Even I get bored of my music sometimes: AR Rahman

AR Rahman, along with director Imtiaz Ali, reflect upon their collaboration over the years, finding the sound of Amar Singh Chamkila, and the emotions they want to convey through the film
AR Rahman
AR Rahman

It all started in 2011. The combination of maestro AR Rahman, director Imtiaz Ali, lyricist Irshad Kamil, and singer Mohit Chauhan gave us the angsty tunes of 'Rockstar'. Then came, 'Tamasha' (2015) and the quartet came up with a mix of zappy and soulful melodies. Eight years later, the A-Team is joining forces again for 'Amar Singh Chamkila', a musical telling of the life of ‘Punjab’s Elvis Presley’. Diljit Dosanjh is the titular Chamkila, while Parineeti Chopra plays his wife Amarjot.

We speak to Imtiaz and Rahman about what sails their creative collaboration, finding the sound of Chamkila and why the latter finds ways to avoid singing.


Imtiaz, is it easy to give feedback to AR Rahman?

Imtiaz Ali: The great thing about Rahman sir is that he puts you at ease. One time when I was unable to clearly articulate my issues with a certain song, he put me at ease saying, ‘Don’t worry. Just say it. Even if it is wrong, I will understand it.’ Now, I am not a musician, and I won’t sing in front of anybody but I can hum a tune to him because I know he won’t judge.

Rahman, is Imtiaz as free as he claims to be, can he actually tell you if a tune is not good?

A.R. Rahman: (laughs) I really want people to tell me if a composition is not working. I want to give the maker that freedom because he knows the film better than me. I never think, ‘Oh my God, you made me compose this and now it is being wasted.’ It can always serve as a template for some other song. Even I get bored of my own music sometimes, feedback makes me try to find something new.

Are the dynamics similar when it comes to the collaboration with Irshad Kamil (lyricist) and singer Mohit Chauhan? Are all four of you always on the same page?

IA: No, not necessarily. But when it comes to Rahman sir, the three of us respect him and value his opinion. We might not respect each other though (laughs). If I feel that a particular song or tune is not going with the film, then everybody understands, or if Rahman sir thinks something isn’t sounding right and even if I like the lyrics still, I will step back

ARR: In the end, I think it’s always about what’s best for the film.

What was the process of creating the music for Amar Singh Chamkila?

ARR: I think I went by instinct. When it comes to Punjabi music, it is mostly lyrical. Instruments are limited to a thumbi or an alghoza. But when it comes to film music, I think there is scope to explore. That’s what we did with a song like Baaja. We took a Broadway kind of structure where the lyrics tell the story, and changed the tempo while remaining in the realm of Punjabi music. It led to something fresh.

Diljit and Parineeti have sung the original songs of Chamkila and Amarjot, which were recorded live for the film. Was it necessary for the actors to sound exactly like the singers?

IA: Yes, it was important. But not only in terms of mimicking the voices but also in terms of mimicking their diction and understanding their style of singing. Parineeti, particularly, worked very hard on that. For Diljit it was easier since he had practice. He performs on stage all the time.

In Rockstar (2011), the first album you two collaborated on, ‘longing for your lover’ feels like a theme that encompasses most of its songs. Was there any central thread that connected the songs of Chamkila?

IA: I understand the context of your question but I feel Chamkila, as an album, is very different from 'Rockstar'. Firstly, the whole album is in Punjabi and secondly, the parlance of the songs is much more common than 'Rockstar'. Even when anything philosophical is being conveyed in the songs of Chamkila, it is being done in a pop way. Amar Singh Chamkila was a mass entertainer so he always had very simple things to say.

Rahman, you have sung one song (Bol Mohabbat) in the Chamkila album. As a composer, how do you decide which song to lend your voice to?

ARR: I actually find ways to dodge it. Singing for me is putting all my responsibilities away and just going near the mic, which frankly I don’t get time for. Even Mani (Ratnam) sir wants me to sing all the songs in an album. But I can’t do that, because I am not just a composer, I am also a leader and it’s my responsibility to give a chance to new talent. Moreover, a sense of freshness is retained if I don’t sing all the songs.

IA: With him, it’s never about one song. I think most of his directors, including me, would want him to sing more songs. But we ask him to sing when a certain quality is required for a song which we might not get from other singers. His voice definitely adds something to a composition.

Any kind of art from, a piece of music or a film, is merely a vehicle to transport an emotion. What was that feeling you guys wanted to convey to the audience through Amar Singh Chamkila?

IA: I wanted people to melt down, to come to a place of joy, which is only possible after crying. A place where your heart opens up

ARR: For me, Chamkila is like a butterfly. Short-lived, but beautiful.

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