The name A.R.Rahman needs no introduction. The man who redefined contemporary Indian music and is the pride of the entire nation and an idol for millions all over the world needs no preamble. But if you happen to be one, still among the few unfortunate souls, who are a stranger to him and his heavenly music, then read on.
The year was 1991. Ace Tamil movie director Mani Ratnam was on the lookout for a new composer to give music for his films. His long standing fruitful association with the doyen of Tamil film music Illaiyaraja, which had spanned over 10 films and as many years had come to an end when the two had had a fallout after the latter reportedly made some sarcastic comments during the making of Mani Ratnam's then latest film 'Dalapati'. One day, at an awards function for excellence in the field of advertising, Mani Ratnam chanced upon a young man who received the award for the best ad jingle which he had composed for the popular Leo Coffee ad. At the celebrations party that followed the awards presentation ceremony, Mani Ratnam was introduced to the young composer by his cousin Sharada Trilok of Trish Productions for whose company the young man had produced some outstanding work. Sharada had words of high praise for the young composer. Mani was curious and requested him for a sample of his wares. The composer readily complied and invited the director over to his studio. Mani Ratnam turned up at the studio only after six months, where the 24 year old lad played out a tune that he had been pushed into composing by his school friend G.Bharat alias Bala when they both had been greatly disturbed by the socio-political tensions in South India over the Cauvery river waters issue. Listening to the tune that was played, Mani was hooked instantly. Without a second thought he signed on the composer to score the music for his next film. That film did not work out but Mani signed him on for a new film which was to be produced by the veteran Tamil director K.Balachander for his respected 'Kavithalayaa' banner. That film was 'Roja'. That tune would become the song "Tamizha Tamizha" in 'Roja'. The music of the film would be a phenomenal success that would revolutionise modern day Indian film music. The name of the 25-year old composer was A. R. Rahman. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Cut to the year 1998. Mani Ratnam's then latest film, his first in Hindi and his fifth with Rahman, 'Dil Se..' hit the screens. The movie all but bombed in India. But the music, yet again was a resounding success. The music sold like hot cakes even six months after it was released in the market. In a recession hit Indian Film industry, the two biggest hits of the year, 'Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya' and 'Ghulam' had sold 2 million cassettes each. Such was the confidence of the music company, Venus, in the Rahman-Ratnam combination that they started with an unprecedented initial run of 2 million cassettes, then notched up sales of 6 million and are still going strong. It even successfully survived the onslaught of what later became the year's biggest hit, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. So much so, that just on the strength of its music, Dil Se.. succeeded in gaining the distinction of being the first Asian film to enter the U.K. Top 10. Moviegoers in London said that it is the music that drew them to the movie halls. Such is the spell that the music from the Rahman-Ratnam combination has cast over music lovers.
The Rahman-Ratnam combination forged six years ago is now five films strong and has given the world of Indian films some of its best music. The combination has taken music to new heights that has succeeded in captivating millions of listeners not just across India but even in far flung corners of the world. Rahman says about his mentor, "I was blessed to be picked by a director like him. He encouraged me a lot. It was as if I studied in Mani's own university of music. He is like a brother to me."
Going back in History, the following question arises. Six years ago, who listened to Tamil music? Only Tamilians. Five years ago, what did teenagers dance to at discotheques? What else but Michael Jackson, Dr.Alban or the latest Western dance hit of the day. But one man singlehandedly changed all that. With his universally appealing tunes, A.R.Rahman has demolished all conventional rules in Indian film music. He amazes with the manner in which he seamlessly integrates traditionally incompatible harmonies. If anyone can make a perfect potpourri of the latest dancehall rhythms, electro-pop, Latin melodies, Western and Indian classical and pepper it all with a local folk touch or even something as otherworldly as Reggae and serve it all in a contemporary Indian manner that mesmerises listeners, it is A.R.Rahman. His music transcends all barriers - geographic, age or linguistic. Everyone from 6 to 60, Kashmir to Kanyakumari, as the clichÃ© goes, are fans of his music. He was the first to successfully and solidly bridge the gap across the Vindhyas with Hindi speaking denizens who did not understand one word of Tamil enthusiastically lapping up his music. He gave film music a trendy legitimacy, a legitimacy that made Indian youth who were till then ashamed of admitting in public that they enjoyed Indian film music, dance to Humma Humma, Muqabla Muqabla, Musthafa Musthafa and Chaiyya Chaiyya at every pub, club and disco. Overnight, Indian film music considered 'infra-dig' by the youth became 'cool' and 'hep'. All in all, quite arguably, no one has influenced Indian music as much as Rahman has in recent times.
He is the man who helped south Indian cinema go national in a way that was considered impossible even a decade ago. He bridged the gap between Tamil (and even Telugu on occasion) and Hindi with that most universal of all languages: music. Predictably Rahman would later say "I hate the discrimination between south, north, Tamil, Hindi. If I represent India that is good enough for me. But we should cross all these barriers." Rahman did more: he made, to use film industry jargon, music a territory in its own right. Thus, the soundtrack of each movie was sold as if it were a separate entity from the film itself. And as if to prove him right, his music assumed a life of its own, flying off the shelves at record speed even when the film in question bombed at the boxoffice.
Rahman's strength lies not only in his perfect sense of melody and rhythm but also in his immaculate sound engineering. His music has been hailed as that of the digital age and has also been assailed for the very same reason. His music can never be adequately described in words. One has to personally experience the pleasure of his creations. Many of his compositions might actually sound ordinary the first time. But his music has this amazing capacity to grow on you and establish a firm hold on the listener. His compositions are an intriguing cocktail of musical pieces that literally blow your mind. His music is unique in its offbeat instrumental interludes, unconventional harmonies, and use of far from perfect voices and thumping rhythms.
Says Gangai Amaran, well known South-Indian composer-singer and brother of Ilaiyaraja, "Rahman's music is of the computer age. It is digital but intelligent, not just noise. He concentrates on his melodies and has not totally deviated from Carnatic traditions". Noted director and lyricist Gulzar says "He is a milestone in Hindi film music. He has single-handedly changed the sound of music in the movies. He has broken the mukhda-antara-mukhda scheme of composition and replaced the traditional patterns of tuning. He can tune to a near identical rhythm in two different songs. But these songs will still catch the listener off guard even when played immediately after each other. Instead of having the fixed format, the song can also run like free verse with his kind of music."
One very interesting aspect of Rahman is his preference for untrained voices. Rahman says ".. a defect in the singing adds a human touch." His close friend and arranger-composer Ranjit Barot adds "In the Hindi music industry, if Kumar Sanu or Udit Narayan don't turn up, the music director starts panicking. But Rahman would probably look around the studio and experiment with some unknown and untrained voice." He goes on to add, "The man is a whiz coz he eats, breathes and sleeps music. AR Rahman has revolutionised the Hindi film music. Before we did Humma Humma for Bombay, the two of us composed jingles together. Rahman's USP is his ability to combine slickness with melody. The songs from Roja still haunt me. Few can make a successful transition from doing 30-sec jingles to 5 min songs. He's a genius." Bollywood movie mogul Subhash Ghai says of Rahman "Rahman is the biggest representative of Indian music. He is an example for future generations. He is the best fusion of art and science in music". One of his favourite directors Ramgopal Varma says," It is a challenge to picturise songs set to Rahman's music." His erstwhile competitors Nadeem-Shravan say, "The most amazing quality about Rahman is that he has been able to create a 'national sound' which in spite of his strong south-Indian feel appeals to a pan-Indian audience". Composers Jatin-Lalit say, "He totally changed the sound of Indian film music."
Internationally acclaimed Indian Tabalchi Ustad Zakir Hussain reminiscing about the time when Rahman played the keyboard along with violinist Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan and drummer Sivamani, on the album 'Colours' says, "He was barely 19 years old then but had mastered many different styles of music - western classical, jazz, rock and Carnatic. Even after his work was done he would stay in the studio, sitting through other musicians' pieces, eyes and ears tuned in, constantly imbibing. Very intelligent, smart and creative. He started as a young boy working with great composers like K V Mahadevan, for example. He knows the public pulse and has given the public a very intelligent combination package. This reminds me of R D Burman. These guys made it possible to bring together all elements of world music."
Singer Lata Mangeshkar, known as the 'Nightingale of India' with whom Rahman worked for the first time in Maniratnam's 'Dil Se' and later in 'Pukar', 'Zubeidaa', 'Lagaan', 'Water' and '1 2 ka 4', is all praise for him, " Rahman is known to record only during the night time. But he records with me during the daytime... when my voice is fresh. I don't like recording at night. And I've heard that Rahman records mostly in the night. But he made an exception for me. When an artiste shows such consideration for another artiste, it feels good. Aur kaam bhi achha hota hai. (Even the work done is good), Rahman doesn't take long over his recordings. Jiya jale was recorded in 40 minutes." Singer Srinivas, whose career best numbers have been with Rahman is totally impressed with Rahman's dedication to music and says, " He's totally absorbed in his music and there's nothing else that affects him. For him music is God. And he gets the best out of a singer." Says classical turned film singer P. Unnikrishnan who made his debut with the song 'Ennavale' from 'Kadhalan' and went on to win the National Award for his very first song, "I have sung more than 500 songs till date but this first song of mine is something I will remember and cherish all my life. The most wonderful thing is that today ARR is the most sought after Music Director in the whole country but as a person he has not changed and even today he is the same calm, composed, humble, committed, unperturbed ARR. Thanks to Rajiv Menon for having introduced me to such a wonderful artist." At one time an assistant to Rahman and today an independent composer in his own right, Harris Jayaraj remarks "I have learnt many things from many music directors. If you single out A.R.Rahman, I can quote his relentless labour, high enthusiasm, and commitment to the tasks at hand. He would never compromise on the quality of a song. He is quality-conscious and individualistic."
Singer Srinivas, whose career best numbers have been with Rahman is totally impressed with Rahman's dedication to music and says, " He's totally absorbed in his music and there's nothing else that affects him. For him music is God. And he gets the best out of a singer." Reocunting his experiences he says, "In 1992, in Coimbatore, was when I went to see Maniratnam's Roja because it was a Maniratnam movie. Dreams of playback singing had taken a back seat; I was in Coimbatore and travelling and didn't know how to approach it now. I was just taken aback by the freshness of Roja's music. After a long time, I had bought a tamil film audio cassette. This new person, Rahman, had introduced so many singers; the re-entry of Sujatha, Hariharan , Minmini and Unnimenon. Immediately, I realized that this person has an attitude towards introducing new artists, his music sounds fresh and he was definitely here to stay! On one of my official trips to Chennai, I got hold of Rahman's address and went to see him directly. At that time, he was very accessible (he had just started working on Pudhiya Mugam). He conducted a voice test; I sang a Mehdi Hassan ghazal and he liked it. I mentioned that I lived in Coimbatore and he said that if I moved to Chennai, he might be able to work with me. By the time I came to Chennai in 1994-95, he had shot through the roof! The gates had become bigger at Rahman's place . It was difficult to even get through to his office. With persistance and a little bit of luck, I was finally able to see him again. As soon as he saw me, he remembered. That's Rahman!.. He's human... and he's got GOD inside him as well! He slowly started giving me singing assignments. Rahman's approach is totally different which now many people have started following. For example, Raja Sir has the whole thing in his mind from the very beginning. You don't have a
doubt about what you should sing and you better not! (laughs). Two totally different schools of music. With Rahman, when you go in, nothing is ready. He just feeds in some basic chords. When you listen to them on your headphones, you are transported to some other world. Within two minutes, he creates a masterpiece of a loop. Those chords are just magic. You feel like singing so much! He incredibly motivates you when singing, which is also the reason why artists (singers and instrumentalists alike) give him the very best.
Vairamuthu, the lyricist, with whom Rahman shares a special bond remarks "I am considered to be a great poet, but I don't have any words to describe his genius. A.R.Rahman is not a normal music director. He has some God given gift in him. Otherwise, how can he compose such soul-stirring numbers? He is a rare pearl in an ocean of music.When one composes a song he is always worried as to whether the song will click or not. But Rahman is one composer who does not care about the commercial success of the song. He is always confident that if a number is composed wth a good heart and self-confidence it will be a big hit. He is like a younger brother to me. The total submission of his (A.R.Rahman) life for the cause of music; his thirst for creating not any chaff but only grains appeals to me the most!" Another veteran lyricist Vaali says "I have been in this field for decades and have seen a lot of music directors come and go.. But this young boy has held me spellbound! His talent, energy, enthusiasm is a lesson to all youngsters. He is always experimenting and is always open to new ideas." Grammy Award winning instumentalist Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt says "Rahman has a good understanding of both Western and Indian classical music. I was asked to play for Mani Rathnam's film Anandam (renamed "Iruvar") which Rahman has scored. He has high regard for others, and gives due respect to other forms of music. I find Rahman very innovative, and wouldn't mind doing more films with him."
"Rahman's amazing," drools upcoming composer Vishal Dadlani, "I've listened to the music of Dil Se.. a hundred times and, each time, I learn something new. It is like an encyclopaedia on production." Director Suresh Krissna with whom he worked on 'Sangamam' and then the Indian version of 'The Return of the thief of Baghdad', calls him a 'die-hard perfectionist' and said "Rahman's manner of working sounds very unusual. Generally music is composed, lyrics are readied and the recording is done. But with Rahman it is not so. Far from it, Rahman composes and mixes the voice with a basic rhythm track. Then he goes on adding the music making innovations, inclusions and improvisations till the very last minute, or rather till the cassette stage itself. At every point the workaholic in him keeps goading him to feel that 'there should be something more to it.' The singer, under Rahman's direction, is given incredible scope to delve into every conceivable variation and the whole of it is recorded. This system of working was a revelation for me." Upcoming lyricist Ilayakamban who is working with Rahman in 'Tenali' says "His musical ability to confine the whole world's air in his flute; his glowing inner peace; the simplicity of a mother is what I saw in him." Singer Harini, who was discovered by Rahman in a talent search competition says, "The best part about singing for Rahman is the freedom he gives the singer. Even for my first song he let me sing the way I was comfortable with, eventhough I was a nobody then." "Singing for Rahman was a wonderful experience. I really enjoyed the song. A R Rahman is a wonderful, humble person to work with. A complete workaholic and very involved with his music. He is very creative and undoubtedly talented," says singer Roopkumar Rathod. Singer Abhijeet echoes his thoughts, "It is every singerâ€™s dream to work with A R Rahman because he makes you feel like God. I worked with Rahman for a beautiful song called E Nazneen suno and for Nayak. Of course, I did get nervous when I had to record with him, especially since he records at an unearthly hour like three in the night. But he makes you feel as if you are AR Rahman and he is just an ordinary fellow. Other music directors should learn to be humble like him. Todayâ€™s music directors do not respect their singers. If one singer is not around they replace them with another. Also, they demoralise you when you are in front of the mike."
Director Shankar, again a favourite with Rahman - having worked with him on on some of his earliest films like 'Gentleman' 'Kadhalan' and later 'Indian' 'Jeans', 'Mudhalvan' 'Nayak' and 'Robot', has only praises for him, "A.R.Rahman - the name speaks for itself. He knows what clicks and what does not. He composes music according to the demand of the situation. He slogs so much to see that a song is good. He does not want to give anyone in the world the chance to tell him that his compositions are bad. What I like best in Rahman is his fighting spirit and 'never say die attitude' ." World famous guitarist, Jeremy Spencer ,formerly of Fleetwood Mac says 'The only contemporary Indian composer I know of and like is A.R.Rahman. His 'Vandemataram' was brilliant'. Lyricist Mehboob, who made his debut in 'Rangeela' and later penned Maa Tujhe Salaam cannot stop singing the praises of Rahman, "If there is one person whom I revere after God, our prophet, and my family then it is Mr. AR Rahman. He is like a brother to me. I adore him so much that I have no words to describe my feelings for this gentleman." The veteran director Shyam Benegal who shifted from his long time regular, the equally veteran Vanraj Bhatia, to Rahman, for the film Zubeidaa says, ', I admire three things about Rahman. Among the young composers he probably is the most original. He has a strong sense of melody and his harmony is unbeatable. Finally he gives his music a rich tonal color, richness through his combination of instruments, a character to the music.'
Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy, the composer trio can't stop raving about Rahman. Says Loy Mendonsa, "Rahman is a great musician, a great human being, his music is fresh, and honest. That's very important, writing something from the heart". Adds Ehsaan Noorani, "A R Rahman is my favorite, he's a genius, his personality reflects in his music, it's fantastic, his music is so pure, it's from the soul." And finally Shankar Mahadevan, "A R Rahman is my favourite because he's a genius, he knows exactly what he's doing, he's very well versed in classical as well as western jazz, all kinds of stuff. And he's open minded."
Director Bharathiraaja, known for his movies with rural themes - the ones with Rahman being 'Kizhakku Cheemayile', 'Karuthamma', 'Anthimanthaarai' and 'Taj Mahal' - and once an Illaiyaraja regular remarks "Illaiyaraja is a born genius. I wanted a change and that's why I shifted to Rahman. There is something in his music that intoxicates you. You work with him once and you will never want to work with anyone else after that." Veteran singer Chitra says "I have worked with all the music directors in the south before Rahman came in. When I sang for him the first time I found that I was doing something really different from what I had done before. I like Rahman, the music director. But I like Rahman the person even more. I don't how he manages to keep his feet firmly on the ground even after tasting so much success in this field. He is the only Indian composer whose stuff stands out." Says director Rajeev Menon "He'll remain my only choice and preference. He's part of my family. We've been working together for the past 14 years. In fact he was the one who got me into filmmaking, while I called him for a lot of my advertising assignments." Acclaimed singer Yesudas says, 'He is a genius musician knowing the psychology of youth.' Veteran singer Manna Dey remarks "I do not think too much of today's melodies. I do admire A.R.Rahman, for he is a master of rhythm. He is extremely experimental, and leaves no stone unturned in trying out new things."
Composer Vishal Bharadwaj opines "A. R. Rahman has elevated the quality of film music to an international level. When you hear Michael Jackson and Rahman at one go, you can't tell the difference in sound quality. Rahman is a terrific composer. He is a genius." Says old friend and singer Suresh Peters, "I was a drummer, not a singer and Rahman was a keyboard player. Both of us were working in a band called `Nemesis Avenue'. He was a very talented composer earlier itself, but everything happens only when the time comes. He started composing jingles and they started clicking. He was then signed on by Mani Ratnam and then there has been no looking back. I appreciate Rahman's sense of arrangement. No one can teach Rahman how a song should be composed. He is aware of all the latest in sound techniques. He knows what will appeal to people and what will not. He is very versatile and different from one film to the other. As long as he does not repeat himself, nothing can stop him from reaching the top ." Independent composer, rhythm programmer and close associate of Rahman, Pravin mani says, "...Rahman gives a lot of freedom to his technicians and all those-involved with him, while working. Moreover, he is extraordinarily creative. Rahman is the greatest person i have ever-seen in my life. He is really a humble person. though he has risen to very high levels, yet he is the same person and behaves the same way as he used to do in his earlier days, mingles freely ..., and that shows his greatness."
Singer Kavita Krishnamurthy, a Rahman favourite says "It's such a pleasure to sing for A. R. Rahman. He's such a simple guy. He has no ego hang-ups." Singer Sadhana Sargam, another Hindi singer whom Rahman prefers over many established singers, says "When Rehman calls you go without asking questions because you know it's going to be worth it.He's a reserved person and talks very little but he makes you give your best. He keeps a cassette ready wherein he has sung the song himself and listening to it makes your work so much easier, he allows any number of retakes. If you've sung half a line beautifully and haven't sustained that in the other half, he'll retain that half and make you work on the other half. The result is magnificent. . And Rehman makes his pleasure very evident when he likes something you've done... then he won't even be shy."
Veteran singer Asha Bhonsle whose career got a revival when she sang for Rahman in 'Rangeela', says, "He understands the youth of today, he has brought about a freshness, a new sound to film music. He's always experimenting, doing something different which is very inspiring for the playback singer." New age Singer-Composer and a close friend of Rahman, Shankar Mahadevan says "I think A.R.Rahman is an absolute genius and is one of the few music directors who completely knows what he is doing. It's an absolute pleasure working with him as he is a cool and modest guy." Noted Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan says, "Wonderful! He has a new approach, he has given a new direction to film music. I think even the established music directors want to sound like him. Perhaps all his songs won't be remembered and hummed after decades. But for the time being, Rahman's tunes are extremely enjoyable." Veteran singer S. P. Balasubramanium says "The man responsible for the variety in today's music is A. R. Rahman." Hema Sardesai who shot into fame when she sang Aawara Bhanwre in 'Sapnay' is effusive in her praise for Rahman, "When Rajiv Menon recommended me to A.R. Rahman, he never gave a second thought and called me over the phone to be in Madras the next day for the recording. Even though I was on cloud nine, deep down I was feeling as if somebody had pulled a trick on me. God has been great! He came into my life as Rahman sir." ONe of his blue eyed boys, singer Sukhvinder Singh says "A R Rahman not only gave me the break (in Dil Se), he taught me a lot of techniques in composing music arrangement and recording. He was the one to impress upon the need to be technically perfect before any producer could be expected to invest in you." Composers Anand-Milind say, "He is the only composer to have brought in something new all by himself in a long long time." Says Ehsaan of the Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy trio ""A. R. Rahman is the best! He is a genius and a wonderful human being and it translates in his music."
Popular drummer Sivamani, a childhood friend of Rahman and a professional regular with him, says "Our association began when we both were really young. We had this band called Roots. We just make very good music together. He is a master of laya(melody) and taala(beat). The recognition that I enjoy today is because of Rahman. There are so many talented people behind a film music score. I played for Illayaraja for very long, but my name never figured on the screen or the cassette cover. Rahman changed it all. He gives credit to every single member of his team for whatever part they play, big or small. That makes him really special. People came to know about me only because of him. I thank him for that." Javed Akhtar, noted lyricist, says "I think he is an all rounder, I mean his grounding is very very solid. He knows Indian classical music, he is in touch with Indian folk music, he knows about western music and he has really studied western classical also. He knows about Middle Eastern music. So there is no wonder you see different colours in his songs. But Indian music has borrowed albeit being influenced by Middle Eastern music in past also. But, you see, when Rahman takes a raag or if he takes a folk tune, or if he takes notes of say Arabian music or South American music. When this music comes to Rahman, it becomes Rahman's music his influences are beyond film music and he has a kind of courage where he is not afraid to experiment, he is not afraid to fail and that is why he succeeds. We remember only those people who were not only successful but they have brought something to the arena that is new. Now this is a another leap, a quantum leap that Rahman has taken and he has given a kind of new sensibility to Indian music listener and the music maker. The sound, the orchestration, the very structure of the song. He has challenged the basic structure of Indian film song and he has altered it, changed it. And, I think his contribution is totally unprecedented. Successful people come and go. Ultimately it's the pathbreakers who're remembered with the passage of time. People who have walked on untrodden roads. Success is worshipped momentarily, and then forgotten. It's not enough to be successful. It's important to attempt something new. Rahman's contribution to film music will never be forgotten. He has given a new dimension and understanding to sound. Working with him is definitely a great pleasure. I get along very well with him. He is one person who is only interested in his work. Inspite of his stupendous success, he is so humble and down-to-earth."
Says composer and former Rahman associate Sandeep Chowta, known as 'The poor man's Rahman', "Rahman revolutionised sound. He's a trend-setter in more ways than one. The only thing common between us is the fact that we started out in advertising and moved on to films. There's just no comparison otherwise. Rahman is a legend of sorts. Rahman is unique. He doesn't have set ragas. Yet his chord progressions are beautiful. People sometimes compare me to A R Rahman, it happens. People like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and even Andrew Lloyd Webber have paid tribute to him and called him a legend. I can't even begin to fathom the reasons for the comparison. He's in another zone altogether, he is amazingly brilliant. If people compare me to him, I'd take it as a compliment. " Bhupen Hazarika, the legendary Assamese composer with whom Rahman worked on 'Desh Ka Salaam', opines, "People become immediately entranced by whatever Rahman composes. He is a phenomenon. He's young and talented. And he has his fingers on the pulse of the new generation. Like Salil Chowdhary he knows both western and Indian music styles. He's a great talent but his talent shouldn't be overutilised." Many other noted personalities like lyricist Javed Akhtar, actress-parlimentarian-social worker Shabana Azmi, actress Sridevi, singer Shubha Mudgal, classical instrumentalist-composer Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt(worked with Rahman on Iruvar and Alai Paayuthe) have repeatedly expressed their liking for the Rahman brand of music. Says Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the reknowned composer of musicals, who picked Rahman to score for his musical Bombay Dreams, the first time an outsider worked on the compositions of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, " I think he has an incredible tone of voice. I have seen many Bollywood films, but what he manages to do is quite unique--he keeps it very much Indian. For me as a Westerner, I can always recognize his music because it has got a rule tone of voice of its own. It's very definitely Indian, yet it has an appeal which will go right across the world. He will hit the West in an amazing kind of way; that is, if he is led in the right way. He is the most extraordinary' composer who is still true to his cultural roots, ' and deserves to be heard by an international public"
Choreographer Chinni Prakash throws up his hand in mock frustration and says, "Its challenging to choreograph Rahman's songs. He does not stick to the conventional four-eight-twelve-sixteen beats. He's unpredictable. Sometimes, he gives you a two and three-quarters beat. What do you do with that?" Ramgopal Varma , who worked with Rahman on Rangeela and Daud says "There is a bigness in Rahman's music. Every note reflects the mood of the song. When I used to hear his music for my film I used to wonder if I was feeling my story as deeply as he was". "His music has that international quality which is absolutely stunning," says international director Douchan Gersi for whose film 'The Return of the Thief of Baghdad', Rahman scored the music. Says Pune based music critic Jayanth Deshpande, "The unique brand of classicism brought into Bollywood music by A.R.Rahman mirrors not only the variegated tapestry that is India, but also the global musical culture. Rahman borrows ever so subtly from American soul or Gospel. He draws generously from rap, disco, folk, reggae, qawaali, Hindustani and Carnatic in his rhythms. And the vocal ornaments of Carnatic music or ever present. Orchestral textures and harmonies typical of Western music often grace the background. His is a truly international music with a distinctly Indian feel. He has experimented as perhaps no other Indian composer has before him or does now. Some may be tempted to call it Indian fusion music of a highorder. I've heard his music being used as background in a German TV feature unrelated to music or India."
Govind Nihalani who was the first Bollywood director to sign Rahman says " I am a lover of music. Some years ago a friend of mine gave me a cassette of 'Roja'. I was amazed after I listened to the songs. I decided right away that A.R.Rahman will give the music for atleast one of my films. Immediately I came to Chennai and spoke to him. He is an absolute genius. Very Modern! His range of imagination is expansive. He doesn't treat his profession as just composing music for films. He is able to lift a film to a new level with his music. Just as a painter is identified by his artistic style he is identified by his tunes. Even If i say I am satisfied he does not stop. Uncompromising spirit!! I am not saying this just to praise him. A. R. Rahman is the only composer in India upto international standards today. In fact I will go so far as to say that he is a composer of the next millennium. He is not a person who merely makes tunes. He is someone who creates music. He is constantly observing the trends and developments in his profession. I believe that is also a reason for his success. First , he reads the script and takes detailed notes of the situations, the mood, and the characterisations. Sitting before his keyboard in the studio at night he would say, "Give me a word!Give me a phrase." And he would work out a rough tune on the spot. Then he records it with a singer. But the real magic starts when once he has the song before him on his computer screen. He plays with it, takes a phrase from here and puts it there. Block by block, verse by verse he builds up his song. YOu can see the coloured bits forming fascinating patterns." He paid the ultimate compliment when he said " Its like watching a master sculptor in action."
Ace director Subhash Ghai, with whom he worked on 'Taal' is all praise for him, "Rahman is the rhythm of 'Taal - The Rhythm'. I wouldn't be able to make Taal without this remarkable musician, this great soul who was born to give Hindi music a new life. I am privileged to work with a man who has been inspired and blessed by God above. I don't mind changing all my nights into days to work with him. You know this great man only creates fresh tunes in the night and sleeps during the day. Rare man, rare way of working. That's how all great men are. He creates according to the director's need. He is a widely knowledgeable composer, with knowledge of all kinds of music of the world. He can play Western Symphony with as much ease as Hindustani or Carnatic classical which is a very rare quality in composers. Rahman has a strange kind of spirituality within which he lives. He knows technique, has a rare sense of sound and a great ear. He can make any besura (tuneless) voice sing well. This is obvious from singers who have sung beautifully for his albums but have not done well later. I love him both as a composer and as a friend. He is very sweet to talk to. The only thing is you talk and he listens. He has a sharp intellect and understands not just the sound of music and quality of voice but also the market forces and how to move from post to post. Rahman is undoubtedly a genius. He's divine and simple. " Rahman's favourite singer Hariharan says, "His strength is the way he designs sound. He has revolutionised film music. He is perpetually on a quest to get the best out of you and makes you feel at ease which is important. I have sung some of my best songs for him."
Indian-born Canadian director Deepa Mehta with whom Rahman has worked on 3 films - 'Fire', 'Earth' and 'Water' - says, "Brilliant, I think he is the most consummate composer that I know of in the world. His music comes from the characters and is an extension of them. I think he is the best.He is the most brilliant film composer in India today and is in such demand that he has altered his normal working day to begin at six in the evening and go through the night, so that he can compose undisturbed by producers' calls. A.R.R. is a very young man of prodigious talent with an immense sensitivity to the film's context and characters. Whatever I say about his genius will be stating the obvious. He finds the sound for every character in the film. He finds the character's sur. Raag, rhythm, reggae, folk, classical, he's got it on his finger tips. He's so cinema literate. He can discuss Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata and he can talk about Subhash Ghai's Taal, all in one breath." Singer Alka Yagnik opines "He's a one-man-show. Once he's taught you the song, he gives you a free hand. He lets you sing it the way you want to.". Noted Qawwal, The late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who worked with Rahman on 'Vandemataram' said ldquo;The young boy Rahman is the only person with humility in this entire industryrdquo;. Up and coming composer Ismail Darbar who pipped Rahman's 'Taal' to the National Award in 2000 with his score in 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' is an ardent admirer of Rahman. He says, "His work speaks volumes. There's no one like him. Which is why I didn't mind when he walked away with all the awards for Taal. He's just so good. When it comes to making electronic music he's the best. I know I can't even compete with him there." Says another leading Bollywood composer Anu Malik, "I appreciate A.R's work. He has a penchant for being international. I think he is talented. A.R. has taught me the value and meaning of sound in my recording and thanks to him, today I am my own arranger."
One of his closest associates, long time friend and sound engineer H. Sridhar reveals some little known facts of Rahman,"I had known Rahman many years before I started working with him on Roja. While he was doing jingles, we would often meet and compare notes on music trends and synthesisers. Rahman's biggest asset is that he treats each song as his first song. He prays before each session. I believe there is some power in his God, faith and religion. I can give you countless examples when he became so inspired after his prayers. He is very open-minded about what a song needs and gives each song a completely individual taste. It is the way he soothes you into a song that I call his signature. There is a visual texture in his mind when he composes music. When you see the song picturised you can immediately connect. Rahman allows musicians to be themselves. He understands their soul. He also has a fabulous way of getting notes out of a musician without telling them in so many words. Rahman never ceases to amaze me. He is such a fine musician apart from being a music director; his strength is fusion. He is also a techno-junkie. If you give him a set of headphones he will most probably rip it apart to understand why it works so well! I sometimes say that we are techno-brats. But Rahman knows that a song shouldn't speak the technical language but should have soul. Rahman is humble and very generous with money. He hates to see people suffer. I think his philosophy is that people should derive happiness from his music, even if it is a sad tune. He has this tremendous need to be perfect." Hot shot director of the bubblegum generation, Karan Johar says "The only music composer from the current lot who will be remembered for a long time is A.R.Rahman."
Comments British-based international chart star Apache Indian, who worked with Rahman on a track for the film 'Love Birds', "He's very talented as a songwriter and singer. I think he can do great things." His mentor and favourite director Mani Ratnam says, "I have found that Rahman is a favourite because he is new and above all different. He knows the pulse of the audience. He has a very good sense of tune. He knows what kind of orchestration is necessary for a scene and what music suits the mood of the scene.He has the music in his mind, and uses every musician as an artiste, probably because he has been an instrumentalist himself. He tries to extract something extra from every one of his musicians as well as his playback singers. He believes in their additional input. Rahman improvises. I found in him a new and different composer who never compromises on quality. Rahman is every directorâ€™s dream." He has no ego problems and tries to come out with a new number with the same kind of passion with which he did the earlier one. But he is best summed up, perhaps, in the words of Cinematographer-director Rajeev Menon who worked on many ads and the films 'Minsara Kanavu' and 'Kandukonden Kandukonden' with him, " Music comes to him instinctively. When you see him play, his skill is such that you really believe God exists in his work."
India's leading newspaper 'The Times of India' carried a feature titled "Men we regard: Our tribute to the men without whom this world would be quite, quite insipid" in which it picked Rahman as one of them and wrote "Music maker A.R.Rahman has given these raucous and raunchy times melody and mood. His style is individual to the extent of sounding repetitive sometimes, but when you hear his work, you feel at last the kind of involvement with the spell of sound that was R.D.Burman's. What is most attractive about Rahman's music is his ability to link modern rhythms and experiments with sound with our enormous legacy of classical and folk music."
India's leading newsmagazine 'India Today' paid glowing tributes to him when it published the following lines - "Sometimes a song is just a tune for a music director, whose rhythm invades you, which you hum in front of a bathroom mirror that has a warranty never to break. Sometimes a song is just an intricately woven lacing of words that embraces you on a still, lonely night. Sometimes a song is just a voice for a music director, whose passion makes your hair stand. When A.R. Rahman takes you on a journey-- and to hear it is to feel you have no choice but to journey with him...... ." India's leading women's magazine Femina published a feature in its July 1999 issue listing Rahman as one of the 14 "Men we'll still want to see around in 2009"
A. R. Rahman or Allah Rakha Rahman was born actually A. S. Dileep Kumar on the 6th of January in the year 1967, in Madras (now Chennai), to a musically affluent Tamil Mudaliar family. The second of four children he had three sisters Kanchana, Bala (now Talat) and Israth, Kanchana being elder and the other two younger. His father R.K. Sekhar was a composer, arranger and conductor in Malayalam movies and had worked under the likes of Salil Chowdhary and Devarajan. His mother was Kasthuri (now Kareema Begum). Dileep's baptism in music happened early in life. Dileep's earliest memories of the studio are with his father. On one of those visits, a music director Sudarshanam Master found the four year old playing a tune on the harmonium. He covered the keys with a cloth. It made no difference. Dileep replayed the tune effortlessly. This impressed the music director who suggested that he be trained in music. Dileep started learning the piano at the tender age of four. He recieved his early training in music from Dhanraj Master.
But he wanted to grow up to be an electronics or computer engineer. He says today, in reminiscence " I was not crazy after music. I was more interested in technology". He was first drawn to music strongly when his father bought a synthesiser, one of the very first in film circles then, from Singapore. Till then he now says, "As a child, music seemed to be a means of earning bread and butter. I had no special fascination for it... it was associated purely with work. Yet I couldn't take my eyes away from the synthesiser, it was like a forbidden toy." This instrument was an object of much curiosity to the young Dileep and caught his fancy. Dileep used to spend hours experimenting with the novel instrument. This instrument was to shape the future of this child. It was perhaps divinely ordained that the synthesiser would become Dileep's favourite instrument since it was the ideal combination of music and technology.
Rahman's early years were one of struggle and hardships. At the age of 9, his father passed away following a mysterious illness with rumours abounding that he was the victim of black magic practised by his rivals. Unfortunately R. K. Shekhar passed away the very same day his first film as composer was released. It was at this time that Rahman's belief in God first took a beating. Much of his time was filled with hospital visits, pain and anxieties. It is an issue that Rahman outrightly refuses to discuss even today. After his father's death the pressure of supporting his family fell on the young Dileep. At first the family subsisted by lending out his father's musical instruments. At the age of 11, he joined Illaiyaraja's troupe as a keyboard player in order to earn for his family's upkeep. He also learnt to play the guitar. Thus Rahman formally entered the world of music. He also began to play the keyboard for programmes on television.
It was his mother Kareema Begum who encouraged him to follow in his father's footsteps and fully supported him in his vocation. But all this had an adverse effect on his formal education. Infrequent attendance and an unaccommodative management forced him to shift schools from the prestigious Padma Seshadri Bal Bhavan to the Madras Christian College and finally he dropped out of school altogether when he was doing his 11th grade. He also played on the orchestra of M.S.Vishwanathan, Raj-Koti and Ramesh Naidu and accompanied Zakir Hussain and Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan on world tours. He also appeared playing the keyboard on a few popular music shows on televison like 'Wonder Balloon' on the Madras Doordarshan channel. He also supposedly composed a few short pieces of music in Ilaiyaraja's films, a notable one being the theme music in K.Balachander's 'Punnagai Mannan'.
All this experience enabled him to earn a scholarship to the famed Trinity College of Music at Oxford University from where he obtained a degree in Western Classical Music. He came back with a dream to bring an international and contemporary world perspective to Indian music. After he returned, he continued to be a part of various local music troupes. He was also a part of local rock bands like Roots, Magic and Nemesis Avenue where he performed with his future colleagues like Suresh Peters, Ranjit Barot and Sivamani Anandan. This, he says, was a very valuable learning experience. Thus Dileep came to be totally immersed in music. The only source of joy to him was music, so much so, that friends like guitarist John Anthony would say, "Who is the Prime Minister of India, do you know? Get out and see beyond your nose in Kodambakkam". But he was not at all sure he wanted to turn professional.
Dileep thus firmly established himself this way and worked for nearly 8 to 9 years with various music directors. He also worked as an arranger for Illaiyaraja, M.S.Vishwanathan, Ouseappachan and Raj-Koti. He has this to say of his stint with Illaiyaraja "Until then I thought you had to drink or take dope to be a good artist. But Ilayaraja was making such beautiful music and leading a pure life!'' " I was under the impression that if its music, whoever it is, they must have some bad habit. When I saw them with drinks and drugs I thought 'Oh! they are music people. They have to take drinks, smoke and cocaine to get their inspiration'. The man who changed these impressions altogether was only Ilayaraja. He proved that he can make good music without any bad habits! Even now he is an inspiration for me being so religious today."
But the young and enthusiastic Dileep felt shackled by just plain arranging and could barely withstand the monotony of playing in an orchestra all the time with all his creative urges being suppressed. The kind of sound he liked was already there in fusion - in L. Shankar and L. Subramaniam whom he worked with, and in the then popular 'Shakti' group. He played on the keyboard for T. V. Gopalakrishnan and Kadri Gopalnath, with Sivamani on the drums. He says, "It gave us some kicks.'' At this time, Vizi Manuel, the lead keyboard player in Illaiyaraja's troupe advised him to try other alternatives for pursuing a musical career, like advertising. This was a suggestion that appealed to him and he explored some avenues seriously. The complexes increased. "I thought, what if the film world ends? I learnt driving, so that I could survive as a driver.'' The restlessness pushed him into making jingles for ads. Fortunately for Dileep he soon got his first break in advertising when he was asked to compose the jingle to promote Allwyn's new Trendy range of watches, in 1987. The ads were a success and Dileep's work in them was appreciated. Dileep quit playing in orchestras and moved full time into advertising as a few more offers came his way. Thus began Dileep's 5-year successful saga in advertising where he went on to not only compose more than 300 jingles, but would also be the stepping stone to his entry into films.
Working as a jingle composer not only gave him an outlet to his creative urges but also gave him the much needed exposure to the music industry. The people he came in contact with during his work in advertising gave him a pathway to the film world. During his stint in advertising, he released his first ever complete music album, of Islamic devotional songs, titled 'Deen Isai Malai', in Tamil. This was later followed by 'Set Me Free', an album of English songs which was the launch album of singer Malgudi Subha, by Magnasound, where Dileep set the songs to tune. Subha had earlier sung for Dileep in many jingles. Both the albums went somewhat unnoticed in the market. He also set to tune the poems of poet-author Randhir Khare.
Around this time, in 1988, one of his sisters fell seriously ill and numerous attempts to cure her failed. Her condition progressively worsened. The family tried everything from medicine to religious methods like havans and prayers in the church. The family had given up all hope when they came in close contact with a Muslim Pir - Sheik Abdul Qadir Jeelani or Pir Qadri as he was popularly known. The family had earlier gone to the Pir when his father had similar troubles, but were too late to save him. With his prayers and blessings, Dileep's sister made a miraculous recovery. Rattled by the bad experiences earlier in the case of his father and now his sister and influenced by the teachings of the Pir and the succour that they found in him the entire family converted to Islam. Thus A. S. Dileep Kumar became Allah Rakha Rahman. Today, Rahman says 'Islam has given me peace. As Dileep I had an inferiority complex. As A. R. Rahman I feel like I have been born again.'
Both his father and mother were believers in Astrology. His mother took him along once to a astrologer to get the horoscope of Bala (Talat) done. She asked the astrologer to suggest an Islamic name for Dilip. The astrologer on seeing Dilip immediately told his mother to name him as Abdul Rahman and shorten it to A. R. Rahman. When his mother asked the astrologer why the other initial 'R', the astrologer replied "Give him a name with two initials and mark my words, he will grow up to be a great man". His mother did accordingly. But the A and R would later become Allah Rakha on the suggestion of reknowned composer Naushad Ali.
In an interview, he was to say about his father, " My father passed away when I was 9 years old. My mother used to narrate many tales about my father which used to make me very happy. My father was regarded to be highly knowledgeable in music by many people. I still listen to many of the old songs tuned by him. I think that its his enormous knowledge of music that has come down to me by the grace of God".
When asked what prompted him to convert to Islam, he says "I remember my father suffering. He was taken to eight to nine hospitals, including the CMC hospital in Vellore and the Vijaya hospital in Madras. I saw him suffering physical pain... I remember the Christian priests who would read from the Bible beside his hospital bed... I remember the pujas and the yagnas performed by the pundits... by the time, the Muslim pirs came , it was too late. He had already left us. After my father passed away, for some years when I was a teenager I believed there was no God. But there was a feeling of restlessness within me. I realised that there can be no life without a force governing us... without one God. And I found what I was looking for in Islam. I would go with my mother to durgahs. And pirsaab Karim Mullashah Qadri would advise us. When we shifted to this house, we resolved to stick to the faith."
Rahman became a very religious and devout Muslim. After this period his career graph began to take the upward path. More and more advertising offers came his way. In 1989 Rahman was very intent on having an own studio so that he would have dedicated recording facilities where he could not only equip himself with the latest infrastucture but also experiment with music at his convenience. At this time, the Pir came to his house and blessed him saying that he would attain unparalled success. The very next day the Pir passed away. Thus Rahman decided to establish his studio at the very spot where he had been blessed by the Pir. He called his studio Panchathan Record Inn and it was attached to his house in Kodambakkam. Even today, the first thing that you notice when you enter his studio is a framed photograph of the Pir. The studio abounds with Islamic inscriptions. This studio would later develop into one of India's most well equipped and advanced recording studios. In his established state-of-the-art sound and recording studio he began experimenting in sound engineering, design and production. He also began a collection of sound samples, creating one of the most comprehensive sonic libraries in Asia.
Continuing with his stint in the advertising world Rahman did a lot of popular ads like those for Parry's, Leo Coffee, Springz Mineral Water, Boost featuring Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev, Titan, Remanika Sarees, Premier Pressure Cooker, MRF Tyres, Hero Puch, The Hindu Young World and Asian Paints. He also scored the title music for television channels like JJTV, Sun TV, and Asianet. He also scored the music for numerous television and radio commercials, scores for corporate films and documentaries, multi-media audio-visual scores national integration programmes, social awareness and public campaign programmes and international documentaries in many languages. These scores range from 10 seconds to a complete hour. The jingles that he composed for the Leo Coffee ad starring Aravind Swamy and the Asian Paints ad directed by Rajeev Menon also won him awards and recognition. He also won an award for composing the theme music of the Madras Telugu Academy's Spirit of Unity Concerts. Later he would say about his stint in advertising " Working in ads contributed to the precision in my music. In jingles, you only have a few seconds to create a mood, or convey a message or emotion. Jingles taught me discipline."
THE YEAR - 1992:
During this period, on one of his trips to Bombay he met the veteran Hindi music director Naushad Ali who was very impressed by the young Rahman's work and asked him to try his hand at composing for films. Rahman was initially a little hesitant about entering films mainly because of the attitude of most movie makers towards music, where songs were used as just fillers and something to give the audience a break during a movie. But in 1991, he was given an offer that would change his life. At the awards function where he received the award for Best Jingle Composer for the Leo Coffee ad,he was approached by the man known as the Spielberg of India, Mani Ratnam. In the course of his interactions with Mani Ratnam, he was offered the responsibility of composing music for the director's forthcoming film. Rahman, inspite of his reluctance to seriously take up work in films, accepted the offer since Mani Ratnam had the reputation of a director with a keen taste for good music and he was sure the director would do justice to his compositions on screen.
Rahman would later say, "I wasn't sure myself why I accepted Roja. I was offered Rs.25,000 for it, a sum that I could make in three days composing ad jingles. I think it was the prospect of working with Mani that enticed me. Mani is no the usual kind of director who uses songs as fillers. He takes great pains over the music of his films. I love his picturisations, he can elevate a routine song by 400 percent; give it a new dimension." All the same, as a newcomer Rahman was terrified over his film debut. Expectations were high. What a fall if he failed! "Mani praised everything I did. Later I realised it was to keep me going. He discarded whatever bore the influence of others and picked out tunes that had my individual stamp. ''This is you!" he'd say.''
Rahman's D-Day arrived when 'Roja' was released on August 15th, 1992. It was awaited with curiosity since it was Mani Ratnam's first film without Illaiyaraja. Sceptics doubted the ability of a 25-year old debutant. The entire film world and filmgoers were in for a pleasant surprise. Rahman delivered the goods and how. To call the music a superhit would be an understatement. Rahman became a household name in Tamil Nadu overnight and the score of 'Roja' was the first step in his changing the face of Indian film music. 'Roja' not only won the heart of millions with its music it also won every conceivable award in music that year. Rahman also got the Rajat Kamal for best music director at the National Film Awards, the first time ever by a debutant. He was flooded with offers to do more films. He gradually cut down on his work in ads and subsequently moved into film music full time. And there was no looking back for A. R. Rahman. With 'Roja', A. R. Rahman had finally arrived.
Recalling the massive success of his first film, Rahman says, "I was lucky to set a sound in the first film. And I had the right people like Mani Ratnam guiding me to achieve it also and by the grace of god it set and the people know from the moment the song is heard that this is Rahman's." Mani Ratnam, in response says, "I was not trying to any favours for Rahman. I was trying to do a film, I wanted good music and I was searching for somebody who would and I heard a demonstration tape of his which he had sent across. I thought that in the first note of the piece that he had sent me was really brilliant, really outstanding piece. So I went across to his studio and he played me some more, lots of things which he had done for jingles and a few other musical pieces he has done for somebody else. They were quite amazing and I had no doubts that he would be right for my film. How much he would grow, I was not looking at. I was looking at predominately my film at that point of time. He was ready to break a lot of conventions that were there in terms of music at that point of time, in terms of recording at that point in time. So I was very lucky to find someone who was willing to break away and do something different. To that extent it was absolutely perfect. He is the perfect bridge between today's technology and Indian music. He has the soul of Indian music inside and there is a lot of engineering and recording talent in him. He is able to blend the two together. He is a very talented person."
Producers began to queue up at his doorstep. But even at that young age, Rahman was very mature and sagacious. He did not let success go to his head and was very choosy about what he accepted. He had his priorities set right from the beginning. For a person who had struggled throughout his childhood, he did not let insecurity get the better of him and wisely opted for quality over quantity and refrained from signing films blindly. "Rather than making money, I believe in making people happy; all other things are secondary. That is why I am not interested in a lot of movies but only in one at a time. I like directors whom I can vibe with. Ten years of experience in this field has made me quite frustrated. I have evolved a technique which requires a lot of time. Other music directors record a song in seven or eight hours. But I am different. We do a basic sitting and we record it. We record the voice and I add instrument by instrument to improve the quality." He also began to formally learn Indian classical music, Carnatic from Dakshinamurthy and N. Gopalakrishnan and Hindustani from Krishnan Nair. He took classes in film music from Nithyanandham and Western Classical from Jacob John. He also learnt the qawwalli style from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan".
THE YEAR - 1993:
The following year, 1993, saw a lot of new releases that made him mor