Academy award winning composer A. R. Rahman is the most popular Indian celebrity in the field of music for the past two decades or so. He stormed into Indian music scene in 1992 through ‘Roja’ – the album regarded as a milestone in Indian film industry. It has been almost 25 years since Roja was released. Yet music fans love its songs with same freshness they listened two decades ago. Rahman is the son of famous Malayalam music director R. K. Shekhar who had to face a lot of hardships as a youngster following the unexpected death of his father – the rising star of Malayalam music industry. But since the release of his debut album Roja, his music fans have always expected the best and he has not made them desperate very often.
Till now, A. R. Rahman has composed music for more than 100 albums belonging to different languages, and most of his Tamil tunes have been reused in Telugu and Hindi versions. Very often Tamil films featuring his songs have also been dubbed to other languages, and Rahman factor has always contributed to get more exposure to the dubbed versions.
Through this column I would like to mention his top 10 popular albums in Hindi, which includes a few dubbed version movies too. I have sorted them in the order of year of album release. I believe that his early compositions belonging to the sweet era of 1990s still remain his career best. Rahman also introduced many new voices and promoted less heard voices to music industry through his best tunes and many of them went on to establish themselves in the industry.
1. Roja (1992) – Rahman’s debut work
‘Yeh Haseen Waadiyan’ – Top Chithra song in Bollywood
Whenever a discussion is made on Rahman’s music, it’s incomplete without mentioning his debut album Roja. He is one among those lucky artists who managed to get national award for his debut work. Regarded as a milestone of Indian music, Roja’s success gave enough energy for Rahman to compose many tunes belonging to the same category. Originally a Tamil movie, it was dubbed into many Indian languages including Hindi. ‘Roja Jaaneman’, ‘Yeh Haseen Waadiyan’, ‘Dil Hai Chota Sa’ and ‘Bharat Hum Ko’ were major hits, still loved by music fans for its surprising and fresh tunes composed by Rahman. The movie also began the successful association of Rahman with celebrated director, Mani Ratnam. Rahman has traveled many milestones in the past 25 years since ‘Roja’ has happened.
2. Bombay (1995) – Rahman’s top ranking album in international arena
Tu Hi Re – Hariharan rendered his voice for both Tamil and Hindi versions
Bombay also received the same status of Roja. Rahman has composed many songs, yet his songs of Roja and Bombay are regarded as his career best. Originally a Tamil movie, its Telugu and Hindi versions were also well received. However like Roja, Bombay too was never nominated at Filmfare awards in best music category, though Manisha Koirala was awarded Critics’ choice best actress award for the film. The largest selling Indian album of the year, its soundtrack was included in The Guardian’s “1000 Albums to Hear before You Die” list. The tune – Kehna Hi Kya was also included in their “1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear” list. Tu Hi Re is the most popular track of the album, followed by Kehna Hi Kya, Humma Humma and Kuch Kuch Rakhma. Most recently in 2017, popular Humma Track was revived himself by Rahman for the movie – OK Jaanu, and it’s for the first one of this kind for a Rahman song in the past 25 years of his glorious journey.
3. Rangeela (1995) – Rahman’s debut Hindi film
Tanha Tanha song alongside The Title track revived the career of Asha Bhosle
Though Rahman was quite familiar to Bollywood music fans through the songs of Roja, Bombay and Hum Se Hain Muquabla, Rangeela is credited to be his debut Bollywood album. The songs became a huge rage across the nation similar to ‘Bombay’ released the same year and the whole nation was drowned by Urmila-Asha Bhosle magic. In fact he recreated Asha Bhosle’s versatile singing style through the solo chartbuster hits – Tanha Tanha and Rangeela Re. Read more. The album also included slow tracks like Kya Kare and Pyar Ye Jaane Kaisa. The album bagged him two awards at Filmfare annual award functions.
4. Dil Se (1998) – First Hindi collaboration with Mani Ratnam
Jiya Jale – The first time association of Rahman with Lata Mangeshkar
The album helped Rahman to bag his second Filmfare awards in best music director category. It was his third successful collaboration with Mani Ratnam and first one in Hindi language. All its songs – pictured on lead actors Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala and also Preity Zinta and Mallika Arora received an overwhelming response from public. This single album placed Rahman as the top music director of Bollywood, a space he enjoys till now in the music industry. As a singer too, Rahman got appreciated for rendering the title track. Chayya Chayya, E Ajnabi, Satrange Re and Jiya Jale were other highlights.
5. Taal (1999) – The musical of the year
Kahi Aag Lage – One of the top songs in Rahman-Asha Bhosle combination
The album helped Rahman to bag his second Filmfare awards in best music director category beating Ismail Darbar’s most appreciated work of the year Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Rahman gave opportunity to many fresh voices to Bollywood through this album which included a wide genre of tunes. Kahi Aag Lage, Ishq Bina, Tu Paas Hai, Taal Se Taal Mila, Ramta Jogi and Ni Mein Samach Gayi were among the finest tunes of the year, and Aishwarya’s charm and dancing moves added extra flavour to Rahman tunes.
6. Lagaan (2001) – First National award for a Hindi album
Radha Kaise Na Jale sung by Asha Bhosle and Udit Narayan. Javed Akhtar received National award for best lyricist
The Academy award nominated movie is also special for its wonderful tunes created by Rahman. Work of Lagaan always remains as one among his top 5 albums and it received many music awards at National film awards including best music for Rahman. Its tunes were so fresh, and it was for the third time Rahman tuned for an Aamir movie after Rangeela and 1947: Earth, and they continued their association with Mangal Pandey: The Rising, Rang De Basanti, Gajini and also, Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na through which Aamir launched his nephew Imraan Khan.The album remains the single Bollywood album of Rahman’s career to win National award.
7. Saathiya (2002) – Established Sonu Nigam as the leading male playback singer
The title track established Sonu Nigam as the leading male playback voice of Bollywood
The official remake of Mani Ratnam’s 2000 romantic hit Alaippayuthey starring Madhavan and Shalini, the filmmaker retained its original tunes also. Only two tunes were recreated. The most celebrated Hindi music album of the year, Rahman snatched Filmfare awards also from its strong contender Ismail Darbaar who created the tunes of Devdas for the same director who made Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. It was his fifth Filmfare award in best music category. Though music of Alaippayuthey was a huge hit, Saathiya’s work was more appreciated than its original. In fact Rahman’s tunes of Rhythm became more popular than Alaippayuthey in year 2000 which featured Shankar Mahadevan’s Thaniye track, and the no: 1 album of the year was Khushi. But Saathiya became the top album of year 2002. Its songs became a rage across the nation and Saathiya, Chupke Chupke, Chalka, Ee Udi Udi and O Humdum Suniyo Re were huge chartbusters. Rahman and Sonu Nigam received almost all music awards of the year.
8. Rang De Basanti (2006)– Highly energetic album of Rahman
Rang De Basanti – Top song of Daler Mehndi for Rahman’s composition
This particular album remains the favourite of many music lovers and Rahman fans over the years. He was widely praised by critics and music lovers for its compositions, and was one of the bestselling albums of the year. Its compositions are synchronous to the movie script and performances by its star cast. Rang De Basanti bagged him his seventh Filmfare awards in best music director category. Loose Control, Rang De Basanti, Rubaroo and Paathshaala were the major highlights.
9. Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na (2008)– Celebrating friendship and love
Aditi song which give big break to playback singer Rashid Ali
The movie which launched Imraan Khan was a huge blockbuster and went on to become a cult classic among youth. Its music by Rahman was equally appreciated and he introduced many new voices to Bollywood industry through this album. Its music also beat Rahman’s own album Jodha Akbar to receive Filmfare award for best music. Almost all songs were peppy numbers and loved by youth a lot. Pappu Can’t Dance, Kabhi Kabhi Aditi, Nazrein Milana Nazrein Churana and Kahin Toh are among the most popular tracks.
10. Jodha Akbar (2008) – An Epic poem
In Lamhon Ke Daaman Mein – The climax song of the movie
An epic poem for Ashutosh Gowariker after Lagaan, Rahman was highly praised for this work by music critics. The compositions are quite contradictory to the peppy numbers he composed for Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na released the same year, and also lost Filmfare awards to the same album. Jashn-e-Bahaaran gave enough attention to newcomer Javed Ali who earlier sang Ek Din Teri Raahon Mein for Naqaab. In Lamhon Ke Daaman Mein and soulful Khwaja Mere Khwaja were other top songs.
Top Albums of Rahman which narrowly missed the ‘Top 10 list’
In the recent times, Highway is one of his highly appreciated works and I was confused if I should list Highway or Rang De Basanti among the top 10 albums. After a lot of thoughts, I took Rang De Basanti as my choice owing to its huge popularity and fresh tunes though Highway remains my personal favourite.
Though Slumdog Millionaire earned Rahman international accolades, the album was not equally popular in India comparing his top albums such as Roja, Bombay, Saathiya, Rang De Basanti, Taal etc. I personally feel that compositions of above listed 10 albums deserve more appreciation than Slumdog Millionaire (though a bit confused with Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na).
Other top albums which missed the list include – Gajini, Rockstar, Swades, Zubeidaa, Delhi-6 and Guru which truly deserves special mention. I would also like to mention about his lovely tribute to India’s 50th Independence Day celebrations – Vande Mataram released in 1997. Truly he is a master of epic poems and his works of Lagaan, Swades, Zubeidaa and Jodha Akbar belong to this category. Equally he is successful with peppy numbers and melodies and he has donned every type of Bollywood music. Truly he is a legend.
To Conclude – Rahman is no longer a Tamil film composer alone
Rahman started off as a composer in Tamil films, and over the years he received a pan appeal. It’s only a myth that his popular tunes of Hindi films are derived from his Tamil works. There are some of his exclusive albums in Bollywood as well. His contribution to Hindi music industry is really commendable. Rangeela, Lagaan, Dil Se, Highway, Zubeida, Taal, Rockstar, Guru, Swades, Delhi 6, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na and Rang De Basanti are exclusively Hindi albums, not Tamil, received high ratings from topmost music critics too, and he won National award for Lagaan, a Hindi film. He is the most celebrated and popular music composer of Bollywood at present, and definitely after R. D. Burman. Though in the 1990s, he worked mostly in Tamil cinema, with new millenium, he gave equal preference to both industries, and now he can never be tagged as a Tamil music director any more . You can also check my choice of 60 chartbuster hits of Rahman
Also, he received 15 Filmfare awards in Hindi exclusively as on 2017, much more than any leading stars of the industry including SRK, Dilip Kumar & Amitabh. Only one person who has won more Filmfare awards than Rahman in Hindi film section is Gulzar. Read more. So, it’s the authentication for his significant contribution to Bollywood music for the past two decades since Rangeela was released in 1995, and he should never be tagged as a Tamil music director any more.
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