A. R. Rahman Curated
Academy Award Winning Musician
CURATED BY :
What role did the Sufi teachers play in your life? How were you inspired by them?
In today’s time, how important is it not to impose one’s beliefs on to another?
Who has been your favourite Marvel superhero and your favorite movie?
Could you share your experience while composing the anthem for Avengers?
If you get a superpower and you are asked to do something extraordinary, what would it be?
Which is your favorite character from Avengers?
What kind of experience did you have while composing the song for Avengers?
How difficult it is to blend the emotions while composing the music of a song in an Indian language for a story based on a foreign country?
You have worked on international platforms. What is your next goal?
Every time before performing live, you seemed to be very relaxed. Why is that so?
Could you speak about your relationship with Mani Ratnam?
How do you go about putting together a score and tracks for a guy stuck under a boulder
Since I worked with Danny Boyle before on Slumdog Millionaire, we have great success and everything. So, when I first got the script and the screenplay of Simon (Beaufoy) and I was reading it, even before the shoot, some kind of sounds came into my mind and I put some stuff [down] and sent it to Danny when he was cutting the movie. How we approached this was I wanted this to be personal in a way. It’s not a big, epic Hollywood score but really personal and intimate, and we thought guitar would be the perfect instrument for him because he’s young and he has an undying spirit and all that stuff and we went on that feeling totally.
A R Rahman On Nation Wants To Know With Arnab Goswami
How challenging are live shows for you, since you began as a studio musician and composer?
Over years, little by little, people can change. When I first started it, it was terrifying and It was almost as if I was going to kill myself there… a mob of people were going to come and attack me. But when everything is organised well and the promoters do their homework and they do it well, we have a whole team in tune. When people come in, they are half sold. They want to see their favourite artiste. You have to be honest, and the rest of the 50 per cent is what you do. Over years, refining, refining, refining… we have an amazing set of musicians and singers, who we are really proud of.
How did the album "Roja" change your career as a music composer?
Do you find it is difficult to be friends with famous people?
In such a materialistic industry you being a top music composer, what keeps you grounded?
Do you think you still have the passion that you had in the very beginning?
Tell me something about your journey so far?
How did you feel about receiving double Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire?
What do think about the state of the world at the moment from a spiritual perspective?
What has attracted you to join the Hollywood film industry?
Do you practice Sufi? Do you have any connection with Qawwali?
Do you think music can gap the bridge between the major religions?
You use different music styles to fit with the visuals. What is your motive behind this process?
How do you work on multitudinous music productions in a comparatively short space of time?
What does A. R. Rahman listen to everyday?
I mostly listen to classical music. Because I think it is very refreshing, classical music always has tonality and depth and you get refreshed listening to it. So much not pop. Maybe in the car when I travel, I listen to pop music on the radio.
Do you have special time of the day when you feel more creative? And/or a certain place?
Actually, in the starting years, I used to work a lot at night. The first 10-15 years. Then once the traveling started, 16 hours of travel, 10 hours of travel, mostly it depends on my jet lag and my body clock. Mostly in my studio, where that is, I go in alone and kind of meditate and do something.
You’ve composed a number of songs with a heavy Indian classical base. Do you have a favorite raga that you tend to favor or do compose to fit the situation?
I normally compose the situation. And there are amazing amounts of ragas, very few people master the way to make it as melodic as possible for a particular situation. Because now of the whole generation change and how most of the movies are catered to the youth audience, it's becoming more difficult to even attempt doing the more unusual ragas. This is one of the reasons I started my own movie company for the future, we want to be as close, doing more music-oriented things, going to the depths of music in a very entertaining way.
What is your process when you go about creating a new film score? Also, who are some artists that you look up to and have learned from?
My process of creating a song is actually multiple things. If I am writing for a movie, it depends on the character and what kind of background it is set, and what they are are wishing to convey, I want to take an approach that is exciting. And some of the artist, I am actually working with a lot of exciting artists. Some of the collaborations are confidential, and some of them I have already done on Million Dollar Arm, I worked with a lot the upcoming new talent from America. In India, I still keep looking up to Lata Mangeshkar, and there are just so many. And sometimes you feel so humbled when you look at the world of great artists.
What’s your typical day like? Do you draw most of your inspiration from within your studio? Also, what’s your favorite food?
I think the more I live my life, I feel so blessed to be in music and not in anything else, because if you work, and the work is pleasure, and you are giving pleasure to the listeners, and that is the inspiration that we are in something good. And so how do you make it greater is only the challenge, how do you fight the fatigue and complacency and those kind of things. And inspiration comes from, initially when you write, you are challenged to write for a scene or a song, but it becomes a larger perspective where I do projects which have a kind of undertone of trying to say what i am saying in a scene. Right now i am just enjoying my life doing work in Hollywood and back in India, taking it easy. My favorite? I think after 40, food becomes like a burden. I am not into the spiciest food I used to have before, I've toned it down a lot. I have sometimes vegetarian, sometimes fish, sometimes home-cooked food.
Are there any western musicals pieces that have shaped your musical talent?
Interestingly, yes, but strangely when I started my movie soundtracks, what it taught me was to put my passion and perfection in things, and i would say I was really awestruck by Freddy Mercury, Queen, Peter Gabriel, Michael Jackson, and the classical masters like Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, those were all great influences. All these things, in a way, they shaped my musicality. And Hindustani music, singles, and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.
What music moves you the most?
Music is like a banyan for me. It is not one aspect which moves. Many different forms of music have a very different character. You can't say one kind of music is superior. I take from each music. Suppose you have a choir it has its own charm, classical music has its own charm, folk music has its own charm. Me being me, I am so open and I think I derive inspiration for all kinds of music and have respect for all musicians.
Who is your favourite music director?
In Tamil I am a great fan of M. S. Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy and K. V. Mahadevan. In Hindi, I admire Naushad, S. D. Burman and R. D. Burman.
Earlier, you were seen as an introvert. But now, you seem to mingle well with everyone. What brought about this change?
I started writing scripts. "Lay Mask" and "99 Songs" evolved from such thoughts only. My expression, communication and self confidence greatly improved during the course of writing the scripts. Even my vocabulary improved drastically, because of which i am able to converse with anyone fluently. I am able to communicate with any hesitation about how and what i feel inside within me. All the credit goes to the "Script" itself.
You have won the hearts of a billion people. Did anyone propose you?
Let me tell you an interesting story. I came to know that I used to get a lot of love letter initially. But I never got to read even one of those love letters. My sisters used to hide them from my sight. There were instances where they even tore few letters. I came to know about this pretty late in life. You tell me, would I ever have a chance to love someone with such kind of sisters watching my back continuously? I never had such opportunity.
You still look young even though you crossed 50. What is your diet? How do you keep fit?
You calling me fit? Look, I have a tummy that only increases with each day. Yes! I do take care of my diet. I don’t eat food that doesn’t suit me. I don’t take all kinds of foods. And I don’t eat at odd times. I have no time to hit the gym or do any special workouts.
Did anyone approach you seeking your permission to direct a biopic on you?
There would no biopic of mine. I am sure about that. A handful producers and directors approached me for the same. I always rejected it. I don’t think the audience will be interested to know about my life. Everyone knows about me and my past. So what is the point of a biopic when you have nothing new to tell?
Do you consider yourself as a conservative person?
I like to follow the code that comes from generations of faith and culture. I feel it protects us and gives us sanity. So, in lifestyle, I’m conservative, yes, but not in thinking. That was demolished long back, all the walls, because for me, spirituality fuels the thought that there’s no limit. You can do whatever you want, but don’t create confusion in the world. For me, art is something that has to keep challenging. That’s the thing about any creativity. Whether it’s the design of a computer, or a piece of art, or a song, it’s to hide all these complications you’ve faced and make it look simple. But when you go closer you realise it’s not as simple as it looks
Your association with Mani Ratnam has spawned some iconic soundtracks and you’ve also worked with the likes of Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart and Joss Stone as part of SuperHeavy. How have these diverse musical influences impacted how you approach music?
As a mentor, Mani Ratnam is one of my favourite people. But I think everything musically that we do is honest, if you can feel that in the music. There's a trueness about it. That's what I think if I compose an Indian melody. It should come from within. And even with the western music. There's a simplicity and yet there's a complexity in the harmonies and everything. So I draw on those aspects. I'm a big fan of music. Not just a particular kind of music. I appreciate everything and that became in a way the philosophy of my music.
Modern Hindi films place a lot of emphasis on catchy item songs. What is your view of commercial Hindi music today?
It serves a purpose for people. But when there's a musical like the one I'm producing, there are lots of challenges - like you have to have certain melodies. I'm also doing Aamir Khan's next movie, which is very music based. All of these require music as a central feature, but the ones that don't require music as a core element just use songs as a marketing tool. It serves a purpose but the deepest quality of music is missing in those songs. I do commercial movies but I have to have a balance.
How would you define the power of music and what is the message you aim to impart through your music?
For me I feel that's a blessing and to hold that blessing I should be worthy enough and that's why self-refinement is so important. In the song 'Infinite Love', what I describe is that we all become judgemental once we get knowledge and intellect. We start to judge people, but when you're a child you don't differentiate. There are no borders in your love or your liking. When we are at school we don't bother whether you are Asian, black or white. You're just friends. But when you grow up all these dividing factors come in. So when you go back to that zone, everything is one in a very simple way.
In your Vande Matram album, despite being so young, you were able to gather all these maestros to come together and perform for your rendition of Rabindranath Tagore’s creation. How?
I think it happened at a unique moment. The Kargil war happened, and that's when we thought, ‘Why don't we have all the musicians/masters of India come together to give support to the soldiers?' After the original idea was conceived by Bharat Bala and completed, we were inspired to make it a full-fledged concert. It was an idea, which was big enough in itself and could be released later, but it was first for Kargil.
There are many versions of how you came to be called AR Rahman. What is the real story?
The truth is I never liked my name…. No disrespect to the great actor Dilip Kumar! But somehow my name didn’t match the image I had of myself.Sometime before we started on our journey on the path of Sufism, we went to an astrologer to show him my younger sister’s horoscope because my mother wanted to get her married. This was around the same time when I was keen to change my name and have a new identity. The astrologer looked at me and said, ‘This chap is very interesting.”He suggested the names: “Abdul Rahman” and “Abdul Rahim” and said that either name would be good for me. I instantly loved the name “Rahman.” It was a Hindu astrologer who gave me my Muslim name.Then my mother had this intuition that I should add “Allahrakha” [Protected by God], and I became AR Rahman.
Did your belief in spirituality help when you and your family were facing hard times?
Yes, absolutely. My mother was a practising Hindu… My mother had always been spiritually inclined. We had Hindu religious images on the walls of the Habibullah Road house where we grew up. There was also an image of Mother Mary holding Jesus in Her arms and a photograph of the sacred sites of Mecca and Medina.In 1986, ten year after my father died, we happened to meet Qadri Saaheb again. The peer was unwell and my mother looked after him. He regarded her as a daughter. There was a strong connection between us. I was nineteen at the time and working on a session musician and composing jingles.
Is Indian music truly going global and do you think that’s a good thing?
Everybody needs to express and I think there is a time for every country. First it was Rome and then Britain and then America, so we have a voice, we are 1.4 billion people and if we don’t have a say in world culture, then we are either very complacent or sitting back in our shells. There was a time when people here wanted to embrace American culture for everything, and now slowly that’s dying. We are trying to see what’s good in it, we are adapting some things from other cultures, but not totally, you know. We can’t throw away the good things we have, and we have come to realise that - which is great. It’s important to show what we have, rather than being apologetic about it, which is happening these days.
How has AR Rahman, the performer, changed over the years?
I think my initial concerts were a little boring. The music was there, of course, but I realised what was missing after observing concerts abroad. Now, I think I’ve become better. I move around the stage, and interact with the audience. When I am in the studio, I am just a composer. But when I am on the stage, I am a performer, and I have to be on par with youngsters. I’ve learned about lenses, camera angles and so on. That’s one of the reasons why I have stepped into filmmaking. I wasn’t image-conscious before, but now, I know I can’t represent India with unbuttoned shirts. I have realised I need to carry myself with a certain kind of class. My wife has started dressing me up, of late. I guess, she got inspired by the Super Heavy band! It’s a refinement, anyway.
There are times when you are described in superlatives. How do you look at it?
I think it's important to know where you stand personally and professionally. I do this assessment every day and that happens from the responses that I get from the people I work with. I have never taken my work for granted. I am sensitive towards my work and what I deliver to the audience. That's why I don't talk much and when I do, I want to make sense. Although I am on social media, I don't use it to provide my daily schedule. I don't think that's important.
Is there constant pressure to deliver the best every time you score music?
I work with people who have high expectations, so my job is not easy. It is not necessary that my most popular songs are my best works. But I have enough time to come up with a score as films aren't made in a day. There have been times when we have to change the songs. Mani Ratnam often rejects my work if he doesn't like it and asks to me to compose again. Imtiaz [Ali] had already shot Agar Tum Saath Ho in Tamasha [his 2015 film] but I wasn't satisfied. I changed it completely. It's not about finishing the job for the sake of it.
How do you look at the scenario where language is given more importance than the music?
It's sad when something like this happens. I look at the audience we are catering to. When I perform in south India, I perform more of South numbers than Hindi songs. It is the opposite case when I am performing elsewhere in the country. During overseas tours, the audience consists of people who have migrated from different regions and are living in a different culture. I have seen them celebrate all kinds of music.
Do you still have stage fright when you perform at concerts?
I think that is one of the things that has not changed even today. From my first stage show, there was a moment of fear and anxiety. Before stepping in, I think about a lot of things like, if the headphones are working properly, there shouldn't be any echo coming, the microphone should work in order, people should love my music, they should have a good time and positive vibes...thousand things. This happens more when I am going for a various artists' concert, where the audience is coming with different taste of music, which is quite different from a solo concert. However, when I start playing, music flows, you know, nothing can go wrong, because the music is going right.
As a musician, what keeps you grounded?
You are also a spiritual person. What do you think about the state of the world at the moment from a spiritual point of view?
Have life changed after winning the Oscars?
What were the memories of making the song album for the movie “Dil Se”?
Do you believe music bridges the gap of different cultures, languages and people?
You became a household name after composing the music for Mani Ratnam’s ‘Roja’. But how was life before that?
Do you believe in universal music and that is why you are blending the music of the West and of the East?
What motivated you to go on a collaboration with “Pussycat Dolls” for the remix version of your song “Jai Ho”?
Some Islamic Fundamentalists forbid others to listen music. As you embraced Islam and also as a musician, what is your view on this?
Do you think the function of music in an Indian film has changed?
Of all the accolades from Oscars and Golden Globes to being feted by Presidents, what has meant the most to you?
I think at every stage all those things are important. But I think the love and blessings from the fans, that's most important and that's what keeps you going until now. For an artist inspiration and encouragement is very, very important. And what happens when you feel the love from the fans, is that you want to do more. You want to make it better and draw on all that you've learnt and go much further
You are famous for less speaking and quite a media shy person. Then, what made you decide to go for your own autobiography?
Truth be told, I didn’t know how to frame my sentences earlier. My speaking could not keep up with my thoughts. Music is easy: you can do it with your fingers and heart. Talking is not, so I thought speaking less and working more is better. Also, Krishna [the author of Notes of a Dream] is the son of my friends Trilok and Sharda, who had once introduced me to Mani Ratnam. Having a young guy write this was a double-edged sword. But after I read the first three chapters, I was sold. I knew I had done the right thing.
After so many years working as a composer, do you feel a sense of monotony when directors approach you for the same kind of love song or situation that has been used over and over again?
Apart from music, you have also developed a passion towards Photography. How did it happen?
That’s a recent thing. When I was young, maybe 13 or 14, my mom bought me a camera with film, and I was fascinated developing pictures. That must have stayed, so when I did my world tour in 2010, I went to New York’s B&H with my cinematographer Anup Sugunan, and both of us bought the same 5D camera. I didn’t know anything about it, and it was a very slow learning curve. But now I know where to keep the camera to make my face look nice.
How important is it, especially in today’s context, to not impose religious beliefs on others?
You can’t impose anything. You can’t ask your son or daughter to not take history ‘coz it’s boring, and to take economics instead, or science. It’s a personal choice. What is inside me comes out as my character. I don’t have to tell everyone about it. I don’t tell people what chords I use in my music, do I? I use a Major seven flat and fifth; that makes my music sound great. In the same way, the religious beliefs that make my character are personal. A lot of people have come to me and said, ‘Hey AR, if I convert to Islam will I be successful too? I’m ready!’ I keep quiet. It’s a trick question!
You have a special connection with Sufi Music. How did it happen?
What prompted you to go into production on your debut film 99 songs and how did you find the experience of turning scriptwriter?
When I get movies they come in with the same ideas and the same needs musically. There's nobody pushing the boundaries and saying 'let's try this.' So if you don't get an option, you create a door. So for the past four years we've been setting up a production house and getting ideas for scripts. It's a musical, but I can't tell you much more about it. It's about self-realization. It will be out next year.
What has your journey through music taught you?
The greatest lesson? To be self-refining. To be refining constantly and that would take a lifetime I guess.
You are the founder of the KM Music Conservatory. Tell us what inspired you to start a music college.
How often do you meet with the students of KM Music College, and what do you tell them?
Your unique musical style blends traditional, modern, religious and uses so many instruments. Where do you draw the inspiration for creating your music, and how do you bring it all together?
How do you compose music scores for films? Tell us about your creative process.
You have sung in a variety of languages. How many languages can you speak and which languages have you composed songs in?
Do you have people to translate your lyrics into other languages?
You have collaborated with a number of famous people. Share an experience with us that you consider to be special or memorable.
Can you tell us about the latest technology you use to compose music? How do you feel about the use of autotune?
What is your advice and tips to motivate young people who want to pursue a career in music? With what amount of knowledge and content does one break through?
What is the one wish you have for the world? How do you think your fans can contribute to that one wish globally?
Name the one album by any artist that has influenced and inspired your music the most.
When you were 19 years old, what sorts of ideas, thoughts and dreams did you have in your head and heart? How have those shaped you to become who you are today?
How do you choose your movies? Since Slumdog Millionaire, your film scores have had a distinct international flavour to them. Was this a conscious effort? Will you do a pure Indian album, taking us back to our early days?
What do you think about YouTube as a medium?
What is your process of creating a song? From the inception of the track to the basic tune, how do you develop it to the final song that we all get to hear?
How do you see Indian music evolving in the future?
Do you think the function of music in an Indian film has changed?
What do you think of the film music we have today?
A R Rahman to turn judge on Indian television for the first time
Well having the music maestro himself for a show that scouts for music talents… what more could one ask for? Having the Oscar winning A R Rahman on their show as the judge would be a dream for any music reality show but it hasn’t happened by far! But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen soon. If reports are to be believed, 2019 may just mark the ‘judging debut’ of A R Rahman on Indian television. Recent reports have asserted that if all goes well, A R Rahman may turn a super-judge and mentor for the forthcoming season of The Voice [India]. While not many details have been revealed or discussed, we hear that the musician is keen on exploring this new avatar. Interestingly, the show promises to promote new and fresh talented singers across the country and give them a national platform to explore their talent. Vishal Dadlani and Kanika Kapoor are expected to be some other prominent celebrities who may be a part of the judging panel.