Composer AR Rahman in a candid chat about teaming up with politico Kapil Sibal, the royalty issue, his music school, family and more
Meeting maestro AR Rahman almost always translates into a lesson in humility and this chat was no different. The renowned composer, despite his packed schedule, seemed to be in a cheerful food as he answered our questions during the snack break.
Here he opened up about a range of topics...
How did this collaboration with Kapil Sibal fall into place?
About a year ago, I was gifted a book of paintings by Raja Ravi Varma, and I remember being fascinated by the works featured in it. Around the same time, I met Sibalsaab at a common friend’s place and he read out his poems at this function. He showed me this fat book where he jots down his poems and he told me how inspiration strikes him anywhere, anytime — while on a flight or even at home after a long day’s work. Around seven to eight poems from this book appealed to me. I then began composing music for the same around six months back. We also got backing from a label and that’s how the video happened.
A R Rahman (left) with Kapil Sibal, Minister for Communications & Information Technology
Given that Sibal is a politician, we have to ask you — how politically aware are you? Particularly with regards to Sibal’s work and image?
I am politically ignorant. I know who our Prime Minister is and that’s the extent of my knowledge about politics. I didn’t even know the ministry Kapilsaab belonged to until recently. His poems are about life, love and separation; they don’t hint at his political background. In fact, these are simple poems and we have presented them in a different light. We have dwelt on ideas such as duality in everyone’s life.
Your views on the ongoing royalty issue.
I don’t think there is any controversy here; what’s needed is fairplay by both parties. I, for one, support the music companies and the artistes as well. In the West, that’s how things work and it’s high time we followed suit. One needs to find a solution where artistes get their royalties and companies too are happy about it. The issue needs to be addressed carefully. It is important that artistes get their share, they deserve to pull themselves out of dire poverty. At the same time, companies need some kind of assurance as well.
You roped in Alia Bhatt to sing a song for Highway. How did that come about?
I did not expect her to have a naturally good voice. But when she sang, I realised that she has a sweet voice. I have now invited her to my music school where she can undergo training. In the next two years, we should be able to cut an album with her.
Are you planning to open a Mumbai branch anytime soon?
If someone were to sponsor it, sure (laughs). But no, we don’t plan to set up a branch anywhere in the country. Also, the school doesn’t aim to teach only western or Indian classical music, it’s more about fusion music. If you want to learn something special, then you have to come all the way to Chennai. For those who can’t afford to make the trip, I want to expand the scope of my NGO, the AR Rehman Foundation, which works towards the upliftment of underprivileged children.
What is your take on awards and honours?
In my youth, I never got any certificates or trophies, and this would leave me frustrated. I didn’t fare well in sports and grew up watching others win awards. Today, I attend most functions where I am honoured, because, in a way, I cherish such recognition.
Among the current crop of musicians, whose work have you followed?
It is not possible for me to single out anyone and say I like his or her work. But one name that comes to mind is Jonita Gandhi. I discovered her talent on Youtube; her voice can adapt to both Indian and western music. I roped her in to sing for Highway and Raunaq. That apart, I liked Mithoon’s work in Ashiqui 2.
Are your children musically inclined?
They are studying at the moment and I can’t force them to pursue music at this stage. But yes, I think it is my duty to teach them music. Whether they take it up professionally or not is a choice best left to them.
What are your upcoming projects?
I have finished working on Arif Ali’s as-yet-untitled film and then there’s Shekhar Kapur’s film, Paani. The latter deals with a complex subject and it will make for an intense film. I also hope to work with Mani (Ratnam) Sir again.
Rahman who is currently in Mumbai, met legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar on Tuesday, and like a starstruck fan, he posted a photograph of the two of them on a social networking site.