Music maestro A R Rahman talks to Sandhya Soman about rocking with Michael Bolton, composing catchy songs, and the new generation of listeners.
‘Why have you used rock music in ‘Rockstar’? In the 1990s, I avoided giving people too much of a culture shock through my music. They already had enough from me. Though I had been part of a rock band, I didn’t use those sounds in my songs. Rock was too much of a western sound then. Today, there is a whole new generation listening to various sounds. Rock has become a classic genre even for today’s hip-hop generation in India. With ‘Rockstar’, I got an opportunity to compose songs in the rock music genre. It was nice to figure out how a desi guy would use Indian chords and expression to create rock music.
Two songs -‘Jo bhi mein’ and ‘Sadda Haq’ – aspire to be in the tradition of ‘Satisfaction’ by The Rolling Stones and ‘We Don’t Need No Education’ (Another Brick in the Wall) by Pink Floyd. Just like most rock songs stood for people’s voices, here also the central character’s cry relates to every one of us.
What do you gain when you collaborate with artists like Michael Bolton or rope in musicians like Orianthi Panagaris to play for ‘Sadda Haq’? Bolton was an icon in the 1980s and ’90s, the king of soft melodies. I was curious to meet him and he is a very nice person. You gain knowledge and wisdom from meeting others. I don’t do it just to attach another artist’s name to mine. I think about what I could gain from the association. In this case, Bolton was also interested in learning about me. I gained his fan base that could access my work. Also, it was a pleasure to listen to him singing ‘Sajna’ (for Bolton’s studio album ‘Gems: The Duet Collection’).
What was it like hosting Ranbir Kapoor at your place so he could prepare for the movie? Ranbir was a silent observer when he came down with director Imtiaz Ali. Being with musicians helped him lose his fear of music. It happened to me as well 11 years ago when I was with actors during the rehearsal of the musical ‘Bombay Dreams’ in London. My world was music and suddenly there were actors who were moving to my music. I enjoyed it, but at some level I wanted to run away from the place. Today, I am much more used to it.
Why is it that people take a while to get your tunes into their heads? Is it because your music is complicated and many appreciate the nuances only later? While people might like you as an artist, I should not give them the same stuff again and again. That is why I do fewer movies these days. I feel that each soundtrack should be a new experience. This is why people take time to appreciate some of my songs. We thought it would take more time for the music of ‘Rockstar’ to reach the people. But the speed at which people liked it surprised even us.
At a recent concert, everyone was singing along. They knew the lyrics better than we did (laughs). It was amazing to see hundreds of people singing along. I always try to strike a balance between songs that will catch the attention of people immediately and the ones that take time to reach listeners. I try to partially predict which song people will like. In this case, we were very lucky. Also, the promotion helped a lot.
Isn’t good music enough for sales? Is it important to market your music well? After the collapse of the global music industry 10 years ago due to digital and physical piracy, it is a miracle that it is trying to survive by reinventing the whole game. So making people aware of what is out there is important since big investments in time, talent and money are involved.
What do you do when people say your tunes are repetitive? They don’t say that anymore about my music. It was mostly in the 1990s that I was criticized for my tunes. Now I read what people have to say about my music. Sometimes I take the good things they have to say about me, sometimes I ignore it. That works for me. And when I make changes, I do it slowly. When you conduct an orchestra and want to make a sharp change in tempo, you have to move it around slowly like steering a ship and not turn it like a car on a fast lane.