AR Rahman : The Musical Storm by Kamini Mathai
Penguin Publishers | Price: Rs 499 | Pages: 280 | Official : No
Writing about Allah Rakha Rahman requires one to be a hound rather than a fox, a sleuth rather than an artist. And yes, it requires the patience of a saint to wait for hours at his Kodambakkam home along with directors, producers, wannabe singers and his large and ever-growing staff. The genius, when he appears, is chatty, cheery and charming enough. But he is not given to revealing too much about himself, whether it is about his faith or the way he works.
The best way to get to know him is to speak around him, which is exactly what Kamini Mathai has done. So yes A.R. Rahman: The Musical Storm may look like a quickie and even smell like a hard-headed business move rather than a long-nurtured editorial decision but it is still enlightening about one of India’s most private public figures, who began by earning Rs 50 as a record player operator and can now put any figure on desperately preferred bank cheques.
What it is rich in is a lot of trivia for Rahmaniacs. Of how he was about to go to the Berkeley School of Music before Mani Ratnam offered him Roja or how he made Subhash Ghai stay up for 58 nights in a row while working on Taal or how he once dyed his ponytail red or even how the K.M. in his K.M. Music Conservatory stands for a 16th century Sufi saint, Khalishah Mastan, who had the same name as Rahman’s mother’s guru, Kareemullah Shah Qadri.
Mathai does have a muckraking sort of sensibility but clearly Rahman is the wrong guy for it. The vilest thing that can be said about him that he would sometimes have a beer when he was young while jamming with a series of rock groups or that he still often consults an astrologer.
Those not of a gossipy bent of mind and not particularly interested in his clashes with Ilaiyaraaja and his differences with Vairamuthu will not be too disappointed. There’s a lot the book says about his unique working style, from the experimentation he encourages in his singers to the absence of a full blown orchestra.
Rahman’s universe is closed, even as it is cordial, so some of what Mathai writes will be news to those who follow his work. For instance, how he recorded Lata Mangeshkar while she was rehearsing Jiya jale or how he ended up composing for Ram Gopal Varma in Rangeela—only by being whisked away to Goa. Of his contribution to Indian music, she has written well: from his crediting even chorus singers on the album to his more relaxed approach towards the Tamil language.
There is a lot about his gradual conversion, some of it surprisingly emotional, especially when he talks about his father’s fatal illness: “They used the same Hindu gods my father was worshiping to kill him. The more he worshiped, the more he was harmed.”
The book though does tend to be like a cut-rate crème brûlée, crunchy on top and not gooey enough inside. There is a tendency to hang quotes like on an untidy clothesline. Clearly there is another book out there waiting to be written on the man who is now the stuff of legend and surely the contracts are being drawn up even as we speak.
Because while there is much about his outer universe in Mathai’s account, there’s not nearly enough about the inner world of A.R. Rahman. A man at ease with his laptop and his prayer mat, a man who always travels light but thinks big.