He has begun to loom in the music world as one who comprehends global trends in music. Rejecting formalism with experiments in sound and texture, he has produced music that speaks to the masses and is true to their sensibilities.
At the KM Music Conservatory that he founded in 2008, he says: “I try to bring out something unique in the general spirit of the situation without benefit of experience from the past, so that each piece is a piece in perspective; new, different, free and without outside interference.”
It would perhaps be appropriate to quote the great Urdu poet Behjad Lakhnavi on his aspirations and their gratification.
Aye jazba-e-dil gar main chaahoon, har cheez muqabil aa jaye manzil ke liye duo gaam chaloon aur samne manzil aa jaye. Passion can see the realization of a dream Two measured steps and the goal is reached. Rahman has composed several pieces on political themes.
From his wildly powerful Vande Mataram to the haunting music in Bombay, his music liberates, but also provokes his millions-wide audience to feel and think along different lines. Rahman firmly believes that a career in music is a viable option. It is in this context that the intermediate courses in technology have been conceived at the KM Music Conservatory.
According to his students, the courses are tailor-made to fit the needs of the music industry. As to where they visualize themselves in ten years’ time, they are utterly devoted to their guru, reminding me of the famous lines of Zauk (with apologies to Zauk): kaun jaye Zauk, yeh Rahman ki galian chhod kar. Who will forsake the street where Rahman lives?
Rahman has a predictably astute understanding of market forces and notes the recurrent phenomena of unemployment in India’s music industry. The KMMC, he holds, is a “small step” in addressing this problem. “It is not enough to start an institution. Success is measured by the yard-stick of satisfaction and the teaching must reflect and address that concern.”
Nearer home he has adopted the MGR Corporation School children and gives them lessons three times a week on the cello, violin and the viola. These children belong to the same street in Kodambakkam where he lives and get the same education and exposure to concerts that the enrolled students at the Conservatory receive. But Rahman does not wish to publicize this, feeling the Conservatory needs to do more first. It’s basic goal itself, according to Mr. Selvakumar, its CEO, is the establishment of an orchestra.
Of Rahman’s father, the composer Mr R.K. Sekar, his daughter Raihanah says that he worked for 22 hours a day under 12 music directors at the same time. “He saw to each and every detail from recording to arranging and just as he was on his maiden independent venture Chotinikkara Bhagawathi, he passed away.”
Since then the image of Rahman’s vitality and the dream have taken on further meaning. Rahman comes forth as a disciplined man – measuring to strict and stringent standards. Apart from the piety and prayers of his mother, he has the silent support of his beautiful wife Saira who believes she is his best critic and like a fan, has an instinctive response to his numbers. She remembers a particular composition from the Oscar winning film Slumdog Millionaire fondly, “We were in London when O Saya was being created.
It is my favourite track. Time has come to a standstill for me, in relation to this song. If I can be poetic, it is like a moment arrested in eternity. I am told that the song is an ode to me.”
As to how she visualizes the music of her children, she replies matter-of-factly, “It is too early to say about the little ones; the elder girl Khatija has a sweet voice and is training.” Saira is a picture of serenity and conscious of the prayers of millions all over the world. She recognizes their role in his success. “Their prayers were answered along with his hard work.” Rahman has revolutionized music and taken it to great heights. His adventurous spirit of enquiry and experiments in music eminently suit the new temperament of our age
Before coming here I was both nervous and excited. The only time I felt like this was before my marriage said AR Rahman before accepting his first Oscar earlier this year. From a shy and reticent young man preferring to let his work speak to making an all-Hollywood ensemble smile with that line, Rahman has indeed traversed a long journey. Tracking the spectacular growth and popularity of Rahman’s music, it is evident that every half a decade or so comes a powerful thrust that orbits him into a completely new territory devoid of any competition whatsoever.
Consider this :
1992 – Roja – a soundtrack with a refreshingly fresh approach. A sound that India had never heard before.
1997 – Just when people were settling down to ‘the Rahman sound’, Vande Mataram happened. A completely new genre of music that mixed the unconventional with the traditional and gave the youth of the nation something to think and hum about. Rahman also became the first south Asian artiste to be signed up by Sony music. “Okay so he has done a few films and an album which most of the Bollywood composers do, so what?” commented a Mumbai filmmaker a few years after Vande Matram had released. He would soon find out!
2002 – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams with Rahman’s music opened at London’s West End to packed houses and critical acclaim making Rahman an international celebrity.
2007 – JRR Tolkien’s stage adaptation of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ debuted in Toronto, Canada and moved to London. This time Rahman shared the scoring credits with Finnish band Vartina. But lately, even the Almighty doesn’t seem to want to wait for long.
If one were to extend the successful run period post LOTR, Rahman started working on the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack in 2008 and has more recently created history in 2009 by being the first Indian to win two Oscars. Add to this the fact that he has also had a hat trick of double whammies by winning awards for the Best Music and Best Background Score at the Screen, Filmfare and Radio Mirchi awards.
Rahman also endorses the fact that everyone has a right to his or her opinion and that nobody should be abhorred because they don’t like something about his music. At many an awards function, he has said that he felt awkward accepting the award and that his contemporaries compose good music too.
However, what is perhaps interesting yet unfortunately true is that criticizing Rahman gets the critic himself five minutes of fame which he would have otherwise never got. After the stupendous success of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge a decade ago, composers Jatin-Lalit, taking a dig at Rahman had said “Just because we don’t wear our hair long and don’t keep producers awake all night doesn’t mean we are not in the top league. Let us find out ten years later who is still around…”
Of course, Jatin and Lalit parted ways a few years back and not much has been heard about them but their niece Shradha Pandit recently sang for Rahman on the Delhi 6 soundtrack. Online fan communities, ever so eager to stir up a hornet’s nest, constantly fish for controversies prompting even Rahman to appeal to his fans to treat everyone (musicians and their fans) with respect. The so-called Ilayaraja vs AR Rahman controversy again invented by over zealous fans was put to rest when Ilayaraja and Rahman came on a common platform post the Oscars and both acknowledged the high regard that they had for each other’s work.
Rahman says that others’ criticism of his work inspires him to raise the bar higher and deliver even better stuff. While one constant criticism has been that he sounds repetitive, Rahman has probably experimented with more genres of music than anybody else has. Indian classical, western classical, ghazals, thumris, Tamil folk, hiphop, R & B, drum n bass, lounge, trance, opera, rock…the list is endless.
People who work with him swear by his fantastic sense of humour as much as they dread his penchant for perfection which makes them toil for hours together in the quest for the perfect note, pitch and sound. But there’s one thing that’s always guaranteed when you meet the man himself. He’s ever so unassuming, modest and simple at heart with his feet firmly on the ground. He likes the same things that you and me like albeit with a difference… you like driving, so does he except that he drives a BMW.
You like gadgets, so does he except that his gadgets are all Apple makes. You like drive-in restaurants, so does he except that he has to keep the windows rolled-up. You like watching movies, so does he except that he has a state-of the art home theatre at home and yes, you like music, so does he except he also creates amazing music!
Rahman’s generosity whether monetary or otherwise is legendary. He has initiated the AR Rahman foundation and donated Rs 25 lakh last year to the South Musicians Association for helping those who were without work and in need. There are countless instances of him interacting with fans and taking them completely by surprise whether at airport lounges, hotel lobbies etc.
In a country where people are used to idol worshipping their icons, even a photo-op with them is considered a privilege and to think that Rahman chats up with his fans about everything under the sun is simply unthinkable. Can one ever imagine a Sachin or a Shahrukh doing that?
But for the Grammy and the Nobel Peace Prize, Rahman has won every possible award under the sun. No wonder then that a section of his well-wishers think that whether it’s an Oscar or a Filmfare, the letters AR are inscribed on them. Would it be fair to label him the greatest superstar this country has ever produced? To borrow from Danny Boyle’s film, IT IS WRITTEN.
Adapted version from Magazine Score