Albums, AR Rahman, Music

Muhuh Thuhuh **

The first thing everybody says about AR Rahman’s music is that it takes repeated listenings to dig it. That you don’t really “get” Rahman’s music unless you have listened to it over and over again.

Which is completely bollocks, let me tell you. Try listening to a godawful Anu Malik track over and over again 12 times, you will find out that it gets into your head, whether you like it or not. Which is why new releases have repeat airplay on TV and radio, the principle is that if you are bombarded with a bad song and you don’t have anywhere to escape, you will ultimately cave in and start humming it to yourself, and pretty soon you will be telling your friends what a good song Anu Malik composed for that latest Dharmesh Darshan film.

Why then, you might ask, do some songs grab your attention immediately? What makes a Harris Jayaraj song sound so hummable the first time you hear it? Why is Himesh Reshammiya so popular? I get you, I get you. Let me try and explain this in detail.

I huhuh thuhuh. Goddamn you, tandavdancer. I have a theory. Call it the earworm theory, if you will. What I say is, the most hummable songs, the ones that stick in your head the first time you hear them, the ones that sound so freaking catchy – they are piggybackers. They are the bastard children of familiar tunes. The effect they produce the first time is – “where have I heard this before?” Now, you would know, without having to tell you myself, how difficult it is to hum another song when one song is playing right in front of you. It’s even harder to think of a wisp of a melody as it floats by in a composition. What actually happens when you think of the song this new song reminds you of is – the new song sticks in your mind. Voila, instant earworm.

Easy example: Listen to Harris Jayaraj’s Vettaiyaadu Villaiyadu, if you haven’t already. The last song on that album – Neruppae – is so catchy it can give SuperglueTM a complex. Until you think about it and realise the tune is just a reworking of the middle portion of Aashiq Banaaya Aapne. That’swhat I mean by piggybacking.

Now, back to Rahman.

The deal with Rahman music is that most of it, the stuff that has stood the test of time, is music that does not really have a template from previous film music. You sure as hell hadn’t heard an acoustic guitar and claps and a growling bass – and those instruments only – backing Chitra’s voice, until you heard ‘Kannalanae’ (That’s ‘Kehna Hi Kya’ for you non-purists) in Bombay. You heard Shweta Shetty singing herself hoarse on TV channels, but did you really think she could pull off the kind of high-pitched vocal violence that Rahman subjected her to in ‘Mangta Hai Kya’? Fine, so Iruvar was based on 70’s MGR movies, but were you really prepared for the scat portion in ‘Hello Mr Ethirkatchi’?

Let me tell you a secret. These three songs I mentioned above? I hated all of them the first time I heard them.

Why can’t we love AR Rahman’s music the first time we hear it? Because we are minor mortals. Because we have limited attention spans and equally limited aural capabilities, rendered sterile by the kind of puerile sonic experiences we are subjected to in the name of music. Please note that the previous sentence was bereft of irony of any kind. It’s true, you know it.

This is how a Rahman track affects you. Don’t take my word for it, try it out yourself the next time an album comes out. Listen to the album once. Just once, oh well, alright, listen to it one more time if it makes you feel better. Forget that it’s Rahman music, treat it as a generic album that has come out and you are listening to it because your friend recommended it or because you have nothing else to do. The important thing is – don’t tell yourself you have to like it. That’s the first mistake a Rahman fan makes. This is music that has been laboured on for days and weeks, probably even months. You do it a disservice by treating it as a disposable bit of loopyheadedness. Hmm, a better analogy – would you gulp down a glass of vintage champagne? Of course not. You would take it in slowly, let it into your system in delicate little sips.

So there. You have listened to the album. Your work is done. Keep the CD aside. If you are listening to it on, shut down the player and go to or something. (You might also consider stabbing yourself with a blunt object. You listened to a Rahman album foir the first time on a dinky mono compressed version, you sick freak. You should be made to listen to Another Brick in the Wall in a Hyderabad pub. Especially when there are skimpily clad women around dancing Farah Khan steps to it. Sorry, I digress.) Get on with your life, because you have got better things to do.

Of course, you are free to go and read reviews about the music. Check out the buzz. Smile at the obsessive fanboyness of music-lovers across the world as they dissect the album. Half of them will say it’s the next best release after Dil Se, the rest will hate it with a vengeance. You don’t care.

Now comes the interesting part. By Day 2, there will be these bits and pieces echoing around in your head. Maybe a “miaow” will creep in just when you’re about to go to bed. Or a snatch of a piano riff that you frantically try to complete in your mind. You will try to hum some of them to yourself – maybe you will hear bits of it playing in a music shop, or your friend humming a bit of it. Some guy will write about how cool this middle part of track 2 is, and you will try and remember how that part sounded like.

Give yourself a week, if you are a strong man and can digest all of Grant Morrison’s Invisibles in one sitting. (To be frank, I can’t.) A week, and then go listen to the album again. Wipe away your tears as you realize how completely cool the album is, and how intricate the songs are, and how Rahman can cram each of his song with details that would make a lesser composer quail. Listen and learn.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t cringe at the back-cover.

To the anonymous commenter who left the link to the ‘New York Nagaram’ mp3 a couple of days ago, thank you. I bought the Jillanu Oru Kaadhal album as soon as I could, and indulged in a little social experiment with myself ( the part you read about above. You did read it, didn’t you?), the same thing I do with most Rahman albums, at least the ones which do not have infectious thumbi loops as part of their promos. I didn’t listen to ‘New York Nagaram’ for quite a long time, letting the lightheadedness of ‘Kummi Adi’ sink into my system. It has Thenni Kunjaramma in it, man. How long has it been since we heard the lady with the cutest cracked voice EVER? Taj Mahal was the last album in which she figured, right? And who is this Tanvi lady and how can she sound like three women on three renditions of the same line? How could Shreya Ghoshal produce such orgasmic moans without the musicians running out of the studio? Was Rahman watching Trigun when he thought of putting in the random miaows in the title song? Why does the female chorus on ‘Munbe Vaa’ give me goosepimples on every listen?

Excuse me while I ponder over such existentialist questions. Feel free to go buy Jillanu Oru Kaadhal, available in Rahman-friendly stores across the world.

** Music Theory. Go read Preacher already.


A look at why Himesh Reshammiya is the saviour of pop culture and the last hope of the catchy tune.

So I was talking to my friend Vasu the other day, the day after I had met him in Bangalore, and the man pasted a link onto the chat window.

The idea of a tune, a melody, a combination of musical sounds that seems to be on everybody’s lips at the same time, that spreads through a society as rapidly as a respiratory infection, and seems to invasively seize and occupy space in peoples minds until they finally succeed in forgetting it.

The reason why he had thought it fit to send me this link was that in our previous meeting, I had driven him off his rocker by humming ‘Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa’ at every break in the conversation. Now Vasu is the kind of Pop Culture God who can sit through five Los Bros Ramsay productions in a day, but even a man of his stature has his limits. It was his reaction that made me realize at that precise instant that Himesh Reshammiya is a person who deserves not just my respect, but also a standing ovation for managing to affect people with his tune and voice. But the Himeshiyaa has been getting a lot of flak from all quarters, everywhere I see, there are people dissing him. Any lame stand-up comic or some babe-in-the-woods VJ thinks he can get a bellyful of laughs out of the potential audience by talking about The Him-man’s cap and his mike-holding posture. But you are wrong, all of you. Let me point out why.

The voice.

We are a nation who have been adoring Lata Mangeshkar’s glass-shattering screams for about fifty years now, and we cannot take a man with a nasal tone? What are you, aurally retarded or something? I felt the same way after I heard Ozzy Osbourne for the first time, and even Robert Plant, or for that matter, RD Burman on Mehbooba. Offbeat voices that feel like a cat’s claws on glass when you hear them the first time, but which grow on you, and a couple of decades down the line have become pretty distinctive in their own right. You may not like the voice right now, but twenty thousand hearings later, or perhaps after the next Hit Music Director decides to sing his own songs, you are going to beg for apna Himesh-bhai’s renditions. And oh, Indian music already has a nadir as far as voices go, and that happens to be Anu Malik.

The look.

On a flight to Bombay, I read an interview with Himesh Reshammiya. The interviewer asks him about the cap and the stubble, to which our man has a very legit explanation. I am quoting from memory

My friend pointed out that in India we have no rock stars. No Bryan Adams or Michael Jackson who the youth can identify with. I want to change that. My friend made me wear the cap, it has become part of my look. Even if you see a silhouette of Himesh Reshammiya, you ought to recognise it as Himesh Reshammiya.

Now hold on, I bet all of you are snarking at the guy’s audacity. Personally, I remembered an interview AR Rahman gave in 1997, when Vande Mataram was about to release. Did anyone complain when Rahman got himself the curly hair and the blue-jeans-white-shirt makeover? Nope, we were cheering him through and through. So why single out Himesh Reshammiya? And on top of it, his plan’s working, isn’t it? You see anyone with a cap and a stubble, and the first thing that comes to mind is HR. The same way a goatie below the lower lip will always, ALWAYS make you say “Aamir Khan”. Image, people, it’s all about image.

The attitude.

People say he comes off like a dick. Doesn’t smile in public. C’mon, just because a guy doesn’t grin like a vacuous moron whenever an interviewer is asking him questions doesn’t mean he’s being a dick. For all you know, he’s scared shit-less of the camera. And then you’ve Rahman who giggles uncontrollably after every question, and ruffles his hair — so when Harris Jayaraj does the same thing in his interviews, everybody’s like “HARRIS COPIES RAHMAN. OMG COPYCAT!”. Well? Himesh-bhai isn’t copying Rahman. Himesh-bhai is blazing new trails for himself. The Unapproachable Musician, the Bad Cop in the panel of reality TV judges who cannot be swayed by your ass-kissing or your heartfelt pranaams. And hey, at least he doesn’t go around saying things like “I am the best music director in the country.” He’s quite open about his respect for other music directors too.

The music.

Back in the days when Himesh Reshammiya was still a nobody, there was this article I read about the making of this film called Pyaar Kiya Toh Darnaa Kiya, which starred Salman Khan and Kajol and had music by Jatin Lalit. The article was about the fact that Jatin-Lalit, then one of the hottest music composers had tried rather hard to write the title song of PKTDK, and they had given up in disgust because, according to them, the tune of the Mughal-e-Azam song from the sixties “Pyaar Kiya Toh Darrna Kiya” was too overpowering for them to think of any other tunes for those words. What a bunch of pussies. It was then that Himesh Reshammiya snuck into history. He composed a tune which was quite decent. At least, unlike most the other songs in PKTDK, Himesh’s “Odhli Chunariya” was not ripped off from other sources. Over the years, his output has been dhinchaak at best – ranging from ear-friendly desi tunes to club-thumping numbers, which really got to you if you heard them a couple of times. And all the time, he didn’t quite have a “style” – sometimes he would sound like Nadeem Sharavan on a really good day, other songs he would be like Anu Malik on a bad acid trip.

Aashiq Banaaya Aapne changed all that. You might argue that Tere Naam was a superhit too, but the Himesh-bhai style, His Voice, the solitary violin, the tabla flourishes, the sexy babes in the title songs, Emraan Hashmi – everything came together in AAB. And of course, the Ear Worm effect. The voice lodged itself in your ear, the tune bounced around like a flubberly creature, and all was right with the world.

Now the problem that everyone seems to have is, all his tunes after Aashiq Banaaya Aapne sound the same. Not true. Jhalak Dikhlaajaa from Aksar is better. It is a superior song. If you thought Aashiq Banaaya Aapne was an earworm, Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa is like a mega-super-duper ear-worm designed to bring mankind to its knees. Do you know anyone who has used the shehnai properly in Indian Film music after AR Rahman’s ‘Humma’? Himesh Reshammiya has, in Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa. Can you think of anything who can make Emraan Hashmi look cool? Nope, not humanly possible, but Himesh Reshammiya, or rather, Himesh Reshammiya’s music can distract you from Emraan Hashmi. Which is always a good thing, my friends. How many other music directors use Sunidhi Chauhan and Shreya Ghoshal’s voices in innovative ways? The correct answer would be “Everyone”, but because we are talking about The Him-man, the answer is, you guessed it right, Himesh Reshammiya. And the other tune from Aksar, called ‘Laagi Laagi’ also has him singing, and he sounds different on it. More like Sukhwindar Singh.

We are all in denial. Himesh Reshammiya has given us something like TWENTY EIGHT hits in the last six months, and we refuse to acknowledge his talent. Yeah, every Bappi song sounded the same when it came out. When Bappi Lahiri released Disco Dancer in 1982, and followed it up with a series of disco anthems, there would be these disgruntled janta who, with their ears plugged and their constitutions soured, would mutter curses against the newbie composer and his disco tunes. The more hallowed among them would say things like “Ah, he’s ripping off Modern Talking and Laura Brannigan and The Buggles” and then go listen to bootleg tapes of Thriller to purge their ears of such pedestrian compositions.

Twenty four years down the line, Bappi da’s having the last laugh. How many of you have heard of The Buggles? Yet, when I sing “Auwwa Auwwa”, you will think of Bappi Lahiri, and his magnificent Disco Dancer album. I believe that is precisely what Himesh Reshammiya will become twenty four years from now, a cultural icon and representative of the early 2000s, and I think I will give him his due. Which is better than having to explain to my kids why I thought HR’s music sucked at first.