Allah Rakha Rahman — AR Rahman born on 6 January 1966 as A. S. Dileep Kumar is an Indian Tamil film composer, record producer, musician and singer. His film scoring career began in the early 1990s. He has won fourteen Filmfare Awards, four National Film Awards, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe, two Grammy Awards, and two Academy Awards.
Working in India’s various film industries, international cinema and theatre, by 2004, Rahman, in a career spanning over a decade, had sold more than 150 million records of his film scores and soundtracks worldwide, and sold over 200 million cassettes, making him one of the world’s all-time top selling recording artists.
Time magazine has referred to him as the “Mozart of Madras” and several Tamil commentators have coined him the nickname Isai Puyal English: Music Storm. In 2009, the magazine placed Rahman in the Time 100 list of ‘World’s Most Influential People’.
Early Life and Influences
A. R. Rahman was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India to a musically affluent Mudaliar Tamil family. His father R. K. Shekhar, was a Chennai based composer and conductor for Malayalam films. Rahman lost his father at a young age and his family rented out musical equipment as a source of income. He was raised by his mother Kareema (Kashturi). He was introduced to Sufism when his younger sister fell severely sick and as per the advise of a family friend, the family would pray at a mosque and vow conversion to Islam if she got well. The prayers were answered and accordingly, he along with other members of his family then converted to Islam in the year 1989 at the age of 23 and changed his name to Rahman. During these formative years, Rahman served as a keyboard player and an arranger in bands such as “Roots”, with childhood friend and percussionist Sivamani, John Anthony, Suresh Peters, JoJo and Raja. Rahman is the founder of the Chennai-based rock group, “Nemesis Avenue”. He played the keyboard and piano, the synthesizer, the harmonium and the guitar. His curiosity in the synthesizer, in particular increased because, he says, it was the “ideal combination of music and technology”. He began early training in music under Master Dhanraj. At the age of 11, he joined, as a keyboardist, the troupe of Ilaiyaraaja, one of many composers to whom musical instruments belonging to Rahman’s father were rented. Rahman later played in the orchestra of M. S. Viswanathan Ramesh Naidu and Raj Koti, accompanied Zakir Hussain, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan and L. Shankar on world tours and obtained a scholarship to the Trinity College of Music where he graduated with a degree in Western classical music.
Film Scoring and Soundtracks
In 1992, Rahman began his own music recording and mixing studio attached to the backyard of his house called the Panchathan Record Inn, which was developed into India’s most advanced recording studio. He initially composed music jingles for advertisements, Indian Television channels and music scores in documentaries, among other projects. In 1992, he was approached by film director Mani Ratnam to compose the score and soundtrack for Ratnam’s Tamil film Roja. The debut led Rahman to receive the Rajat Kamal award for Best Music Director at the National Film Awards, the first time ever by a first-time film composer. Rahman has since then gone on to win the award three more times (for his scores for Minsaara Kanavu (Electric Dreams, Tamil) in 1997, Lagaan (Tax, Hindi) in 2002, Kannathil Muthamittal (A Peck on the Cheek, Tamil) in 2003, the most ever by any composer.
Roja’s score met with high sales and acclaim, in its original and dubbed versions, bringing about a marked change in film music at the time, and Rahman followed this with successful scores for Tamil–language films of the Chennai film industry including Ratnam’s politically charged Bombay, the urbanite Kadhalan, Bharathiraaja’s Karuththamma, the saxophonic Duet, Indira, and the romantic comedies Mr. Romeo and Love Birds, which gained him considerable notice. His fanbase in Japan increased with Muthu ‘s success there. His soundtracks gained him recognition in the Tamil Nadu film industry and across the world for his stylistic versatality in his pieces including in Western classical, Carnatic, Tamil traditional/folk, jazz, reggae and rock music. The Bombay Theme—from Ratnam’s Bombay—would later reappear in Deepa Mehta’s Fire and various compilations and media. Rangeela, directed by Ram Gopal Varma, marked Rahman’s debut for Hindi-language films made in the Mumbai film industry. Many successful scores for films including Dil Se and the percussive Taal followed. Sufi mysticism would form the basis of Chaiyya Chaiyya from the former and the composition “Zikr” from his score of the film Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero for which he created large orchestral and choral arrangements.Musical cues in scores for Sangamam and Iruvar employed Carnatic vocals and instruments such as the veena with leads of rock guitar and jazz. In the 2000s Rahman created hit scores for Rajiv Menon’s Kandukondain Kandukondain, Alaipayuthey, Ashutosh Gowariker’s Swades and Rang De Basanti. He composed songs with Hindustani motifs for Water (2005).
Rahman has worked with Indian poets and lyricists such as Javed Akhtar, Gulzar, Anand Bakshi,P.K.Mishra, Mehboob, Vairamuthu and Vaali. His collaborations with some film directors have always resulted in successful soundtracks, particularly with the director Mani Ratnam who he has worked with since Roja, all of which have been hits, and the director S. Shankar in the films Gentleman, Kadhalan, Indian, Jeans, Mudhalvan, Nayak, Boys and Sivaji. Rahman attached and opened a developed extension studio to his Panchathan Record Inn in 2005 called AM Studios in Kodambakkam, Chennai — considered to be the most developed, equipped and high tech studio in Asia. In 2006, Rahman launched his own music label, KM Music. Its first release was his score to the film Sillunu Oru Kaadhal. Rahman scored the Mandarin language picture Warriors of Heaven and Earth in 2003 after researching and utilizing Chinese and Japanese classical music, and co-scored the Shekhar Kapoor helmed Elizabeth: The Golden Age in 2007. His compositions have been reused in scores within India and have made appearances in Inside Man, Lord of War, Divine Intervention and The Accidental Husband. In 2008, he scored the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack, for which he won a Golden Globe and two Academy Awards, becoming the first Indian citizen to do so. In the United States, the soundtrack topped the Dance/Electronic Albums chart and reached #4 on the Billboard 200 chart. The song “Jai Ho” reached #2 on the Eurochart Hot 100 Singles and #15 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Rahman has been involved in several projects aside from film. He made an album Vande Mataram (1997) on India’s 50th anniversary of independence to commercial success.He followed it up with an album for the Bharat Bala–directed video Jana Gana Mana, a conglomeration of performances by many leading exponents/artists of Indian classical music. Rahman has written jingles for ads and composed several orchestrations for athletic events, T.V. and internet media publications, documentaries and short films.
In 1999 Rahman, along with choreographers Shobhana and Prabhu Deva Sundaram and a Tamil cinema dancing troupe performed with Michael Jackson in Munich, Germany, for his “Michael Jackson and Friends Concert.” In 2002, he composed his maiden stage production Bombay Dreams (2002) following a commission from musical theatre composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, a success in London’s West End. With Finnish folk music band Värttinä, he wrote the music for The Lord of the Rings theatre production and in 2004, Rahman composed the piece “Raga’s Dance” for Vanessa-Mae’s album Choreography.
In the last six years, Rahman has performed three successful world tours of his concerts to audiences in Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Dubai, UK, Canada, the US (Hollywood Bowl and 3d tour) and India. He has been collaborating with Karen David for her upcoming studio album. A two-disc soundtrack, Introducing A. R. Rahman (2006) featuring 25 pieces he composed from his Tamil film scores was released in May 2006. His non-film album, Connections was launched on 12 December 2008. Rahman is one of over 70 artists singing on “We Are the World: 25 for Haiti”, a charity single in aid of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In 2010, Rahman composed “Jay Jay Garvi Gujarat” , that has been written by noted writer Kavi Narmad, as part of the 50th year of formation of Gujarat state.
Music Style and Impact
Skilled in Carnatic music,Western classical, Hindustani music and the Qawwali style of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahman has been noted to write film songs that amalgamate elements of these music systems and other genres, layering instruments from differing music idioms in an improvisatory manner. Symphonic orchestral themes have accompanied his scores, where he has employed leitmotif. In the 1980s, Rahman recorded and played arrangements on mono, synonymous with the era of predecessors such as K. V. Mahadevan and Vishwanathan–Ramamoorthy, but later his methodology changed. Rahman worked and experimented on fusing traditional instruments with new electronic sounds and technology.
His interest and outlook in music stems from his love of experimentation. Rahman’s compositions, in the vein of past and contemporary Chennai film composers, bring out auteuristic uses of counterpoint, orchestration and the human voice, evolving Indian pop music with unique timbres, forms and instrumentation. By virtue of these qualities, broad ranging lyrics and his syncretic style, his themes appeal to several sections of Indian society.
His first soundtrack for Roja was listed in TIME’s “10 Best Soundtracks” of all time in 2005. Film critic Richard Corliss felt the “astonishing debut work parades Rahman’s gift for alchemizing outside influences until they are totally Tamil, totally Rahman.” Rahman’s initial global reach is attributed to the South Asian diaspora. Described as one of the most innovative composers to ever work in the industry, his unique style and immense success transformed film music in the 1990s prompting several film producers to take film music more seriously. The music producer Ron Fair considers Rahman to be “one of the world’s great living composers in any medium”.
The director Baz Luhrmann notes “I had come to the music of A. R. Rahman through the emotional and haunting score of Bombay and the wit and celebration of Lagaan. But the more of AR’s music I encountered the more I was to be amazed at the sheer diversity of styles: from swinging brass bands to triumphant anthems; from joyous pop to West-End musicals. Whatever the style, A. R. Rahman’s music always possesses a profound sense of humanity and spirit, qualities that inspire me the most.
Main article: List of awards and nominations received by A. R. Rahman
Rahman was the 1995 recipient of the Mauritius National Award and the Malaysian Award for contributions to music. He was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for his first West-End production. A four-time National Film Award winner and conferred the Padma Shri from the Government of India, Rahman has also received six Tamil Nadu State Film Awards, fourteen Filmfare Awards and eleven Filmfare Awards South for his music and scores. In 2006, he received an honorary award from Stanford University for contributions to global music. In 2009, for his score of Slumdog Millionaire, Rahman won the Critics’ Choice Award, the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music, and two Academy Awards for Best Original Music Score and Best Original Song at the 2009 Oscars. Middlesex University and Aligarh Muslim University have announced that they plan to bestow honorary doctorates on Rahman. He has also won two Grammy Awards, for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album and Best Song Written for a Visual Media. Rahman was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian honor, in 2010.
He is married to Saira Banu and has three children, Khadijah, Rahima, and Aameen. Rahman is the uncle of composer G. V. Prakash Kumar, who is the son of Rahman’s elder sister, A. R. Reihana. He had become an atheist as a result of childhood struggles, he eventually converted to Islam in 1989, the religion of his mother’s family. He is very devoted to his mother. During the Oscar Award, he paid her a tribute saying: “There is a Hindi dialogue ‘mere pass ma hai’ which means even if I have got nothing I have my mother here.”
Rahman is involved in various charitable causes. In 2004, he was appointed as the Global Ambassador of the Stop TB Partnership, a project by WHO. He has shown support to charities including Save the Children, India, and worked with Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam for his song “Indian Ocean”. The song featured a-ha keyboard player Magne Furuholmen and Travis drummer, Neil Primrose. The proceeds of the song went towards helping orphans in Banda Aceh, one of the areas worst affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. He produced the single “We Can Make It Better” by Don Asian alongside Mukhtar Sahota. In 2008, Rahman opened his KM Music Conservatory partnered with Audio Media Education facility to tutor and train aspiring musicians in vocals, instruments, music technology and sound design. The conservatory – with preeminent musicians on its panel and a newly founded symphony orchestra – is located near his studio in Kodambakkam, Chennai, offering courses at Beginners, Foundation and Diploma level. Rahman composed the theme music for a short film for The Banyan in 2006, in aid of destitute women in Chennai. In 2008, Rahman, along with percussionist Sivamani created a song titled “Jiya Se Jiya”, inspired by the Free Hugs Campaign and promoted it through a video shot in various cities in India.