AGrammy winner, AR Rahman’s wide body of work for films and stage has helped him earn the nickname “The Mozart of Madras”. He has received several national and international awards for his overwhelming musical composition over the years.
Starting with composing music for TV commercials he moved onto directing music for films with Tamil film Roja. Gradually he got exposure to other regional language films and made it into Bollywood.
Some of his most acclaimed works have been Bombay, Dil Se, Taal, Rang De Basanti and Slumdog Millionaire. His back to back Hollywood projetcs Million Dollar Arm and The Hundred Foot Journey got into the contended list for the original score category nomination at the Oscars.
BOI: Can you tell us about the music of Mohenjo Daro and what went into the entire composition?
It’s Ashtoshji’s (Gowariker) vision. He has done extensive research and made an interesting film. I was wondering what he was going to make but it looks very entertaining and it has so much research and other stuff behind it.
Also, it’s a very contemporary story, in a way, because life is life and the way people used to live then… he has adapted that kind of vision. The love story in the film has challenges, so it is in sync and is also a celebration of that culture.
BOI: How challenging was it to keep the music and sounds relevant to ancient times while also keeping them relevant to modern times?
We researched a lot of photographs and other material like the history of the musical instruments – that’s the kind of vibe we took forward because the ultimate goal is to make something engaging, honest and also not boring. It’s not a documentary; it’s a movie- a fictional piece of work.
BOI: Were there any particular instruments you had in mind or that you used to bring forth those sounds?
There are certain instruments that are close to Rajasthan and probably the Silk Road. I had to replicate sounds that could have existed back then, as seen in the photographs. Like there is special kind of harp, special kinds of reeds and other things.
BOI: Mohenjo Daro is your fourth association with Gowariker after Lagaan, Swades and Jodhaa Akbar. Can you talk about the professional relationship between the two of you?
I think he is a very immersive director. He delves deep into scripts and he is very music-friendly. He loves different music and history, like in Swades or Lagaan or even ‘Khwaja mere khwaja’, which has become a cult song for me. Ashutoshjiand I make a great team.
BOI: You are also singing in Mohenjo Daro. What is the song about?
My song is in the first half and it’s probably the only duet in the movie. It’s a love song.
BOI: Ashutosh Gowariker said in a recent interview that your music was instrumental to the film’s look. Can you talk about your contribution to the film other than its music?
That was in the initial stages when he was evolving the script. He had certain ideas but I had certain ideas too. Finally we blended both. There was something he had not asked for and then he changed some situations and kept those and modified things to incorporate this, which was very good. So the ultimate result has been very colourful and nice.
BOI: After doing so many films, what is it that convinces you to take up a project?
I think we all look for inspiration, we all look for something that drives us. When you work for more than 20 years, it shouldn’t become like a marriage that ties you down; it should stay fresh. (Laughs)
So when someone goes out of his way to make Mohenjo Daro… I could easily do a commercial movie but to take up a challenge of something extraordinary…
This is an Indian film but it could also be an international film where people from a different background and history could say, ‘Hey, what have they done, let me watch that.’ It’s nice to have directors like Gowarikerji with a vision and the conviction that this can work. And there is the fact that Hrithik Roshan supported the whole thing as did UTV.
BOI: You inspire people all over the world. Where do you get your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from the world! (Laughs). But I choose what I like according to my evolvement in life and my spiritual status. I pick up things which… it’s like you have a cluster of things and people take what they like. I too pick up what could inspire me.
In what can be a very cluttered and confused world, we need to have some focus and artistes can do that and we have to stand by that, whether we succeed or fail.
BOI: Coming to your music school, KM College Of Music And Technology, in Chennai… what has that journey been like so far, and how happy are you with what you have achieved on that front?
My music school came from an idea that all of us have got something from the world and from life and we have to give back and this in particular is not my forte, you know I am a composer, I sit inside a room and compose songs so for me it was frustrating to see that I have reaped from other people, be it from musicians or getting inspiration but what have I given back?
Music has given me so much so this in a way is payback. Also I never had many things accessible to me like a piano, so these students coming from the villages and different states and when they play a very very exclusive piano piece like a virtuoso it feels very gratifying that I have done my bit.
BOI: Personally, who are your favourite musicians, both from current times as well as the older generation?
Every time I am asked this question I forget to name so many artistes! (Laughs). Recently I have really liked the work of Ajay-Atul and also the consistency of how they are doing very Indian music. From the older times, of course there are the masters.
I was recently listening to ‘Chala vahi des’ of Hridaynath Mangeshkar and Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Meera Bhajan’. I think we all will miss Veena Sahasrabuddhe, such a beautiful voice. She passed away recently.
BOI: Do you ever get stuck when you are composing?
We always get stuck! But every day is a different day so when you get stuck you should just leave and come back to it again. That is why nowadays I don’t take up projects where someone says to me, ‘Oh, I need this next week’ I simply say, ‘No I can’t do this.
Sorry.’ I need a lot of time. So when you get stuck you just go back to it a couple of days or weeks later you definitely can crack it unless there is something very wrong with it! (Laughs)
BOI: What are your upcoming projects?
I am working on my movie 99 Songs, for which I am composing and producing and writing. Then there is Shankarji’s movie Robot 2. There is also Ok Jaanu, which Karan Johar is producing.