AR Rahman: Constantly strive to forget who I am

Nov 26, 2018, 10:35 IST | Sonia Lulla

Set to collaborate with digital artistes for the upcoming show Jammin' 2, AR Rahman on how he continues to churn out novel sounds

AR Rahman: Constantly strive to forget who I am
AR Rahman

Tucked away in an Andheri by-lane, M&T Manoranjan Studio is being brought to life by voices that are anything but ordinary. Taking centre-stage against a live band that comprises a mix of musicians from the industry and those belonging to AR Rahman's fold is Indian cappella group RaggaTrippin', rendering a recreated version of Rahman's Vande Mataram.

A hint of urgency makes itself evident as this crew of 100-odd people prepares for a crucial shoot that's set to take place this evening. Following in for her set, Jonita Gandhi holds the attention of bystanders with her honeyed voice that punctuates the band's musical play-off, every now and then. Consumed as she is with this celebration of art that we all find ourselves in, she breaks into a three-step Pas De Bourree as the band prepares for her set. Before he is summoned on stage to croon Ghanan Ghanan (Lagaan), an ongoing music reality show's coveted participant, Salman Ali, strolls in and out, unassisted.

If destiny charts his career in the same way that his mentors visualise, such an unmonitored movement might soon become a freedom that his upcoming fame may not afford. Eager to join this lot is the man who has inspired the goings-on. Rahman, as part of Sony Entertainment Television's upcoming show, Jammin' 2, is set to collaborate with the digital artistes for one episode of the series, that sees industry folk join hands with the web world's singers. For anyone belonging to a profession distanced from the arts, this ambience is one to instantly inspire envy.

It's only fitting then that we ask the man who spent his life consumed in this magic, how "being objective" towards his work was vital in defining his success. Objectivity, he now tells us, is an aspect that comes into play after he finishes his composition. "While composing it, you've got to believe in it," Rahman tells mid-day. Crediting the digital platform for encouraging a "free trade of sorts" of artistes, he says there's little scope for discrepancy when choosing talent now.

"If you [digital artiste] are talented, you can work with someone who has composed [music] for 20 years, and we can learn from you too. These artistes are independent, and self-taught. Knowledge is no longer limited by what you learn in college. You can learn from artistes [across the globe]. So, these are global Indians. They've come up the hard way. Here is an opportunity for them to feel free." Not one to underplay the importance of toil, the Oscar-winner doesn't miss a breath before acknowledging the sacrifices made by the women in his life, that went behind his making.

"When I got married, I told my wife [Saira Banu], 'I'm a musician, this is my life. We're married spiritually, but there are certain things all couples do [that we can't]." Even to this day, should a project consume his time at the eleventh hour ahead of an outing, they will seamlessly defer their plans. "When your family is involved in your career, that's beautiful. My wife is a home-maker and my costume designer, who also handles my finances." If a discussion on sacrifice is breached, the composer wouldn't let it pass without pointing to the toil put in by mother Kareema Beegam into making him as successful as he is. "She gave up everything. The interest of my life was always more important. She would mortgage the house to get my equipment." While the women in his family constantly strive to drive him further, Rahman, on his part, finds his peace in prayers.

"When you are standing to pray, you have to imagine that you don't exist. If you exist, there is no prayer. You have to be non-existent to culminate with the divine." Turning to music to ensure he brings out novel tunes, he says, is akin to approaching prayers. "You have to forget yourself, or [that you are] a legend. You must throw away every damn award and start from square one. You don't want to bring the old stuff back. You have to constantly strive [to] forget who you are." It is probably this desire of finding 'something new' that has him speak of his production house, YM Movies, with childlike enthusiasm. With his first offering, 99 Songs, gearing up for release, he throws his fist up in victory before stating, "I'm learning so many new things about filmmaking, [like] distribution, colour correction and CG."

And as he explores new waters, his children are familiarising themselves with the art he dedicated his life to. "My kids always wanted me as their guide. They would push everyone else way. When I noticed legendary musicians in the West, I looked at the kids and [realised they] were not interested [in music]. That's because their fathers never spent time with them, even when the kids were expecting their dads [to do so]. I'm trying to [be there for my children]. My son [recently] joined my college, KM Music Conservatory. I tell him, 'You have to be a winner from the school (laughs). I keep asking his teachers [about him]. He's interested [in music]," Rahman signs-off with a sigh of relief.

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