webnexttech | AR Rahman: ‘I wanted to do Roja and leave films, and then I became the change’
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Grabbing a moment with AR Rahman is a challenge, because he is always being mobbed by fans whether he is in or out of the country. At the Cannes film festival, after he has finished launching the first look of ‘Headhunting to Beatboxing’, a documentary he has produced on the musical resurgence in Nagaland, I have to push through the swelling crowd to claim my allotted time with him. In this all-too-brief conversation, Rahman whose awareness of his stardom never comes in the way of his being in the moment — he doesn’t allow himself to get distracted by the scores of people trying to get his attention, staying completely switched on — speaks of his involvement with the documentary, his unending passion for diverse musical styles, and his desire to take Indian music to the world. Excerpts : What got you interested in Nagaland? I’ve always had a soft corner for the North East How come? India is so diverse. Kerala is so different. Andhra is so different. Punjab, Bengal. You go to Nagaland, and my God, this is also India. It looks like somewhere abroad. I had heard stories about Nagaland, and my friends said it is beautiful, you should check it out. And then I got an invitation from the Hornbill Festival, and I go there and I say, this is so beautiful, I can probably live here. That’s how I got involved (in the documentary, directed by Rohit Gupta). So do you go to each place before getting on board a film? Did you go to Kashmir for ‘Roja’, for example? No, we were told it wasn’t safe. But the music ( of ‘Roja’, 1993) revolutionised the Indian film music scene. Did you ever think ‘Roja’ would be so groundbreaking? All I knew was that it would be like my last film. I wanted to put in my best, and get out from it. Oh, why? I have said this many times before. The film industry was different at that time. It was old style, old school. The ad industry was newer, cooler. So my thing was that I will do this one film, because you know, I’ve been in the ad industry from 1982 on. But then things changed, and I didn’t know I would be part of the change, in the way music was done, recording was done. Sometimes they say they are looking for a change in the room and you don’t know you are the change (laughs). When people keep saying that for 20-30 years, that’s when you realise it for yourself I remember how ‘Choti Si Asha’ became ‘badi si asha’, promising to change the way we heard music in our movies.. Yeah, we (Mani Ratnam, the director of ‘Roja and Rahman) changed everything. The way ideas from the West were adopted in the compositions, the way we produced the music. It resulted in a huge crossover in Bollywood. Yes, it was the biggest one, and that’s what changed me. Strangely, at that time, my affinity towards Hindustani music was more than Carnatic, I found beauty in North Indian ragas, I used Desh, Pilu, you know. And after ‘Roja’ was ‘Bombay’ and ‘Dil Se’. Yes, the trilogy. If you look at all my interviews around then, I’ve said repeatedly that I didn’t want to be known as a Tamil composer from the South. I felt we were undermining our music. I wanted our music to be all over the world, and for us to feel great about our music. Just like we listen to theirs (Western music), they should listen to ours. Sometimes you manifest something, and it happens over the years.. What is it that got you to go outside India? Boredom! (laughs). No actually, the West (in terms of the music) was always there in my consciousness. So when Shekhar Kapur got talking about me to Andrew Weber and he (the latter) asked, do I have a story? Years of observing culture and humanity came together in that question, and became ‘Bombay Dreams’ (the Bollywood-themed musical composed by Rahman and produced by Weber). Mani Ratnam Sir always said that you are a storyteller, you start a song, then you have an interlude, then something else, so you are telling a story in musical form.. So are we going to see those elements in the documentary? Yes, diversity fascinates me, not just one style. There’s one guy with the guitar, who makes you cry, you know. I played a recording (of the guitar) and people said that they have never heard something with such beautiful innocence. I always wanted to go to the Hollywood Bowl, to do something like an A R Rahman and Friends concert, showcase the best of India. I want to do a Hollywood concert with these people (musicians in the film). So what are the plans for the film? Some bits and pieces are still to be completed. And then we’ll go to festivals, there’s already a lot of interest in it.

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