It was a fine Sunday morning, when I got a call from my friend, cinematographer Rajeev Menon, asking if we can meet!

The meeting happened at 5 pm that day. I was then the sub editor of India Today, and was handling movies section too. Those days, Rajeev was working more on Ad films, than for movies. He told me about a youngster who was composing for his ad films – “His name is Dileep. He has tremendous music sense. He’s extremely talented in playing and handling all modern instruments. Moreover, Mani sir has signed him on for his next movie, after listening to some of his jingles.”

“Wow.. thats something new”, I thought, and collected a pic of Dileep shot by Rajeev and his phone number from Rajeev. Next day, I called up Dileep and he answered. I introduced myself and asked for a meeting with him. He immediately refused saying “No sir… No Interviews now! Mani sir has asked me not to speak anything about the project!”

I retorted – “You dont have to speak about the movie; speak about you! I would be pleased if India Today publishes details about the new music director who is Mani Ratnam’s new find.”
I also told him that I’d already collected his photo from Rajeev Menon. Finally, later acceded to my request!

The meeting happened at 4 pm. He was not a school kid. He was not yet a college student. He seemed to be just in that transition phase, with a shy smile on his face! His mom and sister were with him. His mom offered me cake and savouries they had purchased from the neighbourhood bakery, for me. Coffee followed.

Then, we started talking. He told me a lot – about his father RK Sekhar, about how music became his full-time job after his father’s death, about the family background, about the conversion to islam, about his name change! He mentioned that the Mani film was a God-given gift for him. He conversed with him as though we’re very close friends for a long time! He took me to his studio and played 2 songs from his new film.

One of those songs was Chinna Chinna Aasai. After listening to it, I requested Rahman to play it once more. He was overjoyed and played it again. “Just this one song is enough to take you to heights of fame”, I told him and wished him all luck. “Other than Mani sir, others connected with the film hadn’t listened to the songs. I played it just for you. Your words are very encouraging”, he said and thanked me. When I was leaving, he came out till his front gate and bid farewell to me.

One week later, Rahman’s mom called me – “When can we see my son’s photo in the magazine, dear brother?” I could sense the eagerness and excitement in her voice. “It will hit the stands in 2 days, mother. I’ll come and give a few copies to you, even before that”, I told her.

En-route to my house from office, I visited Rahman’s house with 5 copies of India Today, and gave it to them. The images of the proud mother and sister, smiling and sharing their happiness on seeing Rahman’s photo in the magazine, still remains fresh in my memories. But, Rahman took this big news in a calm and composed manner. With a smile, he thanked me. His humbleness was there with him right from that time.

After the release of Roja, there was no magazine which didnt feature Rahman’s photo. After that, I met him a few more times as a reporter. Much to the envy of other reporters, he would approach me personally and talk to me like a friend. Once, in a press meet, he openly said “He’s the first person to interview me. How can I not be close to him?”. He hasn’t yet lost that closeness to me.

A.R Rahman with Kalyan Kumar during the Interview

A.R Rahman with Kalyan Kumar during the Interview

8 years later, I’d moved from the press and started working for TV and movies. I wanted to produce a special program for Sun TV for Tamil New Years day, in association with my friend Balakrishnan. That program was – “Special interview with Isai Puyal A.R.Rahman.”

Rahman had started rocking both the Hindi and Tamil film industry by then, and was very busy! It took me one week to just meet him. Since I was producing the program, I personally met Rahman, and asked for an appointment for the interview.

He said, “Re-recording of Kandukondain will be over in a couple of days. After that, we can have the interview in my studio itself. But, on one condition… You should be the interviewer, lets not have any other anchor!” I agreed. In the next few days, Rahman allotted five hours of his time for us, and also arranged for Biriyani for us, for lunch.

The interview was aired on 14th Jan, 2004. In that interview, Rahman had listed down his favourite tamil songs, and had also explained why he liked these songs.

  • “Kaatril Endhan Geetham” composed by Ilayaraja (from the film Johnny)
  • “Unnai onru ketpen” by MSV
  • “Thora guna” by KV Mahadevan (Sankarabharanam)
  • “Kaalangalil Aval Vasantham” sung by PB Sreenivas

This was the day Alaipayuthey had hit the screens. He’d got Mani Sir’s consent to show clips of songs from the movie, during the interview. He didnt stop with just that. That night, he invited me home and thanked me for the good interview. I told him that it is he who has to be thanked! I can’t forget that late night meeting with him.

Today, all the world media focusses on the man who got two Oscars. At this proud juncture, I’m really proud to say that I was the first man to interview him.

Originally Blogged by Kalyan Kumar in Tamil . Translation credits to Aravind AM.