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A R Rahman Turns 51

Subhash K . Jha

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Rahman with Kapil Sharma

Today   Jan  6 the maverick composer  A R Rahman, the repository of raga renown,   turns   51.

Interestingly Rahman’s son shares his father’s birth date.

 A few years ago on his birthday Rahmn had revealed, “My son  and I share  the  same birthday. …I don’t know  how  that happened.”

  Rahman said he relived his childhood through his son Ameen. “So far I’ve just been busy living life. From my childhood   I  was  surrounded by  grownups , I never got a chance to  enjoy  being  a   child. It took me  a  while to realize how young I was. By the time I realized  I  was missing out on youthful activities I was no longer young.   Now  I’m  re-living my childhood with  three children.  If I’m able to  give them everything that I couldn’t afford they too are giving me  back something  vital.”

   And what  sense has he made of  of his life? “My life has always been a   journey. When I  was  in my 20s I went through the most turbulent and hectic  time of   my life. Now  I spend as much time as possible with my children Khatija  , Rahima and Ameen. My studio in Chennai  is  bang opposite my  house, so they spend a lot   of time   with me. All they’ve to do is cross the road and they’re with me.”

      When I had asked what lessons Rahman had learnt from his life the reticent genius pondered then said, “In my life I’ve always found dreams  do come true, though often they true come long after you’ve forgotten  them. Just preserve your dream at  the  bottom  of  your heart and wait for  it to fructify.  For years I nurtured a dream  of  giving Western  classical music  a legitimacy in our country, to  cultivate the dedication and discipline  of orchestral music  in  our youngsters who at the moment feel western-classical is  too distant  and  esoteric for them.  My  ultimate  dream was  to  create  an  orchestra  that would  be capable of performing the world’s best  musical pieces and thereby building a cultural  bridge across western and  Indian music. We finally launched   our music  conservatory.”

Rahman earnestly desires new generations of musicians to find their bearings. “I want  to  teach young musicians  how to  play within an orchestra.  As things stand if I want to  record  orchestral  music I’ve  to  go to  Prague. If Ilaiyaraja wants to record an epic score he goes to Budapest.  Why  can’t we do it right here  in our own country? I want to build  a repertoire of musicians who can play  western  instruments as  expertly as  the sitar  or  tabla. Our talented  young musicians who  want  to learn western  classical music have  to  head for London. I want to give give a certain legitimacy  to western classical  music  in our country. You see,  Indian classical music has room for unlimited improvisation and spontaneity. A classical recital requires far  more formal discipline.And the whole orchestra brings  one emotion  into play throughout a recital. We  don’t have that  discipline in  our country. It used to be there. But now the younger generation  is  more enthused  by other forms of western music like dance and  hip-hop.  I  want  to  inculcate that sense of discipline required for western classical music. Today a  keyboard players  gets tons  of money whereas a violinist  gets  a pittance. I want the  orchestra player to be proud  of  what he  does.For that the  violinist or the  flautist has to be  a complete techno-savvy musician.”

   Rahman feels India’s art and culture stands a terrific chance in the West. “I think  the  time for India  in  the western world is now.  The respect for all things Indian has gone  up in  recent times.We need to take an initiative to  propagate  our culture. Yes, I’ve   consciously  cut down on assignments  inMumbai.  I always  have been picky. I’m happy I’m moving into another level. In that  endeavour I lost some  movie assignments  in   Mumbai. But the sacrifice is worth it. The  unknown always fascinates me. If it  didn’t a Roja wouldn’t have happened.”

    On the deteriorating standards of film music Rahman said, “If you have  durable melodies and good poetry people do respond to it,  even  if not immediately. When I see the so-called difficult songs being sung effortlessly by children on television’s talent-scouting contests I realise  the most hummable songs are those that touch on life.  Composers take the easy way out. They make tunes that hit the charts for a month and then exit, therefore nothing memorable happens. I wonder why an album like my The Legend Of  Bhagat Singh didn’t work. I worked really hard on it. And then nothing happened !  I had to  invent new tunes for established classics like Mera rang de basanti chola. Tragically if a movie doesn’t do well everything including the music falls by the wayside. I think people got put off by the element of terrorism that underlined the overt patriotism in  Bhagat Singh’ story.”

   When I told him he’s considered the saviour of film music in India Rahman said, “I guess different people like different things in my music.  And I’m  open  to more offers in Mumbai. For me music is music. It doesn’t belong to any region. My theme for Mani Rathnam’s  Bombay   was done in Tamil, then it went into Hindi and soon it was playing all over Europe and Australia. If a tune comes to me it takes wings. The problem is  with the shrinking film market in India. Because the budgets for films are shrinking, so are the funds to compose music. So my creative vision has to be tailored to suit the altered financial state. This is the first time I’m facing this situation in the last ten years, and I don’t relish it.”

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