Defined by his moments, A R Rahman has time and again pushed boundaries and inspired a brilliant sense of wonder and today, the creative genius holds the position of the country’s most high-profile musician. His long and constant procession of laurels that he won at the national and global level include two Oscars, two Grammy awards, National Film Award and multiple honorary doctorates besides Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award. Yet, they seem to make a little difference to the great humility in his attitude.
“I think awards make you realise where you stand and what knowledge you have in mind and where exactly you are going and keep going with those requirements,” says the maestro who continues to remain detached with success as he looks forward to learning every day.
The musician is travelling across the world for his live shows and recently, A R Rahman was live on the stage at The Sufi Rout held in the Capital. Looking at his career from 1990s, when he made his film-scoring debut with Roza, and went on to give background scores for films like Dil Se, Taal, Lagaan, Swades as well as Hollywood films Warriors of Heaven and Earth, 127 hours, and not to forget Slumdog Millionaire, which brought home India’s first Oscar for Jai Ho, his style has evolved and he has reinvented himself in many ways to be relevant with the time. As the composer takes a deep breath saying, “When you do something, you do with the best of your knowledge and then you find there is much more that you can do or learn or adapt and then it becomes interesting.”
His idea of evolving himself is not about better work but about creating something new in different areas, which he feels the most challenging aspect of his creative side. “Everybody is doing the same thing but what if you create a platform for something new. Very broadly, I think I have to learn so much and now, India is making big movies on different subjects so I am learning and trying new things as a gamble but feel satisfied.”
While he has created a beautiful score to convey his imaginations, A R Rahman feels that the music industry has evolved over the years owing to better techniques and much more exposure. “Musicians and songwriters are getting recognition. The more visibility you have the better work you produce,” says the musician and adds, “It’s important to give musicians the collective knowledge of technology, stage and Indian and western music so when they come out, they stand strong. The world is big and they should have a place for them.”
However, to an extent, the scorer finds technology incomprehensible when there is a refinement in the music and the overnight appreciation on social media. “At one point, refinement is good but when you upload things on social media and become a superstar, you get bored in some time and then you realise that it is curated and it’s not worth it. I find this mentally disturbing,” he rues.
Shifting his music imaginations from East to West, the musician’s efforts change with a constant change in his mindset. Over the years, this has helped him take different musical rides as there is a lot of difference in Hollywood and Bollywood music. “There are jumps and emotional changes but sometimes you slow down and learn what exactly you want for a certain composition,” he explains, adding that either you make music what exactly they want to see or follow your imaginations. It is no doubt that this attitude has won him multiple compliments from the music and film fraternity including one at a music function of Jai Ho when Anil Kapoor praised him personally ‘how did you not try such beautiful thoughts long back’ which the musician cherishes the most, “It was long back but I still remember and cherish.”
Though his music has won many hearts, Jai Ho left the mark on the global platform with Oscar. Ask why his other far better compositions haven’t grabbed the same, he humbly explains the western perspective of the reward. “They (West) appreciate what they can’t do and haven’t thought about so they find it fantastic. It always works like that. If somebody comes to India and sees our music, they feel curious about what we are doing so they love that and start comparing. A lot of people were comparing that song too but that stood out,” he says and adds, when something new comes up, it is appreciated and same happened with Jai Ho. “When it came into the picture, they realised it is very new and they wanted the world to listen to that song. Jai Ho was different and it came in the right time so it got recognised globally,” he further adds.
In his vast list of music compositions and singing collaborations, many have an alluring effect on the singer and there are many which have been breathed to life after great hard work and challenge. According to the ace musician, The Flying Lotus in collaboration with the Seattle Symphony has been the most challenging piece. It is like a mournful cello weaved into a stirring and dreamy theme of a fairy tale accompanied by a chorus. “It is very symphonic in its tone and has a cultural thing attached so you need the highest level of sensitivity,” recalls the musician. He also dedicates the challenges of making music at times to his state of mind as he further elucidates, “It is very difficult to make music when you are in a different state of mind. It’s not about anything is difficult or not but much depends on your mindset.”
When asked if language poses any barrier or he channelises his compositions according to lingo and lyrics, the musician admits language being a barrier in certain cases and also adds that at times, the composition is beyond language and lyrics. “You work with the lyrics and what are they trying to convey has a lot to do with music composition. There are different languages in which I have made music. I learn a little about lyrics and compose accordingly,’ he says. In his array of global collaborations, he enjoyed working with Danny Boyle, Lasse Hallstrom, Mick Jagger and Bismillah Khan.
Talking about his directorial debut virtual reality film Le Musk that revolves around the senses of smell, he says, it was shot in Italy and has a combination of music symphony of Mozart. “The film is about proximity and is extraordinary in its presence.” Sharing his experiences while shooting for the film he recalls only the fun and learning that he received through the aura of the film. “There is a lot of love, hardwork and passion involved in it.”
Meanwhile, A R Rahman will be seen as the super judge in the third season of music reality show The Voice – the Indian version of popular international music show. So far, the musician has spared himself from being on any reality show and in this case, he comprehends his position on the show as a guide. “I don’t like the idea of judging and eliminating the candidates and so I avoid to be a part of it. I will be guiding the candidates for music than judging,” he signs off.