An insight - by Vijay Iyer
A. R. Rahman is the man who has redefined contemporary Indian music, the pride of the Indian nation and a role model for millions around the world. In a country where film music is the most popular form of music, Rahman is truly the emperor. A. R. Rahman, hailed by Time Magazine as the ‘Mozart of Madras' is one of the most successful artistes of all time and, according to a BBC estimate, has sold more than 100 million albums of his works, comprising of music from more than 50 movies.
Rahman started dabbling in music at a very young age due to unfortunate family circumstances by joining noted composer Ilayaraja's troupe as a keyboardist and computer programmer. After working with several renowned composers like Ilayaraja, Vishwanathan-Ramamurthy, Zakir Hussain and L Shankar, he set out on his own to compose jingles and scores for popular Indian television features. During this period, he also obtained a degree in Western Classical music from the Trinity College of Music, London and went on to set up his own in-house studio called Panchathan Record-Inn in Chennai, which is arguably Asia's most sophisticated and hi-tech studio.
In 1991, noted film maker Mani Ratnam offered Rahman a movie, Roja, which was a run-away success and brought nation wide fame and acclaim to the composer. The movie also led Rahman to receive the Indian National Award for the best music composer, the first time ever by a debutant. Since then, Rahman has gone on to win the Indian National Award three more times (for Minsaara Kannavu, Lagaan and Kannathil Muthamittal), the most ever by any music composer.
More recently, Time Magazine rated the soundtrack of Roja in the top ten in their compilation of the all time 100 best movie soundtracks of the world.
The Bombay Theme from the movie Bombay was most prominently noticed recently in the movie Lord of War starring Nicholas Cage. The track, Chaiyya Chaiyya from the movie Dil Se features in the new Spike Lee movie, Inside Man, starring Oscar winner, Denzel Washington.
Rahman is widely considered as the man who single-handedly revived public interest towards Indian film music in the nineties.
Rahman followed up Roja with Gentleman, Thiruda Thiruda, Kaadhalan, Bombay and Minssara Kannavu, all of which were huge chartbusters and were dubbed in Hindi as well. Other hits in Tamil include Alaipayuthey, Kandukondein Kandukondein, Jeans, Mudalvan, Kannathil Muthamittal, Boys, etc. His foray into Hindi movies started off with a big bang in the superhit Rangeela, followed by Dil Se, Taal, 1947/Earth, Pukar, Lagaan, Zubeida, Meenaxi, The Legend of Bhagat Singh,Yuva,Tehzeeb amongst others, all of which had huge album sales.
His more recent releases include Swades, Ah-Aah, Bose: The forgotten hero, The Rising, Water and Rang De Basanti, all of which have been critically acclaimed and well received.
In 1997, to commemorate 50 years of Indian independence, Sony Music signed up Rahman as its first artiste in South Asia. The result was Vande Matram, an album that instantly made Indian youth relate to it and succeeded in rekindling the spirit of patriotism.
In 2001, Andrew Lloyd Webber, the well-known composer of musicals like The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, etc., invited Rahman to compose for the musical Bombay Dreams, the first musical Andrew Lloyd Webber would produce that he had not composed. Bombay Dreams opened to packed houses in London's West End.The show had an unprecedented run for two years and later premiered on Broadway in New York. It brought the world's attention to all things Indian and put a focus on the musical talents of Indian composers - an important turning point in the history of Indian music.
Rahman also composed the score for a Chinese film, Warriors of Heaven and Earth, in 2003 and a piece for the award winning violinist/musician Vanessa Mae called Raga's Dance. He was also invited by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to conduct an orchestral rendition of his film scores in the same year.
Besides this, Rahman is also involved in charitable causes. In 2004, he was appointed as the Global Ambassador of the Stop TB Partnership, a project by the World Health Organisation (WHO). He also supports charities like Save the Children, India and does his bit to alleviate human suffering. As a producer of the single We Can Make It Better by Don Asian alongside Mukhtar Sahota, A. R. Rahman showed his charitable side again with all proceeds going to the Tsunami victims, as did his 2004 Tsunami relief concert in India.
Rahman's popularity can be judged from the fact that he has had three world tours of his concerts in the last six years and has performed to packed audiences almost everywhere from Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Dubai, UK, Canada to the Hollywood Bowl in the USA.