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His master’s voice

Roja (1992): The big breakthrough album that instantly created waves across the nation. But what it did more importantly was having Mani Ratnam switch to Rahman from Illayaraja. The two would go on to do some of the best film music produced in the country. From Chhoti si asha to Roja jaaneman, the film was a bravura feat from a 25-year-old genius. No wonder Roja was featured on Time magazine’s 10 best soundtracks of all time.

Song for the feet: Rukmani rukmani

Song for the soul: Yeh haseen vaadiyan


Thiruda Thiruda (1993): One of Rahman’s few Tamil soundtracks that got heard in Mumbai and the rest of India, thanks to MTV, which couldn’t have enough of Thee thee and Chandralekha. The other wonders were the buddy song Kannum kannum, the immensely chatty Veerapandi kottayile and, of course, the brilliant Raasathi, where Rahman uses only voices and a choir in the background to create the desired effect.

Song for the feet: Chandralekha

Song for the soul: Raasathi


Bombay (1995): The Rahman-Ratnam magic continued with this film, where Rahman recorded his first of the many translated soundtracks, where the tunes remained the same and the Tamil lyrics were converted into Hindi. From the intimate Kehna hi kya to the chaotic Kuchi kuchi rakamma, Rahman showed his versatility yet again and by picking Remo for Hamma hamma, he stressed again — after Baba Sehgal and Shweta Shetty in Rukmani rukmani — that he was not afraid to experiment. The masterpiece of the album was arguably the Bombay theme.

Song for the feet: Hamma hamma

Song for the soul: Tu hi re


Dil Se (1998): Yet another Mani Ratnam film. Yet another gem of a soundtrack from Rahman. While Chhaiyya chhaiyya initially overshadowed every other song in the soundtrack, one possibly couldn’t keep songs like Jiya jale and Satrangi re under wraps for too long. With Jiya jale, Rahman first showed his keenness to give Lata Mangeshkar a reason to sing again. Chhaiyya chhaiyya, of course, also saw the advent of singer Sukhwinder Singh, who would become Rahman’s constant collaborator. One listen and you don’t need to be a genius to figure out why Spike Lee used the song in Inside Man.

Song for the feet: Chhaiyya chhaiyya

Song for the soul: Ae ajnabee


1947 Earth (1998): One of Rahman’s most underrated soundtracks, this one was period yet very contemporary, slow yet very moving. While the kite-flying song Rut aa gayee re was the instant hit, the quaint cycle song Dheemi dheemi grew with every hearing. The other gems in this Deepa Mehta film — the harmonium-driven Banno rani and the smouldering paean of pain Raat ki dal dal.

Song for the feet: Rut aa gayee re

Song for the soul: Dheemi dheemi


Zubeidaa (2001): Shyam Benegal’s first film without composer Vanraj Bhatia had Rahman producing one of his best works. Whether it was the chirpy gypsy song Main albeli or the pristine love song Hai na or the moody Mehendi hai rachnewali or the liberating Dheeme dheeme, this was a must-listen collection. But what took the cake and the entire confectionery was Lata Mangeshkar’s So gaye hain with the grand symphony structure.

Song for the ear: Dheeme dheeme

Song for the soul: So gaye hain


Saathiya (2002): Shaad Ali’s remake of Mani Ratnam’s Alaipayuthey not only had the same shots and the same cut points, it had the same soundtrack, it’s just that Gulzar’s lyrics took the Hindi album to Level Next. While Sonu Nigam shone in the title song, Adnan Sami made his entry into Rahman territory with the breezy Aye udi udi. The hidden gems? Chupke se and Naina milaike.

Song for the ear: Oh humdum suniyo re

Song for the soul: Saathiya saathiya


Yuva (2004): If Thiruda Thiruda was a trailer of what Rahman could do to a youthful soundtrack, Yuva was the full picture. While the two Vivek-Kareena songs Fanaa and Khuda hafiz used trance and jazz to the hilt, the Abhishek-Rani songs Kabhi neem neem and Dol dol had a very rustic lilt to them while the Ajay-Esha numbers Badal and Dhakka laga buka rode high on percussion. The film didn’t deliver but the soundtrack was wow!

Song for the feet: Fanaa

Song for the soul: Kabhi neem neem


Swades (2004): Ashutosh Gowariker helped Rahman be heard in the West with Lagaan and the two stuck together for more great work. Swades was another Rahman masterpiece starting with the stirring title song, the spiritual Yun hi chala chal, the joyous Yeh tara woh tara, and the bouncy Saawariya.

Song for the feet: Yeh tara woh tara

Song for the soul: Yeh jo des hai tera


Rang De Basanti (2006): With new partner in rhyme Prasoon Joshi, Rahman got super-chatty with RDB. From Khalbali to Masti ki pathshala, it all sounded like a gang of guys having a lot of fun. The title track used Punjabi robustness to the full while Mohit Chauhan’s Khoon chala left us shaken and stirred. Plus the veteran Lata Mangeshkar’s Lukachupi and the newcomer Naresh Iyer’s Rubaroo.

Song for the feet: Masti ki pathshala

Songs for the soul: Rubaroo, Lukachupi, Khoon chala


Jodhaa Akbar (2008): Could Rahman do a Naushad was the question? Well he perhaps went one step further with a soundtrack which was both tour de force and yet very tender. From the sword-hitting-sword beats of Azeemo shah shahenshah to the uplifting Khwaja mere khwaja to the simmered In lamhon ki daman mein to the dulcet Jashn-e-baharaa, it was an incredible musical trip.

Song for the ear: Jashn-e-baharaa

Song for the soul: Khwaja mere khwaja


Jaane Tu... Yaa Jaane Na (2008): After a slew of period films, Rahman sunk his teeth into the Jaane Tu... score, peppering it with peppy songs like Pappu can’t dance saala, Nazrein milana and, of course, Kabhi kabhi Aditi. The title track sung by Rahman himself again sees the composer go big with jazz and how!

Song for the feet: Pappu can’t dance saala

Song for the soul: Kahin toh


The magic continues...

Well, the Academy and the rest of the awards honchos hopefully would tune in to this one for their consideration next year, because Rahman’s latest OST — Rakeysh Mehra’s Delhi-6 is one of his best till date and that’s counting the other soundtracks on these pages. From Masakkali to Dil gira dafatan to Maula mere maula to Genda phool, this is clearly one of the crests of Rahman’s career. And Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan enters Rahman’s world with Bhor bhaye...

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