The man behind the music is still much of an enigma. “If a music artiste wants to blossom into a full-pledged person, it’s not enough if he knows only classical music; nor it’s enough if he’s well-versed only in raagaas and techniques. Instead, he should be a knowledgeable person interested in life and philosophy. In his personal life there should be, atleast in some corner of his heart, a tinge of lingering sorrow,” he says.
When asked if turning religious helped his work, he says “After a point, it is energy which comes from above and removes your insecurity. Then you can go ahead. The world can abuse you but your confidence cannot be shaken. You want fame, but once you get it you lose your head. So just leave it to God and carry on with your work. It makes it all easy. If I put it in my head that I did it, then I fall flat because I can’t take the next step. When asked why there is so much back-biting about him, he says “See, you can never be a better person to everyone,” he says ingenuously.
“To achieve something you have to offend someone. I am doing five films and someone says, do mine too. I say no. And he goes around saying, “Rahman? Bullshit!” because I’m no longer useful to him. Besides, so much is happening outside, you need to hang on to something peaceful”. When asked if he is scared of disappointments he states frankly “Disappointments? Failures? The holy book says they test you. A few years down the line you see the setback was a good thing, it stopped disaster”. He wants to be like a boat on a river without a sail, the currents having freeplay.
‘I am like a boat in the river, I go where ever it takes me’, he says. Rahman’s visits to dargahs and long prayer sessions have been criticised as unprofessional interruptions of his schedule.”If there’s no mental peace, what schedule? I need that spiritual cleansing, I meet the friends of God who have learnt so much and helped so many.” He sees dargahs as beyond religious conflicts. The Sufi way of love answers his need. Rahman discloses also that with that gain in confidence, he has become more considerate towards others.
If all this reveals a man mature beyond his years, he responds by saying ” I have been with older people since I was eleven.Only when I saw my photograph in the newspaper while scoring for Roja did I discover I didn’t have grey hair, why, I was quite young!” He continues “I know there is no point in all this success. I remember father, I remember how he suffered. And I learnt the hard lesson. When a musician is in demand everyone flocks around him… otherwise he’s abandoned like a shirt that is torn and tattered. I’ve seen the callousness of the world with my very own eyes at a young age. Today, I know that success doesn’t last forever.
It could disappear suddenly one day. In fact,I feel every new film that I take up will be my last one. If I’m wanted today, I could be discarded tomorrow. they’ll simply say, ‘look this boy has failed and he thought he was in a position of advantage.’ ” He adds, “Each movie is like a child to me. If the child is beautiful, its a matter of pride for me.”
Rahman, for whom music is not just a profession but ‘a spiritual experience’, completed 9 years in the film industry on August 15th 2001. In this short span he changed the very face of film music in India and touched heights that no music director ever had previously. He has built up a repertoire of scintillating scores that anybody would kill for. He has become a national icon. He is also arguably the most well known Indian composer of popular music internationally. He has successfully taken popular Indian music international.
He has fans not just among expatriate Indians but also among natives of places like Brazil, Sweden and Australia. He changed the image of a music director from being a paan-chewing, harmonium-clutching copycat to that of a technology-savvy person. He took Tamil music global and established the universal appeal of his music, whatever the language the lyrics be in. He set the standards by which music came to be rated in India. The benchmarks set by him were what others aimed to achieve. The soundtracks of his unsuccessful scores sold more than the soundtracks of the successful scores of other composers. He also collected inumerable accolades for his work – a Padmashri, 14 Filmfare Awards in 10 years (9 years on the trot in Tamil and 5 in Hindi), 3 National Awards, 6 Tamil Nadu State Awards and numerous others – a feat unparalleled and not likely to be overhauled in the foreseeable future. Every director of repute yearns to work with him and every actor hopes to dance to his tunes, literally.
At the age of 35, when many others are just starting out, Rahman has garnered achievements that many others cannot in a lifetime. He has already worked with internationally reputed artistes like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Michael Jackson, Jean Michel Jarre, Sir Andrew LLoyd Webber, Deep Forest, Apache Indian, Zakir Hussain, Dominic Miller, L.Shankar, David Byrne, Kadri Gopalnath, Vikku Vinayakram, Ustad Sultan Khan and Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt among many others.
On a recent trip to India, David Byrne met Rahman and was so impressed that he went on to record some sessions with Rahman for a projecthe is currently completing (as yet unreleased). It can be safely said that the current modern era will be considered as to have been greatly influenced by the ‘Rahman School of Music’. Rahman lists among his musical favourites Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Carpenters, Carnatic, Rock and fusion and among film composers Naushad, S. D. and R. D. Burman and in Tamil K. V. Mahadevan and Vishwanathan-Ramamoorthy.
When asked what music means to him, he says “Many things. Its hard to define: bread and butter, peace, happiness, and devotion. When you are working on a piece and it turns out to be good its like a moment of magic. It gives you a lot of happiness when you think that millions are listening to your music. Its also a whole process- making it likeable to myself first andthen taking it towards perfection. Music is beyond description and without boundaries.
We have to keep expanding our horizons and make room for new things. take a small butterfly or insect – if you look at it closely you discover so many new things. When I do something, I want to be original. I sit, just blank my mind and pray. and I come up with something. Mostly its good and gets approved. It could be so simple and even a child could have composed it, but to give it soul that’s what’s important. Music is a spiritual thing not a formula. “If a music artiste wants to blossom into a full-pledged person, it’s not enough if he knows only classical music; nor it’s enough if he’s well-versed only in raagaas and techniques. Instead, he should be a knowledgeable person interested in life and philosophy. In his personal life there should be, atleast in some corner of his heart, a tinge of lingering sorrow.”
“I’m inspired any time I watch a good musician playing. When I’m programming my music on my own, I always think of some great drummer or some great bass guitarist. When I’m playing on the keyboards, I think of how beautifully another musician plays the instrument. And that inspires me to play.” “When I see Mughal-e-Azam I feel the whole sound track has been produced with a continuous, intense feeling. No cracks, no jerks. It took Naushad two years of concentration, as if he couldn’t see anything else”.
When asked if dealing with constant pressures of delivering somthting different would lead to a burnout, Rahman says, “I believe that a burnout occurs when one is not happy with what he is doing. Probabaly he’s doing it out of family pressures or financial hassles. But not for the passion of it. But I am in this profession because I thoroughly enjoy doing what I do, and wouldn’t want to do anything else.
That’s the reason why I have never felt overworked or then felt like taking a break from my work. At times, all I want to do is absorb the things happening around me and study more about music. But everything that I do has to be related only to music. So, there’s no concept of a burnout occuring in my life. God forbid.” “Above all I am a strong believer in destiny. I also believe that destiny can be changed by prayers.”
“I am surprised when good things happen. I am cool when something bad happens, also. I trust God and in that way helps me to get rid of unnecessary things like jealousy, greed and all that stuff. Although I’m not fully out of it, at least I am almost at the surface of getting out of it. These things kind of give me a security for doing music. I don’t have to worry if whether I’ll be good, if I’ll be successful, I’ll be a failure or if I’ll be thrown out or anything like that. Your almost like a vacuum, straight about everything. Which gives you a completely sublime, lonely feeling apart from others.”
Never one to boast or brag about his accomplishments, he credits all his inspiration and success to Allah. “I am whatever because of my parents’ prayers to Allah. I am whatever I am because the prayers I pray conscientiously, sincerely and with full faith five times a day. I will be whatever I am only because of Allah, I know it. He has given me everything. He can take everything away and I accept His decision without any questions, without a murmur. Allah is my everything. I am just an infinitesimal creation of His. He has created me for a specific mission. I will be committing a sin if I don’t fulfil that mission.
That’s my only belief. That’s the only thing that matters to me. I don’t care for all the other temptations of the world. I am born for music. I live for music. I will live for music till the very end. That’s Allah’s will. That’s all I Know”, Rahman says. “The problem is, you can create only as long as you have the gift, only as long as the almighty wishes. After that, you can stand on your head, it still won’t come. If God wills it so, it may happen to me too. I can take that. I belive that every individual, even an atom, can move only with the will of God. I don’t take credit for doing all this. If I did, then I would fall flat. ” “Destiny has been the biggest influence in my life. Without the will of God I would have never reached where I have. That’s why I believe I am like a boat in a river without a sail and a firm destination”.
Apart from the Almighty he credits all his success to his mother who encouraged him to take up music when his interest lay in electronics. His maxim is that only total dedication and concentration to one’s profession can help in producing good work. Rahman is certain that this dedication must increase with fame. Rahman makes his presence felt again despite maintaining a low profile in public life. It is well known that he is seldom seen at social gatherings, film parties or functions.
“Fans, VIPs wanting to meet you, functions, parties – the moment you stop making good music all will stop. The only formula is – yes, we are back to it – total concentration on the work.” All this success has not uprooted him from his roots, “Beyond what people achieve and strive for the only things that are really important are – personal values, family and friends.” Ever the great improviser he never stops till he is fully satisfied. “If an album is to please all age groups, go beyond current fads, it must have a couple of memorable melodies. ‘Hai rabbas’ don’t satisfy me. They make hits but are soon forgotten. You want to do something that lasts.”
Rahman treats his compositions with a Sufi’s dedication. When a tune comes to him he ceases to function normally. “When music comes to me,” he confessed in an unguarded moment, “I stop sleeping. I continue to work on spontaneously at nights for seven to eight hours at a stretch. When I finally pop off to sleep early in the morning I have these dreams that people are waiting for me. I can’t even complete these dreams .”
In response to all the acclaim he has received, he says “It’s a great responsibility. I am trying my best to combine traditional and contemporary styles. But sometimes the result isn’t in my hands at all. It depends on the film and the director. Trends come and go but I have to keep doing my own thing.”. “You have to learn from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is only teacher and that is your soul.
For Rahman, who eats music, thinks music, breathes music and lives music, the bottomline is that his music should reach out to the soul of humankind. “I know there are many people who say I don’t know what music is. There are so many who say that what I create is not music. But I know the people are with me. The people love my music. I know Allah is with me all the time while I am creating and with Allah by my side I know nothing can go wrong. My music comes from somewhere deep within me. I could have created any kind of music but I create only that kind of music that comes from within my being.
My music has a mission. It has to reach the bodies, the souls of the millions for whom I strive to create my music, music that springs from deep within me. I am a within man more than without. It is the language of the heart and the soul together that makes my music. And I don’t have to make great efforts because my kind of music does not come by force or necessity. It has to flow from within me. That’s the only way I know how to create. There’s no other way. Let the people who don’t like my music say what they want, I say again and again. Allah be with them. It is this music which he helps me create which appeals to both the body and the soul that is going to be one of the greatest forces that will help people from all over the world come closer, become one in body and soul in the millennium to come. I am working on that music for the future.”
Amidst all this heady success, Rahman remains unchanged. He is as humble, modest, shy, low profile, unassuming, self-affacing, devout and down-to-earth as he was at the beginning of his career. A man of few words he believes in letting his work do all the talking. He prefers to save his energies for his work instead of fighting out numerous controversies.
His personality is summed up in his favourite prayer which goes thus “O God, if I worship thee for fear of hell, burn me in hell, and if I worship thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise, but if I worship thee for thy own sake, grudge me not thy everlasting beauty.” The man has given immense pleasure to millions of music lovers world-wide with his compositions, music that brings a cheer to one’s face and helps in forgetting one’s troubles. It is probably these very divine qualities that made him the great man he is and the same will hopefully help him touch greater heights and touch newer glories and keep millions enchanted with his blissful music for years to come.