The nineties were golden years of Tamil film music. Those who were in their teens at the time AR Rahman broke into filmdom with his unique flavour of melodies and foot-tapping beats would know what that really means. In those years of audio cassettes and compact stereo players, the only way to listen to a Rahman track in all its glory was to buy a ticket in the theatre.
Buying tickets for back-to-back shows in a theatre that has been newly upgraded to surround sound and grabbing the middle row seats was the norm among friends, whenever a big Rahman musical released.
Be it Thiruda Thiruda, Gentleman, Kaadhalan, Bombay or Rangeela, there was a large group of teens and youngsters who used to get into the theatre only to listen to the songs; we would leave as soon as the last song finished playing. Rahman’s improvisations while scoring BGM and additional surprise tracks (like "Kaatru Kuthirayile" in Kaadhalan) made these repeated watches a necessity, even if you have bought or ‘recorded a copy’ of the album.
The group never missed any Rahman album, except a couple of Telugu films he did because there was no internet at that time. Listening to them on the tower speakers and stereo amps in the nearest music shop was the next best experience to the theatre. Perhaps A R Rahman remains as one of the composers whose tracks lived on even when the films flopped in the box office. Songs of films such as Indira and May Madham are still popular despite their box office failure. However, there are a host of other albums that remain undiscovered or under-appreciated.
This piece lists 10 such Tamil albums that are worth going back to.
A woman-centric film, Pavithra had Raadhika in the lead role and Nasser and Ajit in supporting roles. Though it won two national awards, the film failed to appeal to the audience. For AR Rahman, Pavithra happened between two of his biggest hits: Kaadhalan and Karuthamma. The album had melodies written by Vairamuthu and Pazhani Bharathi and sung by Mano, Unnikrishnan, Chithra, Swarnalatha, Shahul Hameed and SP Balasubramaniam’s daughter Pallavi. “Sevvanam Chinna Pen” sung by Mano and Pallavi is the most hummable track while Chithra’s “Azhagu Nilave” is the track that you would love to listen to again.
9. Puthiya Mannargal
This is one of the earliest movies of Vikram as a hero. Director Vikraman was already a household name after the runaway success of the musical Pudhu Vasantham when he directed Puthiya Mannargal. The album has foot-tapping numbers “Nee Kattum Selai”, “Vaanil Yeni Pottu”, “Eduda Andha Sooriyan” and a “Vaadi Saathukudi.”
This album was one of the first ones to come out after Roja and Gentleman. Kizhakku Seemayile, which was released around the same time was a huge hit. Uzhavan is an impressive album with six beautiful tracks, starting with the most popular melody “Pennalla Pennalla Oodhapoo”. The duet “Rakozhi Randu” was sensuously rendered by Yesudas and Swarnalatha. “Kangalil Enna Eeramo” is a pleasant melody penned by Vaali and sung by SPB and Chithra with refreshing sounds.
“Kaathu Kaathu Dinam Kaathu” is a fast, playful number by Chithra and GV Prakash Kumar in a child’s voice while “Maari Mazhai” is another fast number by AR Rahman’s favourite voice Shahul Hameed who died in 1998. Yesudas and Chithra had sung the sad poem about motherly love “En Aatha”.
7. Paarthaale Paravasam
K Balachandar’s 100th film, Paarthaale Paravasam failed to make a mark in the box office. The soundtrack had 9 songs. In the track “Manmadha Maasam” Rahman has used minimum words. The film’s lyricist Vaali, after hearing the notes, had opined that it does not require many lines as they would “pollute” the music. The title track “Paarthaale Paravasam” and “Ada Moonrezhuthu” are hummable.
6. Kaadhal Virus
The love album of Kathir’s Kaadhal Virus (part of his trilogy with the word Kaadhal in the movie title, the other two being Kaadhalar Dinam and Kaadhal Desam, which became superhits) was released amidst much hype. “Ye Ye Ennachu Unakku" penned by Pa.Vijay and sung by Vasundhara Das was the pick of the album while "Bailamore" by Tippu and Silambarasan and "Vaan Nila" by Srinivas and Karthik are the other fast numbers. “Sonnalum” by Unnikrishnan and Harini and “Enthan Vaanil” by SPB and Swarnalatha are the romantic melodies. The songs carry a Rahman signature while using minimal instruments.
5. Love Birds
The song Malargale Malargale is the signature track of this love album. No Problem by reggae singer Apache Indian and AR Rahman was one of its kind in Rahman’s discography that you wouldn’t want to miss. “Naalai Ulagam”, a soothing track, has beautiful lines penned by Vairamuthu. “Samba Samba” is a song tailor-made for Prabhu Deva’s choreography.
4. Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal was the launch vehicle of director Bharathiraja’s son Manoj. He was paired with Riya Sen in this story of village rivalry. AR Rahman composed a mega album with 10 tracks for this project, out of which many songs became super hits. He has used many of his usual voices along with introducing some fresh voices. Rahman has provided a good mix combining the fast numbers “Thiruppachi Aruvala”, “Eechi Elumichi” and “Chotta Chotta” with the romantic duet “Kulirudhu Kulirudhu”.
Many of us may not remember the name of this movie, but that’s not the case with the song “Taxi Taxi”. It is a dance number that is one of the most sought after numbers of hip hop dancers. Many of the other tracks, such as “Chinnamma”, “Naan Eppodhu” and “Marudani” were reused tracks from Rahman’s Hindi films. “Elay” is the only other original track.
2. Anbae Aaruyire
SJ Surya was the busiest director at one point releasing back to back films with him behind and in front of the camera. AR Rahman was his favourite composer. The movie with the shortened title of Aa Aaa ran into controversies even before it was launched. “Mailegre Mailegre” tops the tracks in this album.
1. Kangalal Kaidhu Sei
One song is enough to add this album to your playlist: “Anarkali” though it is one album that you cannot fast forward. Sung by Karthik, Chitra Sivaraman, Kadhir & Murtuza, the song is one of the best melodies of the time. The fast number “Theekuruvi” that blends classical ragas and western beats still sound fresh. The other beautifully composed tracks in the album are “Azhagiya Cindrella”, “Aaha Tamizhamma” and “Ennuyir Thozhiye”.
(Dress Circle is a weekly column on films. The author is a communication professional and film enthusiast. Read his past works here)