The Mozart of Madras

The Mozart of Madras

He escorted mHe escorted me backstage where I followed him down a narrow corridor to the makeshift green rooms. He finally stopped in front of a door, turned to me and asked me to wait. He disappeared into the room as the door closed behind him. The intimidating name card stared back as it slowly sank in that in a matter of minutes I would be chatting with the Mozart of Madras.e backstage where I followed him down a narrow corridor to the makeshift green rooms. He finally stopped in front of a door, turned to me and asked me to wait. He disappeared into the room as the door closed behind him. The intimidating name card stared back as it slowly sank in that in a matter of minutes I would be chatting with the Mozart of Madras.

Entranced, I watched as the musical extraordinaire A R Rahman tirelessly rehearsed for his first performance in Bangladesh. With much difficulty I tore my gaze away from the illuminated stage to check the time. As I saw the numbers change to inform me that it was 11pm. I grew excited knowing that the moment I was waiting for was drawing near. Sure enough, soon a man made his way through the dark field to where a few people, including me, were sitting on plastic chairs. He escorted me backstage where I followed him down a narrow corridor to the makeshift green rooms. He finally stopped in front of a door, turned to me and asked me to wait. He disappeared into the room as the door closed behind him. The intimidating name card stared back as it slowly sank in, in a matter of minutes I would be chatting with the Mozart of Madras.
A R Rahman has come a long way since Roja (1992). Having won a litany of awards including two Grammys, two Oscars and a staggering fifteen Filmfare awards, Rahman has achieved more in his career than what most people accomplish in their entire lives. His music is unique for blending Eastern classical motifs with modern styles, giving hits like Humma Humma and Dil Se a timeless appeal. Rahman is the benchmark to which all South Asian composers aspire to and whose work continues to captivate listeners the world over. The legendary maestro performed for the first time in Bangladesh at the opening ceremony for the ICC World Twenty20 tournament.
‘What I want to do with my music is to be able to tell stories’, said Rahman, ‘the film format in India has become a bit monotonous for me with the same five-song format. I want to do something new, something adventurous.’ Rahman recently worked on Highway (2014) an Indian drama film directed by Imtiaz Ali. Having accomplished so much in his career, it might be surprising to hear that Rahman still feels that he has more to do. ‘There are several extraordinary people in the industry whom I would like to work with such as Mani Ratnam, Saud Shankar, Ashutosh and others. They take an interesting approach to the use of music in their work.’
While he does not want to move away from the film industry, he stresses that he wants to branch out. ‘Films are a fantastic medium to work in and I feel truly fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to leave my mark here. But I also want to be able to try new things and do something adventurous with my upcoming projects.’
‘But you have already introduced plenty of fresh ideas!’ I said.
‘Still more to go!’ came the modest response.
Having worked in this field for more than two decades, Rahman has been inspiring generations of musicians. When asked how he felt about that he humbly replied, ‘I don’t mean to.’ He senses that his role as a musician has changed and that people’s expectations of his work have grown. ‘It’s becoming wider and wider,’ he confesses. The musical legend has also established a college, K M College of Music and Technology which caters to underprivileged children and has four to five hundred students. The college is affiliated with Middlesex University in England. Rahman often conducts workshops there. ‘There are some students from Bangladesh as well,’ he added.
The two-time Academy award winner talked about the inspiration behind his work. ‘I compose music as a listener. I try to make music that will be interesting for people to listen to. People these days are bored with their lives. They are continuously looking for excitement and I believe one of the easiest forms to obtain it from is music. You can just download or pop in a CD.’ The musical maestro said that he does whatever he can to deliver this to people.
He feels that his music reflects him as a person. ‘My experiences become my music, be it a person I meet or a culture I like.’ Moreover, the artiste credits his parents as his source of inspiration as well. Coming from a musical family where his father was a famous film score composer, Rahman feels that having to live up to their expectations is an inspiration in itself.
The legend hopes for good things to come to Bangladesh. As I wrapped up the interview, Rahman had a few parting words. ‘The nation’s future is in your hands—make it as bright as possible. You are responsible for your future.’

This article was first published in ICE Today in April 2015.

He escorted mHe escorted me backstage where I followed him down a narrow corridor to the makeshift green rooms. He finally stopped in front of a door, turned to me and asked me to wait. He disappeared into the room as the door closed behind him. The intimidating name card stared back as it slowly…

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