AR Rahman has many epithets – a living legend, the “Mozart of Madras”, Academy Award winning composer… the music maestro has remained an inspiration for artistes not just in India, but world over too, for three decades now. So picking a handful of his songs will be a real challenge.
Rahman, who started off with his first solo film album Roja, went on to give us innumerable masterpieces. One such being the theme of Bombay. Naveen Kumar, whose flute rendered the magical tune, revealed that a ‘musical storyboard’ was created for the theme. He even received a ‘descriptive brief’ where he had to think of the time just after a downpour, when the last few rain drops are dripping on the ground. He was asked to imagine the sound a solitary droplet would make when it fell on a leaf.
“I closed my eyes, tried visualising that and started playing,” Naveen Kumar told The Hindu in 2020. He played it for an hour that became the iconic tune, starting off like a whisper, gradually being lifted by echoing violins.
The fact that AR Rahman composes late at night is known. He believes that’s the time when somehow the voice of God travels through his music. The theme of Bombay is a prime example of how Rahman’s renditions have struck the hearts of not just Indian audience, but received global recognition too. And here, I’m not referring to his “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire that got him an Oscar award. He’s done much better and unknowingly mentored several artistes from around the world.
Here are some instances when Hollywood lifted or got inspired by AR Rahman’s tunes, proving why he’s a global icon.
Theme of Bombay
Bombay’s theme is one of Rahman’s most haunting melodies, and even most copied too. Bombay was among Rahman’s initial collaborations with ace filmmaker Mani Ratnam. And its theme was used by Lloyd Banks in his song “Rather By Me.” In fact the original score has been included in several international compilations, like Café del Mar Vol. 5 (1998), Anokha – Soundz of the Asian Underground (1997), Chakra Seven Centres (1995) credited as “Ajna Chakra”, Paradisiac 2 and Ambient Chillout Mix Vol. 1 (2002).
That’s not all. The Theme of Bombay has been copied in several films including 2002 Palestinian film Divine Intervention. It credited Rahman for the song that was titled “Mumbai Theme Tune”. Later, the 2005 movie Lord of War starring Nicolas Cage and Jared Leto used the track in its original form.
Kehna Hi Kya
Another track from Bombay, “Kehna Hi Kya” was picked by Loewenherz’s Bis in his song “Die Ewigkeit”. Such was the demand for Bombay’s music, that in 2007, its theme found a place in The Guardian’s “1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die” list, and “Kehna Hi Kya” was a part of their “1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear” list.
In fact “Kehna Hi Kya” also inspired American singer Ciara’s song “Turntables” featuring Chris Brown. The song used a sample from Rahman’s tunes.
Yaro Yarodi, Swasamae and Rang De
The 2008 Hollywood rom-com The Accidental Husband used not just one, but three Rahman songs. The soundtracks of his hit numbers “Yaro Yarodi” (Chalka Chalka Re in Saathiya), “Swasamae” and “Rang De” were mixed together and played throughout the climax sequence. Imagine Uma Thurman and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s love story set to the tunes of AR Rahman!
The 2006 American crime thriller Inside Man, starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster used this Dil Se song in its opening credits.
It was AR Rahman’s own collaboration with DJ Will.i.am and American singer Cody Wise. They composed “It’s My Birthday” that was set to “Urvasi Urvasi” from 1995 Tamil film Kadhalan featuring Prabhu Deva.
While “It’s My Birthday” became the second AR Rahman song to find its place on the top ten UK charts, the first was The Pussycat Dolls’ collaboration with the Indian musician for a special version of his Oscar-winning song “Jai Ho!” from Slumdog Millionaire. The latter ranked at number three in April 2009.
AR Rahman’s recent compositions received a thumbs-up in Mimi and Atrangi Re. He also produced 99 Songs that released last year.