“People start expecting what A R Rahman would do…” 

Spot on answers, no glossy statements and humility unparalleled… A R Rahman talks about his relationship with the Hindi film industry as Viraj Sawant listens in.

“As I was playing the theme in my car over and over again, at some point it hit me like a thunderbolt, 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.’…” writes Ram Gopal Varma in his book, Guns & Thighs: The story of my life, referring to this music director he had assigned the job of creating the RANGEELA theme tune. It’s hardly a revelation that the music director for RANGEELA was A R Rahman, which was also his debut film and the film’s music is transcendent for any other music director. Thus started the journey of A R Rahman in the Hindi film industry.

Being the biggest music director in the country, everybody wants a piece of Rahman but Rahman chooses his projects carefully. He has a selected list of directors with whom he shares a good camaraderie and hence the music you hear is exceptionally good. It’s a matter of mutual respect, says the man they call the Mozart of Madras. “Over the years we have developed a relation over trust and understanding. It sometimes is easy to deal with new directors or else unnecessary friction is created between with new ones. At this age, I just want to stick with people whom I am comfortable with. People start expecting what A R would do with Ashutosh Gowarikar or Mani Ratnam or Shankar or Imtiaz Ali or Rakesh Mehra. I don’t have the full burden of the work. You click with the director and things happen smoothly.”

Though he debuted in Bollywood with the film RANGEELA, that wasn’t his first rendezvous with film music. He had been churning out music for South Indian films from some time before that. He was a part of the ultra-popular band Super Heavy, and then gave music for many Hollywood films like Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, Million Dollar Arm and The Hundred-Foot Journey. Flooded by offers from all over the world for music, how does the musical wizard decide what to work on?

“It usually depends on my schedule and also my state of mind. Sometimes I am working on something different and then I can’t just radically shift gears and do something else. Sometimes I am not in the mind set. Earlier I used to juggle between films but not anymore.”

Long before social media took over and made songs go viral, Rahman had done it a long time ago with his songs like ‘Humma Humma…’ We probe more into this trend of songs going viral. He calls it an ‘interesting situation’ where it’s important to grab attention on the first hearing of the song. At a time when it’s tough to hold the attention of the audience, he feels it’s important to go deeper. “I feel it’s good but also you need to go deeper and it is an interesting situation. In this generation, it’s definitely necessary to grab attention or else it’s just gone!”

While social media makes overnight celebrities, it’s also known for the brutal trolling. When you are on any social media, whether you like it or not, you are at the receiving end of appreciation and criticism as an artist. How does the maestro deal with such in-your-face reactions?
“Sometimes criticism is right and it helps you to change something about yourself and move ahead in life. Sometimes they are done just out of hatred or spite. Some people say it out of context also. I take what is helpful to me and leave the rest.”

After producing music for so many years, he has turned his attention to storytelling. Without much buzz about this film, Rahman uploaded a poster of the film on Twitter and it didn’t take long for it to go viral. 99 SONGS is a film written by A R Rahman and directed by Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy. The film is a sensual story about the art and self-discovery of a struggling singer who wants to be a successful music composer. When asked about his switch from music direction to story writing, he says, “I am making this film to see the possibilities of discovering something new. You can’t fit in something new in an already established platform.  So when you don’t get a platform to show something new, create one.”

This interaction with the introvert, media-shy musician wouldn’t have been possible if Berklee University had not felicitated three Indian students with the A R Rahman Scholarship in Music. Scholarships, as we all know, are usually named after people who change the world. And as someone who changed the music world for India, who better than Rahman?

Talking about his own dreams to study at Berklee, Rahman tells us what this scholarship really means to him…“The scholarship is a beginning of many things. I, as an aspiring musician, wanted to go to Berklee and learn music. It was very difficult for me. I had to set up a studio so that my family could survive and then I planned to go there and learn. But then ROJA happened so I couldn’t go. I can imagine how lucky these kids are and if they excel there and come back, they’ll be amazing musicians.”

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