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.
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.
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
tried to synthesise the two generations of influences in your music,
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.
much of your early influences have you retained in your music today?
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.
once said that you like to record songs with flawed voices. What did you
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.
seem to avoid working with filmmakers who aren't musically literate?
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.
filmmakers in Mumbai are willing to make adjustments for you.
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
you have to wait to be inspired.
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.
Mumbai you've acquired the reputation of being tardy.
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.
is your music often accused of sameness?
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.
Roja in 1992 to Pukar in 2000, do you feel you've evolved as a composer?
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.
you struck a balance between composing in Mumbai and the South?
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.