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interview - Lisa Tsering, India Abroad News Service - july 2000


a r rahman - on the brink of worldwide acclaim - By 

New York, June 5 -- Being roped in by international playwright Andrew Lloyd Webber and director Shekhar Kapur to compose the music for the former's next stage spectacular, "Bombay Dreams," Allah Rakha Rahman, or A.R. Rahman, is today on the brink of being discovered by a Western audience.

India's most sought-after music director, who wants the whole world to hear his music, has been given full artistic freedom for Webber's stage production, based on the Indian film industry. He has set up a studio in London where he will be working on the project in between his Indian film assignments. Rahman discloses he is considering working for another international project, "The Thief of Baghdad," but has not finalized it yet.

Rahman, who has sold an estimated 40 million albums in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, was in New York to accept an award for his score for Subhash Ghai's 1999 musical love story "Taal" at the Zee Gold Bollywood awards presentation. He described the challenges that now lay ahead in an interview with the California newspaper India-West.


Q: First of all, do you prefer to be called Allah Rakha? Or A.R. Rahman?

A: A.R. M.C. Hammer (laughs).

Q: Do you feel a very great responsibility now that you've been named to the "Bombay Dreams" project?

A: There has been a great responsibility when I started, actually. It's not a sudden thing. When I did my first film, "Roja," my main intention was that the music should go beyond the walls of India and should be heard all over. Indian culture should be accessible to everyone, even for young people.

Q: How will composing for the international stage be different for you?

A: See, the main thing that strikes them - the Really Useful group (Webber's production company) - is that it's accessible to them and it's accessible to the Asians too. It's going to be the same way.

Q: What is it? The person goes to Bombay to try to be a star...

A: No, no, no (laughs). You'll get to know when it's ready. There is a lot of traditional stuff, the way they started this originally, but I've been given the liberty to develop this any which way I want. So in fact, I have set up a studio in my flat near the campus of the Really Useful Group in London. So I started to break tradition there.

Q: Once this starts, will you be stopping your Indian projects for a while?

A: I'm not going to stop, because that was the inspiration. That is my inspiration. All the films have been my inspiration to the whole "Bombay Dreams" itself. If I stop that, I will feel unconnected from my roots. So I said I will probably work 20-30 days in the United Kingdom, and then go back to my projects.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration?

A: Everything. I feel the whole world is like one. There are different cultures, but you get moved, and even when they listen to a "raag" like in "Vande Mataram" I did, or the Bombay theme or anything, they hear the "raag" and they feel they can tell what the pulse is, I can see tears sometimes and I can see joy sometimes. So it doesn't have any language.

Q: I heard that you like to work all night and sleep all day.

A: Mostly (laughs). When I work during the day, I get a lot of phone calls, and a lot of decisions need to be made. I have to come out of my trance. So nights are better for me. Mainly when I do overdubs and things it's during the day. My own work, whenever I write and do creative work, though, is mostly at night.

Q: Let's talk about the singing. You have the ability to coax these incredible performances out of incredible singers, be it a Sonu Nigam, Kavita Krishnamurty, or Udit Narayan, or in "Dil Se," making Lata Mangeshkar sound like she was 20 years old. What is your secret for pushing them?

A: See, the main thing is for them to get comfortable. When they come to sing a track, it shouldn't be like an exam, they should have fun. First of all, you set up an environment for them. The vibes are much better than if they are thinking, "I have to go in one hour." So they come to Madras and it's almost like a holiday for them. They come to the studio and they have endless time. There's no other artists waiting. Once they start singing, I just keep recording all the candid performances. Whatever they sing.

Q: The demands of singing on the Broadway stage require a whole different set of pipes than the studio singing and the Indian classical singing. You are going to be working with a completely different breed of singer entirely.

A: That is quite a difficult task, to find talent like that. But we have time to train them, as long as the compositions work. That's a very tough task, and we'll probably come to that stage in a couple of months so we'll know then. But there are so many equally talented people coming up, we may be surprised to find someone excellent and good-looking.

Q: Why don't you work with Kumar Sanu?

A: I did work with Kumar Sanu once, in "Kabhi Na Kabhi," but he sings in a different, traditional Bollywood kind of style. Most of my stuff is ... freaky, you know? (laughs) I mean, my school is slightly different. Maybe it's how you reach people rather than having any type of type-casting in mind.

Q: What are your current projects?

A: "Lagaan" with Amir Khan and "Zubeida" with Shyam Benegal, and "One Two ka Four" with Shah Rukh Khan. The playback singers will be Lata, Asha Bhosle, the pop singer Raageshwari, Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik, plus a couple of new singers - Poonam and Mahalakshmi.

Q: Besides Webber are there any Western collaborators in the wings?

A: There is The "Thief of Baghdad," a film which is a co-production between Hollywood and Madras, which we might collaborate on but we still haven't done it.


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