Aamir Khan made an interesting comment a few weeks back. He said that when he decides to work with a filmmaker, he is least concerned about his (director's) past work. Instead, he is interested in knowing that what he has to offer in future.
Of course this is a non-conformist approach as 99% of industry would want to go with the past record of an artist than promise of the future. I guess this is what everyone expects from A.R. Rahman as well when they rope him in for their films as a music director. After all, right from the days of Roja to Rangeela, Dil Se, Saathiya to Yuva, his success rate has been impeccable. Of course there were occasional setbacks as well but then they were for relatively smaller films (Dil Ne Jise Apna Kahaa, Lakeer, Tehzeeb, Dil Hi Dil Mein, Vishwa Vidhata). Otherwise when it came to bigger films, he never failed to deceive.
However, the situation is different today. The shocking part is that though Rahman is working in the biggest of the films, the music isn't quite turning out to be the biggest of successes.
Yes, his loyal fans are still vouching for him.
Yes, critics too are wary before totally giving up on a soundtrack.
Yes, there is still audience sentiment that conveys - 'It's okay, hear them a few more times, the songs are going to grow on you.'
The question though is - 'Till when?'
In the times when composers like Pritam, Vishal-Shekhar and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are churning out at least a couple of chartbusters in every big album of theirs, it is nothing less than disappointing to see soundtracks like Jhootha Hi Sahi, Robot and Raavan not quite turning out to be the rage that one expects from an album that has a name 'Rahman' attached to them.
No, one is not commenting on the quality of the songs here. Not as of now at least. However, when it comes to that single 'chartbuster' that makes an album stand out from the crowd at the music stands, it is sadly missing.
In this week's 'Reflections', let's bring on the debate!
Every creative individual has a phase when he looses his touch. Sachin Tendulkar had a bad phase where he was out of action for long. Amitabh Bachchan had a period of low as well. Amongst filmmakers, even directors like Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra lost their touch after being on the top for long. Sadly, they could never recover. Same seems to be the case with Subhash Ghai as well. However, there are some who continue to reinvent themselves. Salman Khan showed that in Dabangg. Ram Gopal Varma has recently done so with Rakta Charitra. Pritam keeps changing his sound every two years to be ahead of the competition.
However, if one looks at last half a decade journey of A.R. Rahman, it has been patchy to say the least. Of course the supporters are bound to come out with their daggers at this point itself. Slumdog Millionaire - they will scream. 'He got us multiple Oscars' - they will remind. This is the point where one goes back to the funda shared by Aamir Khan. 'Do we want to be content with past achievements or do we want to now look into future and see what's new in the offing?'
If one does that, it is crystal clear that post Slumdog Millionaire, Rahman hasn't been churning out marvellous albums with as much consistency as he did in the earlier years.
Of course pre-Slumdog Millionaire, Rahman did have a good phase rolling for him. If one looks at the second half of the current decade, music of Rang De Basanti and Guru was much appreciated. There were quite a few awards coming his way as well though it is the music of Rang De Basanti which is played more than the others. Jodhaa Akbar saw mixed reviews coming its way but still went on to gain popularity over the weeks. Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Naa saw instant appreciation coming its way as it established a strong connect with the youth. On the other hand, Yuvvraaj was a mixed bag. It was not a patch on Subhash Ghai-Rahman's earlier collaboration Taal and was picked up only by hardcore fans. Ghajini was good but it worked as instant coffee. Today, except for a song or two, Ghajini doesn't quite find many listeners.
Now let's look at the albums which have been released after Slumdog Millionaire. Delhi 6 was actually an even better album and it is one of the unfortunate cases of a soundtrack not quite getting its due, because of the failure of the film at the box office. Whatever impression that the album managed to make, it was mainly due to its own merits. Otherwise on the part of the makers, they seemed to be least bothered about killing a wonderful song like 'Rehna Tu' with an unimaginative picturisation which did more harm to it than helping its cause.
Lack of mass appeal
However post that, Rahman is yet to deliver a soundtrack that worked with the masses. Again, some of these albums did boast of good songs but then paying public didn't share similar sentiments. Blue didn't make much inroads into audience hearts and just like the film, the music too went down. Though much was expected from the soundtrack here in terms of commercial returns, the results were not as expected.
Early this year, the soundtrack of Raavan released and though the music was as per the film's setting and was appreciated by the critics, audience weren't much enticed. The music didn't pick up much before the release of the film and its disastrous response at the box office meant that there were no hopes left whatsoever for the soundtrack to show any resurgence thereafter. What was worse was the fact that it was the coming back of Mani Ratnam-Rahman combination after Dil Se and Yuva but still lack of a single mass appealing chartbuster track meant that 'Raavan' was relegated to being a classy album but that's about it.
Robot was worse. There are talks about the music being successful down South and to be fair to the album, it makes sense as well since the soundtrack had been composed primarily for a Tamil film. Still, if a film is as massive as a Rajnikanth-Aishwarya Rai starrer and has been planned for a dubbed Hindi release as well, one does expect something that catered to universal audience. This didn't turn out to be the case for Robot though with critics as well as audience giving the music a big thumbs down. Yes, a major culprit here of course was lyricist Swanand Kirkire who made a complete mumbo-jumbo of the album. Still, the fact remains that Robot would go down as a major disappointment in the repertoire of Rahman music.
So far audience has stayed on to be patient and expecting Rahman to strike big sooner than latter. However, when an album like Jhootha Hi Sahi comes and gets panned by most, especially after the film is seen in screens, it is crystal clear that the man of the moment - A.R. Rahman - is going through an all time low. On its arrival, one didn't mind Jhootha Hi Sahi even though songs like 'Cry Cry' and 'Maiyya Yashoda' were hardly the kind of songs that have a Rahman stamp or a chartbuster appeal to them. Rest of the album did have a few songs that could have been liked by those who wanted their music to be soft.
But then audience wasn't much enticed. Jhootha Hi Sahi was a setback for them, especially so since it came around the same time when Rahman's song for Commonwealth Games was being panned by one and all. The cracks had started appearing a few months back; now they were only becoming wider album after album.
End of road?
Of course when something like this happens, there are extreme reactions. Faithful followers, for whom Rahman has been invincible, aren't willing to hear anything negative whatsoever and only end up becoming far more vicious towards the ones who are pointing a finger. On the other hand, the ones who are raising a finger turn totally opinionated and refuse to look at any redeeming aspects whatsoever.
This is where one is required to look at the entire situation in a rational manner. Yes, Rahman hasn't delivered a chartbuster album for quite some time. Also, his songs are nowhere near his best. But still, they haven't been out and out poor affair either.
It isn't as if he has consciously decided to let go of a few opportunities by coming up with half hearted attempts.
It isn't as if he has started picking a dozen odd albums a year due to which quality is suffering.
A R Rahman It isn't as if he has is willing to let go of Bollywood due to his commitments out there in West.
It's just that he seems to be going through a block where mass appealing chartbuster soundtrack is difficult to come by. Blame it on the genre of films that he is working, the way filmmakers have picturised his songs, the bad run of many of his movies at theatres or sheer disinterest from audience which is getting its staple diet of popular music from Bollywood's own like Pritam, Vishal-Shekhar or Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.
Whatever be the case but all Rahman needs to deliver is that one popular score.
It's okay if it follows a conventional flavour.
It's okay if it doesn't redefine the sound of music.
It's okay if the soundtrack doesn't catch fancy amongst the critics.
As long as it works with the masses and sells like hot cakes, it would be a news good enough for Bollywood.
Will Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar (starring Ranbir Kapoor) turn out to be that one album?
Let's hope and pray!