Sister Raihana’s son, GV Prakash is a born talent, and he’s into music. He has sung songs for Rahman and now is an emerging music director.
Rahman’s mother and wife do play the most important part in his music – they are his critics.
Rahman got married at the age of 27. And unlike in the Indian movies, it wasn’t love at first sight.
Rahman had told his mother what his bride needed to have: some education, some beauty and loads of humility! His mother frequented the same Sufi temple as Saira and her family. His mother first noticed her there.
She cried Eureka when she saw this young girl praying in that Sufi temple. The girl’s parents also were looking for a bridegroom for their elder daughter, 21-year-old Saira. Her father is a Madras-based businessman, who belongs to Kutch , Gujarat originally.
Rahman’s mother chose genuinely friendly Saira Banu to be his wife. Theirs was an arranged marriage. Saira and Rahman got married on Wednesday, March the 12th, 1995 in Chennai. It was a gala event.
About his personal life, Rahman once said “I’m very passionate about music and have very little place in my life for anything else. But whatever time I have after my recordings, I try and spend with my family, especially with my younger daughter. She listens to most of my songs and even has her favorites. It’s so wonderful to see your child growing up. I don’t want to miss out these little pleasures in life.” Saira and Rahman are blessed with two daughters and one son.
Dileep’s initiation in music happened in the early years. He obviously took the first music lessons from his father, RK Sekhar.
According to a story behind his music baptism, once a music director and colleague of Sekhar, Sudarshanam Master found the four year old playing a tune on the harmonium. Master covered the keys with a cloth. It made no difference. Dileep replayed the tune effortlessly. This impressed the music director who suggested that he be trained in music.
Dileep started taking his first music lessons on a piano and a pedal organ when only four. He also began to formally learn Indian classical music, carnatic from Dakshinamoorthy and N. Gopalakrishnan and Hindustani from Krishnan Nair. He took classes in film music from Nithyanandham and Western Classical from Jacob John. All this learning experience enabled him to earn a scholarship to the famed Trinity College of Music at Oxford University London, from where he obtained a degree in Western Classical Music.
In 1998, while composing for Subhash Ghai’s ‘Taal’, he thought learning Hindi and Urdu would help him compose music for the North Indian style, and got in touch with Anand Bakshi, the famous lyricist.
When his sister was ill, he came across Pir Quadri. This was well before Rahman was ‘born’.and Dileep was still ‘alive’. Pir advised him frequently and taught him the purpose of life.
For Dileep, the meeting with Pir was an inner awakening and cleansing. Pir taught him a different perspective of life. Soon he and his family accepted Islam. Thus Dileep became Abdul Rahman.
It was Pir Quadri, who gave him the first lessons of Islam. After the demise of Pir Quadri, he came in contact with Mehboob Aalam and Mohammad Yusuf Bhai, who now continue to be his spiritual guide, mentor, adviser, and guru.
For Rahman, learning is divine process. He says: “You’ve to learn from the inside out. No one can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is only teacher, and that is your soul.”
Because of these hardships, sometime afterwards he stopped believing in the God. He believed that there was no God. There was a feeling of restlessness within him. But later when he stabilized himself, he found that the concept of God in Islam was very appealing to him.
He learnt that there can be no life without a force governing, without God. And then he found what he was looking for – in Islam. It all happened around 1988, when one of his sisters fell seriously ill, with similar inexplicable conditions as their father. Numerous attempts to cure her failed. Her condition progressively worsened. The family tried everything from medicine to religious methods like havanas and prayers in the church.
The family had given up all hope; when they came in contact with a Muslim Pir called as Pir Karimulla Shah Qadri or Sheik Abdul Qadir Jeelani Sahib or Pir Qadri.
The meeting with Pir was, for Dileep, an inner awakening and cleansing. He started feeling, that it is not about being Hindu or being Muslim or anything, but there is this one feeling and that is God – The Almighty.
Both his father and mother were strong believers in Astrology. His mother took him along once to an astrologer called Ulaganathan, in Chennai, to get the horoscope for her second daughter Bala.
The initials A and R later became ‘Allah Rakha’ on the suggestion of renowned Hindi music composer Naushad Ali. Thus A Sekhar Dileep Kumar became Allah Rakha Rahman. This was around 1988.
He says, “Family problems and the need for peace of mind made us change the faith. Sufism has given me peace. As Dileep I had an inferiority complex. As AR Rahman I feel like I have been born again.”
One day, at an awards function for excellence in the field of advertising, Manirathnam chanced upon Dileep, who received the award for the best ad jingle, which he had composed for the popular Leo Coffee ad.
At the celebrations party that followed the awards presentation ceremony, Manirathnam was introduced to the young composer by his cousin Sharada Trilok of Trish Productions. Rahman had produced some outstanding work for Trish Productions.
She (Sharada Trilok) had words of praise for the young composer. Manirathnam got curious and requested him for a sample of his wares. The composer readily complied and invited the director over to his studio.
Without a second thought he signed on the composer to score the music for his next venture, produced by the veteran Tamil director K Balachander for his respected ‘Kavithalayaa’ banner. The film was ‘Roja’. That tune took the avatar of the song ‘Thamizha Thamizha’ in ‘Roja’.
Rahman’s D-Day arrived when ‘Roja’ was released on Saturday, August 15th, 1992 . It was awaited with curiosity since it was Manirathnam’s first film without Ilaiyaraja. Skeptics doubted the ability of a 25-year old debutant. The entire film world and filmgoers were in for a pleasant surprise. Rahman delivered the goods and how? To call the music just a ‘Super Hit’ would be an understatement. The music of the film became a phenomenal success and revolutionized modern day Indian film music.
Rahman however, wisely chose to stay selective and took on only projects that interested him. He also made it a point to work entirely on his own terms and conditions. He still works only from Chennai where he lives; has his own studio in his house from where he works; likes to work only at nights.
Since ‘Roja’, he has created music for mega blockbuster films including ‘Pudhiya Mugam’, ‘Gentleman’, ‘Kizhakku Cheemaiyilae’, ‘Duet’, ‘Kadhalan’, ‘Bombay’, ‘May Madham’, ‘Indian’, ‘Muthu’, ‘Kadhal Desam’, ‘Love Birds’, ‘Sapney’, ‘Jeans’, ‘Dil Se..’, ‘Kadhalar Dhinam’, ‘Sangamam’, ‘En Swasa Katrae’ and many others.
His 1995 soundtrack for ‘ Bombay ‘ crossed 5 million units and Rahman had arrived as the ‘King of Indian Music’ with sales of more than 50 million albums over a period of 3 years. The success continued with films like ‘Dil Se…’ with Manirathnam, and ‘ Taal ‘ with Subhash Ghai. After working in many movies of the typical popular genre, several offbeat reputed directors and producers like Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal, Deepa Mehta have worked with Rahman in movies like ‘Thakshak’, ‘Zubeidaa’, ‘Fire’, and ‘1947 Earth’.
AS A SINGER
When the final re-recording of the song ‘Chinna Chinna Aasai’ of ‘Roja’ was being done in Rahman’s studio, director Manirathnam was present. When he heard a boatman humming ‘Yelelo Yelelo..’ in the second interlude of the song, he asked for the person who sang it. Rahman told him that it was his voice. Manirathnam noticed that the voice had the zeal and passion, which was very different.
After the huge success of ‘Roja’, when Manirathnam signed on the composer for their second combination ‘ Bombay ‘, he insisted that Rahman sing at least one song. Thus was born Rahman the playback singer.
He sang ‘Andha Arabic Kadaloram’ aka ‘Humma Humma’ song in it. Same story repeated for director Shankar, who also had liked the ‘Yelelo’ part in ‘Roja’ song. Shankar too insisted that Rahman should sing at least one song for his film. Rahman did that job for their next combination, ‘Kadhalan’. The song was ‘Oorvasi Oorvasi’, which instantly became a huge hit throughout the world.
Rahman had lent his voice to his compositions earlier too but they had been part of the chorus or bit pieces like ‘Oleywo Oleywola’ in ‘Mukkala Muqabala’ in ‘Kadhalan’ or background pieces in the film, and of course, the interludes like ‘Yelelo’ in ‘Roja’. But ‘Humma Humma’ in ‘ Bombay ‘ was Rahman’s first complete and full-fledged song. With ‘Humma Humma’, Rahman came to be regarded as much a playback singer as a composer. His song ‘Musthafa Musthafa’ from ‘Kadhal Desam’ was another hit that made Sony take notice of Rahman and ask him to sing the songs for it’s non-film album ‘Vande Mataram’.
Later it became quite a regular thing to have Rahman’s voice in his own songs. For most of those Rahman was not credited in the film or the audio release. Mainly he has sung songs in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, English and Urdu. With his soft soothing and to a certain extent guttural vocals, he has created magic. It is noticed that when there is lots of passion or pain or patriotism in his songs, the singer is Rahman himself!
A PATRIOTIC MUSIC MAKER
Rahman has always liked doing film music, but at the same time he felt composing for films would be very restrictive, and that he should get out of the rut of film music. For long he had thought films were enough but now he was waiting for the right occasion to do a non-film private album.
In the same year, Rahman was in Mumbai attending the Screen awards ceremony. In Mumbai, when he was in his hotel room, he called up his childhood friend G Bharat alias Bharat Bala. Bala was Rahman’s school friend, and had produced more than 100 jingles for which Rahman had composed music five years earlier. Bala met him and discussed music. Suddenly an idea struck and they decided to come up with an album with the theme of commemorating 50 years of the Indian Independence in 1997.
Ever since composing music for the patriotic movie called ‘Roja’, Rahman had had been thinking of working on music that would evoke patriotic instincts in Indian minds. The idea eventually took off.
Eventually, it started off as three songs on the three colours of the Indian flag. ‘Maa Tujhe Salaam’ was for Saffron, ‘Revival – Vande Mataram’ was for White, and ‘Gurus of Peace’ for Green. Later it ended up with some more songs. Interestingly enough, Rahman got the chance to work with the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, on the song ‘Gurus Of Peace’. Bala had asked Rahman to approach Nusrat saab. They got kids from London , and the Peace song was recorded overnight in Lahore .
With ‘Vande Mataram’, Rahman became the first Indian artiste of popular music to go international when it was released simultaneously in 28 countries across the world under the prestigious Columbia Label of Sony Music on August 15th, 1997 . The album was a mega success and sold over 1.5 million copies in India alone, and did extremely well internationally too, becoming the largest selling Indian non-film album internationally.
From being the No.1 music director, Rahman also became a top pop star, though he didn’t appreciate ‘Vande Mataram’ being branded as a pop album.
In five years of his film career, by doing a non-filmy song like ‘Vande Mataram’, Rahman reached out to the Indian heart, irrespective of religious differences. The team worked very hard on the music and concept, and their efforts paid off. They got a great response, and phenomenal success. Rahman was happy because he got to do something that was different.
All this success has not been without its fallouts for Rahman. Some spread canards in early 1998 that Rahman was funding Muslim fundamentalists in Tamil Nadu. Later in the year he began receiving threatening calls from the fundamentalist groups for singing ‘Vande Mataram’ and was accorded armed protection by the Government. He received threats from the Hindus and from the Muslim fundamentalists too, from the Hindus for ‘defiling a Hindu song’ and from the Muslims for ‘singing an anti-Islamic song’. Many absurd stories were heard about Pakistani terrorists threatening Rahman for appearing on the ‘Vande Mataram’ music video and dissuading him from doing a follow up.
no way be inferior.” This was the first time ever that Rahman displayed his patriotism in front of the people. He expressed his views regarding all issues saying, “God, religion and patriotism are very personal things. Now it has become politics. I think it all should be left to an individual. ‘Vande Mataram’ is about a mother and the message is peace be upon you. Mother is the country and when you say peace be upon you, it should go beyond politics. When one makes something, there is always the good and the bad. You have to choose what to take. With ‘Vande Mataram’, we wanted to give something to the youth. We felt there was nothing, no song that this MTV generation could relate to, something they could identify with.”
“No Hindu, Muslim or Christian can impose the ‘Vande Mataram’, it should be a natural thing. It should neither be imposed nor rejected. It should be left to the individual.”
He added: “We get our basic recognition from this country and it is a part of you, whether you are Hindu or Muslim or anything else.” He said, “‘Vande Mataram’ only means ‘Mother, I salute you’. Perhaps because the words are in Sanskrit, people don’t understand this. We have taken the essence of the song, and it doesn’t disturb any religion. After all, the Koran says, ‘at the feet of the mother lies the Jannat’. And the Prophet says, “Whichever country you are in, you have to respect the laws of the land, because it is the land above all, which gives you life.”
The ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was released on January 26th 2000 to mark the 50 th -year of the Indian Republic . Rahman – a genuine patriotic- later took many films that had hardcore patriotism or feel of patriotism. Like ‘The Legend Of Bhagat Singh’, ‘1947 Earth’, ‘Lagaan’, ‘Swades’, ‘Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose – The Forgotten Hero’, ‘Mudhalvan’, ‘Nayak the real hero’ etc…
HIS EXPERIMENT WITH UNTRAINED VOICES
Rahman is well known for experimenting in the music. He introduced several new, relatively unknown and professionally untrained voices into the mainstream playback. He has shown an extraordinary flair for experimenting with untrained voices. Singers, who have worked with him, have repeatedly said that Rahman’s open approach during recording sessions has spurred them on to giving their best.
Suresh Peters, Nabron Ghosh, Shahul Hameed, GV Prakash, Noel James, Yugendran, Blaaze, Aslam Musthafa, Sukhwindara Singh, Srinivas, Shankar Mahadevan, Soorjo Bhattacharya, Devan, Harini, Anupama, Sunitha Sarathy, Madhushree, Sujatha Trivedi, Reena Bharadwaj, Mahalakshmi Iyer, Richa Sharma, Poonam Bhatia, Shoma Banarjee, Dominique, Minmini, Shubha, Febi, Hema Sardesai are just few of the singers who have thrived after the advent of Rahman.
He experiments not only with his singer’s voices, but also with different kinds of sounds in music. His songs expose very different kinds of sound, which makes one easily identify his songs among other music director’s songs. His experiments with untried and unusual sounds are noticed since his very first venture, ‘Roja’. The music of his film ‘Kadhalan’ was totally experimental, which had very exceptional, outstanding and brilliant compositions like ‘Mukkala Muqabala’, ‘Oorvasi Oorvasi’, ‘Gopala Gopala’, ‘Ennavalae Ennavalae’, and ‘Pettai Rap’. All these songs had something fresh and innovative in them. This album was appreciated worldwide by even non-Tamilians.
Since Ilaiyaraja had worked for Rahman’s father in the past, he regarded Rahman as his own son.
Speaking about his inspirations, Rahman states, “Personally, I would say that a sense of spirituality helps a great deal. And it is important that you study life as well. Both these things will make a better human being, and therefore, a better composer out of you. Life teaches you what real pain and happiness are, and these things help in creating better compositions. It works like this: if the film demands happy music the composer only has to tap into the wellspring of happy experiences from his own life to create the right ambience for that tune. I think this is more important than learning all the technical gymnastics of music.”
When he composes music, his mind needs to be in vacuum state. Perhaps that is why he prefers to compose at night. He prays, and then composes. He says music comes to him directly from God. He believes that God has helped him a lot in stabilizing himself, and has given him everything. Never one to boast or brag about his accomplishments, he credits all his inspiration and success to God.
“Music is God’s gift and every note should be blessed. Otherwise music becomes noise if it is not blessed. I am influenced by Sufism, which is also connected with music. Before composing I pray and beg to God to give me something. I believe every song should have a pure soul in it to reach people.” He states.
The man has given immense pleasure to millions of music lovers worldwide with his compositions, music that brings a cheer to one’s face and helps in forgetting one’s troubles. It is probably these very divine qualities that made him the great man he is today and the same will hopefully help him touch greater heights tomorrow.
On a trip to India , acclaimed prodigy David Byrne met Rahman. So impressed was he with Rahman and his work, that he went on to record some sessions with Rahman for his own project, on which he was working that time, but sadly, this project has not seen the light of the day yet.
Rahman was an invited member of the jury of the prestigious music festival ‘Voice of Asia’ competition held annually at Almaty, Kazhakstan. The jury comprises of top musicians of the world. He was also invited to be the judge for channel [V]’s nation-wide talent hunt program called ‘Samsung Super Singer.’ There he assisted Adnan Sami.
In October 1999, Rahman performed a song ‘Ekam Satyam’ in a charity oriented live concert in München (referred as Munich in English) city of Germany with Michael Jackson called ‘MJ and friends’. Bharat Bala and Hindujas arranged the meeting between Rahman and Michael Jackson. Rahman and his troupe performed with Michael Jackson in the concert. The song was partially in English and partially in Sanskrit. Jackson sang the English part and Rahman sang the Sanskrit part. Lyricist AR Parthasarathy from India penned the Sanskrit part. Melodious strains of ‘Sathyameva Jayathey’ by Rahman provided the closing to the concert by pop king MJ.
His first chance of collaborating with an international artist was offered by Sony Music in 1996, when he was working on ‘Vande Mataram’. Sony had asked him to choose from any of its international stars to work with and supposedly even suggested the name of Celine Dion. But Rahman settled, very appropriately, for the Pakistani Sufi music star Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Dominic Miller.
Explaining his choice, he said, “I don’t want to collaborate with just a name. I must feel something for the person and relate with his work. I’ve seen several famous names collaborating on songs and albums, but they remain just two names. There’s no chemistry. It’s like oil and water. They can’t come together.”
This perspective of Rahman has shown magic. The people he chooses – don’t know where he finds them – do their life’s best with Rahman. To date he has worked with almost every Indian legend.
Just to name a few of them: KJ Yesudas, SP Balasubrahmaniam, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, sivamani, Pt. Vishwamohan Bhatt, Zakir Hussain, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan, L. Shankar, Kadri Gopalnath, Vikku Vinayakram, Ustad Sultan Khan among many others.
Internationally, he has been associated with Nusrath Fateh Ali Khan, Yak Bondy, Jolin Tsai, Michael Jackson, Apache Indian, Dominic Miller, Andrew Lloyd Webber for one or more works.
The directors with whom Rahman has worked are:
Hindi: Ramgopal Varma, Deepa Mehta, Priyadarshan, Farookh Siddiqui, Subhash Ghai, Govind Nihalani, Raj Kumar Santoshi, Khaled Mohammed, Shyam Benegal, Shashilal Nair, Shekhar Kapoor, Kailash Surendranath, Ashutosh Gowariker, Shaad Ali, Ahmed Khan, MF Hussain, Atul Agnihotri.
Tamil and Telugu: Manirathnam, Shankar, Suhasini Manirathnam, P Vasu, K Balachander, Sangeeth Sivan, Kadhir, K Muralimohan Rao, Rajeev Menon, KS Ravikumar, Bharatiraaja, Suresh Menon, Balu, K Subhash, Vikraman, Manoj Kumar, B Gopal, Pravinkanth, Suresh Krishna, Vasanth, Saran, Azhagam Perumal, Arjun, AM Jyoti Krishna, SJ Surya.
Chinese: He Ping.
– Music is a gift from God and every note should be blessed. Otherwise music becomes noise if it is not blessed. I am influenced by Sufism, which is also connected with music. Before composing I pray and beg to God to give me something. I believe every song should have a pure soul in it to reach people.
Whom do you consider your closest rival?
“The man who’s inside me and constantly trying to distract me from doing good work.”
How does it feel to be on top?
“I don’t really think I’m at the top. Basically, I came into this field not to intrude on anybody else’s success.”
“I am like a boat without an oar. I let life take its own course. I know only my work and God, I pray a lot. You get dejected if you plan something and it does not happen.”
“I like music that is able to stir my soul. My music is a spiritual exercise” “Criticism is fine – at the end of the day, my music speaks for itself”
“Rather than making money I believe in making people happy, all other things are secondary.” Money isn’t important, creative satisfaction is.
“Swades” is right from my heart. It is simple and sweet music.
How would you describe A.R.Rahman in your own words?
“A.R.Rahman is a failure and slowly he is trying to reach something.”
“Awards come with the blessings from God and it encourages you. At the same time it is not the end and it’s a promise and you feel ashamed and ask yourself “What have I done to get this?”
SINCERE THANKS TO GOPAL SREENIVASAN & AMITH CHANDRAN FOR THE ENTIRE WRITE UP