We ought to think
His music suggests a flamboy-ant and
aggressive creator, but A.R. Rahman comes across as an extremely patient,
polite-to-a-fault and completely untouched-by-fame individual.
His dark locks frame his cherubic face and fall to his shoulders in total
disarray. As he talks, he impatiently pushes back the strands. That apart,
he doesn't fidget or shift, and appears at peace with himself and his
world of music. Excerpts
from an interview conducted at his
office in Kodambakkam, Chennai: (source : The Week)
Now that you will begin work with
internationally acclaimed geniuses like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Shekher
Kapur, how does it feel?
I think Indian music is
spreading, and the world is accepting something from this country. Spanish
music took over with Ricky Martin. It is a cycle. The world has been
accepting something from India for the last couple of years.
has also got to do with the growth of the South Asian community all over
the world. Even film collections have gone up, beginning with Dil
How did it feel receiving the Padma
I feel greatly honoured. Since I am going abroad,
I feel really happy that I got it now. For the first time, a music
director has been given this award, which makes it really
Are you satisfied with the way
your career has shaped up?
The way it took off, it
seems it was destined. Mani Ratnam, who had sworn he wouldn't sign a music
director other than Ilayaraja, came to me. So my career started on a high.
After that everything had to go beyond that; it pushed me to do something
more. I am not a very ambitious person who says I want to do this, this
and this. I think God has been very kind to me. He has given me the
But did you expect things to turn
out the way they did?
It is very unusual. I started my career
thinking that Roja would be my last film. I was not interested in doing
films. I had been in it for almost 15 years with my father, playing for
other people. I didn't want to go through that again. I wanted something
different in my life.
Maybe I would have got into experimental kind of
music. But there is no market for those things. Then film music opened up.
It was no longer the same clichŽd kind of thing. Different directors came
who wanted something new; people also wanted something new and accepted
whatever experiments we did. That changed my opinion. Films reach more
people, there is more money involved.
How would you define your kind of
How can I define my music? It is a reflection of
how I began my life, the good and bad things that happened. I can't say
this is my life and this is how I intended it to be. It came naturally. I
don't plan anything.
When we started Roja we wanted to create
something people had never heard before, at the same time maintaining a
standard in lyrics and melody. Something told me it would become a big
success; I was travelling in the same boat as Mani Ratnam and the music
would be noticed. That it was accepted was a blessing. Mani Ratnam opened
up a big thing for me and I owe it to him. There is a lot of freedom when
I work with Mani.
After Roja things
only went uphill?
Well, almost. There was a lot of
confusion. When I listened to criticism or suggestions from people, I had
to learn what to take and what to reject. At times it was very hard.
Whatever plus we had would be criticised. We had to decide that this is
our plus and we should not leave it. We should continue with the style and
the more we continue with it, the more it will
Have you become more
confident of your music?
No, I am never confident.
Sometimes it takes me two or three days, sometimes three months, to get
the sound right. Sometimes things go wrong always. But once it is fixed
then it's fine.
Your father must have
been a major influence on you?
Yeah. He was the first
one in India to buy a synthesiser. He bought it from Singapore in 1973, I
think, and being the first buyer, he got a free ticket to Japan. So I had
all this stuff to play with. He died in 1976.
After that you were pushed into music?
a way. (Laughs.) Initially it was just work. At the age of 14 or 15, I
would have preferred going somewhere else. But I had to work with people
over the age of 40. In some ways I was the next generation and at the same
time I was not. In a way I got the best of both worlds.
What does music mean to
So far I have just been catering to film scripts.
Sometimes I have given to films ideas which I had for an album. For some
of Mani Ratnam's films I had certain ideas and it fitted into the script.
For instance I wanted to do a theme like Bombay, which would be a
reflection of the incident, to create a symphony kind of piece. In Roja
the song Tamizha Tamizha though out of the script fitted into it.
What excites you about a project
With a good director, irrespective of the
script, the rapport will be good. That makes it interesting, and the music
will also be good. It is a problem if the person is somewhere else and I
What triggers the creative
process in you?
When I am mentally disturbed I pray.
Before starting a session that gives me a vacuum to start with, rather
than having something predetermined which might misguide me. It is almost
like starting from square one. But it makes my job interesting and when I
sit there something gets triggered off inside me.
I belive that every individual,
even an atom, can move only with the will of God. I don't take credit for
doing all this. If I did, then I would fall flat.
Don't external factors
like family affect your concentration?
Yeah, they do.
But when it comes to music you forget everything. The magic of music and
prayer. You are almost on another trip. Only when you finish do you get
You seem to be very
(Pauses.) I believe that every individual,
even an atom, can move only with the will of God. I don't take any credit
for doing all this.
You sound very
level-headed for a man who has earned so much fame and money so
It is balance... well, it is almost
contradictory. You want fame, but once you get it you lose your head. So
just leave it to God and carry on with your work. It makes it all easy. If
I put it in my head that I did it, then I fall flat because I can't take
the next step.
Why did you
(A long pause.) My dad went through a lot of
problems. He was sick, my childhood was a disaster. I spent most of my
childhood in hospitals. There came a stage when the family was almost
down. We met a pir sahab at that time. It is inexplicable. It just
happened. My idea of God coincided with all this. I thought, 'Okay, this
was something that was bound to happen.'
You have never regretted it?
are a lot of things involved. God and religion are very personal. Now it
has become politics. I don't think I want to talk any more on it.
But you agree that religion
has become politicised?
I think religion should be left
to a person. The mosque or temple should be within oneself. That is the
What about the controversy
over Vande Mataram?
It depends on how you take it.
Vande Mataram is about a mother and the message is peace be upon you. The
mother is the country and when you say peace be upon you it goes beyond
politics. That is the way I take it.
When one makes something
there is always the good and the bad. You just take the good. In the album
I have put not only this, but a nicer version of it in a more serene way.
It is not as if it will replace anything. The main reasons for doing it
were my friends Bharat Bala and Kanika. We wanted to give something to the
youth. We felt there was nothing, no song that this MTV generation could
relate to, something they could identify with.
Given the amount of work music composers do, is it
inevitable that they repeat themselves?
You never know
because you can't always be careful. You can't predict when something
comes out of you. It is a feeling and I can't keep a constant check on and
stop things coming and say let me not play now. Later somebody says this
is similar to that, and then you change it. It happens sometimes. Mostly
the director checks all that. I don't give the director just one choice.
There are always lots of choices.
important is the Tamil identity to you?
I hate the
discrimination between south, north, Tamil, Hindi. If I represent India
that is good enough for me. Of course, I have always been here. But we
should cross all these barriers and think bigger. I get very irritated
with this kind of thinking.
your Tamil identity given you anything
Definitely. But I see the entire world as a
living place. Suddenly a category called world music has come and we are
all able to relate to it. In all probability in a couple of years all the
cultures will meet. There won't be any English or Tamil music. We will all
be able to relate to 'music'. That is the ultimate
So will you give up on film
God knows. (Laughs.)
How do you cope with your unorthodox working
There is so much disturbance during the day. To
create music you need peace and in my style of work if I turn my face away
even once, I have to start from the beginning. So night time suits me. I
finish off my other work by 10 p.m. and start with my sound engineer and
maybe the director also.
(Laughs.) As long as the work is done they
What about your
It has been like this for a long time. So they
Tell us about your family
and the kind of support they offer you.
I have two
daughters. My wife doesn't work. My wife and mother listen to my music and
give me feedback.
Do you get time to
spend with them?
I work from my house. So it
How do you
It comes naturally. When you push yourself hard
for 2 or 3 months, then you have to take a break. I go out with my
Don't you get recognised and
mobbed when you go out?
But then I don't go to places
where there are people. (Laughs.)"
is black your favourite colour? You also wear your hair
I thought both suit me. (Laughs heartily.)
In busines: Rehman with
Sir Andrew Lioyd Webber