There’s a particularly interesting sequence in Jai Ho, a film on Oscar winner A.R.Rahman. It shows the music composer getting into a convertible car, driving without a care in the world, stopping for fuel at a petrol bunk and filling it himself. Obviously, this wouldn’t be possible at the bunk near his house in Kodambakkam. But it certainly is in Los Angeles, where the celebrity musician — far away from familiar surroundings and fan frenzy — leads a life like any one of us.
Director Umesh Aggarwal wanted audiences to see that and spent a couple of weeks trying to capture Rahman in that environment. “It helps me study humanity and stay in touch,” says the composer, in the 90-minute documentary, an abridged version of which was played for the media recently. But Jai Ho isn’t just about his life abroad; it is very much a tribute to the young boy with dreams, who went on to become a musical icon.
Umesh, who directed the film for the Public Service Broadcasting Trust, agrees, “As a person, Rahman is quite shy and Jai Ho tries to tell his story, through his voice.” The documentary, shot across the world including Los Angeles, London, Mumbai and Chennai, includes interviews with people he’s worked with closely, like Mani Ratnam, Shekhar Kapur, Danny Boyle, Andrew Lloyd Webber among others.
Among the many interesting nuggets is one in which Alka Yagnik recalls getting a phone call from him way back in the early 90s to record “for the songs of a film called Roja.” “Kumar Sanu and I were supposed to come to Chennai to sing the tracks — but I had never heard of this person called ‘A.R.Rahman’. I called up Sanu, who said that he hadn’t heard of his name too, and that he wasn’t going to take up the offer. I too declined it,” recalls Alka in the documentary, “After Roja released, I was cursing myself; it was such a big loss for me.”
Apart from exploring his musical roots, Jai Ho also features the personal side of Rahman — a child losing his father when he was in class four. It was one of the most poignant points of the film, avers Umesh. “He requested me not to take him back to those days — it was one of his most painful memories — but I would have failed as a filmmaker had I not done so. We went to the same classroom where, as a young boy, he heard of his father’s death.” Other emotional moments featured in the film are leaving school at the age of nine, getting his first pay cheque and his marriage.
(Jai Ho will air on Discovery Channel and Discovery Tamil on October 26 at 9 p.m.)