Academy Award-winner, A. R. Rahman talks about his growing-up years in an exclusive interview with our editor, Anisha Gakhar

A. R. Rahman, the legendary Oscar-winner, graces us with his overwhelming knowledge about music, technology, and the industry
Academy Award-winner, A. R. Rahman talks about his growing-up years in an exclusive interview with our editor, Anisha Gakhar
Academy Award-winner, A. R. Rahman talks about his growing-up years in an exclusive interview with our editor, Anisha Gakhar

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Enroute Chennai, I couldn’t help but wonder if this meeting would be similar to the many
I’ve had. Known for his shy demeanour, the celebrated living-legend, A. R. Rahman, has been a revolutionary Indian music composer, director, producer, and singer, who has contributed exaggeratedly to the Indian and international music landscapes. The Mozart of Madras, as he is fondly known as, has been held in immensely high esteem by one and all, across oceans. He has been a whole-hearted giver, a humble soul, a grounded human-being, and a very important part of my life, owing to my ardent love for music.
On the streets of Kodambakkam in Chennai, while the cab-driver turned left towards Rahman’s recording studio perched behind his residence, I could feel a surge of exhilaration within me. Whilst waiting in the meeting room, I could spot the many hundred trophies, which adorned the otherwise well-decorated room. Scarlet red curtains, luxurious carpets, rich chandeliers, shiny keyboards, and throne-like sofas, all with a touch of elegance and minimalism!

A R Rahman
Donning the titles of music director, singer, and producer, the distinguished musician was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2010, by the Government of India. He has uncountable accolades to his name, including the esteemed National Film Award, BAFTA Award, Academy Award, and Grammy Award. The moment dawned, and he entered in the meeting room, clad in a casual linen shirt. The interview began, and with every passing moment, I realised the abundance of knowledge he possessed and the calm aura he exuded.

THE DAWN OF AN UNFORGETTABLE ERA


Rahman’s father, R.K. Sekhar, was a renowned Tamil musician, who composed scores for the Malayalam film industry.The young lad’s interests lay in electronics and computers. Sekhar had purchased a synthesiser back then, which instigated curiosity and passion in Rahman, towards music. “I come from a music family. My father started teaching me the finer nuances of music when I was just four years old. I remember I began playing the keyboard at that age. My father passed away when I was barely nine years old, and we survived by renting out the instruments,” narrated Rahman. His mother, who he refers to as his strongest pillar, advised him to stop renting instruments and start playing them, rather.

A R Rahman

Rahman's zeal for music: as apparent as it could get

He recalled, “My mother advised me to stop my schooling and start concentrating on making music. Initially, I was slightly bemused with the idea of leaving school, since it was against the traditional protocol. But, she, I’d say, was a visionary, who saw my future way before anyone did!”
By the age of 11, Rahman was playing the keyboard professionally and was contributing to support his family. His professional experience led him to receive a scholarship at Trinity College, Oxford, where he received a degree in Western classical music. He started exploring other arenas, such as playing
in bands and eventually took to creating advertisement jingles at the age of 18. He wrote more than 300 jingles, which attributes to his disciplined nature, he said. According to him, writing jingles requires the message behind the advertisement to be delivered loud and clear, in a short duration; hence: discipline. Rahman’s career was soaring by the day, and there he was, ready to build his first studio in Chennai, Panchathan Record Inn, in 1989. In 1991, while at an award ceremony, Rahman met the acclaimed film director, Mani Ratnam.

MY MOTHER ADVISED ME TO STOP MY SCHOOLING AND START CONCENTRATING ON
MAKING MUSIC. INITIALLY, I WAS SLIGHTLY BEMUSED
WITH THE IDEA OF LEAVING SCHOOL, SINCE IT WAS AGAINST THE TRADITIONAL PROTOCOL. BUT, SHE, I’D SAY, WAS A VISIONARY, WHO SAW MY FUTURE WAY BEFORE ANYONE  DID!

A R Rahman

Earning accolades sinche his childhood

The latter wanted Rahman to write music for his motion pictures. Rahman’s first stint at Bollywood was the super-hit Roja, which was also a magnanimously successful music album. Rahman gave music to hundreds
of movies after Roja, including, Lagaan, the first Bollywood film nominated for an Academy Award. Rahman’s albums sold over a 100 million copies. Other notable albums of his, include, Bombay, Kadhalan, Thiruda Thiruda, Rangeela, Taal, Swades, Rang De Basanti, Water, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The  Hundred-Foot  Journey, People  Like Us, Million Dollar Arm, amongst a plethora of other Indian and international movies.

British composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, was fascinated by Rahman’s talent, and offered the latter to write for a stage musical. Along with lyricist, Don Black, Rahman composed the score for Bombay Dreams, a colourful irony of Bollywood films, and the show opened in London’s West End, in 2002. Rahman’s next stage project, a musical edition of The Lord of the Rings, premiered in Toronto, in 2006.
He was increasingly being offered Hollywood projects. His breakthrough, though, came with the hit track, Jai Ho, from Danny Boyle’s rags-to-riches saga, Slumdog Millionaire; earning him many an award including the Grammy.

A still from Rahman's debut, Roja

When asked about how a typical day in the life of Rahman looks like, he joked, “Jet- lagged!” Rahman wakes up at around 2 p.m., starts work at 5 p.m., and continues until
the wee hours of 5 a.m. These twelve hours comprise making music, and conducting discussions. Most of his songs have been recorded in his own studios, he said. When asked about how he spends his weekends, he joked, “I do interviews!” Rahman usually spends his free time meditating and introspecting in silence.

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