Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

December 1, 2011

Roja was my benchmark, says A R Rahman

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rajeev @ 9:16 pm

  A meeting between two musical geniuses was in the making but fate cancelled it. Composer A R Rahman, two days before he won two Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire, had received an e-mail invitation from late pop singer Michael Jackson to discuss projects. Rahman talks about Jackson, spirituality and the film that set off his career with CNN-IBN’s Rajeev Masand on To Catch A Star.

Rajeev Masand: May I start by asking you, at an average, how much time do you get to sleep these days? I know that you are committed to doing a lot of work both in India and in America, do you have enough time to really rest?

A R Rahman: I need to sleep, otherwise I fall ill the next day, at least six to seven hours, but sometimes it’s in installments.

Rajeev Masand:When you keep the Oscars at home, does everyone want to look at it, touch it?

A R Rahman: I have not seen it for ages. I don’t know where it is. It’s somewhere in the building I guess.

Rajeev Masand: You have always said that healthy arguments with your directors and lyricists often result in the creation of some very good music. I am guessing after the Oscars no one really wants to argue with you anymore, no one really disputes your suggestions anymore.

A R Rahman: I don’t know if it works that way. Because in the interest of any big films, there’s always an argument and a vision which is most the director’s and if you are sensible you have to go through with that vision. You can’t say, “I have written a beautiful song, fitted in the movie, I don’t care.”

Rajeev Masand: There is a popular perception even amongst your greatest fans that Jai Ho and the music of Slumdog Millionaire isn’t necessarily your best music.

A R Rahman: They are not giving me the Oscar for my life, they are giving it for the film and that particular moment the film came in and how different the music and the whole theme was for the film. I am really proud about Slumdog Millionaire’s music and Jai Ho

Rajeev Masand: You have always said that you wouldn’t like your commitments here in India to be affected by the work that you want to do outside. And yet the first casualty of success turned out to be Rajiv Menon’s film Dhun, he is an old friend of yours, but you are unable to do his film?
A R Rahman: It’s a bullet which I have to take and had to give him also. His film is very musically demanding and it requires 24 x 7 attention. I can’t give a tune through Internet for that film and I didn’t want to stop his film in anyway by delaying. I think he is a great filmmaker. He is like a mini Raj Kumar for me. I am sure he is going to come up with really great film and music.

Rajeev Masand: Did you break his heart?

A R Rahman: I don’t know. But I needed to take a stand somewhere, I needed to make a choice of not annoying people. But of course there is always a next time and better things are going to happen.

Rajeev Masand: I am sure that you had chance to look at your biography that was published recently?

A R Rahman: I didn’t see much of it because but I have heard of different comments passed by people, good and bad about it.

Rajeev Masand: I think your fans are quite eager to know your reaction to the book especially it was fairly critical of you as well. It did speak about you having abandoned your family after you converted to Islam, it spoke about you having abandoned old band mates?

A R Rahman: I wouldn’t say that is true because once I seriously started getting into music, I became spiritual, I wouldn’t visit my own sister (laughs) and sometimes music needs that. You can’t be everything. And a particular time in life comes in when you can compensate.

Like Gandhi, (I am not comparing myself with Gandhi), but for Gandhi the nation was important, for me the music is important.

Rajeev Masand: The book says you abandoned your band mates, the moment Mani Ratnam signed you for Roja There is a critical view of you. It even talks about references to black magic and voodoo. Did you fee betrayed by this book?

A R Rahman: No, I don’t want to hide any of my past. There was an incidence in my family about my father. Lot of people believed that he was killed in black magic. So when you are a child you tend to believe everything. And then my overwhelming spiritual thirst made me vanish all the stuff and now I am clean. I am following the Sufi path and I don’t care about anything. About the band, it was supposed to be a temporary band.
There was never a thing like I would have to leave my life to come and play in the band. It was a fun thing. We did one number for an album and I became busy in Roja and my band mates were impatient because they wanted to finish the album. So I said if you are impatient please go ahead because I had taken up something, which doesn’t come to every individual. I had the best film director asking me for music. I wanted to give my hundred per cent to the film. However, all of them are living their successful lives today.

Rajeev Masand: The acclaimed playback singer S P Balasubramaniam has a complaint. He says that Rahman has very little regard for language and pronunciation. He is happy to use singers from the North to sing Tamil songs, as long as the tune is fine, he doesn’t mind very much the words and language or the accent is mutilated often.

A R Rahman: Not every time. Sometimes it’s good to have something funky. Not for the shake of hurting anything but for entertainment sake but that shouldn’t become a habit.

Rajeev Masand: Your music for the film Blue is your first album right after the Oscars.

A R Rahman: It’s probably the first time I am doing a film like this which is an entertainer and which is about underwater, so the music naturally became fast and beat oriented but we have tried maintain a balance between making sense of melody speed.

Rajeev Masand: You recorded a track with Kylie Minogue for this film.

A R Rahman: It was the wholesome effect of Kylie Minogue they wanted to have in the film. They wanted her to dance and feature in the film in a small part. And she also wanted that to happen for a long time. So she found it a great opportunity. And strangely, she gave me the BAFTA Awards, and next day we recorded the song.

Rajeev Masand: Are you a fan of her music?

A R Rahman: I do like stuff of hers, she is a really lovely person.

Rajeev Masand: It’s popularly and very justifiably believed that some of your best work is with Mani Ratnam. You started with him with Roja and Raavan is your eleventh collaboration with him?

A R Rahman: I think so.

Rajeev Masand: What can we expect?

A R Rahman: I am looking forward to this movie because it is turning out to be a very interesting movie.

Rajeev Masand: Your son recently sang for the film Kapil’s Retreat, the American film, which you have composed the score for. He has also sung before for Bose, The Forgotten Hero

A R Rahman: No not for Bose

Rajeev Masand: Which was then?
A R Rahman: It was an animation film, which is still a work in progress and the other song is also work in progress. He (son) is getting musical slowly. I just played him the track and he started singing something, which I recorded and happen to use it. In just a very small portion of the song.

Rajeev Masand: Your daughter has sung for Mangal Pandey as well. What’s it like working with your kids?

A R Rahman: They have to be programmed in a way, they have to be told what to do and what not to do.

Rajeev Masand: Your music for Delhi 6 is probably your best since Rang De Basanti. What’s your favourite song on that sound track?

A R Rahman: Most of them, Rahena Tu, Maula.

Rajeev Masand: Danny Boyle has bought the rights to Suketa Mehta’s book Maximum City. Are you committed to scoring that?

A R Rahman: I spoke to Danny but I didn’t hear anything about this. But definitely, it’s going to be a very interesting film I guess.

Rajeev Masand: You met Michael Jackson shortly after the Oscars. Tell us about that meeting. He has been your influence in your growing years.

A R Rahman: I was supposed to meet Michael in 1999 but because of his mishap in a concert, I couldn’t meet him. After nine years, when I went to Los Angeles, my agent said, “I am gonna meet Michael Jackson’s manager”. So I just told him, “can I meet him.” He said he would email and see if Michael wanted to meet me. So three or four days before the Oscars, we got an email saying Michael Jackson wanted to meet me. So I went to meet him after winning the Oscars. I thought the meeting would be five minutes but it lasted for two hours.

We talked about my music and how I had written them and that how India adored Michael Jackson. Then he called me saying why don’t you do something like We Are The World and you conduct the whole thing. I was shocked. Before getting into that he started going to rehearsals for the This Is It concert and the next thing you hear that he is dead. It was a real shocker.

Rajeev Masand: In your first film album Roja was declared by Time magazine as one of the best film soundtracks of all time, how different is the experience of making music now. Has the process changed very much now?

A R Rahman: Roja was my benchmark. I told Mani Ratnam that this was what I wanted to achieve. He helped me do that in a way, patiently waiting and giving productive inputs. So that continues even now. Today, it’s easier to put across my musical vision to musicians because they have heard my music. It was difficult to do that in the initial years. People are more thoughtful that ways. They are doing well.

Rajeev Masand: Thank you so much for doing us proud and speaking to us.

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