hidden behind a stubble, was only recognisable because of his
innumerable rings, talismans and ever present cheeky smile. He has
become savvier, more Bollywood-ish. "What do you mean by
Bollywood-ish?" he asks innocently. How does one tell him that his
creativity seems to have diminished? That he is lifting tunes from
Beethoven and Mozart once too often? That he is recycling old tunes?
That the man who never copied himself is now copying others? One seems
to have touched a raw nerve -- the Rahman who smiled away accusations of
having lifted his own tunes two years ago now frowns and tries to
justify himself. He has come a long way from the struggling Dilip Sekhar
whose only assets were the musical instruments willed to him by his
father. A conversion to Islam and a reputation as the music director who
created the craziest ad jingles transformed his life forever. It did not
take long for Mani Ratnam to offer him Roja. After which phenomenal
success, there was no looking back. As he moved on to super-duper hits
like Bombay, Gentleman, Kadalan, Minsaara Kanavu, Pudhiya Mugam,
Rangeela, Duet, Thiruda Thiruda, Hindustani and Sapnay. Lately, of
course, there has been the occasional flop like Daud, Love Birds and
Kabhi Na Kabhi. But they have been offset by the phenomenal success of
Vande Mataram -- Maa Tujhe Salaam. And Dil Se.. which was released
across the country on Friday, has received rave reviews for its music.
How would you rate the music of Dil Se..?
I have tried to be different from what I have composed earlier. At the
same time, I have followed Mani Ratnam's instructions and concept. Mani
is very happy with the final product.
Mani Ratnam has been very influential in shaping your career...
I owe my success to Mani's Roja. He had asked me to create music that
would appeal to the nation, which is exactly what I did. And it worked.
Success and failure are but two sides of the same coin. I had scored
good music earlier too, but Roja got me the fame. It is all the will of
Allah. Bombay followed, as did Rangeela, Gentleman, Hindustani, Chor
Chor, Hum Se Hain Muqabla and Jeans.
Then why do you copy music?
Uhh! Copy? I don't copy. Music from the same raga always sounds similar.
Doesn't Roop suhana lagta hai from Gentleman and Dil hua hai deewana
from Bombay sound similar? Moreover, isn't Verapandya kottayile from
Thiruda Thiruda (Chor Chor) the same tune on a higher octave?
Oh, is it? (He shrugs.) They may be the same, but I haven't realised it.
I am not here to try and copy anyone. I try and give different music.
Do you think your music sounds similar because you work in loops?
Oh! You seem to know my style well. I always try and compose more
youthful music, music that could lend a lot of meaning to the film.
Music is an integral part of the film. You can tell the story just by
using music. Don't you feel I have changed my style of music after
Many of the Bombay-based music directors think so. They also feel you
have become predictable.
(Rahman frowns for the first time and shrugs again.) Many of these
so-called music directors keep on copying from me. I cannot take them to
court for that. They lift my music from a Tamil film and use it in a
Hindi film. That's what is called lifting a song. If you feel that my
songs sound similar, that's because it is my style.
Which means that Rahman has become predictable.
That's exactly my point. You call it predictable, I term it as my style.
They are ways of looking at it. If you call my style predictable, that
means you have understood that Rahman has been dealing with a particular
brand of music alone. Once you hear the music, you know it is has been
composed by Rahman. That is what I am all about. That is my identity;
that is the identity of my music. But, then, as I told you earlier, I am
trying to change all that. I have much bigger critics in the south who
rip me apart whenever they get the slightest opportunity. After all, I
am creating music for the common people. So I have to give them my best.
As long as they are happy with what I am giving them, fine. If they feel
that they deserve something different, I will give it to them. After
all, they have a right to listen to what they want.
How did Vande Mataram happen?
Bharat Bala and I are schoolmates and have worked together in over a
hundred jingles. Bharat was earlier making small films. One day, he
approached me with the idea of Vande Mataram. I liked the idea very
much. I accepted it because it gave me an opportunity to work with a
great musician like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. We worked very hard on the
music and the concept and the effort paid off. Bharat and Kanika's idea
clicked well. We got a great response. I was happy because I got to do
something that was different.
And we got to see the other side of Rahman -- the actor who posed in
front of the camera.
(Smiles) It was a different experience for me. It was fun. Initially, I
was nervous and refused to go before the camera. Bharat told me not to
be childish and I had to go ahead. All in all, it worked out very well.
What is your opinion about the current trend of pop music and of
actors who are trying to sing their own songs?
Pop music is an international phenomenon. If the right people enter this
field, it will certainly be good. As for actors singing their own songs,
I would say it is essential that every actor know to sing. If he does,
then he can do a much better job on camera when he is acting the song
out. But I don't think actors should sing too many songs unless they are
very good at it as we have many good singers in Indian cinema.
The music of Priyadarshan's Kabhi Na Kabhi was more of a letdown
except for the title song which, finally, was not seen in the theatres.
Yeah, I was told that the song wasn't shown in some theatres. But, then,
one can never get 100 out of 100 from the audiences. The audience is, as
Kamal Haasan often says, a multi-headed creature. We have to feed every
mouth with a different item. Finding something that will appease all the
heads simultaneously is very difficult. Still, I try and give music that
will make everyone happy at all times. I am just a human being and my
keyboard is just a machine. Insha Allah (if god wills), I will continue
to give good music that will make everyone happy including you, my dear
You charge a lot for every film. It is said you charge Rs 10 million
for a non-Mani Ratnam film.
(Goes on the defensive again) No, no, not Rs 10 million. But I do charge
what I am worth. I give quality stuff and if people want me, and they
want my kind of music, they pay for it. So what's so wrong about my
What makes Rahman click?
It is all the will of Allah. I just do my bit and leave the rest to Him.
It is He who decides the fate of us mortals (smiles).