Joined: 01 May 2006
Far away from the manic crowd, in his studio in Chennai, A R Rahman has been spinning out chart-busters for ten years. Infallibly. The music prodigy gives Khalid Mohamed an intimate glimpse into his life and metier
Umbrellas snap skywards. On an unusually damp morning in Chennai, rickshaws honk, Ambassador taxis rumble and a hole-in-the-wall cassette-CD stall blares a let's-jive-'n'-jambalaya movie hit. Like raindrops, A R Rahman's grooves, keep falling on the head and heart.
Be it in Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi or Mumbai, he's the nation's No. 1 man of music. All of 34, the elf-sized wunderkind has remained as unchangeable as his curly locks. Despite the voluminous collection of awards, citations, honours and a swelling litany of chart-toppers, Allah Rakha Rahman, born Dilip Sekhar, is still a shy version of an Indiana Jones who has just started off on his adventure through the peaks and troughs of sa re ga ma pa.
Not surprisingly, then, he approaches each new composition as yet another dare, working tirelessly in the still of the nights, with no other ambient sound but the buzz of grasshoppers and the woofs of street dogs. Mostly emerging soon after sunset from his grey-white home-cum-studio on Kodambakkam, Rahman has always completed his vazoo and namaaz.
At times he flashes a companionable smile, at times a preoccupied grimace. His pixie-like six-year-old daughter, Khatija, cuddles him as if he were her teddy bear, vanishing pronto on detecting that do-not-disturb plea on abba's face.
Monarchs of the movie mughlai variety as well as neophyte film-makers wander in and out, while the man closets himself with keyboards, gizmos and inspiration in his compact sangeet den. Agarbattis waft a jasmine scent. It's here that he can be alternately placid and perky, returning nowadays like the proverbial native from those trips to London, where he's been working on Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage musical titled Bombay Dreams.
Today, he's in the throes of composing the background score of Shankar's Nayak. Before the horde of musicians descend, he assents to an interview the way he'd assent to a neighbour's social tea-'n'-biscuits visit. No signs of suspicion, no strictures, no affectations. "I'm not special, whatever I've done is God-given," appears to be his media mantra.
Attempt to ruffle him by asking why he has been overworking himself... why he's taken on more than he can digest perhaps, and Rahman responds, "By Indian standards, I've hardly been prolific. Ilaiyaraja sir did 500 films in 10 years. He was a phenomenon, he was amazing. I've done just 56-60 films in that span."
Today's prodigy, at the age of 13 played keyboards, inducted into the metier by his father R K Sekhar, a composer, arranger and harmonium whiz. The teenager went on to play for the orchestras of Malayalam composer M K Arjun, then for Telugu maestros Raj Kotti and Ramesh Naidu, and eventually for Ilaiyaraja.
Now the tables seem to have turned, what with Rahman taking over as the prime force of music. Eschewing any form of rivalry, he emphasises, "No no, please Ilaiyaraja sir can never be replaced. I've learnt a lot from his school like the basic virtue of discipline. We met at a function recently and he was very warm with me."
Perhaps unknowingly, Rahman has consistently craved warmth. Most of his childhood was spent in the nerve-chilling cold of hospital corridors. When Rahman was nine, his father passed away following a protracted but undiagnosed illness. "It was probably cancer," the son can say with some acceptance now. "As long as I can remember, right from the age of five I'd be with my father, sitting by his bedside at a Vellore hospital. In fact, I even thought all kids had to spend time with their dads in hospitals. For me, it seemed very normal to be among the doctors, nurses and medicines."
Flashing back to those days, he agrees, "Yes, it was tough. When dad was no more, I'd have to go to work and also attend school somehow. I was constantly yelled at by the teachers for my lack of attendance. Though I was a good student, passing the tenth standard with a first class, I used to feel awfully guilty and harassed. I'd even be beaten with a foot-ruler for being irregular."
A bittersweet laugh. Then he points out that, for starters, music was a necessity: "It was a mundane job, it became exciting when I got into jingles for commercials. At the outset, the ad world was extremely refreshing. I met interesting people like Rajeev Menon, Bharatbala and Sarangan. There were some fakes among the ad crowd too. To show off that they knew music, they'd say change that jingle, add a cymbal stroke there, subtract the drums there. Still, it was fun. Making jingles pushed me into studying rock, pop, calypso, reggae, the works."
When those jingles were heard and appreciated on TV spots, Rahman was thrilled. "It felt great to be noticed," he beams. "The Leo coffee ad took off in a big way in the south. I ended up doing many more till boredom set in. I felt there was much more to music, surely. Mani Ratnam then tempted me with Roja. Initially I was hesitant... while I was in the orchestras I'd seen the world of films upfront. Mani prodded me to try composing the entire score of his film and so, here I am. Maybe if there had been no Roja, I'd still be striking up tunes for tea and coffee."
The Ratnam-Rahman relationship, he says gently, "has gone beyond the mechanical. He is my friend, my mentor. A composer expects trust and he has given that to me in abundance. He doesn't tell me to do this or that, I know what he expects and I try to give it to him. Then he tells me if he likes it or not, so there is a two-way give and take."
Talk veers to the news of Ratnam having just suffered his second stroke while shooting for his new Tamil film. The friend says, "I was away when that happened. He's fine now, he'll be back to the lights, camera and action soon if I know him. Maybe in real life Mani tends to hold back his emotions..." he trails off, suddenly notices my pad of notes, and wonders, "You're not going to write that, are you?" Next: Quiz ARR about why he's been doling out the dubbing rights of his songs? Why recycle his Tamil tunes for Love You Hamesha and a couple of songs in Pukaar and Nayak too? Unruffled, he answers: "Actually Yaaron sun lo zara from Rangeela was also taken from one of my Telugu tunes. But no one noticed then."
He elaborates, "It's now that songs from the south are being heard all over that this dubbing thing has been raised. In any case, just two per cent of my Tamil output has been dubbed into Hindi and that too, purely at the insistence of the producers. I certainly don't encourage this, neither will I ever allow this to become a trend."
On the criticism of a 'sameness' about his music, Rahman shrugs, "That criticism has a sameness about it, actually. I can take criticism. I don't want to sound defensive, but my scores for Lagaan, Earth: 1947 and Zubeidaa have been unlike anything I've done before. Sure, most film-makers insist on a peppy, danceable number to kick off a cassette, it's like an engine that pulls the rest of the score forward. I try to cater to this demand with as much passion as I can. If I was just hacking a beaty 'item' number, then I'd be worried sick."
Quite curiously, the champ of such boogie faves as Muqaala, Tanha tanha, Chhaiyan chhaiyan and Shakalaka baby, has never been to a discotheque. "After a concert in Dubai," he grins sheepishly, "I just dropped into a night club to check out the scene. I lasted there for just five minutes. Yeah, so the only bit of dancing I've ever done has been swaying slightly on the concert stage."
Rahman breaks for prayers. His conversion to Islam was a mutual decision with his mother. Not one to normally discuss this aspect of his private life, upon his return to the music den, Rahman narrates succinctly, "Around 1988, I built this studio. The foundation stone was laid by the Sufi healer, Karimullah Shah Qadri, who had treated my father during the last stages of his illness. My mother and I resolved to follow one faith to give us peace of mind, we wanted to cleanse ourselves of our sorrows."
After initial doubts, his three sisters also embraced Islam. For them he has tried to be a role model. Which sparks off the question – is this why he opted for an arranged marriage? A pause and then he answers, "I guess you could put it that way. I never had a girlfriend. If I've fallen in love ever, it's with my wife Saira... she's from Porbandar.
We married some seven years ago. Before that a lyric writer friend would keep showing me photographs of prospective brides but I'd keep them aside politely." Saira and Rahman have two daughters, the younger one, Rahima, being two years old. Does that make him feel grown-up and wiser? "Huh?" he looks baffled. "Not really. I felt all grown-up even as a child. When I was still in school, I'd be playing with 50 and 60-year-olds in the orchestra. And they never made me feel as if I were a bacha." His first pay-packet was only Rs 50, he reminisces happily. A piffling sum, which doubled in a few months.
"When we needed money we didn't have it," he wraps up, adding, "which, I guess, is one of those ironies of life, whether you're in business, politics or music."
Outside, the musicians have descended, waiting under the garden awning to avoid the rain. The rickshaws and Ambassadors honk on, the cassette-CD stall still blares the hotsy-totsy hit. And the man of music is ready to go at the keyboards-'n'-gizmos, once more with feeling.
|Source : Times of India|
Sunday Review Aug. 5, 2001
Joined: 22 March 2006
Joined: 16 February 2006
Joined: 22 March 2006
I was a bit sick Sudha, so could not be online for some days.
Joined: 22 March 2006
Joined: 22 March 2006
Joined: 16 February 2006
hey u totally deserve it...... do visit the lyrics zone.....
Joined: 20 October 2005
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