So, I had asked my followers on Twitter which composer they would like me to make a list on about my favourite songs by that composer. The options were A.R. Rahman, Jatin-Lalit, Anu Malik and Nadeem-Shravan, four of the most prominent Bollywood composers in the 90s. Of course, only one of them is just as relevant now as he was then, and that is Mr. A.R. Rahman, and maybe that’s the reason he ended up winning this poll.
But then I thought, How am I ever, ever going to cover my favourite ARR songs in one post? The man has so far had a very illustrious career in the music industry, ranging from Tamil to Hindi and even making us proud by composing entire soundtracks for so many Hollywood feature films! So I thought of splitting my post about him into four parts. Or maybe three. Let’s see. Also I’m sure I can’t limit myself in number of songs in such posts, so for whatever composer it may be, I will list as many songs as I feel, really deserve to be listed! So let’s get started with my favourite songs of A.R. Rahman from 1992 to 1999!
P.S. The following list is in order of release of the movies.
P.P.S: Including dubbed Hindi versions of the songs as well, because there are some real gems in those albums. 🙂
Here’s the Saavn playlist so you can listen along.
1. Chhoti Si Asha (Roja; 1992)
Singer: Minmini, Lyrics by: P.K. Mishra, Music Label: Magnasound Media Pvt. Ltd.
Well, Wikipedia tells me that initially, Alka Yagnik was going to sing this song, one of my most favourite songs from when I was a child, but due to date issues, it had to be sung by Minmini, who sang the original Tamil version as well. And little did I know then that this song marked the debut of a young composer who would later on be so influential and bring a sound revolution to Bollywood! This song’s composition is like a dream realised in the mode of a song, and the lyrics, even though they’re dubbed, resonate in some way with each and every one of us! And that iconic opening flute just fills you with happiness whenever you hear it. Enjoy!
2. Yeh Haseen Vaadiyaan (Roja; 1992)
Singers: S.P. Balasubrahmanyam & K.S. Chithra, Lyrics by: P.K. Mishra, Music Label: Magnasound Media Pvt. Ltd.
Another classic from the historic debut album of the maestro, this one is a lilting romantic number that gives me goosebumps everytime I listen to it. SPB and Chithra complement each other oh so well, and the song really reaches its peak when the singers sing “Mere jaane jaan…” The sensuous composition by Rahman and the digital beats that accompany it, are well managed, and Mishra’s lyrics are spot on!
3. Roja Jaanemann (Version 2) [Roja; 1992]
Singer: Hariharan & Sujatha Mohan, Lyrics by P.K. Mishra, Music Label: Magnasound Media Pvt Ltd.
I promise, the 26 years late ‘Roja’ madness will be over; this is the last one! But I love them all so much, especially this one and especially one of the songs I’m cutting out (Bharat Humko) and just had to insert this one here because… It’s so good!! Deliberately listing the Hariharan version because hey, his aalaaps are goosebumps-inducing and also, SPB got his Roja song on this list. Sujatha Mohan’s haunting humming throughout the song is just 😍.
After that he did a number of Tamil films, which definitely were dubbed in Hindi, but I’ve heard only some of those songs, and I like even fewer.
4. Muqabala Muqabala (Hum Se Hai Muqabala; 1995)
Singers: Mano & Swarnalatha, Lyrics by P.K. Mishra, Music Label: Venus
This has become a dance anthem, thanks to Prabhudheva’s movies in this song, and the beats are just as worthy of making this song so popular. The quirky (though bad) lyrics help the song sound silly but likeable, and Rahman’s tune is really catchy — the song isn’t so famous for nothing!
5. Sun Ri Sakhi (Hum Se Hai Muqabala; 1995)
Singer: Hariharan, Lyrics by P.K. Mishra, Music Label: Venus
Rahman experiments a lot with strings and tablas in this one, a beautifully charming romantic number that melts your heart by sweetness. Hariharan gracefully renders Rahman’s just as sweet tune, and it results in a song that I’d listen to for years to come.
6. Kehna Hi Kya (Bombay; 1995)
Singer: K.S. Chithra, Lyrics by Mehboob, Music Label: Universal Music India Pvt. Ltd.
I don’t think I know a soul on this planet who has heard this song and doesn’t like it, except for the 567 souls who have disliked it on YouTube. God bless their ears. This song is a showcase of Rahman’s versatility, composing such a heart touching composition and adorning it with splendid tablas, santoor (I believe) and the Qawwali part which he sings (again, I believe) is so beautiful. Chithra’s voice us as sweet as honey, and the way she pronounced “Unhe” is adorable. The most iconic portion of the song is probably the rushed female chorus, awkwardly trying to fit Mehboob’s lyrics into Rahman’s tune that goes too fast, but it’s an immortal classic by now and we all enjoy it so, nothing more can be said!
7. Tu Hi Re (Bombay; 1995)
Singers: Hariharan & Kavita Krishnamurthy, Lyrics by: Mehboob, Music Label: Universal Music India Pvt. Ltd.
Now don’t tell me you came here looking for my favourite Rahman songs and didn’t expect me to include this gem. Yes, it’s highly popular and it’s quite surprising to see such craze for a dubbed Hindi song! I mean, the recent dubbed albums by Rahman almost went unnoticed! Rahman’s lilting composition gives me the goosebumps everytime and Hariharan’s silky smooth voice is the USP of the song, coupled with Kavita Krishnamurthy’s strong “Aayi re..” followed by a whole stanza sung by her. The plucked strings give the song its necessary haunting touch, and that high portion in the antara is composition at its best.
8. Hai Rama (Rangeela; 1995)
Singers: Hariharan & Swarnalatha, Lyrics by: Mehboob, Music Label: Tips Music
Yet again, another song you should have expected to feature here even before clicking the link. Indian Classical music is one of the best pacifiers in the world, and in ‘Hai Rama’, Rahman creates a very sensuous atmosphere with the opening music itself — a Bandish from the Raaga Puriya Dhanashree starts the song off supported by the ever faithful tanpura, followed by addictive percussion (Thavil?) and again, immersive strings. The melody only starts and makes things even better. Here, Hariharan sounds quite different from what he did in his previous songs with Rahman, all the gentle qualities shed off and he assumes more of a bold voice here, while Late Swarnalatha does wonders with her voice. 😍 The interludes in this song are amazing, again relying on percussion, flutes and low pitched vocals that are so haunting. The sound Rahman has introduced with this song should have been utilised more by other composers, but I somehow think they would never have accomplished it and hence, didn’t try.
9. Pyaar Yeh Jaane Kaisa Hai (Rangeela; 1995)
Singers: Kavita Krishnamurthy & Suresh Wadkar, Lyrics by Mehboob, Music Label: Tips Music
Now this song is a showcase of Rahman’s splendid work with strings. The same string loop plays repeatedly in the background, never sounding tedious, but making the song more inmersive and accentuating the melody along with enhancing the listening experience. The thumping sounds Rahman included alongside that violin loop, are great and the interludes yet again, are a class apart, especially the violin solo from 2:40 to 3:10 in the video below. And what can one say about Kavita Krishnamurthy’s voice? The great Suresh Wadkar himself, with all due respect to him, fizzles out in front of her. Rahman must make such songs again!
10. Tanha Tanha (Rangeela; 1995)
Singer: Asha Bhosle, Lyrics by Mehboob, Music Label: Tips Music
Again, splendid work with strings and flutes makes this song stand out. With a distinct oriental sound, this one is a great song to listen to when you want to chill out. Asha Bhosle’s naughty voice makes her sound younger than she ever had before, and every time I listen to the song, she reminds me why she is my favourite Mangeshkar sister. I’ve spoken less about Rahman with this song, because the maestro very graciously sits back and let’s Asha ji do her thing while he adds mere digital beats during her vocal portions, and steps forward for the mind blowing prelude and interludes.
11. Yaaron Sun Lo Zara (Rangeela; 1995)
Singers: Udit Narayan & K.S. Chithra, Lyrics by Mehboob, Music Label: Tips Music
Hey, stop complaining about this whole list being about ‘Rangeela’! It is my favourite album from the 90s and I’ve no qualms in including all the songs from it on the list (don’t worry, I won’t!) Also how can I ignore Aamir Khan? All the others have been picturized on Jackie Shroff. This song is one of my favorites for a reason — the upbeat composition by Rahman doesn’t impend him from adding cool stuff with strings, especially in the interludes, where the entire orchestra pitches in. And that quirky sound at the beginning is so iconic! Again, Chitra sounds so cute with her Hindi pronunciation, and Udit Narayan as always sounds young. He still does. That doesn’t mean we should remake this song, Bollywood.
12. Telephone Dhun Mein (Hindustani; 1996)
Singers: Hariharan & Kavita Krishnamurthy, Lyrics by P.K. Mishra, Music Label: Tips Music
One of the most exemplary songs when it comes to bad Tamil to Hindi dubbing, this one actually has a strong and catchy ‘Dhun’, and it seems like a sign for things to come as Rahman would compose something similar five years later for ‘Lagaan’ in the song ‘Ghanan Ghanan’. Hariharan again, changes all preconceptions about him, and sings wonderfully even in a calm but fun dance number. Rahman does his job great with the nice percussions.
13. Awaara Bhanwre (Sapnay; 1997)
Singers: Hema Sardesai & Malaysia Vasudevan, Lyrics by Javed Akhtar, Music Label: Saregama
Thankfully this dud of a movie had good music. This song is an ode to nature of sorts, and Rahman’s catchy composition is so beautiful. Sadly, my friends think that this song is an original song from the Pears (or was it Ponds) TVC. Rahman’s inclusion of the hill tribe folk music in the interludes is engaging, as are the catchy but minimalistic beats which the melody is based on. Hema Sardesai sounds a lot better here than she does in Anu Malik songs.
14. Chanda Re (Sapnay; 1997)
Singers: Sadhana Sargam & Hariharan, Lyrics by Javed Akhtar, Music Label: Saregama
If this list were in the order of my favourite song to my least favourite song, this one would be somewhere at the very top. The beautiful santoor tune that follows the hook line each time, is goosebumps-inducing, and Hariharan singing the high notes along with Sadhana Sargam’s beautiful voice, are a treat to listen to. The composition of ‘Inn dhundhli dhundhli..” is so ravishing! Javed Akhtar’s lyrics are heart warming as well.
15. Shabba Shabba (Daud; 1997)
Singers: Ranu Mukherjee, Sonu Nigam & Neeraj Vora, Lyrics by Mehboob, Music Label: Tips Music
This song is just as addictive as the characters in the film find whatever it is they’re drinking. I’ve never heard of the singer Ranu Mukherjee, but I commend ARR for finding her because her voice is so perfect for this song. Sonu Nigam seems to be struggling to create a husky voice texture, but Rahman’s addictive tune and wonderful tribal folksy music makes up for it. And don’t miss interlude 2, with an amazing, amazing violin portion!
16. Yeh Jaan (Daud; 1997)
Singers: Kavita Krishnamurthy & Vinod Rathod, Lyrics by Mehboob, Music Label: Tips Music
Another one along the lines of ‘Pyar Yeh Jaane Kaisa’ (Rangeela), this one is another sensuous romantic song. This time though, substituting the strings that repeated in that song, is a low pitched tuba, that sounds just as majestic. The legendarily low pitched Vinod Rathod complement Krishnamurthy well, and the slow and haunting tune by Rahman works wonders. Also, is it just me or does the tube remind you of ‘Roja Jaanemann’ too?
17. Ajooba (Jeans; 1998)
Singers: Hariharan & Sadhana Sargam, Lyrics by Javed Akhtar, Music Label: T-Series
One of my childhood favourites, this song is as beautiful as whatever the most beautiful thing you can think of is. Name it, and this song is more beautiful if not as beautiful, as it. With that impressive flute melody, you cant really go wrong. And Hariharan. And Sadhana Sargam. What can go wrong? And nothing seems to have, even in the picturization. Aishwarya Rai. The seven wonders of the world. What else can you ask for! 😍
18. Tauba Tauba (Jeans; 1998)
Singers: Hariharan & Anuradha Sriram, Lyrics by Javed Akhtar, Music Label: T-Series
Yet another song that looks as wonderful as it sounds, with Rahman doing a great job with the percussion and the intermittent Qawwali touches. Hariharan obviously sounds great; by the end of this list it’ll probably be 1000 times I say it. Again, great work with the folksy sounds that Rahman has produced for the song, especially the Dandiya and the claps etc. The female chorus is wonderful and Anuradha’s haubting humming is a nice addition. Javed Akhtar’s lyrics make it all the better!
19. Kehta Hai Mera Yeh Dil (Jeans; 1998)
Singer: Kavita Krishnamurthy, Lyrics by Javed Akhtar, Music Label: T-Series
This one being based on a Carnatic raaga, it is, I believe, Rahman’s forte. And right from the vocal rhythm by Krishnamurthy, to the flute, to the melodious composition, this song is brilliant. There is some funky stuff going on in the video, what with two Aishwaryas, skeletons and whatnot. But the song as a song, is something I’ve loved since childhood. A pure Carnatic song.
20. Jiya Jale (Dil Se; 1998)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar & M.G. Sreekumar, Lyrics by Gulzar, Malayalam Lyrics by Girish Pulthenchri, Music Label: Venus
Now this is where the actual Rahman magic actually starts, for me. Picking a singer who was almost towards the end of her career, and giving her a boost by making her sing a song with the essence of Kerala in its beats, and knowing it would do so well, I wish every composer had brains like Rahman. While others composers during this period were miscasting Lata Mangeshkar and making her sound too old for the songs she sung, Rahman skillfully managed to create this song in such a pitch that the songstress wouldn’t have to sound strained. And what can I say about Sreekumar’s Malayalam portions? They’re heavenly! And probably the only Malayalam most Indians know. Gulzar’s poetic lyrics (I believe a first for Rahman) served the song well, and wow. Just wow. This song is wow.
21. Ae Ajnabi (Dil Se; 1998)
Singers: Udit Narayan & Mahalakshmi Iyer, Lyrics By Gulzar, Music Label: Venus
If this list seems generic, it’s because it is. Nobody can ignore these songs when it comes to talking about the best Rahman songs! ‘Ae Ajnabi’ is one of those, complete with its haunting classical melody, especially in the antara, where Udit Narayan goes mind bogglingly high, and manages to pull it off effortlessly. Rahman equips a minimalistic duff rhythm in the backdrop, which has been heavily overused these days when composers want to evoke pathos. But some things work only once.
22. Satrangi Re (Dil Se; 1998)
Singers: Sonu Nigam & Kavita Krishnamurthy, Lyrics by Gulzar, Music Label: Venus
The Arabic influence in this song is spectacular, and Sonu Hogan’s vocals, spot-on. The little nuances in his voice are wonderful to listen to, while Kavita’s haunting whispery portions send chills down your spine. Rahman creates a catchy tune, with the accordion (?) that plays the Arabic tune over and over again throughout the song. This song is goosebumps.
23. Dil Se Re (Dil Se; 1998)
Singers: A.R. Rahman, Anuradha Sriram, Anupama & Febi Mani, Lyrics by Gulzar, Music Label: Venus
The iconic title song for ‘Dil Se’ was I believe, Rahman’s singing debut in Hindi, and the man did sing as well as he composed. The way this song goes from soft to loud in a fraction of a second, is worthy of compliments, and especially the classically inclined bits like ‘Piya piya…’ are beautiful. Again, the composer has done amazing work with strings, percussions and made the song sound grand. The song starts with minimalistic bass doing the whole job but goes on to include some really cool percussion.
24. Chhaiyya Chhaiyya (Dil Se; 1998)
Singers Sukhwinder Singh & Sapna Awasthi, Lyrics by Gulzar, Music Label: Venus
Yeah, that’s pretty much the entire album of ‘Dil Se’ I have on this list, but I couldn’t help it! No introductions for this song, just sit back and groove to that irresistible groove that Rahman has equipped it with. And of course, the vocal powerhouses that Sukhwinder and Sapna are!
25. Taram Pum Taram Pum (Doli Saja Ke Rakhna; 1998)
Singers: Babul Supriyo & Srinivas, Lyrics by Mehboob, Music Label: T-Series
A fun song, but Rahman never compromised melody in his songs, so in this song, we get a strong, actually, very strong, melody that not only is catchy, but also melodious. Babul Supriyo and Srinivas have a blast singing it, but the melodious portions in the second stanza onwards are the best. Rahman’s percussion again, is mind blowing and the flute is beautiful. This was one of my favourite songs as a child!
26. Bol Sajni Mori Sajni (Doli Saja Ke Rakhna; 1998)
Singers: Sonu Nigam & Kavita Krishnamurthy, Lyrics by Mehboob, Music Label: T-Series
Now this is a song I discovered a year or two ago, and immediately fell in love with it, making it one of my favourite Rahman songs ever. The way he starts the song with a trademark Kathak portion, complete with Bola and Tablas, and switches over to an immersive romantic melody, decorated with his signature flutes, is commendable. Sonu Nigam has delievered one of his best renditions, and Kavita Krishnamurthy takes control of the song because her portions are quite louder and higher pitched than Sonu’s, making them stand out among the calm rest of the song.
27. Ishq Bina (Taal; 1999)
Singers: Sonu Nigam, A.R. Rahman, Anuradha Sriram & Sujatha, Lyrics by Anand Bakshi, Music Label: Tips Music
Here comes the Titan of a soundtrack, Taal, but don’t worry, I won’t include all 12 songs on the list. The most popular song from ‘Taal’, and it truly deserves to be that. Rahman fuses Qawwali elements with other Indian sounds like ‘Manjeeras’, instruments you’d normally hear in bhajans and the like. But this is a Rahman song and nothing is demarcated within rigid rule barriers. Anuradha takes the female lead quite charmingly, but it is Sonu towards the end who takes the song away, and Rahman with his Qawwali portions, provides a nice break from the repetitiveness (not in a negative way) of the female part. The bass in the female part accentuates the composition, while the violin before Sonu Nigam’s part is wonderful. And who cannot notice Anand Bakshi’s metaphorical lines? 👌
28. Nahin Saamne (Taal; 1999)
Singers: Hariharan & Sukhwinder Singh, Lyrics by Anand Bakshi, Music Label: Tips Music
This song. This song. This song. What can I even say? Probably the best use of piano and sitar (in a non classical song, of course) in any Bollywood song till now. And the beautiful humming, that haunting portion, that goosebumps-inducing portion, and Hariharan’s silky voice, never faltering even one bit, and that beautiful antara. Sorry if that was incoherent. It was, but, I can’t gather ny thoughts about this song just yet. NOTE: Sounds best when heard when it’s raining.
29. Taal Se Taal Mila (Taal; 1999)
Singers: Alka Yagnik, Udit Narayan & Sukhwinder Singh, Lyrics by Anand Bakshi, Music Label: Tips Music
Another quite obvious choice, another rain song, another song where Sukhwinder is relegated to the background but does an amazing job. In this song he is the harbinger of the entire song, singing that classical portion before the song starts, before the female chorus starts, backed by Rahman’s wonderful Indian beats comprising matkas and whatnot, the sounds of raindrops, paayals, ghungroos, how beautiful the soundscape of this song is! And then that BEAUTIFUL flute! The rhythm of the song is really passionate, so befitting for a rain song. And that SARANGI, Wow! Listening to it after so long, in the monsoon season itself, is such an experience! Alka Yagnik (isn’t it her first with Rahman?) sounds cute to say the least, while I just keep waiting for Udit’s part to play, because it is one of my favourite portions of the song, when I could see Akshaye Khanna on screen,an actor I somehow sensed was a good actor, in my childhood. 😂 Even if I write 1000 more words on this song, they won’t do justice to the song. So listen to it yourselves. And also, special shoutout to the Western Version of the song — another auditory “sight” to behold.
30. Kahin Aag Lage Lag Jaaye (Taal; 1999)
Singers: Asha Bhosle, Aditya Narayan & Richa Sharma, Lyrics by Anand Bakshi, Music Label: Tips Music
A spectacular song in all fronts, this one has the same passion that is carried in the title song, but this time, not in so pronounced of an Indian way, if that makes sense. Sure,there are those very adorable Aditya Narayan interactions and tribal portions throughout the song, but it really hinges upon the symphonic arrangements by Rahman — the orchestra, African drums and whatnot. Not that he doesn’t include a lot of Indian music elements. And of course, once they had Asha Bhosle on board, other composers sat back and relaxed, but Rahman has clearly not taken it for granted.
31. Kariye Na (Taal; 1999)
Singers: Sukhwinder Singh & Alka Yagnik, Lyrics by Anand Bakshi, Music Label: T-Series
Another recent acquisition for me wih respect to favourite Rahman songs,this song was very badly overshadowed because of the popularity of the other songs. Again,Rahman uses many Indian music elements like the Matka to make the song sound beautiful,abd Sukhwinder’s voice amongst that minimal background is a must-hear. And Alma’s Punjabi portion is so cute! Anand Bakshi’s lyrics though, are the highlight of the song for me.
32. Ruth Aa Gayee Re (1947 Earth; 1999)
Singer: Sukhwinder Singh, Lyrics by Javed Akhtar, Music Label: T-Series
The Sukhwinder-ARR collaboration was going really strong in the 90s. This song is yet another example of how beautiful the two were together. Here, Rahman takes a typical Qawwali-ish rhythm and composes a motivating song around it, very Indian in its sound, and Sukhwinder’s booming vocals do the rest. No wonder this song became so popular!
33. Rang De (Thakshak; 1999)
Singer: Asha Bhosle, Lyrics by Sukhwinder Singh & Tejpal Kaur, Music Label: Saregama
This song is the quintessential Bollywood grand dance number. Rahman has included everything that is necessary for a hit number, in this song. Asha Bhosle going into the low notes quite effortlessly and sensuously, a captivating tune harking to folk music, engaging arrangements and a wonderful backing chorus. And who knew Sukhwinder Singh was the lyricist for this song? I didn’t! The percussions in this song are marvellous, and so is that flute in the interludes. Ah, sweet memories. If only Tabu could dance better.
Those were my favourite Rahman songs from 1992 to 1999! I hope I wasn’t too obvious and you got to learn some new songs. If not, you’re already an encyclopedia that contains all the knowledge about every Rahman song ever. Stay tuned fir the next part of the series, where I’ll cover songs from 2000 onwards (most probably till 2008)! And thanks for reading such a long post! 😁