As we walk into A.R. Rahman’s Panchathan Record Inn, Chennai, his in-house studio attached to the backyard of his cozy home — there is a sense of excitement in the air.
His KM Conservatory, that was established in 2008 and which has grown into one of the most famed music institutions in the country, turns eight today.
Excerpts from an interview…
Has KM come full circle yet?
We’ve come a long way in eight years… but the challenge now is to establish a full-fledged orchestra next. I’ll admit it; there were a lot of questions when I set it up — why in Chennai?
But it’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise! Not only has it contributed to changing the musical landscape and perception of the city, but students here don’t have too many distractions. I do feel responsible for shaping their paths, and for them to carry on the legacy.
Our other ambitious project is the musical 99 Songs, of course. I want to make many more musicals themed on similar subjects. But no, they won’t be usual stories about rockstars or depressed geniuses who eventually get drunk and die! (laughs) Audiences today are incredibly knowledgeable and I won’t insult them.
On becoming a filmmaker
It all happened after the Oscars. I’d always wanted an Indian technician or filmmaker to win, but never imagined it’d be me. After the win, it was such a confusing period. Should I be a pop artist now? Or turn Hollywood composer? Or come back to India and continue my work? Every door possible was open. That’s when the learning process began —about everything from CGI to screenwriting to cinematography, and more. My Infinite Love music video project taught me a lot and fuelled my desire to make a film even more.
A ‘strange’ time for music?
Indeed… with context to lyrics. I even had a conversation with Michael Jackson about this, a few years ago. For me, words are prayers.
When Spike Lee wanted to use Chaiyya Chaiyya for Inside Man — my condition was that there should not be obscene lyrics or voiceovers! Same with Million Dollar Arm; I was working with rappers known for their explicit content — but we managed to keep it clean. I still remember Nicki Minaj rapping at the Time 100 Gala… and feeling thoroughly astonished how people can sing such things! Even back home, this Beep Song was a bad idea…I will always remain a strong advocate of clean lyrics in music.
Who brings out the best in you?
People I have great trust and comfort levels with. Directors like Mani Ratnam and Shankar, with whom there’s no ego, drama… just incredible mutual respect and admiration. For instance, during OK Kanmani, I’d composed a song which they had finished shooting also — after which I told them to drop it! Everyone was most upset. But Mani Ratnam understood. That’s how much he trusts me.”
Heirs to his throne…
“Oh, I take inspiration from them all the time! All my three children learn music… But it’s my son, Ameen, who seems most inclined. He listens to Skrillex et al, and was thrilled when the artist mentioned me sometime! (laughs) He often gives me feedback, and I appreciate it. Ameen will finish his basic music education, but after that, I’m honestly cool with whoever he wants to be.”
I have been working for over 30 years now… phew! Sometimes, I just want to sit back and give way to the other young composers — and stop blocking them.
Is there a price to this fame?
No... I’m in a position to make a difference, and I feel very lucky. I never complain about the life I have, ever. But in a world that’s filled with so much spite and violence, if I can do anything to spread some love, then I’m happy to.