Ilaiyaraaja vs. A.R. Rahman

One of the dilemma’s that South Indians have in their lives (talking about the 30+ middle-aged guys) is that one day they end up having a debate about who is the best music director in the country (basically means music for movies).

In that conundrum rise two names, legends in their own right, accomplishments of different kinds, and of course widely divergent in their presentation of their musical offerings – Ilaiyaraaja and A.R. Rahman. The former is a legend who composed over 6000 movie songs in multiple languages since the 70s. The latter musician, with more modern music under his belt has won the Oscar and a whole bunch of other accolades. He of course rules the uno position generally speaking in the Indian heartland.

If one grew up in the 80s in South India, like me, Ilaiyaraaja was like music God. Nobody came close and they couldn’t either. One good song after the other was released by this maestro almost every day. When I was in my 12th grade, A.R. Rahman stormed the scene with music for the movie Roja. Many didn’t know that music could sound like this also! Of course, western musicians wouldn’t be surprised by this movie, but India had its own Indian music that came first.

One of the never ending debates that even happens today is to declare who is the better between the two musicians. Ilaiyaraaja is rightfully called as “Isaignaani” – A great scholar of music! A.R. Rahman on the other hand is considered as the Mozart of Madras.

After careful analysis and consideration, I have come to the following conclusion expressed in this equation. It is only a matter of perspective after all and who is greater or better depends on the music listener’s preference for what is more important for them between melody and music (as in instrumental play). In other words, what touches their heart first?

So, here is the final solution:

Ilaiyaraaja = Melody + Music

A.R. Rahman = Music + Melody

A.R. Rahman’s early career when he struggled to establish himself was in creating catchy jingles for Ads. Everything from the second a song begins is about the music that hits the listener. Every song of his generally has this pattern. Ilaiyaraaja, who grew up in a remote Southern village with no access to all the musical instruments in his struggling years. This has given him a capability to create melody in his songs. One can test it by humming his songs without any music in the background. It will still sound good. The instrumental music does help but isn’t what hits you first.

Anyways, so that is it. Solved the ultimate musical puzzle of the century for all lovers of these two Indian music greats!

 

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