The Rolling Stone Interview: AR Rahman
India’s most celebrated composer on spiritualism shaping his music, working with western orchestras and reinventing the Indian sound
The most celebrated musical address in Chennai lies beyond a partly-corroded gate whose colour has so far eluded consensus. It’s purple, said one man who attempted to guide us through the maze of bylanes that is characteristic of Kodambakkam, Chennai’s celluloid hub. The second kind soul said lavender and a third leaned towards mauve. Ten minutes later, standing in front of the said entrance, we decide to go with mauve. Mauve feels nice on the tongue. The colour mauve runs through the most unexpected spaces in AR Rahman’s recording studio. It’s on the borders of the doors in the waiting room, doors whose signs indicate that they open out to Studio 3 and Studio 2. (Studio 1 is not visible from where we sit.) It’s on the ceiling, on the yards of gauzy material diffusing the light from lamps overhead. It’s on the fabric of the ergonomic chair in front of the keyboard behind us, a Fender Rhodes Mark II Seventy Three Stage Piano.
The morning has just begun this afternoon for Rahman. The mumbled greeting almost doesn’t make it, he’s still very sleepy. When Rahman finally settles down for an interview, he speaks in fragments, pausing often, leaving you with a jigsaw of thoughts and words. He’s got several things on his mind – KM Conservatory, his music school that opens next month, a slew of releases this year, and of course trying to be a good father to daughters Khatija (12) and Rahima (9), and son Ameen (5). The 42-year-old recently bagged the International Indian Film Academy award for outstanding contribution to international cinema. Here he tells us about how it all began, his exalted status as the most celebrated Bollywood composer since R.D.Burman, his flirtation with London’s Westend, the battles with his ego and pride, his love for Western classical music and of course rock and roll.