan, Indian