Mr Rahman, please allow us an insight into the patterns of your mind…
When I started off, I’d play something, and then listen to it and wonder why people must listen to it! Does it connect emotionally? Does the combination of notes create a feeling? Is that feeling unique or like anything else? I would think about the combination of instruments we are using, and why we are using this instrumentation at all. I would analyse the voices…

You keep doing that over and over again. Sometimes, you are watched with very keen and curious eyes, and you feel very nervous. Sometimes, you are let loose, and then, you are responsible for scrutinizing it and ensuring that it is the best it can be.

Over a period of time, you reach a point where you stop judging things. It could be a few notes on the piano or a symphony playing, and you just observe if it is creating an emotion.

And then, as you evolve as a person, all those worries fade away, everything flows naturally, and you just simply do it. But at times you lose that state of mind again, because we live in a world full of distractions…. Life pulls you here and there, and you tend to cheat your mind, sometimes… Your mind says, “It’s not fine,” and you say, “It’s fine”. So you need to be very careful, and keep going deeper…

You speak of distractions; how do you manage to still your mind?
Mostly, I just wait for that quiet moment where everything settles down… 

Mr Rahman, how conscious are you of the camera after so many years of being in the world of music-making and the business of performance?
Sometimes, when people film me while I am composing, it looks ghastly, so we re-shoot several times. When I am composing, I don’t want any prying eyes or cameras on me. But I think the world is also about eye-candy now, so you have to keep in mind the camera’s perspective.

Does that come naturally to you or have you learnt to be eye-candy?
I am writing stories and making music videos now, so I have to be sensitive to the camera’s eye. Yes, I have understood that. And my wife is always advising me about the shoes and clothes I must wear (laughs).

You work with different directors across cultural landscapes. How do you compartmentalise and create music for each of them, and many, at the same time?
There are many things that must be kept in mind. Mostly, the movie dictates it, and you follow the feel of the film. If it is a genuine filmmaker, he’d want a sound that people are drawn to, and something that reflects the film. Some other filmmakers, on the other hand, put in a lot of money into a film, and they want the music to get some attention.

Each film has a certain demand. For instance, Shankar, as a director is very passionate about filming, and he spends a lot of money on the film, so he needs to be really happy about what comes out of it. He always wants a new song, or a new sound, and it needs to excite him, so we work really hard on it. Most simple songs like Thalli Pogadhe (Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada) were afterthoughts, and then they become huge hits because there was some freedom while creating them.

We now want to make our own films, and tell our own stories in a way that we’ll be proud of in future

Do you sometimes feel compelled or limited by the demands of a director or a particular context?
Yes, but then that is our job! Filmmakers have some expectations of the music, and they come to us thinking that we will fulfil them. As a professional, I need to do that. I need to be willing to do it. If they don’t like what I’ve done, I create another, and another, and another… Sometimes, we go up to five, and then we come back to the first one.

I can’t believe that someone won’t like what Rahman has created…
It is not that. It is just that they are accountable for some things, too. They have a certain vision and we need to help them. And well, sometimes they could be wrong! But sometimes they are right.

Is there any specific director you would like to work with?
Not really, I think I have finished that cycle. Now we want to make our own films, and tell our own stories in a way that we’ll be proud of in future.

Talking of scoring for different contexts, what was it like to work with Majid Majidi’s film Muhammed: The Messenger of God?
Honestly, I could not believe it when it happened. I was watching The Message (an epic historical drama by Moustapha Akkad) one day with my friends, and I was just casually telling them what a great film it is, and how I wish I could work on something like this in my lifetime. Six months later, Imtiaz Ali called me and said UTV wanted to know if I would be interested in scoring with Majidi. I paused and asked him, “Which Majidi?”. He said, “Well, Majid Majidi.” I asked him what the film’s name was, and he said Messenger of God.

When I met Majidi, they had already shot half the film. But unfortunately, the political divide caused some obstructions, and I pray for all that to be resolved, but I can say that I have done my part, my best, and with honesty. It is a film with immense artistic value and was made at such a sensitive point in time with great courage. I also believe the film is meant for the whole world, not just for the Muslim community. Whenever people have to see it, they will see it.

Would you consider honesty a fundamental value in making music?
Yes, absolutely. I realise that when you are a student, you analyse everything so much, and break it down as this and that. And then the student in you fades away, and you become one with your thoughts. It is a like a poet whose words flow naturally, who does not worry about the colour of the ink. It is just about the poet and his thoughts, about what they evoke, and his ability to make you see the image that he has imagined. Music is very similar. Are these notes able to create a mood for you to get into?

Is that how you listen to music? Or as a composer, is your first instinct to decode it?
No. I like to listen to a song in its totality, and see if I can connect emotionally with the lyrics or the tune. Music should never be decoded. It should just get inside you, and you should feel like it is perfect as one, not as different elements. If you analyse it, it becomes boring. You should be able to connect to it straightaway.

Would you like for your listeners to listen to your music like that?
They would never do that; I know it (laughs)! They tear it apart and then go back and listen to it later. I think it is a good thing, because they are so passionate.

Mr Rahman, what is your idea of spirituality?
I was really drawn to Sufism, and was curious to understand spirituality. Spirituality that was beyond religion… Sometimes, you meet people who are beyond religion. Sometimes you learn by looking into someone’s eyes, sometimes from looking at nature, at the sky, and you register so much, and you feel like you are really nothing. And sometimes you feel like you are everything. Both these feelings co-exist at the same time. When you are imagining something, you can imagine the most incredible things, or you can feel worthless.

What do you have the strongest faith in?
Love. I used to hate that word, you know! It is such an overused and clichéd word. I used to find it so fake when characters in films said, “I love you,” to each other. I mean nobody says it like that. But then you understand the purpose of that word, how complex it is, and how many layers it has. Love is not only about a man and a woman, but a universe of things. It is about how things can work, what makes you pleasant, how much you can give… It is an endless, infinite, waterfall… The more you give, the more comes.

Article originally published by Akhila Krishnamurthy for The Alaap