Is Rehman the greatest?
The whole country is proud that AR Rehman has been nominated for the Oscars after winning the prestigious Golden Globe award for best music. It will truly be a big day for India and Indians if Rehman walks up the stage at Kodak Studios on Februray 22 to bring home an Oscar for his musical score in Slumdog Millionaire. But without being misunderstood I will like to say this upfront that Rehman maybe the best in the present era of composers from India but he is certainly not the best if one takes into account the great maestros of the past.
A large number of top musicians from this country may not have been nominated for the Oscars but they were certainly not less talented than him. Rehman has a limited range and many of his compositions appear to be a remix or extensions of his previous compositions. He does not have the versatility of say Shankar Jaikishen who ruled the world of Indian film music for 22 years and provided some of the all time hits, which have withstood the test of time. Similarly, Naushad, O.P.Nayyar, S.D.Burman, Madan Mohan, Roshan, C.Ramachandran, Hemant Kumar and Salil Chaudhury amongst many others had huge talent.
Their grasp over the raags and musical instruments was also unmatched. But unlike Rehman, they lived during a period when marketing was not such an important tool in furthering one’s career and when Indian films were not in serious contention for top International honours with a few exceptions where the Director and not the composers got the accolades. It is certainly not my intention to run down Rehman who as I said is the best of his times but he is, as I stated earlier not amongst the all time greats. Music and listeners do change over the years but evergreen melodies always remain evergreen.
The reason why Rehman scores over his peers is that he draws his strength from the strong base of Indian classical music. The Raags have not changed even if their usage may have. Most of his contemporary music composers are happier lifting tunes from here and there and Rehman stands out as someone who scores his own music. There can be many views on the subject but I do not think that any of Rehman’s songs measures up to say “Man Tarpat Hari Darshan ko aaj” by Naushad, “Jaa re ud ja re panchi” by Salil Chaudhury, “Rasik Balma” by Shankar Jaikishen, “Aaj phir jeene ki tamana hai” by SD Burman, the “Vande Matram” version from Anandmath by Hemant Kumar or the Qawallis by Roshan in Barsaat ki Raat or for that matter “Yeh zindagi usi ki hai” by C Ramachandran or “Aaankhon se jo utri hai dil mein” by OP Nayyar. But we all salute Rehman because he has brought glory to this country and I hope that in his future compositions, he evolves further as a composer and gets to be considered amongst the all time best in this country. It is three cheers for Rehman.