Oscar Winner AR Rahman On Slumdog Millionaire Part-1

By • Mar 7th, 2010
Category: Books, Movies, Music, Televison, Bollywood, Bombay/Mumbai, Chennai/Madras, India, People, Web 2.0, YouTube Videos

This is a 2-part interview with Oscar winner AR Rahman. An intensely private person, AR was pretty candid in this 2-part interview where he talks about his journey as a musician. AR entered the Indian film industry as a young boy, and through sheer hard work and determination rose to become one of the top film composer in India. In 2009 AR became the first Indian music composer to win 2 Oscars – for music composition and best song Jai Ho in Slumdog Millionaire.

If you like, you can listen to a podcast version of this interview with AR Rahman.

This is Kamla Bhatt and today my guest is AR Rahman, who is being nominated for three Oscars for his work in Slumdog Millionaire. He is the first Indian music composer to be nominated for three Oscars. In 2005, Time Magazine listed the musical sound track from his first film Roja as one of the top 10 movie sound tracks of all time. AR as he prefers to be called is also one of the top selling recording artist in the world.

Kamla: Welcome to the show AR.
A R Rahman: Hi, nice to be here.

Kamla: So, when you won the Golden Globe, who was the first person you called?
A R Rahman: I text from my agent Sam Schwartz’s Blackberry to one of my friends to tell my wife. Because we were sitting there and phones were not allowed and I think they saw it on TV.

Kamla: After you got out, whom did you call then?
A R Rahman: I spoke to…Oh I forgot too many awards. I spoke to her after I came out.

Kamla: What was your reaction when you got nominated for the Oscars? Where were you?
A R Rahman: I was with my family. Actually I was in Chennai and we saw these three nominations for director, best film and stuff. My agent Sam Schwartz called from Los Angeles (LA), he said did you see those three nominations? I said yes directors, no, he said music nominations three and then I was like really surprised and that it was great news.

Kamla: Why should you be surprised after you got the Golden Globe?
A R Rahman: Surprised because we entered two songs and on both the songs we got nominated. It is a big deal. Also the score…it is actually … it is not a very conventional kind of score and even the songs become score in most of the places, and blurring the line between score and songs. I did not analyze all those. Initially I did not even think I should submit it because and then they said no, everything becomes a score together in a platter. So, you never see, you never analyze and you never calculate things sometimes creatively, but it happens.

Kamla: And was Danny Boyle surprised?
A R Rahman: He was thrilled actually, yeah. I could not go for the premier to Mumbai because I was all prepared and suddenly had to finish of Dilli 6 pre-commitment. So, I could not attend the premier and I was stuck in Chennai and doing the stuff.

Kamla: Now is it true the Dilli 6 has been postponed because of all the Oscar buzz and you being in LA?
A R Rahman: I have finished almost 60% when I came and I am going back tomorrow to finish the other portion. So, I think we have done, the background score is almost over.

Kamla: A quick question about Jai Ho. Where did you come up with the idea of getting different sounds — you have Spanish, you have Hindi, and you have English? How did you compose that Jai Ho?
A R Rahman: Well. I think it was almost like a celebration. I do not know, it was just that we wanted to do a crazy song and because this song was already choreographed for another kind of song. So, I wanted to write an original song and sometimes you get this instinct and you just go with it.

Kamla: Tell us about Slumdog Millionaire, how surprised are you by the success and why do you think it succeeded?
A R Rahman: I think first of all the optimism and the hope of the film, which we all need; all of us are in trouble. When I saw the movie I loved that aspect. When I came out of the film, I felt positive not like depressed or felt why I went to this film and not that kind of stuff, which is great. And it is not a normal film where you just see a usual thing it enriches your intellect and makes you think and it takes you for a roller coaster ride. I loved the screenplay and there are so many things, which I liked. It is good to see that two points, which are proven in the film, is that there are no stars in the film at all and it shows that any film made well can have its own fame. So, it shows that feeling like empathy, love and everything is universal you know the way you can relate to it and that is what I felt.

Kamla: You mentioned to Danny Boyle that the movie reminded you of Sawshank Redemption.
A R Rahman: Yes.

Kamla: I asked Danny Boyle that question he says I do not know you need to ask Rahman he said.
A R Rahman: Why I told that is …It is probably — there is a parallel that, there is so much of suffering there and how life is mean to this family, these two brothers and how in that again when he comes out he feels so good. So, that is the same kind of feeling I felt in this. I said this is it man that you have done in a very different way, but that is how I feel. So he could not get it, why you are saying that film.

Kamla: Do you think in some ways it is — you were also able to empathize with the movie and the characters because of your early experience, the struggles that you went through as a child and a teenager?

A R Rahman: I think that everybody goes through something and in a way yeah I took it as a universal feeling and not as a personal thing, but also these days you see so many suicides happening after the recession, after business collapses. There is always hope, I think, and whenever something goes wrong there is probably three times better things going to come in future and we also… We need to have that hope in our mind that something better is always there for us in the future and never loose hope. We always think about the present and think how, what will happen. Tomorrow is never the same and either it may be the good or it may be the bad, but it is never the same. It is different definitely than what we think. Of course if we follow and if we go on probably the right path and then we can probably foresee what is going to come tomorrow, but at any time the future is bright.

Kamla: What kinds of music do you listen to? How do you relax?
A R Rahman: How do I relax? I come here to L.A.

Kamla: And what do you do in L.A. when you come there?
A R Rahman: I am just getting up at the right time in the morning, sleeping at the right time, eating right food.

Kamla: But seriously how do you relax though?

A R Rahman: I relax when I do music too. It is no work kind of thing. It is, I think, we are in a profession, which is very satisfying at least so far, and you are doing stuff and then that itself is like a therapy for us.

Kamla: Now, what does the Golden Globe award mean to you?
A R Rahman: I do not know. Probably after a year I will look back and know what it means to me. It gave a reason for celebrating along with so many Indian people there. Well, that is a great thing. Because after all those Bombay mishaps and the horrible things, which happened and Sridhar passing away and there was a flood inside my studio and all those stuff. You know after this incident, I don’t know why it came from my heart that I want to share this with one billion people here. And somewhere I think it is a great moment to rejoice with all the people rather than take it as a personal victory. I thought it is a great moment to share with all of them. So that was good, that was memorable. It is going to be a memorable moment in my life.

Kamla: So, after the National Film Award that you got in 1992, is this next most significant thing?
A R Rahman: Yeah, I would say because even that was a surprise and nobody ever, never expected when I made Roja that I would get the National Award, an award which old people get. I was 23 or 24 years old and in my first film I got a National Award. It was a great surprise. In fact a lot of people said don’t you think it is too early for you and you lose your motivation to do more music.

Kamla: And then so how did you answer then?
A R Rahman: I don’t know. They gave it to me and I am enjoying it.

Kamla: So, how are you preparing yourself mentally for the Oscars?
A R Rahman: Oh God. I don’t even think about it. I am just enjoying these days now. So, just probably two days before I will get all tense up and then think about it.

Kamla: There have been reports that you may be performing along with Sukhvinder?
A R Rahman: Well, we do not know yet what the scene is, what they want. I am just going to have a meeting and decide.

Kamla: And what about the news that you are going to be working with the Pussy Cat Dolls?
A R Rahman: Nothing confirmed yet. I think if something is there, I will let people know.

Kamla: OK, so nothing has been confirmed. Let me ask you about “Jai Ho”. There is an interesting story about that song.
A R Rahman: The whole music of Slumdog Millionaire was done very secretively. I did not tell anyone that I was doing this film. One main reason for the whole thing is, since I was doing so many other films I wanted to become — this is the first time I am working with a director like Danny Boyle who is so reputed and stuff. I did not know that how well we are going to vibe, whether he is going to accept the music I am making for him. There were too many question marks. So, nobody not even writers or nobody knew about which film I was scoring. Even the musicians did not know. I was just doing stuff. Only me and probably Sridhar knew about it. And only when Toronto Festival happened and the film got a great review, they saw my name and they said Oh! You did music of that film. There were too many speculations over too many things like this song is from that film and all that stuff which is all false. I want to make that very clear. So, all the music in this film was made for this film and that is very important.

Kamla: OK, so how did you get to work with M.I.A? Whose idea was it? Was it yours or Danny Boyle’s?
A R Rahman: It was Danny’s idea that both of us should do something together and we met in London and finished the track.

Kamla: How was it working with her?
A R Rahman: She is great and because I admire her work also and she also wanted me to write something a year back.

Kamla: Coming back to the Oscars and the Golden Globes, what was it like sitting in the same room as people like Clint Eastwood, Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, and James Newton Howard …people that you probably wanted to meet?
A R Rahman: Aahh. I think everybody has that little Oh my God. Oh my God. He is there, he is there. Actually when I first came in to L.A. for this whole thing, for the promotion of Slumdog Millionaire in December, first trip I had met Hans Zimmer, and then Danny and then Howard. I met Alexander. So, I think after that I got used to all of that. We are in the same room and Oh yes, it is Clint Eastwood. Hi! How are you?

Kamla: Oh so you spoke with them?
A R Rahman: Yes I spoke to Spielberg too. All of them loved the film. After that you kind of lose that childlike oh yes, he is in there — sort of excitement that OK, hi how are you?

Kamla: So, who is that one person that you have not met and that you would like to meet?
A R Rahman: I met almost everybody. I met Peter Gabriel, whom I admire. Then I met Sting also during the Golden Globe and so almost all of them.

Kamla: If you do win the Oscars, how is that going to change your life?
A R Rahman: I do not know, let me win it. And then let us see if something changes. It will definitely be a great honour if we get one of those.

Kamla: Whether you win or not your life has changed?
A R Rahman: Yeah.

Kamla: Because I am assuming that you are going to get offers from Hollywood now?
A R Rahman: Yes, I am not jumping the gun, I just want to make sure that I put the energy from the right thing because now it is all over the place like lot of offers, lot of different collaborations and all coming now, but they want to make sure that there are only certain thing I can handle properly and you know all those things.

This is Kamla Bhattand, you were listening to A R Rahman. Tune back in for part two of our conversation where AR talks about his journey from Kodambakkam in Chennai to Hollywood. And as always thank you for tuning in.

(This interview was first aired on NDTV.com in Feb, 2009.)

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