It was the year 1992. The film Roja was released and with it, a new music sensation blossomed in the Indian film industry, attracting droves of fans, mesmerized by his melodies. Their chotti si asha is simply to have the pleasure of listening to A R Rahman’s music and perhaps, watching him perform live, and if they were really lucky, say a few words to the musical genius in person. Meet the A R Rahman Fans.
What started off as an e-group, set up by Gopal Srinivasan, a Bangalore-based consultant, is, today, a veritable database of all things Rahman. From several media interviews to rare recordings of his tracks and the inside information on when a new album will be released, these die-hard fans are truly connoisseurs of Rahman’s art. “The intent behind establishing this group was straightforward — to use the power of the internet to network with Rahman’s fans around the world so that we could share the joy of listening to his music. In many ways, it is Rahman himself who is responsible for the popularity of this group — his music and his appeal cutting across barriers. I am guilty of initially under-estimating the global reach of his music — little did we realize that we would have people from so many countries across the world joining in,” says Gopal Srinivasan. And indeed, today, the e-group has over 13,000 members.
On a rather sultry Sunday evening, a few members of the group in Bangalore gathered in front of the rose garden in Cubbon Park to talk about their passion. Quite befitting, considering that for most of them, their love affair with A R Rahman’s music began with the film Roja (rose), and like his music, their devotion to his talent has only increased from strength to strength. Says Kangan Upadhyay, who works in a software company, “We heard the songs of Roja before they were officially released. And although I didn’t know the language, I could relate to those songs.”
And she gives credit to the music director for her superb scores in her II PU exam. “At that time, the music of Alaipayuthe was released, and I kept listening to it all the time while studying. I scored 99% in Maths. I kept humming the songs in my mind even as I was writing the paper,” she recalls with excitement.
The way Rahman’s compositions revolutionized Indian film music is something the fans immensely respect. “He brought in a whiff of freshness,” says Balaji Rajagopal, a chartered accountant. “He brought to Indian films a sound which was, until then, only heard in jingles,” says Chandrashekhar Ganesh, a techie. “Earlier, viewers would walk out of the theatre for a smoke when the songs would come on. Rahman’s music changed all that,” says Gomtesh Upadhyay aka Gomzy, a techie.
“He’s even a good singer,” says Vithun Kumar, a BE student. Adds Shahnawaz Gaffoor, a techie, “His music is international.”
Not surprisingly, Rahman’s concerts are always a grand event, akin to international acts performing in India. And these fans ensure they are there to watch Rahman live. Most of them took off to Chennai recently, when Rahman performed there for a concert organized by The Times of India. In fact, it was during the 2005 concert in Bangalore when the city’s fans met each other in person. They volunteered backstage and even had T-shirts created especially for the event.
Rehearsals are when they get to interact with the maestro. Some of the members have even met him at his residence in Chennai. “Once, I went to meet him at his place. As he was busy he told me to come the next day. He asked me if I was a non-vegetarian. Since I wasn’t, he ensured that vegetarian food was ordered for me,” says Prabhu Krishnamurthy, a techie.
During the 2005 concert, they even gifted Rahman a montage of all his album covers, about 94 — both film and non-film scores. It now adorns a wall in his studio. And needless to say, if a fan wants to meet him at the studio, those from this e-group are allowed right in. Rahman has even dedicated a colouring book for children, released during the Pray For Me Brother tour, to the e-group in November, 2007.
The members definitely deserve such a token of appreciation, considering they have taken pains to count the number of musical genres he has explored. According to them, his music spans about 36-38 genres.
The Bangalore-based fans meet up from time to time, if someone gets hold of the latest copy of Rahman’s album or a rare DVD of his work. They recently met to watch a behind-the-scenes DVD of the musical Bombay Dreams, which shows Rahman actually composing some of the tunes.
“We upload rare tracks on to the website. But it’s strictly for non-commercial and private use. We always buy the original CDs of his albums,” says Prabhu. “And, of course, we would be the first ones to buy those albums on day one,” says S Radhakrishnan, a techie. At times, members have heated debates. An unresolved one is about whether Rahman was the first music director to use a bass guitar in his compositions.
What sustains their immense passion is not just Rahman’s music but also the person he is. As Radhakrishnan puts it, “He has never let us down.”