CHCHENNAI : AR Rahman’s lack of airs is almost unsettling. You think Academy Awards, revolutionary music, and global fame, and it’s almost hard to comprehend that the baby-faced composer sitting in front of me with a pleasant smile is the man behind such groundbreaking achievements.
In Hyderabad for his Encore India Tour Concert, the composer begins talking about the most difficult of tasks: song selection for a concert. “I usually listen to my instincts. I also have a dedicated team that helps me out with it,” he says.
It wasn’t too long ago that his UK concert became a topic of much debate, following certain sections of fans walking out citing unhappiness with some of his choices. “Ahead of a concert, I sit with my team, consider their inputs, and then arrive at the final list,” he says. This series of concerts is the first time he is collaborating with a platform like BookMyShow. “They came up with a list of songs too. This concert is a celebration of my 25-year-long journey in music. It has been a beautiful experience.”
He compares making music with childbirth. “To create a song is as pure and beautiful an experience. I always feel good when I go back to a track I created a long time ago,” he says. “And concerts are a way of returning to his past work.”Increasingly, concerts have come to mean musicians lip-syncing to pre-recorded songs. But Rahman will have none of it. “Ultimately, people come to see their favourite artiste performing. So, it’s important to be honest to the job,” he says.
“But sometimes, the performance may require a lot of dancing, and people try to seek the help of technology to make it easier.” Lest this end up sounding as justification, Rahman makes his position very clear: “Should any performer simply mime along through the whole concert, it’s nothing short of a criminal offence.”
Who does the song belong to though? Sometime ago, composer Ilaiyaraaja expressed his frustration at people making profits out of his songs without seeking permission from him. Some popular singers were even stopped from performing the songs on grounds of copyright violation. Rahman laughs. “It’s too complicated a question. I think I should let legal experts figure it out,” he says. “But I want singers to respect composers when they perform the tracks. Some credit must be given to the composer.”
Songs, however, seem to be slowly getting eased out of films. In his upcoming 2.0 for instance, there are reportedly only three songs, two of which have already been released. “Some films get conceived like that,” he says. “2.0’s focus is purely on entertainment using 3D technology. It doesn’t have a place for forced songs.”
But Rahman believes songs still enjoy a place of pride in our narratives. “My upcoming production, 99 Songs, is based on music, and has as many as 10 songs. There have been instances of some good songs not getting picturised well in films over the years, and producing a film like this is my way of understanding the difficulties of filmmaking more intricately,” he smiles.
It’s perhaps on account of these increasing responsibilities that he walked out of Chiranjeevi’s next, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, a biography on Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy. “Chiranjeevi is an amazing actor. It’s going to be a great film and has a terrific script. But I have too many things on my plate right now,” he says.
The composer’s latest film, Mersal, has turned out to be a superhit, but there’s been mixed reception to the songs. And he isn’t particularly perturbed. “I’m perfectly happy with the response. I created the sound I intended to, and I’m perfectly happy at having been part of that film,” he says.
1992: Chinna Chinna Aasai, Roja
1993: Chikku Bukku Rayile, Gentleman
Pudhiya Mugam, Uzhavan, Thiruda Thiruda
1994: Urvasi Urvasi, Kadhalan
Karuthamma, Duet, May Maadhamn
1995: Humma Humma, Bombay
1996: Mustafa, Kadhal Desam
Love Birds, Indian
1997: Vennialve, Minasara Kanavu
1998: Chaiyya Chaiyya, Dil Se
1999: O Mariya, Kaadhalar Dhinam
Padaiyappa, Sangamam, Taal, Mudhalvan
2000: Snegithane, Alaipayuthey
Kandukondein Kandukondein, Rhythm,
2001: Ghanan Ghanan, Lagaan
2002: Oru Deivam Thandha Poove,
2003: Girlfriend, Boys
2004: Yakkai Thiri, Aaytha Ezhuthu
2005: Mayiliragae, Anbe Aaruriye
2006: Munbe Va, Sillunu Oru Kadhal
Rang de Basanti
2007: Tere Bina, Guru
Sivaji, Azhagiya Thamizh Magan
2008: Suttum Vizhi Sudare, Ghajini,
Slumdog Millionaire, Jodha Akbar
2009: Masakali, Delhi 6
2010: Hosana, Vinnaithandi Varuvaya Raavanan, Enthiran, Rockstar
2012: Nunjukkule, Kadal
2013: Innum Konjam, Maryan
2014: Patakha Guddi, Highway
2015: Mental Manadhil, OK Kanmani
2016: Thalli Pogathey, Achcham Yenbadhu Madamiyada
2017: Ala Poran Tamizhan, Mersal