Is AR Rahman a magician or our Mozart?

Published May 5, 2014, 11:54 am IST
Updated Jan 10, 2016, 8:38 am IST
Music maestro shares his Disney’s Million Dollar Arm movie experience
Music Maestro AR Rahman  (Photo: DC archives)
 Music Maestro AR Rahman (Photo: DC archives)

Chennai: When he stood on the grand Oscar Awards stage with the two golden statues in his hand, Indian film music reached new heights on the global stage. It’s almost two decades since the Mozart of Madras came onto the scene of Tamil cinema with Mani Ratnam’s Roja. This magician, who has mesmerised the people in India through his compositions, has now extended his spell to the global audience. A. R Rahman’s music is heard everywhere — from a small village in India to the poshest performance venues abroad.

His fan following rose globally after Slumdog Millionaire and now he is back for more, with Disney’s Million Dollar Arm. In this tete-a-tete with DC, Isaipuyal A. R Rahman talks about his latest Hollywood film, his experience of working with international artists, about his upcoming Tamil project, Kaaviya Thalaivan, the Superstar’s Kochadaiiyaan, and more.


Million Dollar Arm, directed by Craig Gillespie, is a biographical sports drama, based on the true story of two Indian baseball pitchers, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, who were discovered by sports agent J. B. Bernstein, after winning a reality show competition. “Disney approached me for this project, and I was pretty excited about it,” says the unassuming musician.

“It was a great experience to work in this film, as even the team I worked with was entirely new. The sounds in each track have been done in a different way, and the music is fresh.”

Rahman is known to do research before composing songs for a film, “but I didn’t spend too much time on research for this film as it’s a very straightforward one, and I loved composing for it,” he says. The film is scripted by Tom McCarthy and stars Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash and Alan Arkin.

The film has 14 tracks, and Rahman has collaborated with many international and Indian artistes for this album. Earlier, he joined hands with Imtiaz Ali, for the Bollywood film, Highway, which has received great accolades from the critics. He has now collaborated with artistes like Iggy, Kendrick Lamar, KT Tunstall, Sukhwinder Singh and Raghav Mathur for Million Dollar Arm.

“It was great fun to work with them all,” he says. “I first sent my ideas about the track to Iggy and other artistes, and they replied immediately, saying they liked it. It’s always great to collaborate with different artistes to get a new flavour. In Hollywood films, 40 per cent of the music is based on scoring. In this film, I have added few Punjabi-style songs.”

Rahman has also used a few Tamil songs from an album he composed during the 1990s. “I have rearranged the tune of the song Thirakadha Kaatukkulla from En Swasa Kaatre and used it for the end credits,” he says. Unnikrishnan has also sung a song in the film.

Rahman has also composed music for India’s first film, using performance capture technology, Kochadaiiyaan, which is all set for release on May 9. “Working for a performance capture film was a little difficult,” he grants, ''and composing the background scores and songs for it was a tedious process. But I loved my journey with the Kochadaiiyaan team. We brought in about 150 orchestras and made every song unique.”

Rahman got Latha Rajinikanth to croon a song in the film which has already garnered rave reviews from audiences. The film is directed by Soundarya Rajinikanth Ashwin and written by K. S. Ravikumar. Rajiv Menon has done the cinematography for the film and Deepika Padukone plays the female lead. Rahman’s much awaited flick in Tamil is Kaaviya Thalaivan, a period film directed by Vasantha Balan. The film stars Prithiviraj and Siddharth in the lead roles, with Vedhika playing the female lead. Anaika Soti and Nasser play important roles in the film. The film, which is about a group of drama artistes set in the backdrop of Madurai, had Rahman research the music of the era and the culture of the time for more than six months. A period film makes demands of its own and Rahman was most impressed with the script, hoping that the album will rank among his best.

“Being a period film and the subject being about a dramatic trouple, I needed to go into the subject in some depth,” he says. Also, he wanted to ensure that he did not compose something in a flippant manner, just off the top of his head as people would not have been able to relate to the music of that era with immediate ease.

“So I made efforts to compose something which would be liked by all, but at the same time, I made sure that it did justice to the script,” he adds, “Kaaviya Thalaivan is a very emotional story and I loved composing for it,” says the music composer who was working with Vasantha Balan for the first time of whom he says, “He is a very dedicated and interesting person, at the same time, very patient and humble.”

Despite working for Hollywood projects, Rahman makes sure that he does at least one film a year in Kollywood, he being stated to do Mani Ratnam’s next film of which he is not in a position to talk. It’s been a long and melodious journey for Rahman, rich with rewards and career highs, and yet he remains as untouched by fame and fortune as the lotus, blooming in quiet splendour amidst the din of achievement.

He is indeed a different kind of Mozart, yet makes no grand gestures to call attention to itself.