Movie Soundtracks

Audio master: ‘Rangeela’ remains one of AR Rahman’s most radical soundtracks

Every song from Ram Gopal Varma’s 1995 movie is a testament to the composer’s ability to take sonic risks that pay off.

Rangeela (1995) heralded several reinventions. It revitalised playback singer Asha Bhosle’s career; it repackaged actress Urmila Matondkar as a sex symbol; and most significantly, it reintroduced AR Rahman, already hailed as a maverick for his path-breaking Tamil soundtracks, as a Hindi film composer.

It isn’t just among Rahman’s best; it’s also among his most radical, which is especially commendable considering that he was making his debut in an industry where the sonic template of the time was pretty much set in stone. Dubbed versions of his earlier scores had been huge hits, but Rahman, just a few years into his career, didn’t let the pressure prevent him from taking risks.

The album is filled with the sort of randomness that could only come from the mind of a genius. Take, for instance, the rap interlude toward the end of the title track, by Aditya Narayan, who was just eight years old at the time of the movie’s release. There’s no logical reason for it, yet somehow it works.

Indian hip-hop was name-checking brands way before it became de rigueur in American rap, except here instead of luxury cars and champagne, Narayan weighs Cadbury and Amul and Horlicks and Complan against each other, setting up those immortal lines, “Chocolate khane mein tension hai/Doodh peene mein tension hai/Tension, tension, tension.”

Play
Rangeela Re.

Rangeela Re opens the film, introducing us to the effervescence of Matondkar’s character, a dancer named Mili who shimmies in the street with a motley set of characters. In the sprightly voice of Bhosle, Mili clues us into her aspirations of making it big someday and through the combination of Rahman’s pulsating beats and lyricist Mehboob’s evocative verses, conveys the sense of exhilaration one can feel in a city as buzzing as Bombay where the movie is set.

Bhosle’s two tracks Rangeela Re and Tanha Tanha proved once again that when a song requires a certain sense of joie de vivre, nobody does it better. Both tunes are electro-pop gold, and their sheen hasn’t dulled even after two decades. But she wasn’t the only one to benefit from Rahman’s knack of identifying and using a voice in a way it has never been employed before.

Play
Tanha Tanha.

The first time I heard Shweta Shetty was when I saw her belt out Mariah Carey’s Vision Of Love in a play in the early 1990s. Then, after a couple of years, she launched a pop career with the bubblegum Johnny Joker, which didn’t quite do justice to her vocal chops. Rahman gave her one of the defining moments of her career with Mangta Hai Kya on which her voice soars alternatively with his against clattering beats that are occasionally interspersed – again inexplicably – with a Western classical choral arrangement.

Play
Mangta Hai Kya.

The song situation is a dream sequence and perhaps the composer felt this was licence to let his imagination fly, just as the choreographer did when it came to filming the number.

Finding the right balance between innovation and eccentricity has always been Rahman’s forte, and in Rangeela all the experimentation is effortlessly incorporated into seemingly conventional songs about sexual attraction and romance. Strings swell but they never overwhelm, synth lines snake but find their way back.

Take away the urgent violins, tribal rhythms and whistling flute from Hariharan and Swarnalata’s sensuous slow burner Hai Rama and you’re left with the minimalist percussion that characterises much of current trap music.

Play
Hai Rama.

Similarly, Rahman never lets his vocalists over-sing, whether it’s Udit Narayan expressing the inner conflict of Aamir Khan’s Munna on Kya Kare Kya Na Kare or Suresh Wadkar and Kavita Krishnamurthy’s contemplation of the dualities of being in love on Pyar Yeh Jaane Kaisa Hai. He might have made more sophisticated soundtracks since Rangeela but few have simultaneously showcased his versatility and quirkiness as well.

The film, on the other hand, represented a moment in time, one of those rare instances when everything perfectly falls into place. A few months following the release, Ram Gopal Varma and Aamir Khan famously fell out with each other and never worked together again. The likelihood of such a story working today is debatable. In the song Yaaron Sun Lo Zara, Munna, who makes a living selling movie tickets in black, and upcoming actress Mili debate the benefits of material things such as a car, bungalow, bank balance, “TV-video” and “suiting-shirting” versus a carefree life free of the burden of accumulating wealth.

Play
Yaaron Sun Lo Zara.

At the end – spoiler alert – while on the threshold of celebrity, she chooses him, her raffish childhood companion, over her flamboyant, suave and loaded co-star Raj Kamal (Jackie Shroff). Like a lot of Rahman’s soundtrack, the plot is fantastical. It was the 1990s, we were full of optimism and relatively uncorrupted by consumerism. We bought it.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The perpetual millennial quest for self-expression just got another boost

Making adulting in the new millennium easier, one step at a time.

Having come of age in the Age of the Internet, millennials had a rocky start to self-expression. Indeed, the internet allowed us to personalise things in unprecedented fashion and we really rose to the occasion. The learning curve to a straightforward firstname.surname@___mail.com email address was a long one, routed through cringeworthy e-mail ids like coolgal1234@hotmail.com. You know you had one - making a personalised e-mail id was a rite of passage for millennials after all.

Declaring yourself to be cool, a star, a princess or a hunk boy was a given (for how else would the world know?!). Those with eclectic tastes (read: juvenile groupies) would flaunt their artistic preferences with an elitist flair. You could take for granted that bitbybeatlemania@hotmail.com and hpfan@yahoo.com would listen to Bollywood music or read Archie comics only in private. The emo kids, meanwhile, had to learn the hard way that employers probably don’t trust candidates with e-mail ids such as depressingdystopian@gmail.com.

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

And with chat rooms, early millennials had found a way to communicate, with...interesting results. The oldest crop of millennials (30+ year olds) learnt to deal with the realities of adolescent life hunched behind anonymous accounts, spewing their teenage hormone-laden angst, passion and idealism to other anonymous accounts. Skater_chick could hide her ineptitude for skating behind a convincing username and a skateboard-peddling red-haired avatar, and you could declare your fantasies of world domination, armed with the assurance that no one would take you seriously.

With the rise of blogging, millennial individualism found a way to express itself to millions of people across the world. The verbosity of ‘intellectual’ millennials even shone through in their blog URLs and names. GirlWhoTravels could now opine on her adventures on the road to those who actually cared about such things. The blogger behind scentofpetunia.blogspot.com could choose to totally ignore petunias and no one would question why. It’s a tradition still being staunchly upheld on Tumblr. You’re not really a Tumblr(er?) if you haven’t been inspired to test your creative limits while crafting your blog URL. Fantasy literature and anime fandoms to pop-culture fanatics and pizza lovers- it’s where people of all leanings go to let their alter ego thrive.

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Then of course social media became the new front of self-expression on the Internet. Back when social media was too much of a millennial thing for anyone to meddle with, avatars and usernames were a window into your personality and fantasies. Suddenly, it was cool to post emo quotes of Meredith Grey on Facebook and update the world on the picturesque breakfast you had (or not). Twitter upped the pressure by limiting expression to 140 characters (now 280-have you heard?) and the brevity translated to the Twitter handles as well. The trend of sarcasm-and-wit-laden handles is still alive well and has only gotten more sophisticated with time. The blogging platform Medium makes the best of Twitter intellect in longform. It’s here that even businesses have cool account names!

Self-expression on the Internet and the millennials’ love for the personalised and customised has indeed seen an interesting trajectory. Most millennial adolescents of yore though are now grownups, navigating an adulting crisis of mammoth proportions. How to wake up in time for classes, how to keep the boss happy, how to keep from going broke every month, how to deal with the new F-word – Finances! Don’t judge, finances can be stressful at the beginning of a career. Forget investments, loans and debts, even matters of simple money transactions are riddled with scary terms like beneficiaries, NEFT, IMPS, RTGS and more. Then there’s the quadruple checking to make sure you input the correct card, IFSC or account number. If this wasn’t stressful enough, there’s the long wait while the cheque is cleared or the fund transfer is credited. Doesn’t it make you wish there was a simpler way to deal with it all? If life could just be like…

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Lo and behold, millennial prayers have been heard! Airtel Payments Bank, India’s first, has now integrated UPI on its digital platform, making banking over the phone easier than ever. Airtel Payments Bank UPI, or Unified Payment Interface, allows you to transfer funds and shop and pay bills instantly to anyone any time without the hassles of inputting any bank details – all through a unique Virtual Payment Address. In true millennial fashion, you can even create your own personalised UPI ID or Virtual Payment Address (VPA) with your name or number- like rhea@airtel or 9990011122@airtel. It’s the smartest, easiest and coolest way to pay, frankly, because you’re going to be the first person to actually make instant, costless payments, rather than claiming to do that and making people wait for hours.

To make life even simpler, with the My Airtel app, you can make digital payments both online and offline (using the Scan and Pay feature that uses a UPI QR code). Imagine, no more running to the ATM at the last minute when you accidentally opt for COD or don’t have exact change to pay for a cab or coffee! Opening an account takes less than three minutes and remembering your VPA requires you to literally remember your own name. Get started with a more customised banking experience here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Airtel Payments Bank and not by the Scroll editorial team.