the end of 1999, Rahman is poised at the crossroads as far as film music
is concerned. While Taal hit a creative as well as commercial high,
1947 won him rave reviews. Thakshak and Dil Hi Dil Mein,
however, were a case of loveís labour lost, as both films didnít
deliver at the boxoffice.Nevertheless, most music lovers see him as the
only true pathbreaker of the í90s, the only composer capable of carrying
film music forward into the next century and a new high. His detractors,
however, accuse him of limited creative capacities, which has led him to
sound repetitive and monotonous.
takes both acclaim and criticism in his stride. Thereís no rancour of
defensiveness in his attitude even when you accuse him of monotony. His
eyes are on new horizons. New ways of extending music. Heíll be working
with Michael Jackson in the year 2000, as also Andrew Lloyd Webber.
is difficult to pin Rahman down for an interview in Chennai. He works
through the nights and sleeps through the day. After several phonecalls
handled by his charming and soft-spoken wife, the man finally comes on the
line. ďIíll be in Mumbai tomorrowĒ, he says. ďWe can meet
there.Ē We meet him the following day in Mumbai, where he is recording a
song for Shyam Benegals Zubeida.
are many who say that you have given a new dimension to film music.
but there are also those who say that I am lousy.(laughs)
you, at times?
I am. It depends on the inspiration I get. One canít be on the same
creative plane always
do you respond to the acclaim heaped on you by music historians?
a great responsibility. Iím trying my best to combine traditional and
sometimes the result isnít in my hands at all. It depends on the film
and its director. So far Iíve been lucky not to have any major
disagreements. Trends come and go but Iíve to keep doing my own thing.
Personally, I was very fond of my music in Doli Saja Ke Rakhna, but
it didnít do well. The film wasnít released properly. It depressed me.
Now the music has been included in a Telugu /
Tamil bilingual film. And the songs are super-hits.
do you use so many different voices in a film, irrespective of whether
they suit the characters or not?
do it for variety. Otherwise things would get monotonous, and Iíd be
composing an endless series of love duets. (laughs)
was a time when the album of a film would have only two voices, mostly,
Lata Mangeshkarís and Mohammed Rafiís, singing for different
characters. Today, different singers sign for the same character.
possible to that even now, but it wonít be work. The times have changed.
The attention span of and average listener has decreased and his
geographical purview has broadened. He wants to see Switzerland and New
York, and at the same time experience the rural landscape of India. The
scope of songs is expanding to include every part of the planet maybe even
the moon. Movies no longer move through one time-frame and mood. If they
did, then one could stick to one voice. Today we canít afford to have
the heroine and her maidservant sing in Latajiís voice. Ealier
the only means of experiencing music was movies, now with MTV and Channel
[V] in vogue, listeners are rooting for variety. When they hear a song
outside the film, they donít relate the singerís voice to that of an
actorís. So that aspect becomes irrelevant. They no longer think in
terms of perfect or imperfect. They want different voices, standards be
is said that you had to splice together several voices in Taal
because you couldnít get the required results with just one or two
voices. Is this true?
problem was different. We recorded some songs of Taal in Chennai
and others in Mumbai depending on the time and availability. It gave me
the chance to work with some new singers. You see, if I take a new singer
for a song his or her career is made.
have boosted neglected singers like Ranu Mukherjee and Hema Sardesai.
but unfortunately, I couldnít sustain their careers. I had to move on.
of the success of Jiya jale, you have seldom got Lata Mangeshkar to
sing your songs.
of my songs are so freaky that I feel embarrassed to approach her. I feel
they wouldnít do justice to her reputation. Jiya jale was raga-based
so it was her territory.
was the experience of working with Subhash Gahi in Taal?
was very good. Subhash Ghai is a genuine lover of music. Heís like a
child in his responses. If he likes something he hears, he gets really
excited. If he doesnít like something he hears, he gets depressed.
Ghai told me there was a huge communication problem between the two of
was not because of language- Iíve been learning Urdu (laughs).
One part of the problem was Anand Bakshi. He canít travel. So the lyrics
had to be written in Mumbai and sent to Chennai. If a change was needed it
had to be sent back. That was time consuming. Sometimes Subhashji
had to wait for me because of my work patterns. In Chennai, Iíve a small
studio where all the music happens. I can only do one thing at a time
there. Even when a track is being transferred, all other work comes to a
standstill, because I like to supervise everything myself. I donít
believe in handing over the job to someone else and waiting for the
results. This leads to people waiting for me at times. But itís not
happy are you with your work in Taal?
very happy. I had worked on the score for eight months. It was good to
work with a filmmaker like Ghai. Heís very Particular about everything.
He wanted to know every detail in the track. It inspired me. He looked at
the music objectively. After the recording, he spent three days doing
minor editing on the music to make it crisper. It was the first time that
a director did the final trimming.
are your favourite numbers from Taal?
of them (laughs). Actually Nahin saamne and Ishq bina
are my favourites. Ishq bina is a combination of a bhajan
and a qawwali. For this song the lyrics were written first. After
that I composed four versions. Ghai asked me to combine three of them into
Singh seems to be a constant presence in your scores these days. Do you
share a special rapport with him?
began with me in Thakshak. When I heard the story I could hear a
voice in my mind. I spoke about it to my friend Brij Bhushan in Mumbai. He
knows a lot of singers. I wanted a Punjabi folk singer. He suggested
Sukhwindaraís name. I immediately chose him for Thakshak. After
that we recorded for Dil Se. I then heard a lot of his Punjabi music, not
just bhangra. More listeners in North India relate to Punjabi music than
Hindi or Urdu. The rhythm is universal.
Sukhwindara become a link with the North for you?
could say that (laughs). In fact nowadays, weíre jamming together
a lot. He thinks music. He writes very simple lyrics in a lay personís
it true that you were hesitant in the beginning about the Thakshak
A key character in the film is a pop singer. I was asked to compose a song
for the situation when the lead character is going through turbulent
emotions. He had this toofan inside him. And the script demanded
that I compose some noisy numbers for the situation (laughs). I
told Govindji that I wouldnít be very comfortable doing it. He
pleaded that the music had to tune in with his lead character. When a
director is that clear about what he wants, the composer canít dilute or
deflect his needs. So I decided to go by Govindjiís brief,
against my own musical taste. Even after recording, I had reservations
about the Toofan number. I felt it was too noisy. But it reflected
the protagonistís state of mind. Maybe we should have deleted the song
from the album.
feel that your score in Deepa Mehtaís 1947-Earth is your best in a long
Deepa Mehta was on her own trip. She didnít care if the music was
commercially viable or not. She wanted sparse orchestration in the film.
There was no dholak in the Rut aa gayi re number in the
film. In fact, in the album, I had to pad up some of the songs with more
did you enjoy your first full-fledged foray into folk-based rhythm?
the beginning, I was a bit scared, But I came to terms with it. I had to
instill a period atmosphere into the kind of music todayís listeners
relate to. I composed and recorded the songs the way I wanted to.
Fortunately when Deepa heard them, she freaked out. We had even recorded a
version of Vande mataram, but since it went into the sensitive
Indo-Pak issue, we decided not to use it in the film. The bhajan Ishwar
Allah was written and composed in one day.
it true that youíve declined several films in Mumbai?
I was supposed to do Mela. Then Josh. There was a huge
communication problem regarding Josh. Since Iím Chennai-based, a
whole lot of gossip and speculation followed. I was accused of all sorts
of things. If thereís no trust between a filmmaker and a composer then
the two should not work together. Now Iím doing Aamir Khanís Lagaan.
Iíve already recorded two songs. I did turn down a few offers in Mumbai
but it is not proper for me to discuss then.
were a few rumours that Thakshak and Pukar were held up because you
delayed the background score.
and Pukar were done on DTS, so there was a lot of work involved.
Since the effects are done in Chennai, they conveniently put the blame on
me. The music was more or less ready in time, but the sound mixing, which
involved four times the normal work, took time. The result as
you can see is mind-blowing. The music of Pukar has an
individualistic sound. It was designed exclusively for the film. And
thereís no item song.
late you have been moving away from your trademark sound.
I had to, for variety. But the problem is, if I stick to what you call my
trademark sound, Iím accused of sounding the same, and if I try to do
something different, people complain that it doesnít sound like
Rahmanís music. Itís a no-win situation. Left to myself, Iíd like to
be adventurous and try out styles I havenít tried before.
are very critical of contemporary music. Whatís your view?
guess some of the criticism is valid. But then, you need to understand the
pressures under which most composers work in the film industry. The
pressures donít allow them to function freely. I have become immune to
the abuses hurled at me from all sides (laughs). So I function the
way I want to. They keep cribbing all the time even about the slightest
delay. Everybody seems to be in a hurry. Not every composer can take that
kind of pressure, so they compromise on quality.
about the lack of originality?
director told me recently Ė I wonít name him Ė since all the tunes
are the same, all I need to do is to change the backup. I kept thinking
about the offer for three weeks, then declined the film. I guess
everything depends on the success of a film. The music of Dil Se did very
well until the film bombed at the box office. Then they said that the
music was too complexly structured and it was too difficult for the common
man to grasp it, and that the songs should have had a North Indian
falvour. In a way the assumption is right but it occurred to them only
after sa;es of the album slowed down. But on the whole, I agree that too
much innovation puts off people.
was completely alien to listeners in the north, yet they accepted it.
because there was too much mediocrity around at that time (laughs).
you still feel akward working in Mumbai?
anymore. It is almost the same as working in Chennai. I donít
communicate with the lyricists long distance anymore. Instead, we meet and
interact, and there is better communication. Earlier I did my job and the
lyricists did his.
are the lyricists you are comfortable working with in Mumbai?
am okay with most of them. I enjoyed working with Gulzarsaab in Dil
Se. Heís a very musical person. He doesnít use clichťs. Javedsaab
is a very fine poet too.
poetry get in the way of your tunes, since you arenít so fluent in
depend on the requirements of the song. Sometimes songs need poetry,
sometimes they donít. In any case, as I said, I have been learning Urdu.
says that your biggest contribution to film music isÖ
I didnít interfere with his lyrics? (laughs)
that you broke the clichťd antra-mukhda-antra pattern of a film song.
people praise me for it, other criticize. When I started out, I used to
play the keyboard for a number of composers. Soon it became like a boring
office job and I began wondering what I should do to break the monotony.
It led me to think up new ideas. By listening to other composers
carefully, I learnt that what should be there in good film music and what
is this project you are working on with Andrew Lloyd Webber?
are still to work out the final details. It will be oriental-style music
in English language, and will be produced by Shekar Kapur and Andrew Lloyd
Webber. There are several other things I want to do. Music, after all, is
not a predictable vocation.
you feel you are reaching a saturation point where film music is
I donít. The film industry is growing. It is expanding at an amazing
speed. Even as piracy is being blamed for screwing up the music business, Taal
and Dil Se are on the UK and US charts. A Tamil film called Muthu
starring Rajnikant has done very well in Japan. When the Japanese came
here, I asked them what it was that they liked about my music. They said
they liked the John Barry kind arrangement inter-mixed with Indian folk.
do the initials A.R. stand for in your name?
Rakha. My friends call me A.R..
putting in such long hours, how do you relax?
the time to relax? Composition is not just about creating tunes on the
harmonium. Nowadays thereís software related to music, which Iím
getting familiar with. Thereís so much happening and so much to do.
you spend time with your wife and children?
do. Fortunately, Iíve my studio attached to my home, which helps me keep
in touch with my family. Otherwise Iíd be coming home from the studios
at 4 a.m. and going back again in the evening.
your two daughters musically inclined?
I think theyíll get into it slowly. My father too was a composer. He
died at the threshold of success. He passed away the same day his first
film as a composer was released. I was nine then, and his only son. I
started working at the age of 11.
were you doing at that age?
up music equipment for others. At 13, I started playing music. At 19, I
started composing jingles.
common charge against you is that your music sounds like ad jingles.
donít want to argue with that charge. Maybe when I donít use the dholak
my music sounds like jingles to them (laughs). I think composing
jingles gave me the right formula and the hook for film music.
you affronted by criticism?
if itís intelligent and valid. I think criticism is healthy. When I
composed for Mani Rathnamís second film, Thiruda Thiruda, they
said the music was atrocious. Today they say itís the best music Iíve
ever done. Not the Hindi version, the Tamil one. What they did in Hindi
was to arbitrarily dub the Tamil version of Thiruda Thiruda to cash
in on the success of Roja. Iíve stopped such dubbing now.
you have any music idols in Mumbai?
late RD Burman and Naushadji. I like Naushadjiís sense of
melody. Doli Saja ke Rakhna had his influence. Nusrat Fateh Ali
Khan is another favourite. I just did one song with him for my album Vande