Today January 6, the maverick composer A R Rahman, the repository of raga renown, turns 48.
Interestingly, Rahman’s son shares his father’s birth date.
A few years ago on his birthday Rahman had revealed, “My son and I share the same birthday. …I don’t know how that happened.”
Rahman said he relived his childhood through his son Ameen. “So far I’ve just been busy living life. From my childhood I was surrounded by grownups, I never got a chance to enjoy being a child. It took me a while to realize how young I was. By the time I realized I was missing out on youthful activities I was no longer young. Now I’m re-living my childhood with three children. If I’m able to give them everything that I couldn’t afford they too are giving me back something vital.”
And what sense has he made of his life? “My life has always been a journey. When I was in my 20s, I went through the most turbulent and hectic time of my life. Now I spend as much time as possible with my children Khatija, Rahima and Ameen. My studio in Chennai is bang opposite my house, so they spend a lot of time with me. All they’ve to do is cross the road and they’re with me.”
When I had asked what lessons Rahman had learnt from his life the reticent genius pondered then said, “In my life, I’ve always found dreams do come true, though often they true come long after you’ve forgotten them. Just preserve your dream at the bottom of your heart and wait for it to fructify. For years I nurtured a dream of giving Western classical music legitimacy in our country, to cultivate the dedication and discipline of orchestral music in our youngsters who at the moment feel western-classical is too distant and esoteric for them. My ultimate dream was to create an orchestra that would be capable of performing the world’s best musical pieces and thereby building a cultural bridge across western and Indian music. We finally launched our music conservatory.”
Rahman earnestly desires new generations of musicians to find their bearings. “I want to teach young musicians how to play within an orchestra. As things stand if I want to record orchestral music I’ve to go to Prague. If Ilaiyaraja wants to record an epic score he goes to Budapest. Why can’t we do it right here in our own country? I want to build a repertoire of musicians who can play western instruments as expertly as the sitar or tabla. Our talented young musicians who want to learn western classical music have to head for London. I want to give a certain legitimacy to western classical music in our country. You see, Indian classical music has room for unlimited improvisation and spontaneity. A classical recital requires far more formal discipline. And the whole orchestra brings one emotion into play throughout a recital. We don’t have that discipline in our country. It used to be there. But now the younger generation is more enthused by other forms of western music like dance and hip-hop. I want to inculcate that sense of discipline required for western classical music. Today a keyboard player gets tons of money whereas a violinist gets a pittance. I want the orchestra player to be proud of what he does. For that the violinist or the flautist has to be a complete techno-savvy musician.”
Rahman feels India’s art and culture stands a terrific chance in the West. “I think the time for India in the western world is now. The respect for all things Indian has gone up in recent times. We need to take an initiative to propagate our culture. Yes, I’ve consciously cut down on assignments in Mumbai. I always have been picky. I’m happy I’m moving into another level. In that endeavour I lost some movie assignments in Mumbai. But the sacrifice is worth it. The unknown always fascinates me. If it didn’t a Roja wouldn’t have happened.”
On the deteriorating standards of film music Rahman said, “If you have durable melodies and good poetry people do respond to it, even if not immediately. When I see the so-called difficult songs being sung effortlessly by children on television’s talent-scouting contests I realize the most hummable songs are those that touch on life. Composers take the easy way out. They make tunes that hit the charts for a month and then exit, therefore nothing memorable happens. I wonder why an album like my The Legend Of Bhagat Singh didn’t work. I worked really hard on it. And then nothing happened! I had to invent new tunes for established classics like ‘Mera Rang De Basanti Chola‘. Tragically if a movie doesn’t do well everything including the music falls by the wayside. I think people got put off by the element of terrorism that underlined the overt patriotism in Bhagat Singh story.”
When I told him he’s considered the saviour of film music in India, Rahman said, “I guess different people like different things in my music. And I’m open to more offers in Mumbai. For me music is music. It doesn’t belong to any region. My theme for Mani Ratnam‘s Bombay was done in Tamil, then it went into Hindi and soon it was playing all over Europe and Australia. If a tune comes to me it takes wings. The problem is with the shrinking film market in India. Because the budgets for films are shrinking, so are the funds to compose music. So my creative vision has to be tailored to suit the altered financial state. This is the first time I’m facing this situation in the last ten years, and I don’t relish it.”