A R Rahman is the man who has redefined contemporary Indian music, is the pride of the nation and a role model for millions around the world. He has sold more than 100 million copies of albums comprising of music from more than 50 movies.
Rahman was born in a musically affluent family and he started playing the piano at a very young age. His father was R K Shekhar who was a composer, arranger and conductor in Malayalam movies. Unfortunately, his father died when he was only 9 and the family used to rent out musical equipment to make ends meet. Young Rahman then joined noted composer Illayaraja's troupe as a keyboardist. He also accompanied Zakir Hussain and Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan on their tours. This experience eventually led him to obtain a scholarship to the prestigious Trinity College of Music, London .
Rahman then moved on to composing jingles, documentaries and the title music for popular Indian shows on television channels. Some of his popular jingles include Boost , Asian Paints and Leo Coffee . During this time, he also set up his own in house studio called Panchathan Record- Inn at Chennai, which is probably today Asia 's most sophisticated and hi-tech studio.
In 1991, noted film maker Mani Ratnam offered Rahman a movie called Roja which was a super hit and brought nation wide fame and acclaim to the composer. The movie also led Rahman to receive the National Award for the best music director, the first time ever by a debutant. Since then, he has gone on to win the National Award 3 more times (for Minsaara Kannavu, Lagaan and Kannathil Muthamittal ), the most ever by any music composer. Apart from this, Rahman has won 17 filmfare awards (the Indian equivalent of the Oscars), 3 MTV awards, 4 IIFA awards, 6 TamilNadu state awards, 6 Zee awards, 4 screen awards and lots more. He has also been conferred the prestigious 'Padmashree' award by the Government of India in the year 2000 for outstanding contribution to the Indian film industry.
Rahman followed up Roja with Gentleman, Thiruda Thiruda, Kaadhalan, Bombay and Minssara Kannavu all of which were huge chartbusters and were dubbed into Hindi as well. Other hits in Tamil include Alaipayuthey, Kandukondein Kandukondein, Jeans , Mudalvan, Kannathil Muthamittal, Boys etc. His foray into Hindi movies started off with a big bang with Rangeela followed by Dil Se, Taal , 1947/Earth, Pukar, Lagaan and Zubeida amongst others all of which had huge album sales. His more recent releases include Meenaxi, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Yuva, Tehzeeb, Swades and Bose: The forgotten hero all of which have been critically acclaimed and well received.
Rahman is widely considered as the man who single handedly revived public interest in Indian film music in the 90s. In 1997, to commemorate 50 years of Indian independence, Rahman came out with an album, ' Vande Matram ' produced by BharatBala. The timing was perfect. The Indian youth related to it and it rekindled the spirit of patriotism. Being Indian was fashionable amongst the youth again.
In 2001, Andrew Lloyd Webber, a well known composer of musicals like Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar etc invited Rahman to compose for the musical, ' Bombay Dreams ' which opened to packed houses in London's West end. The show had an unprecedented run for 2 years and later premiered in NewYork's Broadway. Rahman also composed the score for a Chinese film, ' Warriors of Heaven and Earth ' and a piece for the award winning violinist/musician Vannesa Mae called ' Raga's Dance .' Rahman is currently working on the stage version of J R R Tolkien's ' Lord of The Rings' , which will premiere in Toronto , Canada in 2006.
Rahman's forthcoming projects include Godfather, AhAah in Tamil and The Rising, Water, Rang De Basanti in Hindi .
Besides this, Rahman is also involved in other charitable causes. In 2004, he was appointed the Global Ambassador of the Stop T B Partnership, a project by the World Health Organistation.
And this is what some of the filmmakers and artistes who have worked with Rahman have this to say about him:
Gulzar (Lyricist and filmmaker): " He is a milestone in 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 ."
Ranjit Barot (Composer/Arranger): " The man is a whiz cos he eats, breathes and sleeps music. He has revolutionized the film music ."
Subhash Ghai (filmmaker): " 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 ."
RamGopal Varma (filmmaker): " Its always a challenge to picturise songs set to Rahman's music ."
Zakir Hussain (Renowned Tabla Player): " He worked with me when he was barely 19 but had already mastered many different styles of music. Even after his work was done, he would stay in the studio sitting through other musican's pieces, eyes and ears tuned in, constantly imbibing. This reminds me of R D Burman. These guys make it possible to bring in all elements of world music ."
Rajeev Menon (filmmaker): " He'll remain my only choice and preference. We've been working together for the past 14 years ."
Pravin Mani (Composer/Arranger): " He gives a lot of freedom to his technicians and all those involved with him, while working and is extraordinarily creative ."
Shankar-Ehsan-Loy (Composers): " Rahman is a great musician and a great human being. His music is fresh and honest. That's very important, writing something from his heart ."
Manna De (Veteran Composer): " Rahman is extremely experimental and leaves no stone unturned in trying out new things."
Asha Bhonsle (Playback Singer): " Rahman understands the youth of today. He has brought a freshness, a new sound to film music. Hes always doing something new and different which is very inspiring for a playback singer ."
Andrew Lloyd Webber (Producer/Composer): " In Rahman I met someone who I believe could carry the torch of musical theatre into a new dimension ."
Daily Mail : " Once you enter the spirit, the show, cannily produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is a delight. And it brings to a mainstream audience the astounding musical talent of AR Rahman, the 36-year-old "Asian Mozart" from Madras who has sold more records than Madonna and Britney Spears combined."
Time : "The billboard outside the Broadway Theatre reads, A R RAHMAN'S BOMBAY DREAMS. That name may mean little to musical-theater devotees, but in the rest of the world it's golden. Like Gershwin or Lennon-McCartney, the name stands for melody, quality, energy, instant hummability--a sound both personal and universal, devouring many older forms and transforming them into something gorgeously new."
But the man himself remains unperturbed by all the praise and acclaim he receives. Says Rahman, " I wanted to go beyond the restrictions of language, religion and caste and music is really the only thing that allows you to do that . Besides, all the inspiration and all the good things to me come from God… "