Punch Dialogue Cinema

Is A. R. Rahman still No.1?

VM: So Srini, what do you think is the most YouTubed Indian song ever?

SR: Hmmm…. I’m guessing it’s still ‘Why This Kolaveri Di’. It was so cool to be a ‘Soup Boy’ then. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t seen that video.

VM: I thought so too. No matter how many Rs. 600-crorers Bollywood makes, I thought we would always have the most-watched video. ‘Kolaveri’ has slipped, and badly. It’s only fifth now! (Yo Yo Honey Singh’s ‘Dheere Dheere’ has around 50 million more views).

SR: OMG! We need to unleash a Sam Anderson or a TR. But seriously, what about A. R. Rahman? I’m sure a song like ‘Jai Ho’ would’ve done well, considering the Oscars and all that.

VM: You won’t believe how low an ARR song features in that list. He doesn’t have a single song in the top 25. Don’t you think that’s strange?

SR: It is. But hits on YouTube aren’t the only benchmark in music—it’s also about how many people it has reached, offline. Try venturing out to MCC or Loyola for their music events.... all you will see is kids screaming ‘Thalli Pogathey’.

VM: ‘Thalli Pogathey’, at nearly 20 million views, has been his last major Tamil hit. His Hindi albums, even those in Mohenjo Daro and Tamasha, didn’t really have a “superhit” song, if you know what I mean. Getting back to reclaiming the top spot on YouTube, don’t you think Anirudh collaborating with international superstars, like Major Lazer, would do the trick? After all, their ‘Lean On’ is part of the elite ‘billion-views’ club.

SR: Oh yes, that’s a ‘major’ combo! But what are you getting at, bro? For us 90s kids, ARR is still a top draw. Have you forgotten the days of ‘Mustafa Mustafa’—back when friendship songs were not synonymous with shots of TASMAC bars? Take any popular YouTube cover done recently—all by young musicians—and you’ll find cover versions of songs like ‘Anbe Sugama’ and ‘Nila Kaigirathu’. Tells you something about his track record, doesn’t it?

VM: That’s not the point! Why do you have to keep going back to his 90s hits to talk about present-day popularity? I can quote dozens of Ilaiyaraaja covers that have done just as well. I’ll put it this way… Are ARR’s songs still #1 in this age of social media?

SR: With 11.8 million followers on Twitter, ARR is surely leading the pack among composers. By a big margin. But coming to songs, he is facing some stiff competition, I have to admit. There’s Santhosh Narayanan, who’s already scored a point over him by getting a Rajini project. There’s Anirudh, who’s perhaps looking to do that soon in Dhanush’s Rajini film. But ARR is still no 1... for any director looking for tunes to enrich a scene.

VM: I love how albums like Raanjhanaa and OK Kanmani work more as soundtracks than a collection of hit numbers. It’s perhaps due to all the work he’s done in the West that he wishes to serve the scene and not the hit charts. But his songs don’t seem to have the same mass appeal they used to. There were other popular composers in the 90s too... but it’s not like anyone else could outsell a Rahman album... in terms of cassettes, I mean.

SR: Bro, did you just say cassettes? I last saw them when I was still studying trigonometry in school! Anyway, I think that as years and albums went by, “international appeal” has surpassed “mass appeal” for him.

VM: ARR might just be alienating a new, young set of fans with the highbrow stuff. Even recently, on a train, I saw a baby being put to sleep by playing Santosh's Neruppu Da! Teenagers are crazy about Anirudh here, just as the Badshahs and YoYo Honey Singhs have got it going up north. I wish ARR signs a pucca mass Hindi film like Ghajini. They call him only for the epic stuff now.

SR: Hasn’t Rahman tried bringing in a newer set of music listeners with every album? He uses rappers like ADK to add spice to the sound… Isn’t ‘Showkali’ new-age?

VM: He should try those kinds of songs in Hindi too. But just compare ‘Showkali’ to any song in Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa ( VTV) for instance. VTV wasn’t just a soundtrack; it was a season.

SR: VTV was a season, as you aptly describe it, for more reasons than just Rahman. It’s just a matter of time before another one of those gems comes up. Hold on, I remember both of us listening to ‘Mental Manadhil’ on loop just a year ago. I’m sure you still have it on your playlist!

VM: Of course I do! That’s a soul song.

SR: There, I win!

VM: I too believe he’s still number one for the sheer variety of stuff he’s putting out. But the distance between him and the next best has never been as close. Even top stars can think of movies without him. Kamal has a Ghibran, Ajith has Anirudh, Vijay has G.V. Prakash/Santhosh Narayanan, Vikram and Suriya have Harris Jayaraj…

SR: Nice, pretty list. You left one small star… Rajinikanth. 2.0 might just prove that Rahman is still 1.0.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 1:55:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Is-A.-R.-Rahman-still-No.1/article14634845.ece

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