‘Tryst with Tagore was fascinating’

Allah-Rakha Rahman better known as AR Rahman is among the world’s leading musicians. He has two Oscars, two Grammy Awards, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, four National Film Awards and 15 Filmfare Awards to his credit, among many other honours. Having worked in India’s various film industries, international cinema and theatre, Rahman is one of the world’s all-time top selling recording artists.
In a career span of two decades, Rahman has been acclaimed for redefining contemporary Indian film music and contributing to the success of several films. Born in Chennai, Rahman began his career in the 1990s with Tamil film Roja. A road at Markham in Canada has now been named after Rahman. The ‘Mozart of Madras’ spoke to SUCHAYAN MANDAL about his inspiration, creation of music and his opinion of current trends in Indian music.

You have been widely dubbed as a "music maestro" and even a "genius". How would you assess your work?
In my opinion, everybody has the same soul from God and that unites us. Externally, our bodies and faces are different, but inside we are all the same, we share the same feelings of sadness, love, pain… My music comes out of these feelings.
Whether it is Japanese music, African music or a Qawwali, if it touches your heart, it becomes important for me.

How would you rate music standards in Indian films as compared to those in the world cinema?
Music and sound production are growing by leaps and bounds. Every kid is aware of international sound.  Unfortunately there are very few extraordinary musicians out here. For the kind of demand that we have here we don’t even have 10 per cent of the supply. If we want to do orchestral music, we have to go abroad but there is a change that is evident and many things are beginning to happen here.

What are your current projects and what is your agenda for the future?
Besides my film projects which include Kochadiyan, Imtiaz Ali’s Highway, Shankar&’s I and a few projects in Hollywood, I’m presently focused on my K M College of Music and Technology. We have some of the best faculty, from England, USA, from Europe, Russia and India, of course. I’m so jealous. I wish I had something like this those days.

What is the process of your work? How do you create music, how do you start and finish?
It is a continuous process. Sometimes an inspiration for a composition can help create a song in a few hours while sometimes it may take a few days or even weeks. I mostly  don’t write to specifically defined cues. I watch the film a couple of times, stop watching it then write something that comes to my mind from the film. This way when I try to sync the music, the results are that much more wholesome. The music is much more organic this way, not jumping cue to cue.

Bollywood is now indulging in the trend of copying music from other songs whether Arabian or the Beatles. What is your take on this trend?
I think Bollywood has some amazing talent. I hear Amit Trivedi, Pritam, Sachin-Jigar, Salim-Suleiman, Vishal Shekhar, etc., and each one is doing amazing work with their own distinct style and sound.

Would you like to give credit to some people for encouraging, guiding and inspiring you, and for nurturing your talent in music?
My mother played a very key and decisive role in me taking up music when I was a kid. My family, including my wife and kids, have always supported me and encouraged me in everything that I have done and the guidance of all my spiritual teachers has been the force behind the music.

You recently worked on Tagore’s "Where the mind is without fear". Earlier, it was "Jana Gana Mana". How was your tryst with Tagore?
I loved the whole vision behind the poem. And to think that he wrote this almost a hundred years before which means he foresaw what our nation needed and still needs. That to me is amazing foresight and inspiration enough and the reason why I wanted to embrace it. It will be exciting also for listeners who have not yet discovered Tagore.

How is the working environment in Hollywood different from that in India?
In India we love melodies in the background of scenes. In the West there is a sense that soundtracks should not distract, and hence there is a greater preference for ambient sounds and plain chords. When I work in the West, I get excited. When I work here, I get excited.
After a while you learn to compartmentalise and use all the inputs to create a new kind of product. As long as I create music anywhere, I’m in great spirits.

Can you list some Indian movies whose music you found to be first-rate and world-class?
There are quite a few of them and like I said before, some of the guys are doing some great work.