All Credit to God: A.R.Rahman and Ilaiyaraja

I’ve recently been reading quite a few articles, blogs, posts, comparisons between ARR and Ilaiyaraja… using their contrasting styles of composition as a means to compare which of the two is better… but in very crude terms… as if one must rule over the other… Someone actually went so far as to claim that ARR was a genius for POP music compositions, but IRR is a true film music genius. After having recently watched Ilaiyaraja compliment and applaud Rahman’s achievements, and having watched Rahman send an important message to all tamil film music lovers – to not compare in so vile and violent a manner: link.

I was inspired to respond:

Genius pop musicians, genius classical musicians, genius ghazal musicians…. ah yes… if you ask Jagjit singh, he would tell you that IR and ARR are both nothing, one comes from a jingle world, another comes from an equally deprived film music world… and their music lacks the substance and quality of his ghazals…

Need I go on… these vain comparisons are everywhere and abound… but the entirity of these arguements and these comparisons are focused on the very thing that is so aptly put in “Life of Pi.”

“There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, “Business as usual.” But if they percieve a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astounding. Their resolve is frightening. These people fail to realise that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside.”

These comparisons are the very same fodder of foolishness.

I have heard often that when, after a sudden spark, Illaiyaraja pens a magnificient composition, writing fluidly in a magical moment where the perfection of all the possibilities for the song – infact, the original composition that Illaiyaraja concieves in his head, as he begins to note it down, to place it on paper… in that very act the composition changes, until he is left with something majestically different. And he cannot say for certain which composition was the better one. The one that was in his head, or the one that is now on paper.

And when, roused by the power of the composition, people have asked Ilaiyaraja the secret to his alchemy… he would most often point upwards onto heaven… for he himself knew not the contours of this divine power.

When Rahman is asked about his genius, he atributes all glory to God.

Harris Jeyaraj once mentioned in an interview that sometimes he gets the uncanny feeling that the most part of concieving a composition is actually within the period of “waiting”… for that moment where a revelation is given onto the composer by a higher force. That it is indeed an act of listening, of recieving. Not creating.

So, the genius that lies in any great composer, is not even his to own.

Yet here you are, like fools, adding thickness to the illusion.

Infact, for the most part if you catch a composer at an honest moment – no matter the manner in which he composes (Illayaraja is reputed to write the entire song through a single insight, and Rahman is reputed for his experimental and embracive nature), any composer will tell you that his gift is something that he cannot take credit for.

That is, until the advent of ego. That part of humanity that wants to own, despite all evidences to the contrary. This is why Illayaraja is also known for having fought with a filmmaker or two over why a film was a mega-blockbuster hit. He insisted that it was his music that made the film what it is, and the director would insist that it was his vision.

The truth is, all such sparks of creativity was not theirs…

And creative people, artists who have truly meditated over their gift will attest to this. They will tell you that the more they try to own it, the more they will lose it. The more they leave themselves open, the greater the sparks of genius.

Ilaiyaraja leaves himself open by different means to ARR, 0ther than that their genius lies only in their surrender onto God. Rahman prays before, during, after every composition, every day. He is acutely aware of what I am speaking of, as is Ilaiyaraja.

An erstwhile film journalist recounted his own experience when he once went to interview Iaiyaraja:

“He invited me into his room at Prasad Recording Studio (in Kodambakkam, in central Madras). It is a bare room, with just one straw mat to sit on and piles of the special, personalised notepaper Raja uses to compose on.

“After sitting cross legged on the floor for a bit, he suddenly got up and switched off the airconditioner – in August, mind you, when it is hottest in Madras. Then he sat, in the lotus posture, eyes closed, while I sweltered in the heat of that enclosed room. Suddenly, he opened his eyes and in his trademark soft voice, said, ‘The best music can be heard in the sounds of silence’, and then closed his eyes again to listen some more…”

A passage, “In his short life, Mozart created over 600 masterpieces. Because he was peerless in his accomplisments, like Michelangelo, many in his time claimed his treasured music to be divinely inspired, the voice of God.

“People make a mistake who think that my art has come easily to me,” he once explained. “Nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not studied over and over.”

“Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius. ” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

So, then, are you arguing and comparing who is more capable of love? Rahman or Raja? This does not seem silly to you?

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~ by revolutionwithin on March 27, 2009.

One Response to “All Credit to God: A.R.Rahman and Ilaiyaraja”

  1. pulikesi’s reply:

    Very contradicting indeed! the passage between the first revelation and the last statement defies the purpose of not to make comparisons. Pondering over the text in the passage, it clearly indicates the comparisons being made by the perceptions and notions that one ‘explanatory system’ has created over another kind of ‘explanatory system’ which has been created by the others and tries to drive home a point of ‘worthlessness’ of the others system and commands them to look inside not outside according to their system. huh.

    Words are very tricky indeed and these slips are bound to happen when we are living in the world of words. Foolishness yes – but what else do you and me are doing here. You call me a ‘fool’, comparing your understanding over something. I dare to call Rahman incompetent in comparison to Raaja. So what. You have the choice of either proving me wrong with reasonable ‘words’ or get into the textual jargons of ‘Advaitha’ spewing venom or simply sitback looking within yourself and meditate. You post because you want to say something. The moment you say something it becomes contrived from what this cosmos is really about. But we perform exactly in this continuum with no other choice. So lets Debate and get it over.

    Does it seem silly to you when someone says my moms food tastes better than any other food because of love? Does it seem silly to you when a women appeals more in showering their love on us and we feel blessed – ‘comparing’ with other loveless souls or womens who did not appeal to us? If yes, so be it for you.

    Yet you wont understand the comparisons dwelling deep inside you… Why Mozart? why not Salieri? Why Rahman’s composition are a study material for you? why not ‘Deva’s? How silly is it to write about Rahman’s genius while ignoring the genius of Deva?

    Why do you add ‘Great’ before the composer word here? Why cant ‘he’ be a composer alone? or a Genius alone? With who else did you compare to call them ‘Great’? So what if the revelation to the genius great composer ‘Sirpi’ came from multiple resources in ‘Ullaththai AllithA’, Which illusion of yours is stopping you from recognizing it? The same illusion is stopping me to recognize Rahman in the same lines of Raaja as a genius. Period.

    I replied:

    Good point about mom’s food being better than any other food because of the love within it. By which, you mean to say that anyone’s attributing genius, or measure of genius onto another, will always be a subjective enterprise… it can never be a scientific undertaking. In other words, genius shall always only be a matter of opinion – this is where your point leads.

    I, for one, look to the sparks of genius, and indeed, Ullathai Allitha would have been a work of genius by Sirpi if it wasn’t for the fact that the songs were lifted off some hindi and arabic albums/soundtracks. But then, rather than that, let’s consider “Malare Mounama” by Vidyasagar… which to my knowledge is an original work (relatively speaking – for what is truly original?) – and therein lies the point…

    During a writing seminar the keynote speaker, Billy Marshall Stoneking so succinctly expressed that “Where the work’s origins intersect with the artist’s origins, it produces that extraordinary and timeless freshness we so clumsily refer to as ORIGIN-ALITY.”

    Bearing this in mind, what becomes uproariously evident is that anyone who strives to create art with integrity, with genuineness and an unbending passion, will surely have sparks of originality.

    For this very reason, I do not denounce any artist, any creator… I focus on the work much more than I focus on the artist… because in the end the artist is merely a vessel and it is God who is creating the art.

    For this very reason, it is always better to be open, embracing, and be ready to find genius in the most surprising of places.

    What you are doing rather, is being so hell-bent on building a fort around what you call classy artwork, that you are infact locking yourself in.

    Or in other words, so adamant to believe that only mother’s cooking is best, that suddenly its no longer about love – but about fanaticism.

    For in, essence, your claim is simply that God works only through Illaiyaraja. For some reason, God cannot come through anyone else, cannot create art in any other way… no one else is open enough… is that so? Or is it that you have blinders on, possibly?

    The Genius is God’s. You cannot call Illaiyaraja a genius for being more open (which, at the most, is all he is doing). The word, genius, is in fact misleading when it is considered in those terms, for it is discrediting the actual source of inspiration.

    Your second point that was also very valid was the question of why I am chosing to devote my time to certain composers over others… especially after talking about not comparing, by what measure am I choosing? That very question is integral.

    Seeing as art is an all-encompassing medium… the most illuminating answer would first come from me explaining why I chose my favourite writers… Which, funnily enough, inevitably is a result of my favourite books…

    The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
    Lion of Macedon & Dark Prince – David Gemmell
    Thief of Time – Terry Pratchett
    Perfume – Patrick Suskind
    Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie
    Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
    Illusions – Richard Bach
    Starseed Transmissions – Ken Carey
    Red Dwarf & Better Than Life – Grant Naylor
    Timeline – Michael Crichton
    Siva – Ramesh Menon
    Life of Pi – Yann Martel

    I am bringing this up for specific reason – I do not like all works by any of these writers. I am not fanatical about any of them. I try to view creativity with a discerning eye, practicing the art of recognising hidden gems, of moments of ephiphany bountifully captured… Of the ghost of a magnificent idea manifesting in the art of a sculptor… Who lets his hands work without his mind’s interference… Of mediumistic storytelling, tribal, intrinsic, heartfelt – with precision and flair. These sorts of works do not happen often. Not often at all. They are hard to find. And I cannot say that any of these writers get it right every time.

    But every now and then, they come upon a brilliant seed of an idea, and they bring it to perfection… And each time even they admit that their work is one of inspiration, not creation. I cannot tell you this is an objective process – I am not certain that it is… But I have certainly studied the guidelines of how to tell a powerful story, of the inner struggle the writer himself must go through in order to tell it.

    The writers repeatedly reveal to you, that their characters have a life of their own, that their characters act on their own… And the role of the writer is very much as a medium.

    Which is remarkably parallel to what composers tell you… Or painters tell you… I loved Satanic Verses, the book was laced with a hallucinatory perfection, yet Salman Rushdie’s other books didn’t have that powerful an effect on me. Some people say that Midnights Children was their favourite, that very well may be – yes, favouritism is a subjective enterprise.

    But that’s my entire point! A person who truly recognises that his selection of art is a learning, evolving process, doesn’t stop to block, to lock himself up into a barrage of close-mindedness. Declaring some poor fellow a genius, and lacing his footsteps with petals, all the while forgetting to explore what else is out there in the world.

    I gave a list of favourites… That list grows with time. With time, I add new authors to the list. And as to comparing between them, that is often a case of comparing apples with oranges. And just because I like apples better doesn’t mean oranges are of any lesser value! I recognise this! And again, if I am writing to question you now, it is for this very thing – because this entire thread has been about your need to devalue oranges in order to give high standing to apples. You seem to need to claim that Rahman is somehow lesser than Raja in order to feel that you are not blaspheming. It certainly bears all the signs of textbook fantaticism.

    From my earliest memories to my youth, Ilaiyaraja, and yes, Deva, even less frequest composers such as Hamselekha, dominated my love for Tamil film songs. Even so, even then, the song came first. The song took priority. And as I counted my most favourite tamil songs, I found that nearly 90 percent of them were songs by Ilaiyaraja. So, I loved him for it. Even then, the song still came first. I didn’t get blinded by that love as to create a new religion.

    And because the song came before the composer, when Rahman’s Roja, Gentlemen and Thiruda Thiruda were released, the song blew me away. Only then did I notice Rahman. And I can understand that some people felt it was a matter of loyalty, of allegience. Which, is what I call silly. Just as I call religious wars silly. The time tested term needs to be applied: Unity in Diversity.

    Then there are those who claim in vain attempts at rationalism that they simply do not like the “sound” of Rahman. Which suddenly reminds me of a very wise move by a member of a tamil music appreciation online group… After months, nay years of fighting between two staunchly opposed sides in the group, one vehemently standing by Ilaiyaraja, weapons poised, and others in strike pose by Rahman’s side… A member of the group said (and I am paraphrasing), “Ok, both sides have been fighting about which composer is better for some time now. But you know what, I am sure that all Ilaiyaraja lovers still like a few songs by Rahman, and all Rahman lovers still like some songs by Raja, so why don’t we all share which songs of the other composer we like?” What followed was a long list of one side appreciating the other. Ha ha, would it be ironic to say it was a stroke of genius without being misunderstood?

    So, yes, if you want to compare, then compare, but not crudely, not violently, imagining that you are somehow being politically correct by calling Rahman some pop music genius… Instead, better to run for politics and convince people that indian slums don’t actually exist. If you want to compare, then compare, but do it as objectively as possible, without needing to feel guilty that you owe your idol a special pedestal – you will see clearer that way.

    Refering to a statement you made in an earlier post,

    “Hell I care Because I know ‘Raaja  is getting paid for composing music, which is his passion’ and ‘Rahman is composing music for getting paid’ which is his passion’. Music is means for Rahman to make money, if not music he would have become an ‘Electronics Engineer’ to make the same money. Come what may and if the whole life & world had been against ‘Raaja’ He would have become a composer in Tamil films. “

    This is exactly the kind of bias I am talking about. Suddenly if a man is a recluse he is humble, and if he is in the limelight, he is capitalistic? That is your criteria? Take a good look around you, remove the blinders. There are hundreds of examples the world over that reveal that this is not at all the case whatsoever. That people are reclusive for reasons that have nothing to do with their view on making money. Director Shankar is one of the most commercial-minded directors (and very successful at it) that you will find – and yet he stayed out of the limelight till it came time to promote Sivaji. On the other hand, someone like Daniel Day Lewis actually goes into reclusiveness because of his need to investigate his own life through introspection – but, again, this is not always the case – and not always the reason. It is pure immaturity to stereotypically categorise reclusiveness and showmanship. But then again, you have made your biases very clear. What remains amusing is that you seem certain that you are somehow being objective about your prejudices.

    Robert DeNiro, as was told by Shurtleff, does not give interviews because it is an ability he was never very good at, he had little to no interest in self-promotion. Yet does that make him somehow more humble? People who personally know Rahman express time and time again that he is the humblest person they have ever met in the Tamil Film Industry. There are documentations of Illaiyaraja fighting with film producers and directors, claiming that his songs makes or breaks any film (it is not up for debate if that is true or not, what is integral is that it definetely shows no humility).

    Yet, again, what you have done, is taken only what you wanted to hear, and disregarded the rest. Bad decisions are made that way. Illusions are created that way. What you have is prejudice, you cannot even call it opinion. Opinions are formed after considering all the evidence, impartially.

    But what is curious is that you NEED for Ilaiyaraja to be the King – you cannot be at peace without it. You need him to be a virtuous, honorable man, and you NEED in comparison, for others to lack any integrity as a human. You needed it, so you created a story to suit it. Otherwise, you would have noticed the very very obvious;

    “I can never forget a line of Rahman’s, which he said to me while at his studio, “I’ve decided that whatever goes from here has to be good”. He said it with neither arrogance nor extreme confidence. It was just so very simply said just as a decision he took and that single sentence made me understand A.R’s greatness, more than his music itself. I have known many including myself who said, thought, and wished the same, but with the exception of A.R I have yet to meet a single man who practiced it and continues to practice it.” – Ram Gopal Varma on Rahman (And this guy has actually met him. Read most of the articles of people who have met Rahman – you will be surprised).

    So, the question actually is, where are you imagining up these conclusions on Rahman? Actually, that’s rhetorical – it’s clear you haven’t given Rahman much of a chance to begin with. As for me, I love them both just the same, Rahman, Raja, like my two eyes.

    Oh here’s another one from Ram Gopal Varma (he has worked with both Rahman and Ilaiyaraja);

    “Also, A.R is the only artiste I have met who does not have creative arrogance. I mean that he never defends his work if it were to be criticized. He was recording The spirit of Rangeela theme in Chennai while I was shooting in Mumbai. When he sent the track to me I didn’t like it, at first hearing. Not just me but the entire unit didn’t. I called A.R and told him that it was not working. Without a second’s pause he said he will work out something else, and this he said after having worked on the track for more than a week.

    As I was playing the spirit theme in my car over and over again, at some moment it hit me like a thunder bolt, and I told him that I must have been out of my mind not to have liked it in the first place. He smiled and said “I knew you would like it eventually”.

    I am not saying that Rahman is more humble than Raja, or has more integrity than Raja… I find them to be different people. As a human being, it is better to have the sensibility to see the differences in people and appreciate it…

    On the whole, what this reminds me of is this; say you have a best friend who’s started a small business, and the business is thriving, and as a genuine well-wisher you are very happy for him… then one day a competitor for the same business opens shop accross the street and your friend’s business stops doing so well… then what happens? Then even if your friend doesn’t mind the competitor, as a well-wisher of your friend you will start cursing the new competitor… you will hold ill-will towards him, imagine all sorts of nonsense about him, and be utterly unwilling to consider him as a person. This is how you are behaving.

    Oh, and one last (but not least) obvious contradiction in your arguments: Raja has been often cited to say, and even Karthik Raja has mentioned this about his father, that his father is fed up of the kind of music he is constantly asked to create. To quote;

    “Dad wants to explore music in a deeper sense. I know that he feels restricted here in India. His ability and his talent are restricted to people running around the trees, fighting the villain, and getting married. The directors who come to him don’t know what he is about. “Sir, could you give us a teasing song? We want a dance number.” That is not music. That is just commercial business, which dad labels as ‘plastic music’. Use-and-throw stuff!” – Karthik Raja.

    The only difference really is, Rahman got the opportunity to explore his music with less restrictions overseas – and this freedom came about by a carefully decided approach to his career. However, the point here is, Raja is bending to the will of the directors and making stuff which he calls “use and throw” stuff, creating music that doesn’t give him satisfaction… And for what? For money. Yet, somehow, you have imagined up some valour in his actions, yet cannot attribute the same valour to Rahman – why is this? Do you have any valid reason at all? Honestly think about it – it is simply your NEED to believe it, and truth be damned if it gets in the way. I’m sorry, that attitude is not valuable by any standard, not to you, nor to me. It will not help us evolve, it will not feed our awareness.

    If you did some research you will see the careful method in which Rahman made sure that he had the freedom to constantly explore new avenues (which a creative person constantly needs), and decided at several points in his career to accept a new challenge overseas. Disgruntled by this, you call him a capitalist. Like how some muslims call non-muslims infidels. It is a thoughtless stance.

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