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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

Lalitha Suhasini Jun 10, 2008
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Discovered any new prodigies?

In Jodhaa Akbar, there’s a girl who’s sung before as well ”“ Bela Shende.

Do singers walk into your studio?

No. Most of the times recommendations work and the people who recommend know my taste. Fifty per cent of the time it works. And if they don’t have the magic I can’t work with them.

What do you look for in a singer?

When you hear their voice it should have magic in it. Just like artistes. Somebody comes onto the stage and stands there and it’s a magical frame. I think even singers have that quality ”“ the way they pronounce the words. They can make any song a great song. It’s also the rooh inside. I think three people should probably be doing more songs ”“ Lucky Ali, Roop Kumar Rathod and Suresh Wadkar.

Do you watch your movies in the theatre?

Ya, I watch movies when we go for a premiere.

So you’re tuned to the audience reaction inside a theatre, right?

Ya, you’re surprised in the theatres sometimes. If we all work keeping in mind that the audience is there right next to us, I don’t think we will ever fail. I feel that when there’s an intricate scene and if there’s silence and one guy whistles, then the moment is killed. There’s so much of psychology involved.

When albums like Tehzeeb, Mangal Pandey and Bose don’t please the masses, does the lack of appreciation make a difference to you?

I know that everything can’t be a success. But hard work never goes unnoticed. Sometimes artistic work takes time to reach out.

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Do you detach yourself from projects after you’re done with the film?

It’s better that way. Sometimes you have the gratification of working on something beautiful, so music in a way doesn’t have that problem. The song remains, only the film is judged as a hit or a flop. If the songs are good, they [the audience] don’t care.

Has your spirituality helped you here as well?

Ya, of course. I take spiritualism as an inspiration.

Do you have this urge to top yourself with every album? For instance Rang De Basanti, the album, was a smash hit, the movie was a smash hit.

Before Rang De Basanti, I was trying to balance my movies between Bose, Swades and more commercial movies. But all the commercial movies I signed got delayed. So what people heard was only Bose, which is one of my favourite soundtracks. But Bose wasn’t commercial stuff that would make the audiences say “Hey let’s dance to it.” Bose was something that was emotional, that they might take to much later and stay hooked onto for a longer time. So at that point of time, when Rang De Basanti came in, I felt, “I’ve done Bhagat Singh already, I’ve done Bose already and this has the same strains.” So we brainstormed a lot to make to make RDB completely different. Like ”˜Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna,’ is supposed to be the most ferocious anthem but we just did the opposite and decided to make it very sensuous. We thought, “Let’s get Aamir Khan to do that thing.” It was big energy, but an implosion rather than an explosion. And then, when the four of them die we wanted to make it a song about paradise [”˜Roobaroo’]. Again when Madhavan dies in the film, it’s a lullaby, so we tried to place another parallel emotion so that people were not pushed to the edge. There was a conscious effort from the team. We said every song should be a hit song. I know we say that for everything, but it doesn’t turn out that way so easily but in this I think we were favoured by god.

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You have several soundtracks releasing this year.

I have eight in Bollywood alone including Ada, Jaane Tu Na Jaane Na, Yuvraj, Dilli 6, and Ghajini. But it’s good to be at home and be working in the same compound. My children come in sometimes when they have complaints against their mother.

Two of them are training in music.

The first one Khatija is learning the piano from Das Daniel. The second one will come back to music later maybe. Ameen is in kindergarten.

When will your own music institute, KM Conservatory, open?

We should open in July. We will have faculty from Europe and America for the Western music departments. The faculty for the Hindustani classical departments includes Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan and his son.

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