This creative genius – with a temperament for ‘nocturnal creativity’ – remains untouched by the luminescence of his success, which has now become a part of his aura, even though he says in his inimitable benign manner:
“I’m very normal and so boring.” A R Rahman comes forward to greet us in his hotel suite with a warm, friendly smile lighting up his eyes, even when sleep beckons him with equal frenzy. We can’t help but admire the simplicity of the Mozart of Madras as he settles down for an exclusive chat with NT, saying, “It’s great to make someone smile.” With this, the mood is the set. And the Oscar-winning composer speaks about his forthcoming concert in Nagpur on May 15 and various issues under the sun in a no-holds-barred tete-a-tete …
n Nagpur concert will be your first live show in India after the Oscars. You must be looking forward to it…
Since we are starting from the heart of India, I’m hoping to regale a large number of Nagpurians. And I’m glad that the proceeds of the show will be used for some noble causes.
You’re one of the first Indian composers who took pains to style yourself and present your shows in the manner of a rock star. When did this occur to you and how did you change things?
An image of a singer was that of somebody behind the mike, who’d sing from a sheet of songs kept on a stand. Often, the singer’s face would be hidden behind that! I used to feel that if this is what you get to see at a concert, you might as well listen to the radio, why attend a concert or a show? When I did my first live show, I did try to liven things up on stage, but I would stick to playing my keyboard and be in and around it. The change, however, happened in 1996-97 during the Vande Mataram album I did with Bharat and Kanika Bala. Kanika’s an old friend, and she said that I should ‘look’ different. So, you saw me in long hair and stuff. I was very reluctant though, but they both insisted. And it worked!
You take a lot of newcomers. What makes them tick – your own belief in getting your composition sung right? Or does the pressure of singing an A R Rahman composition make them sing well?
When I compose a song, I look for an inherent voice quality – some natural talent. I don’t like to struggle with art, often it’s the distorted stuff that lends magic to a composition. (Points to a painting in the room) It’s like art. You see the canvas clean and neat; and it doesn’t seem right, though there’s nothing wrong! But, a little contorted stroke, and suddenly the painting comes alive. It’s kind of awkward, but imperfection is also an art. Where I require perfection, I choose seasoned singers.
There was a lot of bad blood between you and Sukhwinder Singh during the Oscars. Have things improved now?
It was a series of mishaps that led to the confusion during the Oscars, and I couldn’t go on explaining things to everyone. Now all’s well and Sukhwinder is coming along with me to the US for the Hollywood Ball.
During Commonwealth Games, politicians and musicians slammed you for the CWG anthem. Why didn’t you react?
People have the right to criticise! They said what they felt, but I had given my 100 percent to the anthem. If people didn’t like it, I attribute it to my bad phase. And as far as reactions go, silence has been my strength!
Once the Copyright Act of 1957 is amended, will musicians and film producers still share an easy bonhomie, or will it become a cut-and-dried relationship?
I think after the amendment, quality will reign supreme. When people will pay good money, they will expect only the best. And artistes, whose future will get secured because of royalty, will give their best. It’d be shameful not to give your best after getting paid so handsomely!
You are turning a film producer. How will a creative artiste like you balance the nitty gritty of business?
I will only concern myself with the creative inputs when it comes to making a musical. Business aspects will be taken care of by the experts. But then (smiles), even creative people have to do routine jobs like taking care of family, paying taxes, meeting the teachers at children’s school etc.
During the World Cup, your version of Vande Mataram was played again and again at the Wankhede Stadium. Did you get goose bumps seeing the way people reacted to it?
India winning the World Cup is a huge statement. I was in the US at that time, but I did catch glimpses of that online. It was an honour that a song sung by me was played at such an event, but Vande Mataram is India’s song, not just mine.
Along with film music, you brought out a lot of instrumental music too. Do you think this genre of music is paid less attention?
When it comes to music, people have diverse choices. Also, it’s a complex set of people you’re targeting. So, when I make music, I ask questions to myself as if I am a common listener. Questions like ‘will I like to listen to an instrumental version of this’, ‘will this composition work’ etc. And depending on the answer I get, I begin working on it.
It is a known fact that you prefer the night time to record/compose your music. You made an exception for Lata Mangeshkar…
Yeah I did, because she was comfortable recording in the day. Finally, it all depends upon when I get uninterrupted time, and quite obviously it’s the night time. There are no doorbells ringing, no kids around the place, no phone calls etc – it’s the best time because then your creative process is unhampered.
Reports claim that you’re composing music for Gautham Menon’s TV serial for the first time…
It’s not finalised yet. But, I really want to do television now! Unlike the films, which last barely a few weeks, TV serial lingers on in people’s memory because it enters their bedroom every day.
You are very active on social networking sites…
Yes, because that keeps me connected with my listeners without an intermediary. And they are happy to hear from me directly; I’ve 3.6 million friends on a social networking site.
Your lead singer Chithra lost her daughter recently in a tragic accident. Will that affect the collective energies of your troupe?
I’ve always seen Chithra smiling. So, it was absolutely heart-wrenching to see her break down when I and my wife Saira went to meet her a couple of days back. We’ve all wondered as to why it happened with her only child, who was born 15 years after marriage. But, we’re praying that she returns to singing and finds solace…
n In this commercial world, when people (read Ameesha Patel) forget to invite their own parents at their launch parties, you wept and mourned for your first album producer Malaysia Vasudevan, who passed away recently…
That’s the way I am! I don’t know about others, but I don’t get to lose anything by paying my homage to people who’ve helped me.
Recently your son and daughter sang tracks for two films. So, are you grooming the Rahman juniors for Grammys and Oscars?
They are too young and still not sure about their calling. So, I’m not pushing them. But, I’m pushing many students of my academy to put their best foot forward.