For everyone who’s not a sexagenarian yet (alright, for the uninitiated, the obvious misleader refers to the baby boomer population today. Well, nearly) and who’s followed the South Indian film music scene, even if in passing, the two and only names that occur to people would be that of Ilayaraja and AR Rahman. These two personalities have earned their stature in soundtrackdom truly befitting giants that made the greatest legends, and continue to stride the Indian music scene like colossi. While the latter of course is the crowned king of Indian film music with the two Oscars serving to give infinite mileage to his fame and popularity, Ilayaraja seems to be forever the unostentatious maestro with a loyal fan base that claims to appreciate true music, rightfully so.
Thus said, most of us would have our favorite Rahman numbers. Roja, Gentleman, Taal, Dil Se, Alai Payuthey etc. all feature in many of our greatest-of-all time lists, including mine. But what’s your favorite Raja number? On record, Ilayaraja has composed scores for over 950 Indian films and it would be an injustice akin to pardoning an assassin, to pick out one favorite composition. Yet, of all the sounds he has created, Rakkamma from Thalapathi stands out distinctly for me. I’m as knowledgeable about the technicalities of music as a fourth grader would be about semantics in Victorian English. But of the many I’ve heard, here is a tune that just refuses to part with my age one bit. It’s perhaps due to the prominent strains of western classical orchestra interspersed with Tamil folk beat throughout the track, it’s probably because of the catchy first line, ‘Rakkamma kaiya thattu’ (clap your hands, Rakkamma), or maybe it’s just by virtue of it being such a complete package. The track was released in 1991 and it’s twenty years hence, but the music is as fresh as ever and sounds great without a single note being considered at the turntable. For those who missed this trivia, the song was voted fourth in the world’s 10 greatest tracks of all time two decades ago, in a poll conducted by the BBC across 155 countries. It then is no wonder that, Rakkamma has remained steadfast in its appeal to millions across the globe.
This chartbuster is a metaphor for true convergence. Something that very few exalted individuals like Ilayaraja have managed to achieve. It blends and bends genres of music so seamlessly that the patron thinks about influences only after he’s through with hearing. The feeling of unity in music appears as strong as the folks who get together to jive to the number. As for its lyrics, my barest minimum understanding of the language tells me that the song drives excitement right into us, in anticipation of revelry, of mirth and of celebration.
Clap your hands, Rakkamma, while you build steps for the new sound. Brilliant. Here’s to the timeless classic that has managed to resist the Rahman blitzkrieg, for two glorious decades.