When the Madras Maestro held court

After a good two-hour wait, the press breathed a sigh of relief in one of the studios at Film City, with smiles on their faces and a nervous excitement that is expected when an open session is with one of India’s greatest living music legends -- AR Rahman.

A R Rahman
A R Rahman during the rehearsals of his concert in the city last year. Pic/Shadab Khan

Rahman is currently one of the participating music producers of the TV show, Coke Studio. The Q&A session brought out quite a few admissions: “You can be a little more flexible rather through this medium than in front of an audience, where you can’t do anything.

Andrew Lloyd Webber (second, left) with AR Rahman (on his right) with Preeya Kalidas and Raza Jaffrey who played the lead characters in Webber’s musical Bombay Dreams.

Also, my evolution as a musician -- from being an introvert producer to collaborating with Mick Jagger and the gang of SuperHeavy — the entire process of music-making for me has changed. I am gaining more confidence and trust towards a lot of musicians.” The Madras Maestro went on to speak of his upcoming work, “I aspire to produce a couple of albums. I am premiering my works, which I had worked on before. One of these was with Ghulam Mustafa Khan Saab, which we did three years back.

Another called Chemical Roses was co-conceived with my sisters. There’s another song based on Rabindranath Tagore’s poem — Where the Mind is Without Fear. At the moment, he has been collaborating with diverse artists including Ani Choying Drolma, a Buddhist monk from Nepal; Jordanian singer Farah Siraj; Sivamani; and even percussion students from his Chennai-based music school.

Movies and music
When talk veers to the limitations of producing music for movies, and of following a director’s vision, Rahman is honest: “I have been a slave so far, which is good because if everybody pulls something in their own direction you get nothing. But after a while you feel you have done that enough and want to go your way.”

Speaking about his interest in creating music for other mediums, Rahman reveals how British composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber was responsible in initiating the thought. “Once Andrew told me, ‘AR, tell me a story’. I said ‘I am not a story guy, I am a musician’.

That was when I thought that every creative person doesn’t have to stick to what they are doing and evolve. That dimension unlocked at Andrew’s question. He had these amazing expensive paintings and I thought why does a musician need it? I also met Vangelis in Greece and he used to paint. I thought, why couldn’t I think like an artist? I realised art is not about making people happy all the time,” explains Rahman.

Style and music
Rahman has also developed a style of music that is inimitable. “When I came in this field, I was seeing a world which nobody had. I wasn’t interested in sustaining, I wanted to make a statement and get away. That forced me to be really wild. That’s a good direction for new people to go. Today, there are many producers but you aren’t able to spot anybody,” he admits. When asked whether the maestro prefers recording at night, he chuckled and said, “I am not a maniac who records that late. It was convenience at the time. I had kids and I had to spend time with them. Now, they’ve become insomniacs as well! They like hanging out with me.”

Picked for the future
Of the current lot of musicians, he chooses Amit Trivedi and Pritam as his favourites: “I heard Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and liked it. I think music has come of age today. Sometimes, I wonder what I am going to do since these guys are so good!” 

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