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 instrumental appetite of the listener. Every song of his generally has this pattern.
Ilaiyaraaja, who grew up in a remote Southern village, had 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!



Ilaiyaraaja – musical genius

Growing up in the South during the 80s, particularly in Tamil Nadu meant that there was only one name on everyone’s lips when it came to music, Ilaiyaraaja. Doling out one hit song after the other for movies in all the Southern languages, he was way beyond a cult favorite. Folks used to whistle and scream in excitement when Ilaiyaraaja’s name showed up on the silver screen in movie theaters. Such acts of adoration was only reserved for the movie hero.

In an interview he did at the Google HQ he talked about the regimen he followed morning to night every day for more than thirty years of his life. Unbelievable discipline,dedication and determination to the art.

Ilaiyaraaja at Google

Ilaiyaraaja’s musical genius is also evident in the background music and title music he gave to movies. This is one of my favorite You Tube channels: Navin Mozart: Ilaiyaraaja BGM

Personally, I think the Film industry did a disservice by locking him to movie songs that do not allow the full range of music, melody and vocals to play out like in a symphony. This makes all his songs wonderful to listen but don’t sustain beyond the few minutes they are played to finish the song. Some of the below should have been more of what this genius should have doled out in his lifetime!

How to Name It!