After working with the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Kylie Minogue, MIA, Nicole Scherzinger and over 60 international musicians including Quincy Jones and Lionel Ritchie in the charity single, We are the world: Haiti, maestro composer, AR Rahman, has another ace lined up his sleeve.
Apparently, after working with the world’s best musicians on the charity single, Rahman was approached by “most of them” for collaborations. But with his international world tour on the anvil, Rahman is yet to work on the music with these artistes.
Although the composer doesn’t tell us all the names of the artistes who have expressed their desire to work with him, he reveals, “Dido and Usher have approached me for collaborations, but I’m concentrating on my world tour right now, and may work with them after its over.”
Rahman also reveals that his world tour has taken priority over everything else he’s been working on, and because of it, he’s even had to turn down two Hollywood movies. “A number of directors spoke to me about composing for their films, but I haven’t had the time,” he smiles. “I’ve had to turn down two Hollywood projects, but I can’t reveal their names, because I need to respect their privacy.”
After Slumdog Millionaire took the world by storm, and earned the composer two Oscars and Grammys each, Rahman has been flooded with offers for collaborations from all over the world.
American record label, Interscope Records, owned by Universal Music Group, that has musicians like Black Eyed Peas, Dr Dre, Emninem, Lady Gaga, Limp Bizkit and U2, signed on it, has also recently roped in Rahman for an international music album.
But Rahman confesses he hasn’t been able to start work on it. “The work is progressing really slowly,” he says. “I can’t confirm who’ll be working with me, as of now, but talks are on with several musicians for the same.”
I don’t have the talent to talk
He’s evidently used to giving interviews now; at least, he’s not averse to them. Everyone’s wanted a piece of AR Rahman ever since Slumdog Millionaire won him big at the Oscars, and soon after, at the Grammys, and that’s been quite a challenge for the masterful composer, who’s known to cherish his privacy.
He doesn’t betray any emotions during the interview — he’s the face of calm and serenity — but he confesses that he’s yet to get used to the attention he’s been getting from all over the world since his triumph at the Oscars last year. For the man, whose spiritualism comes from his devotion to music, being a public figure hasn’t come easy.
He smiles, “Everybody asks the same questions, so after a point of time, you feel like you have said it all, and then, you are just faking it. So I feel it’s better to shut up and do your work.”
I change only when its necessary
But the composer, who received a Padma Bhushan earlier this year, has certainly opened up over time. Earlier, at a press conference to release the album of nursery rhymes, Saregama’s Rhymeskool, that’s been composed by students from his school of music, K M Conservatory, Rahman joked that he’s grown old.
“I’m not used to this role of ‘supervising’ the music,” he chuckled. “Among these kids today, I feel like I’m getting old.” And when Katrina Kaif said she’s a terrible singer, he cheekily offered her a complimentary one-year course at his conservatory!
And who can forget his acceptance speech at the Oscars, where he referenced the cult dialogue from Deewar? “There is a Hindi dialogue mere pass ma hai,” Rahman had said. “That means, even if I have got nothing. I have my mother here.” Even as his mother sits in the background now as well, watching him speak with excited journalists, he laughs, when asked if he’s become an extrovert.
“I change only when it’s necessary,” he says. “I change when I come to talk, because I know that’s when I have to talk. I don’t want to do interviews everyday, (chuckles) because I can’t. I don’t have the talent to talk.”
It’s been a hectic, chaotic year for Rahman, who was named among the 100 most influential people in the world, by TIME magazine, in 2009. Apart from travelling across the world to accept awards for the music of either Slumdog Millionaire or Delhi 6, Rahman’s composed for an international film, Couples Retreat, and has been working on the music of several Indian films too. A theme song for the upcoming Commonwealth Games in New Delhi is also lined up.
I’m not ignoring Bollywood over Hollywood
Ask him how he’s able to manage his time between so many ventures, and he selflessly gives credit to his behind-the-scenes team. “All the work goes on simultaneously,” he says. “I have a hard-working team of people who I trust completely. They work round the clock to make things happen.”
“Nothing gets priority over anything else — I’m not ignoring Bollywood over Hollywood or vice versa,” Rahman says. “The priority is to do everything right!”
The concerts aim at showcasing India to the world
But at the moment, he says, his complete focus is on his world tour that will kick off on June 11 at the Nassau Coliseum in New York, and span 16 cities worldwide, ending at the Wembley Stadium, London. The pictures released for the world tour see Rahman donning a famous Michael Jackson pose, with his trademark hat.
Ask him if he’s paying a tribute to MJ, and he smiles, “No, it’s not an ode, we were just having some fun at the photo shoot. All the songs that I perform there will be from my albums.”
The concerts have been billed as a ‘theatrical experience utilising new technology’. He reveals that his concert themes revolve around India. “The idea of the concerts is the celebration of India,” he says. “But it’s being done in such a professional way, like no one’s ever seen before, hopefully. The concerts aim at showcasing India to the world.”
I’ve done two songs for Ashok Amritraj’s movie
Towards the end of the year, there’s also a book coming up. Rahman’s close friend, sound engineer Resul Pookutty and Rahman were both signed on to write their autobiographies. Says Rahman, “I haven’t been able to write the autobiography, so it will be written by Nasreen Munni Kabeer based on interviews and conversations I’ve had with her over the last six years.”
Considering he’s India’s poster boy in the West, he’s been linked to every major Indian project, be it Russell Crowe’s India-centric film, Amrit Kumbh, or the next bond film, supposedly being shot in Asia. Rahman only confirms about his involvement with Ashok Amritraj’s Street Dancing.
“My role is not finalised in that, but I’ve done two songs for the movie, for my friend Dave Steward,” Rahman reveals. “Everything else is a rumour. Only what you read on my website is true!”
Ask him if he’ll consider acting in Hollywood, now that the West identifies India with him, and he bursts out laughing, “I think I’ll stick to music.”
Mani is the boss
Raavan is Rahman’s 10th collaboration with critically acclaimed director, Mani Ratnam. Arguably, some of Rahman’s best work has come from his association with Ratnam, be it his enchanting debut, Roja, the haunting Bombay or the multi-genre Dil Se.
Rahman explains that the work doesn’t come from a brief, but from the understanding they share. “Mani goes for the vibe of the music,” he says. “He doesn’t reject anything on the face. But from experience, I realise what he wants. His brief is clear by looking at his eyes. (Laughs) He’s got good facial expressions!”
Composing for Raavan
The music for Raavan, Rahman says, took its own time to happen. “The film took its course, and so did the music,” he adds. “We figured that we wouldn’t force it to happen in a limited amount of time, but let it take its own direction. We didn’t decide on how it should turn out, we let the inspiration come when the time was right.”
Raavan’s music was recently in the news for two songs, of Sonu Niigam and Asha Bhosle, which were reportedly dropped from the album. “It’s not about having done a great song, or having worked hard on the music,” Rahman admits.
“It’s always about what’s good for the movie. If a song doesn’t suit the film, or if it’s slowing the film’s pace down, it means I’m not doing justice to the production, so I drop it.”
Ask him if he agrees that the music for Raavan is reminiscent to his earlier music, and he asks what brought about the feeling. Tell him that Behene de is similar to Dil Se’s Satrangi re, and he smiles, “Yeah, well, whatever Mani likes, I give him. Mani is the boss!”
I didn’t want the focus to shift to my son
Rahman’s just released an album on Saregama, Rhymeskool, which has music by students from his K M Music Conservatory. He clearly states that he’s only supervised the music and not composed anything on the album.
“There are eight-twelve composers and singers on the album, and they’ve programmed, arranged and produced the album too, which is what I do,” he says proudly.
“They’ve given a new twist to nursery rhymes, but the idea of the album was to showcase their skills with music technology. It’s giving what I have learnt, back to them, by teaching them, and then putting them in the real world. Hopefully, we can now expect great music from them in the future.”
Since it’s an album for kids, it’s surprising that Rahman hasn’t used his son, who sang on the soundtrack of Couples Retreat, on this album. He explains, “I didn’t want the focus to shift to my son. I intentionally avoided that. These kids are great, and they needed the exposure.”
Plans for conservatory
Katrina Kaif has provided the narration on the album, and Rahman says that she came on board out of goodwill.
Rahman is now planning to expand his conservatory, and take it international. There’s already an exchange program with international music students underway, he says. But he’s sure he doesn’t want to use any of his students on his albums. “I don’t want them to feel that I’m showing favouritism to anyone.”