One of India’s greatest gifts to the entertainment world – music maestro AR Rahman – celebrates his 25th year in the industry this month.
The former jingle writer’s career skyrocketed following his maiden soundtrack compositions for the 1992 Tamil blockbuster Roja.
At the 1993 National Film Awards, he won Best Music Direction (a first for a newbie) while Vairamuthu bagged Best Lyrics for the opening song from the movie, Chinna Chinna Aasai.
Roja’s soundtrack not only changed the face of Indian film music, it was listed on Time magazine’s “10 Best Soundtracks” of all time.
In an interview with Filmfare magazine last year, Rahman said he chose not to pursue an education at Berklee College of Music in the US when he was offered to work on Roja.
This year also marks the silver jubilee of the singer-songwriter’s collaboration with renowned film director Mani Ratnam, who gave him his first break.
From Roja to recently launched Kaatru Veliyidai, the director-composer duo has worked on 15 films, offering countless chartbusters.
Mani told Times of India when he first heard Rahman’s music, “it was just amazing. It took me out from where I was sitting and transported me to a different world.”
The award-winning director was not concerned the compositions were ahead of its time.
“I looked at it as a director. And a director is a very selfish person. His first priority is his film.
“The film was called Roja, it was set in Kashmir and the music he (Rahman) played had the feel of the winter — the cold of that place.
“Also, I thought it was absolutely fantastic and it was going to lift my visuals.”
On the weight of Roja’s success, Rahman told Times of India, “I think Roja’s success made us work really, really hard. We were kind of masochists, and we were destroying ourselves.
“Vairamuthu sir, in fact, said, ‘Anybody else would have died living up to what we did with Roja’. We were pushing ourselves and I think that’s why it still stands the test of time.”
Born A.S. Dileep Kumar to a musically affluent family, the genius began learning the piano at age four.
By 11, following his father’s demise, Rahman dropped out of school and joined composer Ilaiyaraaja’s troupe as a keyboard player and travelled the world.
He eventually won a scholarship at the Trinity College of Music at Oxford University, where he studied Western classical music and obtained a degree in music.
In 1987, family matters led him to embrace Islam and adopt the name Allah-Rakha Rahman.
To date, the 50-year-old has sold more than 150 million copies of his work comprising music from more than 100 film soundtracks and albums across half a dozen languages.
Some of his landmark scores include Bombay, Dil Se, Taal, Lagaan, Vandemataram, Jodhaa Akbar and Rockstar.
Dubbed the “Mozart of Madras”, Rahman has carved out a niche for himself in the West through award-winning compositions in Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and Pele.
Rahman said the Indian movie industry and filmgoers have long been influenced by Hollywood and likewise when he composes for the West.
“It’s about wearing different hats … When we go to a party, we speak in a different way, and when we speak to our mother or a friend, we speak in a different way,” The News Minute reported him saying.
Rahman also composed music for Iranian and British movies.
Married to Saira Banu, they have a son and two daughters.
On his compositions, Rahman said he only takes on music that excites him.
The News Minute reported Rahman saying, “Before taking up a project, there is research done first. It needs to excite me.
“The project needs to make me sleepless to deliver something satisfactory.”
Regardless of the project, be it Bollywood, Hollywood or any other, his interest is heightened when passionate people are involved.
Now, this world-renowned music producer makes his directorial debut with Le Musk, touted as the world’s first virtual reality (VR) “multi-sensory” feature film.
Unsurprisingly, it is technology that drew Rahman to films, reported The Economic Times.
“The (VR) technology is evolving and everybody is doing experimental stuff with it. I found the technology exciting and I had a story.
“I feel my story will come out beautifully in this technology,” said Rahman, adding he doesn’t have a budget to make movies like Bahubali.
Hindustan Times reported Rahman has already decided that his next film will be in the same format.
“This one will be even more exciting than Le Musk. It’s based on five different Indian classical dance forms and music will continue to be the foundation of the story.”
The film is expected to be completed next year.
Adding to his accolades, this week, the philanthropist walked the red carpet at the opening night of Cannes Film Festival with the cast of Sanghamitra — the first Tamil movie to achieve such a grand unveiling.
As music producer, he has already completed a song for this big budget South Indian two-part period movie.