For some reason, a Facebook status update from me about 127 Hours elicited some negative comments against A.R. Rahman. This is not the first time I have heard such comments. I am intrigued by generalizations that A.R. Rahman is overrated. Why would people say something like that despite the brilliant work he has produced over almost two decades? What else does the guy have to do to prove his greatness? Here are some factors that may be leading people to make these assertions:
- Rahman is competing with himself. He is being judged against his own extremely high standards. Is it fair to expect him to keep churning out masterpieces like Roja, Rangeela or Rang De Basanti all the time?
- Recency effect. 2009 was not his most prolific year (probably because of the ruckus following Slumdog Millionaire) and 2010 was not his best year. My sense is that people are assessing a career spanning 20 years based on output from 2 years.
- We are always catching up with Rahman. It is not unusual for people to say that they start liking Rahman songs after they have heard it a few times. In my opinion, it’s because he experiments and creates new sounds that we are not used to. His music forces us to open up our minds and broaden the scope of what we have traditionally defined as music. Remember – entire generations of Indians ignored Kishore Kumar for two decades because he sounded so different. His found broad acceptance only with Aradhana (1969) more than 20 years after his first song.
- Not all his music is accessible to everybody. He has created gems for Tamil movies that are not accessible to non-Tamil music lovers (Pudhiya Mugam, Rhythm, etc) and vice versa (Rangeela, Swades, Rang De Basanti, etc.). How can people assess his work in its entirety when they haven’t listened to everything he has composed?
- Rahman is not overrated. However, some of his lesser work (like Jai Ho) does tend to ride on his fame.
- Rahman is an epoch-making composer. No music director has had the kind of broad impact that he has over the last two decades. He starts trends and continuously pushes musical boundaries. Many, many years from now, people will talk not just about his compositions, but about his positive influence on the Indian music scene as a whole. We are lucky to be living in Rahman’s era.
- Yes, he is not perfect. A couple of minor grouses, I myself have – a) He uses his voice far more than he needs to or has in the past. b) Has he been playing a tad safe of late? He is no longer introducing as many new voices as he has in the past.
Some of this anti-Rahman buzz reminds me of what Sachin Tendulkar went through a few years ago, when many were gunning for his head. I am comforted by this parallel because I know that Rahman will do exactly what Sachin has done since then – continue to build upon a magnificent body of work that will seal his place as an all-time great, work that will win over all doubters – for good.