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AR Rahman Full Transcript

LH: Lorraine Hahn
AR: AR Rahman

LH: Hello and welcome to Talk Asia, I'm Lorraine Hahn. My guest today has been described as the greatest Indian composer of his generation- A.R. Rahman.

Born in India in 1966, Rahman was heavily influenced as a child by his father, a musical arranger. By the age of 4 he could play tunes on the harmonium, and by 11 he was working as a professional musician, financially supporting his family after his fathers death. In 1991 a chance meeting with director Mani Ratnam led to an opportunity to write the score for the film Roja. Both the movie and the soundtrack were such hits that it catapulted Rahman to stardom overnight.

Since then he has scored more than 50 movies and released a series of successful albums. So revered is he in India, that he was bestowed the Padma Shri title in 2002, India 's highest civilian award.

Block A

LH: Mr. Rahman thank you very much for spending some time with us. I wanted to ask you about yr new musical -- The Lord of the rings, adaptation of the J.R. Tolkien famous book: How did you get involved with this?

AR: Well, you know about my Bombay Dreams venture with Andrew Lloyd Webber, it happened in 2002, and it had this whole team -- like Chris Webber Nightingale was the music supervisor on that and Kevin Wallace was with Andrew Lloyd Webber, who's the producer for Lord of the Rings. I think suddenly they realized that, they had signed Värttinä the Finnish band to write the score, and then they said it would be nice to have AR for the score too. And then I got a call and I said 'Ok lets join them' and that's how I came into that.

LH: Is it going to be another huge production, like Bombay Dreams -- or what can we expect?

AR: It's probably 10 times more than Bombay Dreams! (LH: Oh my God!) You have like 18 hydraulics moving on stage, you have a three and a half hour...amazing stuff!

LH: Right. Again, you are no stranger to international musicals -- you mentioned Bombay dreams. Did that, Bombay -- did that play, that musical take your career to the one step further internationally?

AR: I think so! I think it's a big step for me -- it's a big step because, of course lot of Asians around the world love my music -- and they've introduced my music to other people but a normal European or American who don't know my music, this is one of the biggest step, and I think now after doing it's 2 years in London and 8 months in New York, in Broadway, I think its going to tour now -- I'm looking forward to that. (LH: Yeah that's so exciting) It is.

LH: What is it like to work with someone like Andrew Lloyd Webber?

AR: Well, it's two different cultures totally -- I used to have a room in his apartment, in one of the apartments he gave, and he used to come, and he used to take off his shoes before coming in, that's the type of respect he gave for my culture, which is amazing, yeah.

LH: I mean, is he a tough person to please?

AR: No, he is a very sweet person, and he was very encouraging to me, and he's done quite a lot of stuff for me actually.

LH: And you've learnt a lot from him, I presume?

AR: Yes, I was a big fan -- I am a fan too. And from that, I think he was the one who picked most of the numbers which I had already done -- like Chaya Chaya and Taal . I said 'these were my favorites, and this has to be your musical', and that's the reason all my old stuff came into the thing. Apart from "The Journey Home", and all the other numbers which are new were written with Don Black.

LH: How different an experience was it for you to compare, lets say, working on Bombay Dreams, with any other project you have done in the past?

AR: The biggest thing to break ice, in Bombay Dreams, was to do something in English. Because I've never done an English song, I mean a proper English song in any film. And for me, I said 'is it going to work in English, is it going to sound too corny with Asian influence and stuff?'. But everything became -- I started getting acquainted with Don Black -- he was the writer for that, and then he made it very easy for me and gave me all these titles for me like 'Journey Home' and stuff, and then it all fell into it naturally.

LH: Right. Bombay Dreams obviously popularized your name international into western household, but it also popularized Indian culture, Indian music. How important was that for you?

AR: It's something which was never intended! Exactly, when I used to meet Asians in the flight they used to say 'Oh, now we can just lift our collars and go man, you made us do that!' And that is very moving for me, you know? Being a musician and the sort of hatred around the world, and me coming from Islam -- a Muslim, I think it was a big thing for me. I got very touched by all the statements which came from Americans, Europeans and Asians and all those people.

LH - You've scored a number of wonderful movies, Indian films -- like Lagaan. Do you have a favorite?

AR: Yes of course -- I think that Lagaan was a very complete movie. Representing Indian culture, Indian songs with pride -- not being apologetic about it and all that stuff. And the recent Rang de Basanti, which is again a very different kind of direction for me, going counterpoint from the film, not going with the film (LH: Why, why was it?) we were just doing the opposites in the film, in the film -- something very serious happens but we were just going with a guitar singing a very jolly song! So that's a step forwards for Indian films, I think.

LH: Right, Roja as well -- is one of your early films?

AR: Yeah, that's like a good news which I got from Time magazine -- ten top soundtracks of the world, or something like that.

LH: I mean that changed the face of the Indian film industry -- right?

AR: That's what they say! (LH: Do you think so?) Yes in a way. (LH: How?) There was a shell for the sound- generally it used to be 'this is the sound, this is the Indian sound' -- and Roja was breaking all those. Not taking any traditional singers, not taking any traditional instruments, and recording in a small room -- my home studio, and then becoming big -- it was a big statement!

LH: It's very important, that.

AR: It is important.

LH: Bollywood, where do you think it's heading these days?

AR: I see two kinds of things happening. One is a step forward, and one is a step backwards also. Because people are seeing loads of things on satellite TV and stuff. They know that nobody can bullshit them now -- nobody can copy anything or rip anything off because now they know it bang on that this is something. So that's all good. And I think there are two things, one kind of filmmakers are avoiding songs -- saying that its going to break, and another filmmaker is going full fledged with songs: 'this is the music I'm really proud of' -- that sort of thing. I'm getting associated with both of them.

LH: You find that Bollywood then, is heading...?

AR: And they are also very ambitious, I think now. They want to virimusker???, (TC -- 00:31:58) I don't know for what reason. Which is good to be ambitious, and going forward.

LH: That's good

AR: That's good

LH: What about new talent? Evolving talent? Is that where Bollywood is also pursuing?

AR: Yeah, things which was impossible probably 3-4 years back, and people would just put you off -- are now saying 'yeah maybe'. They are more open to things which are new, which is amazing.

LH: Is Hollywood then the next step for you?

AR: I'm in and out of it actually. Actually, some of my scores have been used for Lord of War, and Spike Lee's new film -- a kind of song which is used. And so I am in and out of it actually, the full fledged Hollywood film -- I would rather work with a person who understand me, or who likes my music, who is friendly to me. (LH: Any idea who?) I don't want to just jump in and go 'Oh, Hollywood here -- and then fall flat!.'

LH: Any ideas who would be that person?

AR: Well, I've been- Baz Lurhmann came for my concert in Australia, and then we just had a talk and he's a very -- he's a big fan of Bollywood and stuff like that. I wouldn't say Bollywood, I would say Hindi film industry. But he's a master musical maker I think and I'm a big fan of his. We might...I don't know, never know.

LH: Wow, that'll be quite a pairing! Mr. Rahman, we are going to take a very, very short break. Don't go away, Talk Asia will be right back with Indian composer AR Rahman. Stay with us.

Block B

LH: Welcome back, I'm talking with Indian composer, AR Rahman. Mr. Rahman, you showed a lot of musical promise at a very, very young age, I read that 4 years old you could already play the harmonium. I mean, how did you manage that?

AR: I think it's the blood! Having a composer father, I think it's quite natural.

LH: So it's what, almost like watching your father..?

AR: Yes, I use to go with my father to all the places he used to work, and I still have those memories with me.

LH: Right, that's amazing, I know you rarely speak about your father and I hope you don't mind me asking you a little bit about him?

AR: Well, I think (LH: he was very influential right?) Yeah he was a very hardworking person, he used to work in 3-4 places at the same time. And all the studios was just next to him. And I've seen him work, he's a really hard worker. And I think this is one of the reasons he died so early, he died when I was just 9 years. And only good will was there with everyone -- all the fellow musicians about him, and good things to say. And so, it's a good thing for me because when you have such a father you always want to take it further than...you know? And my journey has been like that, so...

LH: I mean he was a musical arranger, a very well-respected one at that! Right? (AR: Yes) What do you remember most about your father?

AR: Well, all I know is his first film was released the day he died. The same day -- I think it's, I don't know -- destiny. Maybe all that suffering which he went through, is now god is giving it back to me -- in a nice way. Easy fame, and stuff all that. (LH: No it's not, its not easy) It's not easy, of course, but I'm just saying...

LH: You are carrying on his legacy, so to speak then?

AR: Yeah.

LH: When he passed away, you mentioned you were very young -- 9 years old. I read that a lot of burden was put on your shoulders, to provide for your mother and your siblings. Is that true?

AR: Yeah, in a way actually. At the age of 13 or 14, I had to go to school as well as work. I used to be a roady kind of thing, set up instruments for people. And at the age of 18 I started composing commercials and stuff like that, which was -- then life became interesting.

LH: Right, so before then it was really a matter of making money?

AR: Yeah

LH: And when did it suddenly change when it became a career? A love? When was it, when was the turning point?

AR: The turning point I think was when I was 18 -- 23 when I met Mani Ratnam -- when I got the opportunity to do Roja. So I had one of the leading producers, and a legendry filmmaker called Balachander, he produced a film and this legendary director whom I was a very big fan of -- Mani Ratnam -- all these things came together, unusual things. And I felt that something is happening!

LH: Almost like fate. (AR: Yeah it is) I read also that you are quite interested in technology.

AR: Yeah I was a big fan of electronics, in my teens, and things that- later on in my life, both of them came together. When computer music, and computers and all this stuff came -- yeah it was fun

LH: You dropped out of school, you worked, you even -- but after that you even came back to win a scholarship.

AR: For me what happened was, I was working and then I suddenly met my master who was Jacob John. He said 'I know your father, and you should not be doing this you should be working and learning more!' And then he wanted me to come to his thing, and then he made me write the exam of Trinity College in Chennai -- which I got scholarship and all this stuff.

It was the understanding of the Western classical music which is very important -- and now it's helped me a great deal actually.

LH: How do you see this sort of Western and Eastern classical music complimenting each other?

AR: My biggest dream now is to start a classical conservatory in India, or Chennai. And a lot of friends have come forward and helped me out. I think the discipline of classical music is very important -- and then we can ring in the eastern element in it. And make it something that is wild and exciting for classical music, which it needs now to pull a young audience back into, you know? (LH: That's right) All those opera houses!

LH: Nowadays as well, a lot of people listen to music, to songs in different languages.

AR: What I understand of music is -- it doesn't need a language. When I listen to western classical, or when I listen to African zulu music or I listen to Islamic music -- or anything. It's not the words which matter, it's the words combining with music and getting another dimension to it, another kind of spirit which comes out of it. That's more important I think.

LH: Mr. Rahman we are going to take another very, very short break. Stick around, Talk Asia will be right back with AR Rahman.

Block C

LH: Welcome back to Talk Asia, my guest is Indian composer Mr. AR Rahman. Mr. Rahman, religion seems to be very important to you. How important?

AR: For me, being influenced by Sufism is very important. The base, my whole breath is the spirit, and divinity and stuff like that. And before music it's again that, cleansing my mind and all that stuff. And success and failure, everything is from god - that's my kind of vision for myself. And what I believe is there's divinity in every human being, evening in an atheist and whatever religion. I need to respect every person, I need to love every person because he or she is the co creation. So that's my theory of life!

LH: You weren't born a Muslim though, right? You converted in your 20s -- what was the turning point?

AR: well, when my father died we had a spiritual healer which met us. He kind of foresaw my whole future, and all this stuff he said 'you will come to me after 10 years and this is going to happen to you' I said -- what is he saying? And then it all happened, and then my studio was built and then I started getting intrigued by Islam and Sufism. So what I did was, with my first movie Roja, I changed my name to AR Rahman, which is Allah Rakha Rahman. And it's been- I've been opening doors of spirituality one by one.

LH: Now your name, AR Rahman, was chosen for you by an astrologer -- correct?

AR: In a way, and not in a way -- because he had a choice of 7 names or something, different religious names and I loved this name. (LH: So you effectively chose your own name?) Yeah!

LH: Being a devout Muslim now, how has that affected you professionally -- and personally?

AR: In Tamil Nadu usually any Muslim who comes into the film industry would change his name into a non-Muslim name, and he will survive like that. For me, I did the opposite. Me coming from a Hindu religion before, and then going into the film industry I wanted AR Rahman as my name. And people are laughing at me 'what are you doing?' and I say, this is it -- this is my way of life from now onwards. And that's what happened, and then Roja became a big hit and then I had so much encouragement from Mani Ratnam, whose the director. And it got me all the awards ever thought of, like national awards, state awards, and all the stuff. It gave me respect, and then it gave me opportunity to do better stuff and get out of mediocrity.

LH: And all through your development stage, your family has always been behind you, always supported you (AR: Yeah) -- even through your change of religion? (AR: Yeah) And everything? That is amazing. That is important isn't it, (AR: Yeah) for somebody. Because you don't see to be the type of person that would listen to too many people -- you are pretty strong minded am I correct?

AR: Yeah. (LH: How do you-) I would listen to everyone and then do what I wanna do I guess!

LH: There's another word for that -- stubborn! How do you feel, on a more serious note, when you turn on the TV and you watch what's happening around the world. Muslims fighting, Muslims fighting against Christians, vice-versa, and how the world views Islam today?

AR: I think it's ignorance, first of all, lack of understanding. As a musician I feel, and that too coming from Islam, I feel that it's a very important role of mine to do to do things which politicians can't do. (LH: How?) By doing music, music doesn't -- you are not going to turn off something which says, oh it's an Islamic composer, its a Christian composer. I love Mozart, I love Bartok, I love Verdi and all that stuff but nobody is going to question that -- a piece of music is a piece of music. And then me doing Lord of the Rings, about music in the middle earth. So I think here, art can play a more important role, an artist should be like that -- creating bridges with people. And I think the government should be doing more to understand other cultures, not being arrogant and thinking 'that is bad, these people are bad, these people should be killed'. That word shouldn't come in -- it's explicit. I think that's the future, not just going killing and bombing people, just to understand them and loving them -- and that's the way to heal things.

LH: So as a musician, when you travel you try to make it a point to educate people?

AR: In a very sublime way, not direct. It happens automatically (LH: Right, right). When I do concerts I get people from all the communities, whether you take Bande Mataram, which is a very Hindu slogan -- it used to be that, and now me doing it joining along with Maa, Tujhe Salaam -- it's gone to a new level. And most Muslims, and Hindus accept it at the same time. That's a big step for me.

LH: Do you believe in destiny and karma?

AR: Yes, I do, I believe in prayers. I believe prayers from spiritual people and prayers for my mother -- and I think that's more important than -- I mean that can change destiny also. When you wish well for people. And I pray for the world- and world peace.

LH: Well Mr. Rahman we wish you all the very, very best. Thank you very much for spending time with us. And that is Talk Asia this week, my guest has been Indian composer extraordinaire AR Rahman. I'm Lorraine Hahn, let's talk again next week.

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