Academy Award, National Award and Grammy Award-winner A.R. Rahman's illustrious career – which has spanned almost three decades, across multiple film industries – has brought him love from across the world.
At this juncture of his life, what does he think of the changing landscape of film music in India? And how can we build a future for Indian artists that is both lucrative and satisfying for them? Here are 10 things we learnt from a conversation with the maestro– in an exclusive, live conversation on FC Front Row (one of the four live events for this month).
When I left Australia, my mom was very insecure. She said, 'You left your job, he was paying you every day' and 'What is going to happen to the family?' and 'You want to drag everybody to the streets'. I just put on my headphones and started practicing. I would be practicing so many different things, just all the stuff I knew I was getting better at and automatically people started knocking at my door. The universe will hear that- it's not through Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, but there is a beyond connection which connects all of us. I know many filmmakers, musicians, all rising up… who just forgot about everything and just became the art."
"I think when we need to innovate, you always keep your mind open for happy accidents and prepare for that. There's a song in OK Kanmani I was trying to edit for almost over six months and we could never get it. And then by accident, I pulled a phrase from the last part and joined, and something happened. And then there was a rap going, and there's a melody underneath. And then that magic happened. And I said, 'Oh my God, this is great'. So I'm usually unprepared. I try to initialize my brain saying that I don't know anything. I'm going to sit there and see what happens with an intention to surprise myself and surprise them."
"What I realized is I'm a learner and I like people who learn. So when I have either people from my family, whether my daughters or my sisters, we learn together. When we learn together, we might falter sometimes, but you know, over years, something comes in and that becomes beautiful"
"In the case of Gitanjali Rao (director of Bombay Rose) I was trying to direct my daughter's animation video. She put so many limitations. 'You can't do this, you can't do that'. And with all the limitations, we had to create something beautiful. So I have to go by her rules and create this beautiful video for a song. And then you realize the limitations, and the tedious process of animation. I saw Geetanjali's work because I was researching animators. I thought 'My God, this is so original'. I thought this would be nice on the world stage… I hope it gets nominated, it'll be such a big statement for Indian animation. I feel like if I congratulate someone it gets jinxed for them so I don't. Artists and storytellers inspire me but sometimes when they do something early, they lose the fire, they get settled."
"If you look at the whole marketing strategy for K-Pop, you'll see the government is helping them. The whole system is helping them because they want to bring South Korea to the world map and they brought it already with filmmaking and classical music and pop. I think India needs to (do that). We should stop all the fights and then look at the young people achieving greatness as inventors, as artists, as leaders of tomorrow, I think that's one thing which our foundation is doing. Go beyond all these divisive things, and look at what we need to do for the future."
"With Mani (Ratnam) sir, he always feels like he doesn't want any songs. He'll say, 'just give me a background score'. And then, you know, maybe one song, then two songs and five. And then we have 12 or 14 songs. So his excitement always brings a whole energy to our collaboration."
"I would tell the kid to respect your parents. And look at the parents and say respect the kids– don't shoot them off. Listen to them because the next Einstein could be from India and the next Mozart or Beethoven could be from India. Who knows? You never know where the seed is. It could come from the most unassuming part of India. And I've seen those amazing things happen… I think music is something that needs courage. It's one of the professions that is going to pay amazingly well if you have the courage and you never give up and never giving up is the most important thing. In no time you'll find that you'll be the best in what you're doing. Just don't keep seeing comments and, and negative things of what the family says and all that stuff. Go deeper."
"It's the same way. I just put on headphones. I sit, and there is nobody there watching me, and then I scrap it myself… We now have the possibilities of having orchestras, collaborating with different musicians and orchestras in Europe and our own Sunshine Orchestra, our own choir from K Music Conservatory. All this stuff is extra tools we have got, which is amazing. And so like in the past one year, all my concerts were postponed for two years later, the US concert tour and everything. And I said, okay, let's do more movies. More Tamil, more Hindi and more ads. And so in a way, I think I was kind of really, really busy.`
"…There are many, many things which I tried. I failed sometimes, I succeeded sometimes, but I always kept trying. So when the KM conservatory for music opened up is when I realized the larger possibilities of what could be done, and how my learning in the West or my experience in the West and my knowledge about India awakened me in a way. Going back to LA and getting all that super love from everyone, and joining the Academy, joining the Grammys, meeting all these amazing musicians and filmmakers and going to parties and meeting JJ Abrams and Spielberg makes you realize the world is a small place. It expanded in my mind. I thought why don't we have this in India? Why don't we have this in Mumbai? These questions kept coming."
"I had the story of 99 Songs which I narrated to one of the teachers from USC, UCLA. And he said, 'Why don't we make this as a thesis? Why don't you take this script and then expand your knowledge about film scripts?' So we did that… I found the director and while narrating these little, little stories, just for the heck of it, my articulation to express became better. And I gained more confidence in, 'Oh, maybe this is working'. And then I met people who are well-versed. Like in Rome, when I met the editor of Bertolucci, he took me to the Rome Film Academy and said, 'I want you to give a talk, not about music, but what are you doing'… This led to many questions like, 'Why are Indian born filmmakers not being able to crack the code? Why are we not in the Cannes Film Festival? Is it a racist thing or is this just our sensibilities not matching up? Are we very like the frog in the well, happy with what we're doing? Why are we not creating the next Apple? Why are we not, uh, making the next Roland or Yamaha synthesizers?' Things are changing. Now I think it's a transitional period. The biggest test would be, April 16 when 99 Songs comes in. It's a labour of love. Come with very, very low expectations to the theatre and you might get something."