The ARR Top 20 Project

As soon as I saw this new topic in the ARR fan club about making your list of Top 20 ARR songs, I was curious to try it out and find out which songs would end up in my list. I did it a bit differently. Firstly, I decided not to listen to ANY music while making the list to ensure I was unbiased. I tried to think of the first thing that came to my mind for each song. I thought of the ‘impact’ it has on me – every time I listen to it. I thought of whether the song has the same impact on me now as it did a few years ago – the ‘timeless’ factor. This was quite hard to judge for the recent songs, especially those from Rockstar. In that case, I tried to see what the song meant to me beyond the musical notes, the lyrics, the voice – if there was something that I connected with at a deeper level. This last fact is true for all the songs that finally made it to my top 20. These are the songs whose ‘souls’ I have been able to connect to, every time I listen to them. I did not think of any technical aspects while making this list. These are songs I have played on loop endlessly, songs which I waited to hear during the cassette days or impatiently rewound innumerable times to loop them and songs which leave me with an awe every time.

As a first step, I wrote down my favourite songs from each album. I also included the non-film albums. There were 166 songs. Then I decided to cross out the songs which I felt were not right there at the top. After a lot of attempts at weighing the relative merits of the songs, I came up with a list which had 84 songs! Then, I decided to do a selection instead of elimination – that is, I chose all the songs that I wanted in the top 20. I came up with 40 for the top 20 spots 🙂 Then came the toughest part of the whole exercise. To make it easier, I decided not to include the non-film songs. After eliminating a few more, there were still 29. I had almost given up at this point. After a lot of heartbreaks, this is what I came up with (listed in no particular order):

(I am listening to each song as I am writing about it now. It is proving to be extremely difficult to switch to the next song)

1. Chinna Chinna Aasai – Roja

The first Rahman song I listened to. Happy, light-hearted, carefree. Beautiful lyrics. Minmini’s voice. ‘Elelo’ in Rahman’s voice. Beautiful visuals. The variation in the beats. The freshness.

2. Pudhu Vellai Mazhai – Roja

The first thing you notice about this song is the unique ‘snowfall’ beat. The theatrical effect that Rahman brings sounds grand, even today. I knew which song to play during my first experience of snowfall about two years back 🙂 The pause before every time ‘Pudhu Vellai Mazhai’ starts after the charanam allows for a moment of solitude, which only adds to the romance beautifully brought out in this song.

3. Thee Thee – Thiruda Thiruda

I listened to this much later than the time of the movie’s release. Veerapandi Kottaiyile was the more popular song at that time. This is a ‘love at first hearing’ song. This is one of Rahman’s most energetic songs. Both interludes are par excellence – the first one mainly with konnakkol and Rahman’s swarams and the second one with Naveen’s flute. I still struggle to understand the lyrics completely, thanks to Carolene’s singing, but I am not complaining. On the whole, this is how fusion with Carnatic base should sound like!

4. Narumugaiye – Iruvar

The salangai chimes moving from one speaker to the other. Poetic Tamil lyrics, which I don’t entirely understand. A Nattai-based song (Never knew Nattai could sound romantic!). Unnikrishnan’s and Bombay Jayashri’s voice. The blend of Ghatam (by Vikku Vinayakram) and salangai. The second interlude on the Sarangi(?). The variation in beats for almost every line (The variation for the first line in the charanam can easily be missed. I discovered it only recently.).

5. Mangta Hai Kya – Rangeela

Rahman sounds funky! I don’t know if he has sounded this way in any other song. The closest is probably Humma Humma. The beats that run throughout this song are like heartbeats, giving life to every moment. The second interlude on the piano is simply magical. Rahman springs a pleasant surprise at the end with the short alaap and swarams. He really is a master in introducing elements of Indian classical music in ANY kind of song. A charming mood-lifter, this song is.

6. Sandosha Kanneere – Uyire (Dil Se Re – Dil Se)

I happened to listen to the Tamil version of this song first and that has stuck with me. There is a slight variation in the tune in the first line of the charanam, which I like better in the Tamil version. Lyrics are good in Tamil too and not a mere translation of the Hindi lyrics. My favourites: ‘kallonRu thadai seidha pOdhum, pullonRu pudhu vErgaL pOdum, nam kAdhal adhu pOla mIrum kannE’, ‘unnOdu nAn kaNda bandham, maNNOdu mazhai konda sondham, kAindhAlum adi Iram enjum kaNNE’. The chorus plays an important role in this song. The jathis/swarams in the interludes and the lag with which they sing (almost whisper) towards the end bring in a mystic sense, as if it is the air that is whispering these lines/carrying voices from far away. I can almost feel the fog in the atmosphere through the muffled beats. A beautifully picturised song too.

7. Jiya Jale – Dil Se

The Malayalam lyrics and the beats add a festive spirit to this song. What an eclectic combination of flute, percussion and santoor in that first interlude! Sindhubhairavi never sounded so buoyant!

8. Theendai – En Swaasa Kaatre

A classical beauty. I think the entire song is based on Shri Ragam. The entire beauty of this ragam is brought out in this passionate song! The beauty of every line lingers on, thanks to the extra karvais or prolonged notes at the end of every single line in the song. This song is worth watching too, just for the beautiful landscapes of Hampi and that pond with amazingly-stacked steps.

9. Pachchai Nirame – Alaipayuthey (Saathiya – Saathiya)

This is my most special song. Perfect in every way. And it manages to manifest itself equally beautifully in every language too! I love this song equally in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. I was a bit apprehensive before listening to this in Hindi with Sonu Nigam’s voice, but he does complete justice to the song. The lyrics – the beautiful concept of describing the different shades of love. Hariharan sings this extremely gracefully, as if whispering into the ears of his girl. This, in my opinion, is THE best picturised song of ARR. Madhavan and Shalini only add to the beauty of the already breathtaking locations. This song has got to be experienced – no more words to describe it.

10. Do Kadam – Sonu Nigam  Meenaxi

A very contemplative, soulful, mysterious song. The song of hope – to find a better place (heaven?), which we are just two steps short of. This song reminds me of the time I used to listen to this sometimes (the rare times when I was not listening to Aayitha Ezhuthu) while solving Physics problems while preparing for JEE (maybe it gave me the hope that I would be able to handle Physics, which I found to be the toughest of the three subjects). A simply structured song, but conveys much more.

11. Hey Goodbye Nanba (Short Version) – Aayitha Ezhuthu (

This is the piece that appears when Siddharth and Trisha do never-ending round trips on the bus on their last evening together before her wedding. It is just one-and-a-half minutes long and the melody is the same as that of the full version of the song, but the lyrics are different and very apt for the situation. I like this even better than the full song – the opening notes on the piano and the guitar are magical.

12. Yakkai Thiri (Fanaa) – Aayitha Ezhuthu

I have already written about this here. To add to that, this song is mostly based on Suddha Dhanyasi.  The series of metaphors in the lyrics and the concept of One love has more meaning than it first appears. This song, if I remember right, was composed for the lyrics which Vairamuthu had written earlier. A slightly modified version was used for the final version of the song. Rahman carries the entire song, with his voice too.

(It was extremely difficult to leave out the other songs from Aayitha Ezhuthu. They were all there in the 40 I wanted in the top 20. It was especially difficult to give up Nenjam Ellam and Sanda Kozhi, but at some point, the songs from other movies took over)

13. Spiderman – New

A unique song for the mood it creates. The repeated melody (on the guitar?) creates the mood of the song from the beginning. Kunal Ganjawala’s (he even manages to pronounce the ‘zha’ properly) and Sadhana Sargam’s voices fit in perfectly for this passionate, intimate, mystic song.

14. Porkalam – Thenali

The best part of this song – 1:51 to 2:09, which also appears during the second interlude. This is a slow, beautifully flowing song – almost like a conversation between the two. Gopika Poornima’s voice sounds very good. This is one song just for listening – not at all to watch. A soothing melody.

15. Mausam & Escape – Slumdog Millionaire

One of the best instrumental pieces of Rahman. The sitar-guitar combination is deadly. Grand, epic sound. Full of energy.

16. Sahara – Sivaji

This is the most underrated song in this album. Its more popular version ‘Sahana’ sung by Udit and Chinmayee doesn’t quite create an impact for me. Vijay Yesudas sings and hums very soulfully (I am glad we got to hear him again (in a Rahman song) in ‘I’ve Been Waiting’). The Thiruppavai lines ‘Maale Manivanna..’ are set in a moving Suddha Dhanyasi accompanied by the rhythms of the guitar. That is the highlight of this song. This could also be thought of as a melancholic interpretation and an instrumental/humming version of ‘Sahana’.

17. Aaromale – Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya

That’s the song that has always been on my playlist ever since the music of Vinnnaithaandi Varuvaaya released. Infact, I fell in love with this song from the first time I heard it. It’s magical to say the least and it’s one of those rare songs which I can listen to any time in any mood. Infact, it creates my mood everytime – of joy, of awe, of magic. Just like the first time. There’s something about the song which is indescribably blissful. Be it the opening guitar, the voice of Alphons Joseph, the beats, the ‘Swasti Swasti Sumuhurtham..’ chorus or Ganesh Rajagopalan’s violin. There’s something unique in how it all comes together and makes the song what it is. The song is based on the ragam Bhageshri, one of my most favourites. I don’t know why but everytime I walk along St. Pieter’s Church (the structure looks beautiful from every angle) in the centre of Leuven, I feel like listening to this song. I don’t know if it is because they show a church in the movie too. When every face of the church appears before me as I walk around it, the sound of the opening strings of guitar play in my mind. Epic song.

18. Jaa Re Ud Jaa Re – Raavan

The surprise song in Raavan. I like the version rendered by Rahman during the music launch of ‘Raavan’ the best (it is slightly different from how it appears in the movie). A song which instantly connects with the soul. It sounds like a conversation with oneself – introspective, ruminating over the past and spiritual. Rahman brings out the magic with his voice.

19. Acid Darbari – 127 Hours

How can a piece of music be so touching, so moving and convey a whole spectrum of feelings without uttering a single word? Is this what is Rahman’s touch? I don’t know, but I know for sure that it is something divine. It brings tears to my eyes, yet comforts me. The cry (of Aron?) reveals the pain, but the continuously flowing sounds of the continuum soothe. The romantic Darbari mostly used in film songs puts on a mournful face here. Yet, there is an indescribably beauty in every note. [I wrote this down on the day I first listened to this piece. I feel exactly the same even today.]

20. Jo Bhi Main – Rockstar

I really connected with this song after reading about Jordan’s character as described by Imtiaz Ali – that Jordan can only connect with other people’s music, which cannot lie unlike their words and that he can express himself only through his music. Earlier, it was the sound of the opening guitar, ‘ya ya ya’ and the lyrics, which I appreciated, only superficially. After reading that, I could sense something beneath all this – probably the true emotions that the song tries to convey. When I hear the same ‘ya ya ya’, I can feel that those words are trying to convey something deeper, something which can’t be expressed by any other meaningful words. This has also become my most favourite song in Rockstar. There is much more that I am yet to discover in this song, but I know it is going to be in my playlist forever! My favourite line: ‘jO bhI main kehna chAhoon, barbAd karEn alfAz mErE’. I hope you could hear some of the music behind all these words I have written here, which otherwise probably quite didn’t convey what I wanted to say!

P.S.: After coming up with the list, I made a short analysis and saw that 10 of the 20 are from Mani Ratnam’s movies! Also, 10 of them are from films released in 1992-2000 and10 from 2001-2011. I certainly didn’t expect that!

6 thoughts on “The ARR Top 20 Project

  1. Thats an awesome list!! brings back so many memories… first song that comes to my mind is malargale malargale from love birds 🙂 i remember being stuck to the song like crazy and now its been so long since i listened to it..

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