With two Oscars and two Grammy awards in less than a year, AR Rahman of “Slumdog Millionaire” fame is riding high on his international success, but his heart still remains at home. Back in his hometown Chennai after more than a month in Los Angeles, where he now spends most of his time, Rahman spoke to Reuters about working on “We Are The World”, the charity single for quake-stricken Haiti, his experience in Hollywood and how India will never really lose its famous son. Q: It’s been almost a year since you won the Oscar. How has your life changed?
A: “I am living more in Los Angeles and meeting a completely different set of people; very nice people of course, and things which were impossible before, such as “We are the world” — going in that community and singing there, was fantastic. I have been commissioned to do some stuff for artists, which you will hear about shortly. There is a tour also. So much has happened in one year.”
Q: You also composed music for your first Hollywood movie, “Couples Retreat”. How is working in Hollywood different from working in India?
A: “In a situation like that, anything can happen. There are a lot of committees which scrutinise the music, they hear it again and again, changes happen. The music took almost three months. I was writing and re-writing. They have research groups to whom they play the music and movie to, and take their reactions, come back. You may even get fired. It is a studio film, so anything can happen.”
Q: Did that change the way you work?
A: “No, not really, but a composer told me that in Hollywood, if a composer doesn’t get fired, he isn’t a real composer. That is the agony of working on a score there, even the most senior composers get fired. It is the easiest thing to do, fire the composer, because they can’t change the actors or the movie, but they can change the music. It’s risky.”
Q: What is the one aspect that you wish the Indian film industry could borrow from the West?
A: “I think we should think about what we are leaving for future generations. After a while, when you have achieved everything, it is time to give back. Our people are so hardworking that we can excel anywhere in the world, but they just need to open up their imaginations. We need to be original and nurture creativity. We can’t be slaves to mediocrity, and that can only happen when the right people put in the effort.”
Q: Are there any more international projects in the pipeline? There was talk of you collaborating with Celine Dion.
A: “I can’t really talk about anything at the moment, but you will hear something the minute it is finalised. Celine Dion is just a rumour.”
Q: Some rumours do turn out to be true.
A: “This could turn out to be true, but nothing like that is planned at the moment. I sang with her for “We are the World”, that is all.”
Q: Could you talk about that experience?
A: “It was great. I got a call from the organisers, asking if I was in town. I said yes, and went along for the recording. We recorded from 3 to 8, and it was an overwhelming experience, singing with all these great artists under one roof.”
Q: A lot of people in India feel that even though you won for Slumdog, that isn’t your best score. What do you think?
A: “I think it was the best score for the film. In a way it is naive for people to think like that. There is always a debate over which music is better, whether it is classical or pop, Western classical or Indian classical, and so on. But for a child, a nursery rhyme is equal to what may be classical music for us. It is the presence of mind and the eye of the beholder that matters. We got two Oscars and two Grammys for it, so it is more than enough.”
Q: Is international success something you coveted before you started out?
A: “In a naive way, yes. I wasn’t too ambitious about it, but it was always in a corner of my mind, that what we do here should be appreciated by the rest of the world. We like their music, but we also have representation in the world stage, and that has come true, which is great. In a small way, there are many more miles to go, but it is a great start. It is not only a good start for me, but also anyone, whether you are in a village, and are making music, if it needs to be heard, it will be heard.”
Q: So much is being said about the fact that India has lost Rahman to Hollywood. Has it?
A: “Oh, they say that every three years, they want to pack me off. I have a responsibility here, and my family is here, so these things will always pull me back here, wherever I may be. This is my base, I will keep coming back.”