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i n t e r v i e w

perfection is his key to success - S. R. Ashok Kummar interviews music wizard A. R. Rahman, who won his second national award for ``Minsara Kanavu'' recently.

Date: 04-07-1997

In a short span A. R. Rahman has become a household name. The music wizard who has mesmerised audience with his enchanting score is known for his soft spoken, hardworking and deeply religious nature. The ace composer who has captured the hearts of music buffs the world over received his first national award with his debut film ``Roja.'' He got his second national award for ``Minsara Kanavu'' recently. In an interview, Rahman spoke about his flourishing career and his first passion, or rather his `lifeline' - music. Excerpts from the interview.

``Minsara Kanavu'' has swept all the awards in the music category. What is your reaction?

The credit must go to the director. Rajeev Menon has an excellent taste for music. His contribution, poet Vairamuthu's participation and the fact that it was a film to mark AVM's golden jubilee celebrations was enough motivation for us.

You went to Vairamuthu's house and asked him to write a lyric for the film, which he had refused earlier?

Yes, we had a very non-traditional tune which Rajeev wanted to be developed. The song was ``O lalala, Manamadura Mamarakuile.'' The tune was a bit different. It changes into Tamil folk from half of the song. Vairamuthu found it very alien to Tamil films and rejected it first. He said people will also reject it. We also decided not to use it. After a week when we listened to it again, Rajeev said it sounded good and suggested that we ask Vairamuthu to write a lyric for it. The poet was recuperating after a fever. So we went to his house, made him write for the tune. The song won the national award for Chitra and all of us.

At any point of time have you felt the pressure of competition?

Actually, I do not take part in any competition. Competition comes only when one vies for a number of films. I try to do each job perfectly and take rest to recharge my batteries. Rest is essential for the kind of work I do.

So you do not worry about competition?

It is not in me to work harder or less than the others. Each job demands a particular kind of effort and often it is more of a teamwork.

It is widely felt that your charges are exorbitant.

Actually, I want to be exclusive. With less work, I can strive for perfection.

The use of traditional musical instruments are rare in your compositions. Do you think they are outdated or redundant?

I am yet to work for films like ``Sankarabaranam.'' But in a film like ``Duet,'' a non-traditional instrument, saxophone, was effectively used in a traditional way. It all depends on the project. I am trying to do justice to my work. It is a blessing in disguise and it is a problem too. My music sells in three languages and ultimately makes the `roots' very shaky. For example if I compose a song in `Sama' rag for a Tamil film, the same song will certainly not click in Hindi. This is because of its pure South Indian `flavour'. For that I must adjust and compose it in `Dharbari' or `Dharmavathi' rag. This results in loss of traditional ethos. It is inevitable. Even if it is composed for a Tamil film, it will be sold in Telugu and Hindi. If the audio cassettes do not sell well, I will be blamed. It is a very risky affair. I only want to work for good films with best directors.

Can you tell something about your contribution for Illaiyaraaja's score in ``Punnagai Mannan.''

I was only an operator and not a composer. When I first bought the computer, Illaiyaraaja called me and we had lots of work sessions. He composed the song and I programmed it.

How do singers and musicians cope with your schedule?

It is not a daily feature. Depending on the workload, I plan my schedule. The singers come only during working hours. My technicians divide the work accordingly.

What is the basic knowledge needed to become a music director? Is knowledge of Carnatic music an asset? If so, does that help you now?

Carnatic music certainly helps as tunes must have roots. Or else, they will totally be rejected by the audience. Right now, commercial films need `hyper-energy' songs to garner greater theatre attendance. If the tide changes and more serious films come along, things may become different. \f3 \cf2\i\f1

What about your contribution to non-film music?

For long I thought films were enough. I owe a lot to the industry. My father too worked in films. I was waiting for a right occasion to do an album. I got it now and I am coming out with an album to commemorate 50 years of Independence. The album is titled ``Vande Maadaram.'' The songs will be in Hindi, Tamil, Sanskrit, Urudu and English. My friend Bharath is also associated with the project. We are coming out with a video and Audio albums. The shooting and the recording are being done here and in London.

You started off with ``Roja'' which got you the first national award. How is the reception to your popular songs in the North?

When excellent Tamil numbers are dubbed in Hindi, it is done to synthesise with the mouthing and not for the meaning. This affects the beauty of music composition and the lyric. People say that ``Duet'' is one of my best works. But magazines and people in the north did not like it. It is all because of trying to merge the lip movement and not the meaning. In the case of ``Sapnay,'' Rajeev Menon took extra effort to write the songs in Hindi with Javed, who gave beautiful lyrics. He shot the songs again. So only it was top of the chart for so many weeks. I think every film should be recorded and shot like this or it should not be sold in Hindi at all, which is impossible.

Critics feel that you do not have variety. What is your reaction?

They have to say something. I take criticism in good spirit and try to improve.

As a singer, you are taking all the good songs in popular films.

I have been forced to sing. It is extra tiring to sing and get the words right. I sing only when forced to. Mani Ratnam was seeing the rerecorded version of ``Roja.'' When he saw a boatman humming, he asked who sang it. I told him that I sang the piece. So in his next film ``Bombay,'' he wanted me to sing ``Humma Humma.'' Then I sang for Shanker and now for Kadir in ``Kadal Desam.'' In the album ``Vande Maadaram,'' I sing nearly all the songs.

Who is your favourite music director?

In Tamil I am a great fan of M. S. Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy and K. V. Mahadevan. In Hindi, I admire Naushad, S. D. Burman and R. D. Burman.

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