New Delhi -°C
Today in New Delhi, India

Sep 20, 2019-Friday



Select city

Metro cities - Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata

Other cities - Noida, Gurgaon, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Bhopal , Chandigarh , Dehradun, Indore, Jaipur, Lucknow, Patna, Ranchi

Friday, Sep 20, 2019

Rahman: the beat is on...

Music maestro AR Rahman talks on his world of music, films, international concerts and more to Khalid Mohamed.

music Updated: Jun 21, 2007 15:50 IST
Khalid Mohamed
Khalid Mohamed

I 've never heard the sparrows sing at 2 am. But those little fluttery things were cheep-cheep-chirruping away on a leafy bough at Chennai's Kodambakkam residence, studio and prayer alcove of A R R. Was the sparrow squad infected by the every day and night music around them? Or was I just hallucinating?

No answer to that one I'm afraid. But after seeing the little big genius work, dream and talk at that address, I feel blessed. Unimagined sounds suddenly reverberate from his mega-synth console, from his sibilant hums as he goes even as his visage becomes more sombre than a magistrate's.

Then the slow-mo coming-out of a near trance and an apologetic, "What do you think?" Before I can utter half a syllable, he's on, "Okay, we'll try something else.. na na na.. hum.. hum.. la la la.. oowaah wooh."

Cross with himself for not hitting the right notes, he taps away at a laptop, either converses too much or not at all.. vanishes for his prayer and returns a new man.

More attempts, more self-dissatisfaction, and all of a sudden at least five variations for a single song are ready, take your pick.

His first version of the devotional song, Piya Haji Ali, was 14-minutes long, edited to a filmable five minute length. He promised to give me the original, hasn't.. yet. Some music, perhaps, he keeps to himself.

Over 15 years, he has preserved his position of India's most creative and ground-breaking music composer. He's been knighted as the Mozart of Asia but.. such titles embarrass him. He looks away, a hint of self-deprecatory giggle followed by the sentence, "Please, I cannot be talked about in the same breath."

And when you switch to the role of an interviewer, he answers off-the-cuff, to ask at the end of a gab session, "I feel strange talking about myself, did I do okay? He did. Excerpts:

What kind of music plays on the iPod of his mind?
Whatever I'm working on at a point of time.. or if I'm on a concert tour, it is snatches of different pieces of music.. which escape and come back as if they were being recalled from a distance. Piano themes from the film songs take long to finesse, at times of course a tune just hits me like it does with every composer, become either playful or stubborn.. and I've to take it from there.

<b1>For instance, the piano theme for Rang de Basanti and then Guru kept eluding me, I kept working and working on them round the clock. No composer can be narcissistic though.. his ear and heart take in the music around him, whether it's something playing on TV, a child laughing musically or a CD I've heard recently .

The thing is to keep oneself open, if I'm told James Blunt's You're so beautiful had a certain lilt to it, I listen to it.. casually and .. then if I like it, again and again.. and again.. it makes me feel light, relieved.

And if I ever feel a mental block, there's Vivaldi's Four Seasons. If you haven't heard it, you haven't lived. (Perceiving the blank look on my face) I won't give you my copy, but I'll get a CD burnt for you.. Vivaldi! Vivaldi! Let's hear it right now.. (we do).

Which Rahman songs are most in demand at his world concerts?
That fluctuates. Strangely enough at one US concert, it was Humma humma. Otherwise, usually it's Chhaiyan chhaiyan. And the songs from the films which have been released recently Also Tamil film songs are demanded.. like the ones from Sivaji.. once I also played the Fight Poverty anthem done for the UN, which went down very well.

Bombay film industry's attitude to A R R.
Why? What do they think of me? As far as I know, I've gone through phases. There was Swades at one point of time, and then the phase of period films like Bose and The Rising.. after which I felt perhaps I should also do films with younger, fresh filmmakers.. Not because the period films didn't become major commercial hits.. I'm used to that.

From experience, I've learnt that music has no age, many songs have a recall value and grow. Like it or not, it all boils down to the simple fact that the music company.. which is releasing a movie's soundtrack.. believes strongly in the product and promotes it properly .

Can Bombay-based music companies sabotage the soundtracks they've bought the rights for?

It happens or does it? I wouldn't like to get into a controversy over that.. who needs that? Still, it's important to say that what you say is possible. Sabotage is a strong word but it cannot be ruled out. I still have to understand why at least three or four of my music scores were just sidelined by a music company in Mumbai.

They didn't get a sufficient amount of TV promos, their album jackets were designed carelessly.. the pressings didn't have proper sound quality. In fact, I asked a certain music com pany what the problem was.. (shrugs) they said there was no problem.

No naming the company?
They you and I know who I'm talking about. Filmmakers sold them the rights, the composer just hopes for the best.. and holds his breath. But I'm trying not to hold my breath anymore. You know music is not possible with negativity .

It's better to have a clear mind than a black one. If I were to hold grudges in my heart, I wouldn't be able to play on my keyboard any more. One has to stay pure.

Purity! How pure can any composer be in the time of commercial cholera? that clever? All I can say is that I try to remain as pure or as possible. I can't be conniving, double-face or naughty Whatever . little work I do has to least try to express divinity, love and purity .

<b3>What! No naughty ditties? Aayee re aayere from Rangeela?
That was hardly naughty. I think the naughtiest has to be Shakalaka baby.

The stage musical Bombay Dreams, the Chinese movie score Warriors of Heavenand Earth, music for The Lord of the Rings on stage, doesn't the global work take you away from Indian assignments?
Initially, I was skeptical. Should I go over or not? My work for Lord of the Rings on stage, I wouldn't even call a "musical." The story moves in and out of the musical pieces. After doing the Chinese film (Warriors..), it gave me the freedom to go beyond, by using chants, choirs and several other music idioms.

Can you hazard a world without music?
Right now, no. I love to go into a space which doesn't distract me. When you're praying, you nearly go dead, or at least try to. It's another kind of sphere altogether. Please don't ask me more about this, it's something private and within. The moment I don't have this special.. divine space.. for me music will stop.

Forty one going on 17. I can dream hopefully .

Any odd dreams?
Snowfall in Chennai. Snow was all over the streets.. and in the middle of it all, there was this big hoarding of The Lion King. Weird!

No filmmakers are allowed at the Chennai studio with a hint of alcohol on their breath.
What! Okay, quite a while ago one or two filmmakers came a bit tipsy. That did become awkward but I learnt to be more tolerant. I go absolutely silent when something like that happens, the filmmaker catches that, and it doesn't happen again. It's important to be pure and clear in the mind..or else..

You must stop drinking wine.. chacha.

First Published: Jun 21, 2007 10:39 IST