AR Rahman & Rajinikanth: Hits and Misses from the Icons

As AR Rahman turns 52-year-old, here’s a look at some of his best and worst songs for superstar Rajinikanth.

In what has been an unpredictable creative mish-mash between new-age film music and formulaic plot, spanning over two decades, Rahman’s songs for Rajinikanth’s films have been both enduring classics, and damp squibs.

The Muthu That Started it All

Fresh off the success of Bombay and Rangeela, and another little known Mani Ratnam gem Indra, ARR got scored music for Rajinikanth’s Muthu.

Rahman became Mani Ratnam’s favourite and first choice after Roja. His music for the late K Balachander’s Duet still remains one of his best films to date. Nevertheless, Muthu would be the first time Rahman scored music for a big budget, mainstream, ‘masala’ flick.

As Rajini’s ‘Hero-Entry-Songs’ go, ‘Oruvan Oruvan...’ did grow on the audience, but it wasn’t in the same league as music director Deva’s ‘Auto-kaaran...’ (Baasha) or ‘Adhanta Idhanta...’ (Arunachalam); which garnered instant universal appeal.

Hitting the High Note with Padayappa

At this point of time, prior to the release of Petta, Rajinikanth’s most entertaining and enduring films to date, is Padayappa (1998). Ever since this film released, all succeeding films of the superstar were measured by the bar that this AR Rahman musical set. Sadly, right up until 2.0, the music and the entertainment value have fallen short of public expectations.

While the opening song in this film isn’t much to write about, ‘Vetri Kodi Kattu...’ has become the anthem for any fresh endeavour, and at college valedictories. Singer Ananthu stuck to his guns with the high note all through the song, while Rahman helps move the movie’s plot forward with this interval song.

All the Way Down With Baba

There are no half measures with Rajinikanth. As with his super-bumper-mega-worldwide-hits, so too with his abysmal flops. Baba is by far Rajinikanth’s biggest flop. It also featured some of AR Rahman’s least popular songs. The tunes were obtuse and hard to remember. And where the tunes worked, the irrelevant visuals spoilt the song. Here’s the ‘opening’ song.

Compare this with the opening from Baasha, and you’ll understand the total loss in translation.

No More Intro Songs

After an eminently forgettable Kochadayaan, directed by Aishwarya Rajinikanth (superstar’s daughter), AR Rahman wasn’t called in to score music for Chandramukhi, the formula remake of the Malayalam cult classic Manichithrathazhu.

But then director Shankar entered the scene, and ‘revamped’ the superstar with Sivaji (2007), a film that had no punch dialogues to speak of, and which stripped the actor of his usual whistle-inducing, crowd-pleasing mannerisms.

AR Rahman’s music in the film though, was top notch. All of the songs, including the un-hummable earworm ‘style’ were hits. Here’s Rajinikanth’s first ‘hero entry’ song, that’s more of an ode to Tamil Nadu, than to the superstar. Ballelakka... is the first of a decade-full of Rajinikanth’s opening songs that do little to introduce the superstar to the audience, and focus more on the film’s plot.

Reloaded With Robot

With Endhiran (2010), AR Rahman got to put his best foot forward, with no compulsion to hold back. The film was about Rajinikanth, the scientist, designing a robot in his image, that goes rogue. There’s science fiction, fantasy and everything in between in the film.

Rahman alone can do justice to a duet that’s dreamed up by a love-struck rogue robot!

The music of Endhiran also saw one of the biggest release events in Tamil film industry.

The Light at the End of a Flop

While Lingaa wasn’t as monumental a failure as Baba at the box office, it came pretty close. The movie was directed by KS Ravikumar, who also gave Rajinikanth his biggest hit to date, Padayappa. But owing to time constraints and a number of other factors, it was a hastily done film, and it showed in every frame.

Nevertheless, most of Rahman’s songs in the movie worked for the audience and brought in a fresh sound, while the on-screen Rajini was stale.

2.0; Not About Rajinikanth Anymore

With elements of trance and new age electronica melded beautifully with a 90s sci-fi feel, Rahman did raise the bar for Endhiran’s sequel. But just like the film itself, there was very little scope for Rajinikanth’s superstar persona to do anything other than strike poses in rubber suits.

The songs in Rajinikanth’s films from the 90s were tailor made for the superstar. It is impossible to imagine anyone else in Thalaivar’s place. Not so with the songs of Sivaji, Endhiran and 2.0. The songs would do equally well with a groovy Akshay Kumar or Vijay on screen.

Rajinikanth is now 68, and A R Rahman, 52. Neither of their careers has shown any sign of slowing down. The past decade of their collaboration has been a roller coaster of hits and misses. Here’s to a decade more of unpredictability!

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