Nominated for multiple Oscars, A. R. Rahman approaches the edge of the cliff he has been rushing towards for the better part of the last decade. Wings on the ready, he awaits the take-off of a truly remarkable career into a zone which most Indians only dream of – international recognition.
It is therefore only fitting that as one of his biggest fans I pause and reflect on what Rahman has meant to me in particular and music in general.
From the moment I heard the refreshing music of Roja, I was hooked. Each album of his had something new to offer. Sometimes the sound of the music was new, at other times it would be a new voice. His albums reaffirmed my faith that Indian music was not dead. That there was still innovation to be had in a land which was mired in the ordinary (Nadeem-Shavans) or the incomprehensible (classical and carnatic). He also broke the iron grip the trio of Illayaraja, Jesudas and S. P. Balasubrmaniam had over south Indian music. Suddenly the airs were filled with the voices of Hariharan, Sukhwinder, Suresh Peters, Bombay Jaishree. What a relief.
Indian film music, however, cannot be as pleased with Rahman as fans like me are. Rahman is the final nail in the coffin of a genre that was pretty unique to India. Nowhere else is there a genre like it and Rahman has completed what the Illayaraja-Jesudas-SPB trio started.
Even in an era of stalwarts like Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh and Manna Dey, each actor had a unique sound. The above mentioned practitioners of the art of playback singing would induce a unique flavor when singing for an actor. The result was the appearance of collections titled – Raj Kumar Songs, Dev Anand Songs, Hits of Amitabh Bachchan.
While the Illayaraja-Jesudas-SPB started to concentrate more on their abilities as music director and singers rather than singing for an actor. Rahman has taken the playback singer and the actor out of the equation. It is simply A. R. Rahman’s music.
Unfortunate as it maybe the last actor-singer combination in this genre might well be Emraan Hashmi-Himesh Reshamiya.
So, while Rahman continues to soar high and give us music that fills our souls, let us pause a minute and reflect the death of a genre.