The venue was the same; so was the man. What was different was the music he played.Six years after his debut in India, The Unity of Light concert — A.R. Rahman returned to Salt Lake Stadium this evening with hip-hop, funk, jazz and praise for the city that “best appreciates”his music.
“In Los Angeles, when somebody asked me which audience appreciates your music the best’, I could only think of you. The same place, six years back… the love that you gave me is unbelievable and it is still fresh in my memory,” Rahman said. “If I have to hug each one of you,it would take me two years but I would still love to do that,” hesmiled.
Local flavour was not found wanting in the three-hour show, Jai Ho — A.R. Rahman Live in Concert, presented by the Liver Foundation of West Bengal. Javed Ali sang lines from Jodi Tor Daak Shuney Keu Na Aashey which Rahman had used in Shyam Benegal’s Bose: The Forgotten Hero.
Usha Uthup, Rahman’s “best singer from this city”, took the stage to sing two duets with the composer — Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na and then
Mustafa Mustafa. Rahman emerged from under the stage with the anthemic chants of Jaage Hain from Guru on his lips.
His concert outfits were sober as always — a white full-sleeve shirt and a black T-shirt. His most glamorous attire was a red sherwani. But there was less restraint. Rahman broke into an impromptu jig on stage. Gone was the shy man behind the keyboard.
Moments earlier, Rahman had said: “As I get older, I see other points of view…. Things I wouldn’t have noticed before. If music wakes you up, makes you think, heals you, the music is working. And then, a thought put in action in a positive way is a blessed thought.”
Dil Se Re to Rehna Tu, Khalbali, Khwaja Mere Khwaja — Rahman played them all, giving Calcuttans a Saturday night fever to remember.
A Quick session with A R Rahman before the concert: Driving down the city roads to destination Salt Lake Stadium, he talks about the journey called life. Excerpts:
This year, Time named you among the 100 Most Influential People in the World. How does it feel to be on the powerlist?
It felt good. I’m second time lucky. Earlier, Roja featured on Time magazine’s 10 Best Soundtracks of All Time. This time, it was different. At the function, I was sitting on the same table as Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey! When you get opportunities, you put them in the right perspective. I’ve been doing just that.
When the country’s music lovers say it can’t get bigger than Rahman, does it put undue pressure on you?
People have been very kind to me. Representing one family is different from representing a state or a country. You need to push the envelope, without losing focus. Fact is, you need to stay grounded, even if you aren’t earnest. I remain silent even when thousands get emotional about me. My spiritual life has helped me a lot.
You’ve also joined the Academy of Motion Picture Art & Sciences as a voting member …
My card is done. But I feel it’s the actors who make more difference by joining the Academy, not people like Resul (Pookutty) or me.
Couples Retreat, dubbed as your Hollywood debut, didn’t garner much response. Would you be choosier henceforth?
Couples Retreat is even more successful than Slumdog Millionaire. Yes, I admit that it’s not at par with Schindler’s List or Star Wars. But it has done pretty well for a formulaic Hollywood film. I’ve won quite a few awards for it too. For me, it was a whole new thing — trying out comedy and that too in Hollywood! I loved doing it. More such projects are welcome. The film wasn’t a musical and expectations from me after the Oscars were high. If anything went wrong, it has to be the timing of the project.
Your six-year-old son, Alim, sang a number in Couples Retreat. Does he insist on becoming like his father?
We were jamming and he sang the number. My kids are learning music and so are my sister’s kids. Let’s see who grows up to be what!
Does your busy professional career leave you with any family time?
Of course, it does. If you lose balance, you gain some but you lose more.
It’s said that you keep erratic schedules and even stay up all night …
That is when I work! And when I don’t, I don’t make it to the studio for days on end.
Is it true that Jai Ho was originally composed for Yuvvraaj and was even turned down by Subhash Ghai?
Why dig out such stories? I don’t do a song for a film. My compositions are for myself. I gave Jai Ho to SM and the rest is history.
Do you consider Jai Ho to be your best composition so far?
It was the right composition for the right film. SM has dark elements in it and the song lights up the ambience. Jai Ho is also in tune with the theme of Satyameva jayate, which appears in the film. Roja’s music too wouldn’t have been the same, had I not added the right tracks to the film.
When a film doesn’t do well at the BO, do you just say ‘let’s move on to the next’?
It’s always that. A film is about team work. You can never be certain about its fate. When I’m working with new directors, it’s always a big gamble. There have been disasters as well. But these are risks I don’t mind taking.
Do you still aspire for an award?
Though awards do good, I treasure the love I receive from the audience the most. Frankly, film music isn’t everything. Music can be exciting beyond films as well.
Your next project is a collaboration with Katrina Kaif…
My company took a call on that. Katrina too was interested. Students from my school will be doing the album of nursery rhymes and I’m in charge of overall supervision. Katrina will not just appear in the videos, but will sing as well.
What’s the status of the Michael Jackson tribute album?
I’m not doing any album on him.
Success has come to you at a young age. Is there a dream left in you?
My case is just the reverse. I never dreamt of being a composer. I was pushed into film music. All I wanted to do was private albums. So, I take life as it comes to me. I’m like an empty platter, waiting to be filled up with a gala fare.