Joined: 01 May 2006
is duniya ke sitaare - Interview appeared in 'Is Duniya Ke Sitaare' on Star Plus 26/01/99 - part 1
Farida Jalal: Welcome to LG 'Is Duniya ke sitaare'. Well your fans and all of us would like to know everything about you.
Before that I would like to tell you all that I am not fluent in hindi so...'main angrezi me baat karta hun'(laughs)
Vande Mataram, We would like to know about this album.
The whole thing came when I met Bharatbala my friend in some award function in Bombay.We just talked and we used to do commercials five years back and we thought we should do something together.Bala's father told why dont you do something for the country.We joined together and bala asked 'why dont we do Vande Mataram?'.I said if we do vande mataram it should reach out to the young people and bring about a sense of belonging to all the religions to all the people all around the world and to feel we have a home and to give a sense of belonging to ourselves .We combined everything and made the first song,a big song and Mehboobji wrote the lyrics.
Why did you dedicate it to the youth?
This was a beautiful song that was there for nearly 100 years and todays youth should relate to it without any bias.The whole thing was to grudge both.As you guys know it happened very well.It reached out to people.
We were all thrilled and pleasently surprised to see you before the camera instead of being in your studio or recording room under the sun and oing a bit of acting.How did you feel?
Initially I said I cant do all this and i'm not used to it and then Bala said ,You have sung the song and if you dont face the camera people cant relate to it.He said whatever you have done in the studio you just do it exept for a little makeup and wear a simple dress like what I wear normally a T-Shirt and Jeans.
What was your reaction when you were asked to perform Vande Mataram on India's 50th Anniversary?
I was really hounoured.I called my orchestra and we went to delhi and they gave us a slot of 10 minutes before the prime minister came and they said we cant perform after that.By the time the prime minister came,the previous parties were prolonging and the time was off and they said 'No everyone is hear do it now!'
I was told that before films you were composing jingles.
From the age of around 11 I started playing as a musician and I wanted to do something more since evry morning I was doing songs ..songs ..songs.I thought of doing something outside the film industry.I met a different crowd one that is entirely different from the fiilm crowd.Thats when I met Mani Ratnamji and got my first break
'Roja'.How did that happen
One of my commercials for Leo Coffee and we had a party in one of the hotels.Mani Ratnam came for the party and I asked why dont you come to the studio and listen to my music and exactly after 6 months he had an oppurunity to come and said we might do a film.In one week's time I gave him some tunes and he like it and we started 'Roja'.It was a blessing from lord that I got a very fine director for my Music Dirctorial debut film.He encouraged me a lot and he listened to my experimenting music and said this is sounding this is sounding old.He was like a school for me and it was like an own university and he made me blessed with the music which I have know .I was into all kinds of music like traditional music ,Pop music ,Classical music and he is like a brother to me.
The very first song in your very first film .What was it.
I think in 'Roja' it was 'Dil he chot Asha'.It was a simple and melodious song.
The Director is important to you or the artist is important picturise hone vala hai.
No.Everything particularly the script and the situations.The sounds are also important to a film .We feel a traditional sound may be suitable for this film and all that is decided before composing.
The difference in composing a jingle and a film song.
Everything dependes on that attitude in which you take.If you take a jingle like joke then it is like that and it sounds like, that but if you take it seriously and work on it and concentrate every second of the 60 seconds it is going to last it sounds good and thats the same attitude I take for a song like you have a muqda ,a BGM and then if this muqda comes again,what surprise can you get?I cant repeat the same thing so I would like to give a surprise there.I concentrate on each section of the song.Its an extra burden for you but gives you a joy and when people hear it they say 'Thats a surprise ,Thats a surprise' and they keep hearing to it 10 times and discover new things in it.Its not like once they hear and it is predictable.In a way it helped me to develop a new style in song making.
People say that your songs are repititive and once they hear it they can say 'Ah!this is A.R.Rahman combination'.
In a way it is good to have a recognition.What happens when I do a similar kind of film given the success of a film and when I do a similar kind of film rematched,thats where I get caught.They want the same kind of song 'OK give me another Chaiyya Chaiyya or another Muqabla' and it gets repititive.Even in 'Doli Saja Ke Rakhna' I tried to blend the old style of music with my style so it would sound different with an old melody with new music and I think it is slowly reaching out to the people.When you are into the same kind of things and when you are composing you should be free and shouldn't be bound by song situations, like when you are doing only Background scores, ads, art films.Working with Mr.Govind Nihlani is different from working with Mr.Mani Ratnam or Mr.Ghai. He is completely into a different kind of world.
Do you feel handicapped by the lack of knowledge of the language Hindi.
Not anymore because now i'm quite familiar with most words .Even the Bad Words (laughs)
Do you think that the director's hassling in your work has an ill effect.
Not Really.If we Music directors start to think lets do what we like and let the director keep shouting,then the music wont reach the people quickly.Directors like Shankar will immediately say 'No I want a song that'll reach out to the people'.He wants every song in his films to adhere to the serious subjects on which he takes.
What is necessary to make a hit song.
I think the basic thing is to be honest to it.You have to say something in it,not just to make it come to the charts .When you are honest to it and when you want to make a simple melody ,simple thought in it a simple lyric and good orchestrisation and immediately it will be a hit.I think it is in the way you go about it. You shouldn't get into the song to make a hit out of it but make it in your style and obtaining a hit from that.
You always opt for new voices a new kinds of tracks when there are so many accomplished singers in the south as well as in Mumbai.Why is it so?
When I was doing commercials I used to get a lot of voices and it was a very interesting part of my career which I loved using different kind of voices training them and ofcourse people recognise new talents.When the composition is new these new singers sing in their own style and sometimes the mistakes they make sounds good and when they sing completely or slightly off it is interesting.
How was the experience working with Lataji?
I wanted to give a nice song to Latji and not a normal one and it was timed perfectly and when Maniji wanted this song 'Jiya Jale', I asked him 'Why dont we let Lataji sing this one?' and he said Ok.Gulzar Ji finished and when we offered her she acceoted it immediately and it was a great honour for us.She stayed for two days and finished the song.
What did she say when she heard you r composition for the first time.Did she say something.
I was so scared since this was the first time, after finishing I just kept quite.She said 'Why dont you answer?Is it good or bad?'.(laughs).I said 'How it be bad if you sing?' and then she went to Bombay and said 'This composer is not talking anything.I dont know whether he likes it or not'.
People say when you are composing the music its a one-man show and its just yours.
I wouldn't say its just mine because first of all there's a director who gives the thought and there is a tune which is composed and there is a lyric writer who plays a very important role in making the song good and respectable and then I put a rough thing on a computer and take the voice and then I call the musicians .Mostly people dont see that part since they just come for the voice mixing and they see me taking it on the computer.After that there is a process where I call all the musicians with the real part to add life to that and we mix it in such a way it sounds new.
How would you describe A.R.Rahman in your own words?
A.R.Rahman is a failure and slowly he is trying to reach something
to be continued on 2/2/99 at 8:30 p.m
Joined: 01 May 2006
is duniya ke sitaare - Interview appeared in 'Is Duniya Ke Sitaare' on Star Plus 2/2/99 - part 2
Well your fans and all of us would like to know everything about you.
My father was a music director in Malayalam films and Tamil Films.At the age of 4 or 5 I learnt music from him.My father used to be a very busy music arranger and composer.When I used to go to school, he would go for his morning session since he worked from 7-1,2-9,9-5.He sleeped only for 2 hrs.He died when I was very young due to sickness and I had a very bad childhood.I was forced into music since music was hereditary.I remember this incident when he took me to his friend's house who was a musician and he put a cloth on a harmonium and he made me touch it and he asked me which was E and which was F and when I answered he was thrilled.I was too young to realise how good music would be and then I was going out for session and I was playing as a keyboard player with lot of music directors in the south.In the age of 16-17 I was playing for college bands.
Do you find it difficult to compose for 3 languages as you are doing now?
Composing in tamil was easy for me since it was my mother tongue.I'm learning urdu now,so its getting easy.The telegu songs are dubbed from tamil,so there is not much of a problem.I'm not doing this language dubbing anymore since it is not working and everything is so different in hindi language and I'm requesting my producers not to do it.
Sometimes the lyrics are given first and then the composition ,and then sometimes the compositions first and then the lyrics which do you think is better and how do you do?
I worked with lyrics first initially before I was a film composer and then when I came into films people would always, ask give me a tune and then the lyrics, because they want to hear what is happening in the song first which in a way is good, but at one point of time your sense of meter is same always.When you have lyric ,your tune follows the lyric and its expressions.But for dancy kind of tunes, the tunes should come first and the tunes are much shorter.
During composing you work only in the night .Is it true?If its a secret,let me know.
Usually there is no time for creativity and when something doesn't happen extend the time.How it happened as I used to work in the day and when I extend to 2 O'clock then 3 then 4 and if I sleep at 4 I'll miss my morning prayers.So I thought why not work at nights and sleep during the day.
How does your family react to this kind of a schedule?
They are also used to it.My daughter sleeps at around 2 O'clock.Its not daily ,sometimes there is a break and that time its normal life.
When you are composing they are all up awake.Do they come around to disturb you?
No they dont.My studio is in the backyard of my house and its very strict and they know they cant come in when I am working.The only problem is that we make other people suffer.They dont mind because the work is done.
When you work hard in the nights and days and when you find a film not doing well like daud and even Dil Se which didn't do as much as you must have expexted it to.Do you feel let down?
No its a kind of experiment.When a film doesn't run well and when they see it after 5 years they say "its good why didn't run?", like Raj Kapoor's film 'Mera Naam Joker' which was supposed to be a flop and then now people say it is one of the best films and maybe even Dil Se is not in the frequency of the people and may be people would see it later,but of course I dont depend on that and there was a lot of good work and people appreciated it very much.
We have heard a lot about your stage shows.Would you tell us about your experience in stage shows and do you plan any more stage shows in the future?
I just did one stage show in Malaysia and it was in 1996 and the recent one was in Dubai and this was the second and I dont intend to do more shows because it takes me 3 months to prepare and 20 days to get out from the role of performing artist to a composer and to get all the things out and start.So its not good for my composing career.So I dont have future plans for stage shows.
Do you have plans of going international and creating records there also?
I'm slowly going into the west.Some of the films like fire and earth got good name for me also.But I would like to remain here and work and shuttle around (giggles) because I feel at home with my food and my people.
How important are awards which you have won ?
Awards come with the blessings from god and it encourages you.At the same time it is not the end and its a promise and you feel ashamed and ask yourself "What have I done to get this?".
Tell us about this great album you did with the Late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan?How did that happen?
It was a co-incidence that khan saheb had a concert in delhi city and we went to that concert.We wanted to do 3 songs for 3 colours, one for the saffron, one for the white, one for the green.Maa thuje salaam was for saffron ,vandemataram was for white and the third was the peace song .My friend Bharatbala said why dont you team up with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for this song and so we got kids from England and Nusratji from Pakistan and me singing.So it was like a South Asian peace song.
Your first Hindi film was 'Rangeela'.How was the experience working with Ram Gopal Varma.
He is a very mad guy(laughs).Mad in the sense that he is completely obsessed with work.So it was great fun working with him because he is not normal because he likes something very good or hates it if its bad.Initially we did some tunes and we did a song and then we thought it was not on the right track.Then we came with the Sound Of Rangeela and thought this is the Rangeela song ,this is the Rangeela instrument and then we made everything like that and finally it was a new kind of a music that was evolved and it was like a teamwork.
What about Mr.Subash Ghai's much talked about film 'Taal'. Interesting combination of you and Subash Ghai.
We worked on a film called 'Shikar' and I nearly completed 5 songs and later he decided to do 'Pardes' before 'Shikar'.At that time I was extreemly busy with 6-7 films and I told him that I need to give priority and if I do that I cant do all these films.So I said let me finish all this and we'll work on that.He said O.k but asked me to give full priority in the next film so I said O.k.
Mr Subash Ghai speaks, followed by Taal piece 'Sa Sa Ri Sa Sa'
In this movie 'Taal' 90% of the songs are composed for lyrics.Working with Bakshi,I have learnt a lot from him, I learnt how not to butcher hindi lyrics (laughs) so I think I said, let the lyrics come out very well and I think that was a very good point.I am just seeing how a person is completely immersed in music.I just saw a bit of 'Taal' and saw how well he is used to music and he is like a school guy himself because he is so much involved in music that I learnt a lot from him.
Could you just tell a few of your favourite music directors?
Recently I heard some good songs like the song in 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' of Jatin-Lalit and Vishal's song and some of the other songs because I dont know the composer's name because I see them in T.V.I think its good to see that a lot of good things are happening.
Aren't you listening to the old film music also?
I like Naushad sir's music because there is a lot of feel in it and Madan Mohan and of course R.D.Burman.
How do you relax?
Mostly I finish a film and I take my family to a dharga where we pay our repects and these kind of trips and when I'm working I meditate and sometimes Internet.I like to see what people talk about me,bitch about me(laughs).Find the good things in it and you get a feeback from people.
How would you like to take your leave? Would you like to say something to your admirers who are watching you?
In Music I would like to say what Jatin-Lalit said "Appreciate good music and not everything.Good musicians will have better respect and better oppurtunities." "Love Peace"
Joined: 01 May 2006
ARR's interview in Kumudham dated 18/11/99 and 25/11/99 - Interviewed by Mr. V. Chandra Sekaran, Kumudham
People in the Film industry say you work all night and sleep only by noon. Since when have you become a night bird?
(Laughs) 15 years back when I started to work I used to work between 9 AM and 9 PM. After that I used to do my personal works like commercials and my own compositions. That was between 10 PM and 5 AM. I used to sleep between 6 AM and 9 AM. This has sort of set in. It is peaceful in the night. And that helps me. Some days I start composing from morning and go on even after midnight. I sometimes can't even keep track of the time.
Doesn't this lack of system affect your health or your personal life?
Even if you are extremely careful you can have problems. You have to let life live its own course. Moreover, is there any time for creativity? You get an idea. After it is 9pm you can't continue the next morning. When you start getting the flow you have to let it take its course. If you stop in between the idea will slip out of your hands. You won't get the satisfaction if you sleep off. Also, when you are doing something new, you should apply your mind to it. The importance is to give good music. Not get a good sleep.
Some movies like Sangamam, ESK etc failed at the box office. What are your feelings on this?
I feel sorry when it fails. What to do? You can't expect all movies to become super hits, to be dubbed in 3 languages and to make a lot of money. You can't expect everybody to be professionals. People tell me Sangamam and ESK songs are good. That is enough for me. Sometimes in the middle of a movie, you can feel that this movie is not going to come out well. In spite of this you have to give your best. The people expect something from us. You can't disappoint them. You should not accept a job, which you can't deliver. That is my policy.
Your director may not like a good tune you composed. Will you feel dejected? (verutthu povirgala?)
If a director has his reasons I will leave it at that. Artistic products can never go waste. It may be suitable for another situation, may be in some other movie. If we compel them to accept the tunes and the movie fails that would be worse. They would say that I didn't listen.
It seems as though you show special interest in movies from people like Shankar.
It is not like that. I work the same for all. Shankar, MR etc encourage us and bring out the best. I can't make songs like Margali Thingal Allavaa, Oru murai killi paarthen (Sangamam) in their movies. There should be pace in the songs made for them. All songs in Shankar's movies should be like a small story. He can say a story in his songs. People like him slog, spend 1,1 1/2 Crores for a song. I can't give an average product for them. I have to make a song, which is challenging. Just because it's a budget movie I don't work less. Every song of mine is like my child. If it is beautiful it brings pride in me. Isn't it?
You give more importance to rhythm than melody. Am I right?
Directors like rhythm. I know for sure that if I make songs like Thendralae Thendralae they will cut it off the movie. Only songs with lesser melody have been hits. For Uppu karuvaadu in Mudhalvan we had tuned a melody and everybody liked it. But we had to change it because it could have changed the tempo of the movie. Shankar asked for a faster paced song. (So it was changed) Moreover, I like rhythm, At the same time, I see to it that it does not become noisy. I try to make a marriage between Rhythm and melody. (Laughs)
When listening to your songs one feels your strong point is Hindustani than Carnatic.
It is true. I grew with a Carnatic background. I learnt Carnatic music first. Later I started developing interest in Hindustani. I started liking Ghazals, Qawali, Thumri etc. I learnt Hindustani from one Mr. Krishna Kant. Nasreth Fateh Ali Khan taught me a few Qawalis. I developed an interest in Ghazals hearing Hariharan's songs. These three people pulled me towards Hindustani. Moreover there was not much Hindustani in Tamil music. I used rags like Desh and Darbari in Roja.
There are 72 melakartha ragas and janyas. But still you use kaanada, anandha bairavi, hindolam, kedaram, madyamavati etc. Why do you repeat?
It is true. I have used rare ragas in Kandukonden kandukonden. I use rare ragas for BGMs. I get to use a lot of ragas in movies like Sanagamam. I won't say that only some tunes will become hits. It's so even in Hindi. Tune alone is not enough for a song to be a hit. The hero, heroine, director, the scene are also important. We made Minsaara Kanna in Vasantha. At one point of time I felt that it was not working out and wanted to change the raga. As the mirudhanga vidhwan started playing he started saying SABAASH. We became excited and decided Vasantha was the right choice.
Do you decide on the raga first, or is it an accident that it falls under some raga?
We decide the raga for some songs. Ex. Azagaana Raatchasiyae was planned in Reethi Gowlai. The difficulty is we cannot avoid the song from sounding like Chinna KaNNan (Also set in the same Raga) at some places.. I made a song like Thillan for Thakshak in the rag Megh in the style of Madyamavathi. When doing folk songs you can't plan the raga.
Doesn't commercial monotony bind you? Are you not interested in taking your music in the lines of Shakthi group internationally?
I make albums like Vande Mataram to break this monotony. Also, it is wrong to say that you have done enough here and you have to go international from now on. THE TAMIL SOIL HAS GIVEN ME EVERYTHING I HAVE. WHY SHOULDNT I TAKE TAMIL SONGS AND MOVIES TO INTERNATIONAL LEVEL? That is what I wanted to do from the beginning. DTS, DOLBY has all arrived here. All these are changes in time. If we keep moving in this direction, instead of we going to them, THEY WILL COME TO US.
How will you feel when the song you have composed resembles an older one. For e.g. Suthi Suthi Vandheega with Thara Thara Vandhara and Velli Nilavae from Jodi with Sembaruthi Poovu...
ARR: I never listen to a song and compose a song, which sounds the same (In other word copy), but there is something interesting. Only some Sandhams become hits in Tamil. Like Chinna Chinna Aasai.. Aatrangarai Maramae in Kizakku cheemayilae also follows the same sandham. Also when you sing in Hindustani Thumri style some tunes may sound similar (Sings and shows). You can't show too many variations in film music. If you tune a song seeing too many technicalities then the song will sound too mechanical.
Some songs made using the tunes of Thyagaraja krithis have become hits. When we ask the relevant MD's they say the directors want it that way. I couldn't say no. Etc. Doesn't anyone ask you "Do a song similar to this" (Idhey paattu madhiri Podunga)?
Thankfully nobody has asked me like that. I wouldn't agree even if they do ask. In Alaipaayudhey we have just reproduced the song Alaipaayudhey sung in Katcheris. How can we change that? We have only altered the rhythm. It comes like a prayer (in the movie).
Vidhwans say you make songs with no continuity in the name of Fusion. That is, you change the ragas between the pallavi and the charanam and also use different ragas for interludes. Do you do this purposely?
It may seem like that for Carnatic musicians. Commoners won't feel like that. When I make musical films I don't break rules. When we do commercial movies Carnatic music is itself a LUXURY there. Telephone Manipol song has a verse Neeyllai endral. The tune for this verse is not the same as the pallavi. At first I tuned both in the same raga. Later we changed it. When you change ragas the song sounds different and new. All including the director liked it. Many classical musicians have appreciated this initiative of mine. But when it comes to a pukka classical movie Byravi means Byravi to me. I won't mix anything in it.
Where did you learn Carnatic Music?
I learnt it from two Dhakshinamurthys. I learnt it from TVG for a short time. In the beginning I learnt it from my father. He was very strong in Carnatic music.
All music artists have this ambition of doing a full katcheri in December season. Do you have such ideas?
6 years back I wanted to do a full-fledged katcheri using keyboard. (Oru veriyae vandhuchu)
I practiced for a lot of days. I learnt ways to get the Gamakams in the Keyboard. I learnt some varnams from my guru Dhakshinamoorthy. Everything was ready and Roja came. Once you get into this that is all. This is a different Sangadhi.
(Do you have any) SYMPHONY IDEA...
No. I am not in that school. I am from a POP type school. Symphony is pure western classical. I am interested in world music. Things like songs, fusion etc.
You accept movies of people close to you. You can't finish it fast because you are a perfectionist. After TAAL's success the crowd who tries to influence you has grown - people say. How are you going to tackle this?
This problem is there from the beginning - from 1992. The people who come to me feel it is 50% better now. Sometimes they come with a good script. But the movie does not run. They are left heart broken. I don't feel like saying no when they come again. But I have to leave it at that if they fail again. But one thing. Who ever it is, I always give my best. I never feel this is enough for this person. (Ivarukku Idhu podhum endru ninaichadhillai)
You make a lot of new comer's sing. But you don't introduce new lyricists. (Why are you stuck with him?)
He is in a good form. When it is so, he keeps pouring whatever you ask for. (Kaettadhellam Kottikkittae irukkar) Everything is good. Nobody can stop him. Take this room for example. There are other rooms too. But all the instruments are here and so I am sort of sentimentally set to do music in this room. Poets are also like that. He immediately grasps the tunes I make. I have worked with Vaali. Very jolly type. In Hindi, I have worked with Javed Akthar, Anand Bakshi etc. But I like to work with Javed. Anand Bakshi wont get into a lift, He won't go in flights. He won't leave his house.
Whenever the Tamil media asks (for interviews) you say you are busy. Why do you shy away from the Tamil Media?
It does not mean I am shying away. I sometimes keep things to myself. You can't spell it out so easily. Okay. Assuming I accept for an interview you ask me what I am going to do next. Can I tell what is in my mind? I cant because I don't know whether it will come out well or not. It is better to remain silent than say something great and it not coming out well. Also, I might affect somebody if I talk too much. Isn't it better to remain silent? (Laughs big)
In spite of Tamil media lifting you up, you give more interviews to western media?
I never dispute the fact that Tamil (media?) lifted me up. (Tamil than ennai Thookivittadhu enbadhay marakkavillai.) How can I forget? Sometimes when I have to return from Bombay the flight will be scheduled for the morning. When I am free I schedule some interviews in the night.
More than all this, I have the feeling, You are my people, where I am I going to go. (namma aalunga thaanae, enga poida porom) I hope our people will understand this. I want some privacy. I feel delicate when I socialize. Even if I don't talk there is still something good or bad coming about me in the media....
Do you keep track of things other than music, like current affairs?
Oh. Yes. I get all the politics and sports news from the Internet. Sometimes I ask my friends.
Normally artists say, "My wife is my biggest critic" How about you? Does your wife review your music?
(Laughs shyly) I can't call her a critic. But she enjoys. (Rasippargal) Sometimes she says I should have done it differently. She is not skillful enough to give be a critic. My mother is my critic. She reviews my music well.
What is your plan about your kids?
Let them come the way they want to. (Thinks) The eldest Kathija is doing her LKG. If she spots me in TV she says "Hi, APPA". She does not know that I am a music director and things like that. The next girl Rahima is one year old. She is a very naughty girl. Kathija is very loving to everybody.
Was there any incident which made you cry, recently?
Crying and extreme joy was all 10 years back. Now days I don't have time to cry nor laugh. This music is everything to me. THIS IS NOT A JOB FOR ME. THIS IS MY AANMA (Soul). I forget everything when I get into this.
Do you have any silent plans?
No. I am like a boat without an oar. I let life take its own course. I know only my work and God I pray a lot. You get dejected if you plan something and it does not happen. Nadappadhu nadakkattum endru vittuvittaal?
Everybody hums your latest hits. Which is the song you have been humming of late?
Hmmm. I can quote many. "edho oru paattu en kaadhil kaetkum.." SAR has tuned it beautifully. This recognition you have got at such a young age, the fame, and the expectations... Don't they scare you?
Only if you take anything, whether it is success or failure. As your own will you have these fears? I leave everything to God. Nothing will affect me even a bit. All this fame and praise is not for me. It is for HIM. Isn't it?
Joined: 01 May 2006
interviews: The Burden of Genius
dated: 23.01.2000Roja in 1992 gave Indian film music a new sound and an exciting new talent. Allah Rakha Rahman is seen by most musicologists as the one and only important innovator among film composers to have survived the turbulent 90s. All his scores from Roja and Thiruda Thiruda to 1947 and Pukar have clicked in a huge way. At the beginning of the new millennium, Rahman is seen as the only film composer in India who can drag popular film music kicking and screaming into this century. He spoke to Subhash K Jha. A lot of people in and outside the Indian film industry see you as the only composer who can carry film music forward into this millennium. That's too much of a burden for me. You know what? I find myself stuck between the traditional and modern styles of music. From the age of 11, I was working with musicians of the earlier eras. So I've imbibed their influences. Until my late teens, I was meeting the maturer generation of musicians. Then I came into jingles composition and eventually film composition with Roja I was suddenly exposed to the 'in' scene and the hip-crowds. You've tried to synthesise the two generations of influences in your music, haven't you? Actually it's a bit of both, yes. I started my career as a musician within a rock band called Magic. Some of my colleagues from those days are still with me. Others have moved on. After Magic, we formed another band, Fusion. We backed L Shankar during a concert. That meant a lot to us. L Shankar gave us a whole new hope for fusion music, clubbing Indian and western music together. Finally, when I was doing jingles, I was part of a band called Nemesis Avenue. This was when I really began interacting with young contemporary musicians. How much of your early influences have you retained in your music today? Actually, I'm inspired any time I watch a good musician playing. When I'm programming my music on my own, I always think of some great drummer or some great bass guitarist. When I'm playing on the keyboards, I think of how beautifully another musician plays the instrument. And that inspires me to play. Otherwise I may end up playing like a cheesy upstart. You once said that you like to record songs with flawed voices. What did you mean? Not always. Suppose I've to compose a folk song about a farmer and his life. I can't use a perfect voice for that. I need an earthy voice. Sometimes even in an urban film like my recent Thakshak, I've used voices that are earthy. Although the earthiness is at odds with the milieu the humanism of a song situation comes across better through raw voices. It's like abstract painting. If you take its oddities and try to correct them they have no meaning. Of course, for some songs like the ones that go on certain actors or actresses I've to use flawless voices. You seem to avoid working with filmmakers who aren't musically literate? In fact, you know what? It would do me good to work with all types of filmmakers and in all genres of films. Otherwise, I'd be struck in a groove. I feel I've been very lucky so far. I've been able to work with the best filmmakers in the south like Mani Ratnam. In Mumbai, I've worked with directors like Subhash Ghai, Deepa Mehta and Govind Nihalani. If I meet a filmmakers and the vibes seem right, I work with him or her. My problem is, my working style is completely different from others. I can work with only those filmmakers who can adjust to my working style. So it's not a question of being choosy but a far more practical reality that decides my assignments. I work mainly in Chennai. But filmmakers in Mumbai are willing to make adjustments for you. The problem is, once a director comes from Mumbai to Chennai he has only one thing on his mind and that is how to get his music. He may want a track to shoot a song in some hill station the very next day. The four or five hours that he waits could be excruciating for him. My tune happens very fast sometimes, sometimes it doesn't happen. The problem starts when it doesn't happen. So you have to wait to be inspired. More than inspiration, it's getting the arrangements right, the whole technological nitty-gritty. Even though the process of creating a tune slows me down, it helps me to grow as well. Sometimes a tune crashes completely. But that cannot be helped. In fact, I discourage filmmakers from signing me. In Mumbai you've acquired the reputation of being tardy. It's their choice whether they want to sign me or not. If filmmakers want good music they have to be patient. In fact, I warn them about the situation. They always know what they're getting into. Still, sometimes I'm very unhappy about not doing a film. Why is your music often accused of sameness? That's inevitable, I guess. It's a sound that's different from other composers and hence easily identifiable. At the same time, people get irritated by even the slightest deviation from my style. I suppose they're now getting a hang of my style. From Roja in 1992 to Pukar in 2000, do you feel you've evolved as a composer? I have. But I don't think growing as a composer has anything to do with making your compositions more complicated. At the same time, I don't believe in not learning while composing. There should be a balance between the composer's intrinsic knowledge and the requirements of the specific score. I simply move on after completing a score. Now I've forgotten Taal, Takhshak and Dil Hi Dil Mein. Now I'm thinking about what I can do in this millennium. Once I'm finished with a score there's nothing more I can do with or about it -- good bad or ugly. Maybe I'll return to my scores ten years from now. Right now I've new challenges to face, so my priority is the next score, not the last one. Have you struck a balance between composing in Mumbai and the South?
Yes I have in a way. The South is a completely different ball game. It triggers off some heavy creative impulses in me. But work ethics are pretty similar in Chennai and Mumbai. I've just recorded a devotional song for Khalid Mohammed's Fizaa. I hope people like it. I want people to accept me for what I am.
Joined: 01 May 2006
Zee Premiere interview - 2000
At the end of 1999, Rahman is poised at the crossroads as far as film music is concerned. While Taal hit a creative as well as commercial high, 1947 won him rave reviews. Thakshak and Dil Hi Dil Mein, however, were a case of love's labour lost, as both films didn't deliver at the boxoffice.Nevertheless, most music lovers see him as the only true pathbreaker of the '90s, the only composer capable of carrying film music forward into the next century and a new high. His detractors, however, accuse him of limited creative capacities, which has led him to sound repetitive and monotonous.
Rahman takes both acclaim and criticism in his stride. There's no rancour of defensiveness in his attitude even when you accuse him of monotony. His eyes are on new horizons. New ways of extending music. He'll be working with Michael Jackson in the year 2000, as also Andrew Lloyd Webber.
It is difficult to pin Rahman down for an interview in Chennai. He works through the nights and sleeps through the day. After several phonecalls handled by his charming and soft-spoken wife, the man finally comes on the line. "I'll be in Mumbai tomorrow", he says. "We can meet there." We meet him the following day in Mumbai, where he is recording a song for Shyam Benegals Zubeida.
There are many who say that you have given a new dimension to film music.
Yes, but there are also those who say that I am lousy.(laughs)
Aren't you, at times?
Maybe I am. It depends on the inspiration I get. One can't be on the same creative plane always
How do you respond to the acclaim heaped on you by music historians?
It's a great responsibility. I'm trying my best to combine traditional and contemporary styles.
But sometimes the result isn't in my hands at all. It depends on the film and its director. So far I've been lucky not to have any major disagreements. Trends come and go but I've to keep doing my own thing. Personally, I was very fond of my music in Doli Saja Ke Rakhna, but it didn't do well. The film wasn't released properly. It depressed me. Now the music has been included in a Telugu / Tamil bilingual film. And the songs are super-hits.
Why do you use so many different voices in a film, irrespective of whether they suit the characters or not?
I do it for variety. Otherwise things would get monotonous, and I'd be composing an endless series of love duets. (laughs)
There was a time when the album of a film would have only two voices, mostly, Lata Mangeshkar's and Mohammed Rafi's, singing for different characters. Today, different singers sign for the same character.
It's possible to that even now, but it won't be work. The times have changed. The attention span of and average listener has decreased and his geographical purview has broadened. He wants to see Switzerland and New York, and at the same time experience the rural landscape of India. The scope of songs is expanding to include every part of the planet maybe even the moon. Movies no longer move through one time-frame and mood. If they did, then one could stick to one voice. Today we can't afford to have the heroine and her maidservant sing in Lataji's voice. Ealier the only means of experiencing music was movies, now with MTV and Channel [V] in vogue, listeners are rooting for variety. When they hear a song outside the film, they don't relate the singer's voice to that of an actor's. So that aspect becomes irrelevant. They no longer think in terms of perfect or imperfect. They want different voices, standards be damned. (laughs)
It is said that you had to splice together several voices in Taal because you couldn't get the required results with just one or two voices. Is this true?
The problem was different. We recorded some songs of Taal in Chennai and others in Mumbai depending on the time and availability. It gave me the chance to work with some new singers. You see, if I take a new singer for a song his or her career is made.
You have boosted neglected singers like Ranu Mukherjee and Hema Sardesai.
Yes, but unfortunately, I couldn't sustain their careers. I had to move on.
Inspite of the success of Jiya jale, you have seldom got Lata Mangeshkar to sing your songs.
Most of my songs are so freaky that I feel embarrassed to approach her. I feel they wouldn't do justice to her reputation. Jiya jale was raga-based so it was her territory.
How was the experience of working with Subhash Gahi in Taal?
It was very good. Subhash Ghai is a genuine lover of music. He's like a child in his responses. If he likes something he hears, he gets really excited. If he doesn't like something he hears, he gets depressed.
Subhash Ghai told me there was a huge communication problem between the two of you.
It was not because of language- I've been learning Urdu (laughs). One part of the problem was Anand Bakshi. He can't travel. So the lyrics had to be written in Mumbai and sent to Chennai. If a change was needed it had to be sent back. That was time consuming. Sometimes Subhashji had to wait for me because of my work patterns. In Chennai, I've a small studio where all the music happens. I can only do one thing at a time there. Even when a track is being transferred, all other work comes to a standstill, because I like to supervise everything myself. I don't believe in handing over the job to someone else and waiting for the results. This leads to people waiting for me at times. But it's not deliberate.
How happy are you with your work in Taal?
I'm very happy. I had worked on the score for eight months. It was good to work with a filmmaker like Ghai. He's very Particular about everything. He wanted to know every detail in the track. It inspired me. He looked at the music objectively. After the recording, he spent three days doing minor editing on the music to make it crisper. It was the first time that a director did the final trimming.
Which are your favourite numbers from Taal?
Most of them (laughs). Actually Nahin saamne and Ishq bina are my favourites. Ishq bina is a combination of a bhajan and a qawwali. For this song the lyrics were written first. After that I composed four versions. Ghai asked me to combine three of them into one.
Sukhwindara Singh seems to be a constant presence in your scores these days. Do you share a special rapport with him?
Sukhwindara began with me in Thakshak. When I heard the story I could hear a voice in my mind. I spoke about it to my friend Brij Bhushan in Mumbai. He knows a lot of singers. I wanted a Punjabi folk singer. He suggested Sukhwindara's name. I immediately chose him for Thakshak. After that we recorded for Dil Se. I then heard a lot of his Punjabi music, not just bhangra. More listeners in North India relate to Punjabi music than Hindi or Urdu. The rhythm is universal.
Has Sukhwindara become a link with the North for you?
You could say that (laughs). In fact nowadays, we're jamming together a lot. He thinks music. He writes very simple lyrics in a lay person's language.
Is it true that you were hesitant in the beginning about the Thakshak score?
Yes. A key character in the film is a pop singer. I was asked to compose a song for the situation when the lead character is going through turbulent emotions. He had this toofan inside him. And the script demanded that I compose some noisy numbers for the situation (laughs). I told Govindji that I wouldn't be very comfortable doing it. He pleaded that the music had to tune in with his lead character. When a director is that clear about what he wants, the composer can't dilute or deflect his needs. So I decided to go by Govindji's brief, against my own musical taste. Even after recording, I had reservations about the Toofan number. I felt it was too noisy. But it reflected the protagonist's state of mind. Maybe we should have deleted the song from the album.
Many feel that your score in Deepa Mehta's 1947-Earth is your best in a long time.
Maybe. Deepa Mehta was on her own trip. She didn't care if the music was commercially viable or not. She wanted sparse orchestration in the film. There was no dholak in the Rut aa gayi re number in the film. In fact, in the album, I had to pad up some of the songs with more instruments.
How did you enjoy your first full-fledged foray into folk-based rhythm?
In the beginning, I was a bit scared, But I came to terms with it. I had to instill a period atmosphere into the kind of music today's listeners relate to. I composed and recorded the songs the way I wanted to. Fortunately when Deepa heard them, she freaked out. We had even recorded a version of Vande mataram, but since it went into the sensitive Indo-Pak issue, we decided not to use it in the film. The bhajan Ishwar Allah was written and composed in one day.
Is it true that you've declined several films in Mumbai?
Ealier I was supposed to do Mela. Then Josh. There was a huge communication problem regarding Josh. Since I'm Chennai-based, a whole lot of gossip and speculation followed. I was accused of all sorts of things. If there's no trust between a filmmaker and a composer then the two should not work together. Now I'm doing Aamir Khan's Lagaan. I've already recorded two songs. I did turn down a few offers in Mumbai but it is not proper for me to discuss then.
There were a few rumours that Thakshak and Pukar were held up because you delayed the background score.
Thakshak and Pukar were done on DTS, so there was a lot of work involved. Since the effects are done in Chennai, they conveniently put the blame on me. The music was more or less ready in time, but the sound mixing, which involved four times the normal work, took time. The result as you can see is mind-blowing. The music of Pukar has an individualistic sound. It was designed exclusively for the film. And there's no item song.
Of late you have been moving away from your trademark sound.
Yes, I had to, for variety. But the problem is, if I stick to what you call my trademark sound, I'm accused of sounding the same, and if I try to do something different, people complain that it doesn't sound like Rahman's music. It's a no-win situation. Left to myself, I'd like to be adventurous and try out styles I haven't tried before.
Traditionalists are very critical of contemporary music. What's your view?
I guess some of the criticism is valid. But then, you need to understand the pressures under which most composers work in the film industry. The pressures don't allow them to function freely. I have become immune to the abuses hurled at me from all sides (laughs). So I function the way I want to. They keep cribbing all the time even about the slightest delay. Everybody seems to be in a hurry. Not every composer can take that kind of pressure, so they compromise on quality.
What about the lack of originality?
A director told me recently – I won't name him – since all the tunes are the same, all I need to do is to change the backup. I kept thinking about the offer for three weeks, then declined the film. I guess everything depends on the success of a film. The music of Dil Se did very well until the film bombed at the box office. Then they said that the music was too complexly structured and it was too difficult for the common man to grasp it, and that the songs should have had a North Indian falvour. In a way the assumption is right but it occurred to them only after sa;es of the album slowed down. But on the whole, I agree that too much innovation puts off people.
Roja was completely alien to listeners in the north, yet they accepted it.
Maybe because there was too much mediocrity around at that time (laughs).
Do you still feel akward working in Mumbai?
Not anymore. It is almost the same as working in Chennai. I don't communicate with the lyricists long distance anymore. Instead, we meet and interact, and there is better communication. Earlier I did my job and the lyricists did his.
Who are the lyricists you are comfortable working with in Mumbai?
I am okay with most of them. I enjoyed working with Gulzarsaab in Dil Se. He's a very musical person. He doesn't use clichs. Javedsaab is a very fine poet too.
Does poetry get in the way of your tunes, since you aren't so fluent in Hindi?
It depend on the requirements of the song. Sometimes songs need poetry, sometimes they don't. In any case, as I said, I have been learning Urdu.
Gulzarsaab says that your biggest contribution to film music is…
…that I didn't interfere with his lyrics? (laughs)
No, that you broke the clichd antra-mukhda-antra pattern of a film song.
Some people praise me for it, other criticize. When I started out, I used to play the keyboard for a number of composers. Soon it became like a boring office job and I began wondering what I should do to break the monotony. It led me to think up new ideas. By listening to other composers carefully, I learnt that what should be there in good film music and what shouldn't be.
What is this project you are working on with Andrew Lloyd Webber?
We are still to work out the final details. It will be oriental-style music in English language, and will be produced by Shekar Kapur and Andrew Lloyd Webber. There are several other things I want to do. Music, after all, is not a predictable vocation.
Do you feel you are reaching a saturation point where film music is concerned?
No, I don't. The film industry is growing. It is expanding at an amazing speed. Even as piracy is being blamed for screwing up the music business, Taal and Dil Se are on the UK and US charts. A Tamil film called Muthu starring Rajnikant has done very well in Japan. When the Japanese came here, I asked them what it was that they liked about my music. They said they liked the John Barry kind arrangement inter-mixed with Indian folk.
What do the initials A.R. stand for in your name?
Allah Rakha. My friends call me A.R..
After putting in such long hours, how do you relax?
Where's the time to relax? Composition is not just about creating tunes on the harmonium. Nowadays there's software related to music, which I'm getting familiar with. There's so much happening and so much to do.
Do you spend time with your wife and children?
I do. Fortunately, I've my studio attached to my home, which helps me keep in touch with my family. Otherwise I'd be coming home from the studios at 4 a.m. and going back again in the evening.
Are your two daughters musically inclined?
Yes, I think they'll get into it slowly. My father too was a composer. He died at the threshold of success. He passed away the same day his first film as a composer was released. I was nine then, and his only son. I started working at the age of 11.
What were you doing at that age?
Setting up music equipment for others. At 13, I started playing music. At 19, I started composing jingles.
A common charge against you is that your music sounds like ad jingles.
I don't want to argue with that charge. Maybe when I don't use the dholak my music sounds like jingles to them (laughs). I think composing jingles gave me the right formula and the hook for film music.
Are you affronted by criticism?
Not if it's intelligent and valid. I think criticism is healthy. When I composed for Mani Rathnam's second film, Thiruda Thiruda, they said the music was atrocious. Today they say it's the best music I've ever done. Not the Hindi version, the Tamil one. What they did in Hindi was to arbitrarily dub the Tamil version of Thiruda Thiruda to cash in on the success of Roja. I've stopped such dubbing now.
Do you have any music idols in Mumbai?
The late RD Burman and Naushadji. I like Naushadji's sense of melody. Doli Saja ke Rakhna had his influence. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is another favourite. I just did one song with him for my album Vande Mataram.
Joined: 01 May 2006
interview: the week april 2000
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:
Harmony begins at home: Rahman with his mother Karima (in the green sari) and sisters Ishrat (left) and Rehna (right) at the release of Jana Gana Mana 2000 in New Delhi; (below left) Rahman with his wife Saira
Joined: 01 May 2006
|interview: chennai news 15.03.2000|
Making music with A R Rahman "I am excited about working with Weber"Think of a chartbuster and you think of this guy. Yes, we're talking about the undisputed King of Movie Scores, A R Rahman (nee A S Duleep Kumar). A R Rahman is the kind of guy who wants to let his music do the talking. Now he's been commissioned by Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber to compose for a musical based on the theme of Bollywood (for a project in collaboration with Shekhar Kapur tentatively titled Bombay Dreams). In the last three years, just the sale of his albums crossed the 40 million mark. He also has to his credit two dozen hit singles over a span of eight films. After sounding repetitive for quite some time, he bounced back last year with Taal, 1947 Earth, Thakshak and Pukar. Here, the unassuming genius talks of his all-encompassing passion for music and his evolution as a musician, singer and a human being.
How does it feel to be working with Weber?
Actually, I was looking for a new twist; a new direction and this came at the right time. It sounded exciting to work with a legend. I will be composing the music and Weber will produce it. In a way, we will be working together. He will guide me accordingly. I haven't decided on the singers yet, but they will be finalised only after the script is ready.
What about the other films you have?
Lagaan, Zubeida and One Two Ka Four. And yes, Water, if that happens. I will take leave for six months and then go back to film music again.
1999 was a fabulous year for you. Besides Taal, there was 1947 Earth, Pukar and Thakshak. How do you look back at those films?
It took me a while to get used to north Indian music. Earlier in my career, my songs in Roja, Bombay and Rangeela were successful. But they weren't specifically aimed at the Hindi film audience. They were made with south Indian audiences in mind, or they were just converts of Tamil songs. Taal, Earth and Pukar were aimed at all kinds of audiencesHow do you go about composing a song?
I tell my musicians to play whatever they feel. Then I record what I want. I spend a lot of time - around four days - on the lyrics too. Altogether it takes about a week to complete a song. And I don't use computers. My music is synthesizer-oriented.
There has been criticism that your music is not original?
No one can be completely original, because the notes are already there. I do a lot of fusion from different traditions including Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, reggae, rock and Carnatic music - my favourites. As far as possible, I try to be original. The rest is up to Allah.
You seem to go for populist songs...
Each category of music reaches only one circle. If I play rock, I will be catering only to youngsters while older people will think it's just noise. I want my music to reach everywhere and so I want to go down to people at various levels. I make it a point to keep on learning and growing. Now, I am learning Carnatic classical music from Dakshinamurthy and Hindustani from Krishnan Nayar.
Joined: 01 May 2006
It is all the will of Allah. I just do my bit and leave the rest to Him. It is He who decides the fate of us mortals (smiles).
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