No, I still don’t like Himes-bhai‘s voice. Although I will admit that the occasional Mika number works for me – Mauja Hi Mauja from Jab We Met being an example. This post is mostly about A. R. Rehman. Not his singing voice (which I’m not very fond of but works well for some songs), but his uncanny ability to pick the right singer for a certain song.
Rehman has had his favourites over the years — Hariharan and Sukhwindara Singh come to mind instantly. But every once in a while, he has made an inspired choice that completely transforms a number from good to great. These aren’t conventional voices, and wouldn’t work for most songs. But you cannot imagine how certain songs would sound if sung by someone else. Here are my top five picks in this category (links attached, in case you wanna lusten to them):
5. Raasaathi (Thiruda Thiruda): My favourite song in that album. Also, one of the songs that Shahul Hameed is best remembered for, other than Usilampatti pennkutti in Gentleman. Other than probably a base guitar somewhere in the background (and I’m not even sure about that), this song is a capella, with a lot of humming in the background and Shahul’s plaintive voice in the lead. (Listen here)
4. Chikubukku chikubukku rayile (Gentleman): Basically, this one makes the grade because of how it reinvents Tamil pronunciation. If someone spoke the language like that in my presence, I would have to physically restrain myself from punching his lights out, but the song… well, I can’t imagine any other way to sing it. (Listen here)
3. Lukka Chhuppi (Rang De Basanti): I love Lata Mangeshkar, okay? My dad’s an old Hindi film music buff, so I grew up listening to her. But hearing her sing Jiya Jale in Dil Se was the musical equivalent of seeing Rajni romance Deepika Padukone. Her voice sounded tired, strained, and clearly much older than the woman being depicted on screen. To me, that song is one of Rehman’s eminently forgettable choices. But Lukka Chhuppi… who else could have conveyed Waheeda Rehman’s heartbreak at losing her son so well? The opening lines are simple enough: We’ve played enough hide and seek/Now come out and show yourself. The tune isn’t exactly a sad one either. But the evident ageing of Lata’s voice and the tragedy being depicted on screen make it what it is. I don’t think there are too many instances where Lata’s voice would qualify as unconventional, but my guess is that most music directors would’ve ended up using a much younger voice here. Rehman chose well, and it made all the difference. (Listen here)
2. Veyilodu vilayaadi (Veyil): Not a Rehman number, this one. But since it is by his nephew G. V. Prakash Kumar, I guess you could say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Four singers, but the ones that stand out are Kailash Kher (who could make Happy Birthday sound soulful) and Jassi Gift (who I liked much better here than in his acclaimed Lajjavathiye). The other two sing the song like they would sing any number, but when Kailash lets rip with pasi vandha kuruvi muttai, or when Jassi goes Nandoorum nari oorum, the song simply catches fire. (Listen here)
1. Vidai kodu engal naade (Kannathil Muthamittal): The scene depicts a village of Sri Lankan Tamils being evacuated before the airforce bombs the place into oblivion. No matter what your politics, the sight a bunch of people leaving the place they had called home for so many years is, you will agree, heart-rending. The lyrics convey a sense of loss that remains with you long after the movie has ended. But what truly elavates the song is the quality of M S Viswanathan’s voice. You don’t hear finely modulated sorrow, but something raw and visceral. (Listen here)
Have I missed out any really good ones? You tell me.