Rope in Rahman to do your music score and laugh all the way to the bank’. That’s the motto for producers today. After the super success of Rangeela, Bombay, Jeans and now Dil Se, A R Rahman has a queue of producers outside his doorstep willing to pay any amount despite his reputation of being very slow in delivering.

But Rahman, for whom creativity comes before prolificity, isn’t perturbed. Dil Se may have bombed at the box office, but Rahman’s songs have hit the bull’s eye once again. Here’s a brief tete-a-tete with the reticent and reclusive music composer of the 90s:

Congratulations! After a long spell of mediocrity in film songs, your score in Dil Se was soothing to the ear.
(Embarrassed) Thanks for the praises! A lot of credit for this goes to Mani Ratnam. Working with him is encouraging because he experiments a lot. His thought process is new and that gives his technicians space to innovate. His suggestions turn out to be real gems at times. Plus, he understands sound as well as he does film-making, which is why he uses it effectively. The effect of ‘Chaiya Chaiya’ on the audiences has a lot to do with the way it’s picturised.

Is it as exciting to work with other directors?
(Thinks) Somehow I have always ended up with people like Mani. For instance, there’s Shankar (Jeans) with whom I get along very well. Then there’s Subhash Ghai with whom I am doing Taal. There’s Ram Gopal Verma with whom I’ve done two films, Rangeela and Daud. These are all people who understand music and don’t insist on playing safe all the time.

How come Ram Gopal Verma didn’t opt for you in Satya?
Satya was started much before Daud but for some reason Daud was made first. I couldn’t wait endlessly for Satya and I began a couple of other assignments that kept me engrossed. Anyway, I have no regrets because when Ramu has a project, we’ll work together.

Were you disappointed that your music for Jeans wasn’t really well received?
Jeans’ music was slightly different from my regular scores. It wasn’t what you could brand as typically A R Rahman. I experimented with various instruments and gave it a different dimension. It took a while for people to take to it. Besides, it’s not a rule that every time I compose a song, it’ll be a blockbuster.

Your music, insist critics, takes a long time to register with people. Do you see that as a drawback?
Anything new takes time to register. That doesn’t mean it’s not up to the mark. I have created my own style by using instruments, synthesisers and a lot of gizmos in my compositions. That’s what sets me apart from my contemporaries. Also, most of my songs are originally in Tamil and dubbed into various languages, which takes away a lot from the song. That’s why it takes long for people to register the words, then the sounds.

According to what we hear, you recorded a few songs for Subhash Ghai’s film Shikhar which is shelved and are now not allowing him to use them in Taal where you are doing the score. Isn’t that unfair?
(Laughs) Who am I to ‘allow’ Subhash Ghai? He owns the songs. He can use them wherever he wants to. Subhashji is keen on retaining some songs from the few which were recorded for Shikhar. He feels they fit into the film well. I haven’t raised any objections. He knows his job. The rest of the songs for Taal are being recorded.

You never take up more than three assignments a year. Is this deliberate?
Yes it’s deliberate! And I don’t understand why people find it strange. I am incapable of churning out one song after another. At times I have composed one song in five months. I’m a creative person, not some machine or a dubbing artist who can pick up from the latest music. C’mon, you can’t hang someone for not being prolific. Since you choose very few projects to work on, is it exciting throughout the process or do you lose interest midway with a film? It’s strange but I go through phases with each of my projects.

Since I do less work I do it passionately and emotionally. Although every film I do is equally important, there are times when an urge to work on one is more than the others. For instance, right now there is a sudden keenness to work on Govind Nihalani’s Takshak. First because it’s an offbeat film with an interesting subject, and second because I’m also working on its background score. It’s further interesting because Govind is a very ‘sound’ person. He is very particular about every nuance, timing, and circumstance in the film. I’m looking forward to the release of this film because it will help me gauge the parallel cinema viewers’ attitude to my music.

Turning to your personal life, what interests you besides music?
I’m very passionate about music and have very little place in my life for anything else. But whatever time I have after my recordings, I try and spend with my family, especially my little daughter. She listens to most of my songs and even has her favourites. It’s so wonderful to see your child growing up. I don’t want to miss out these little pleasures in life.

Do you want to make your daughter a musician too?
(Smiles) It’s too early to say anything. But she does seem to have an ear for music. Insha Allah, if she wishes to I will be more than happy!

Interview published by The Asian on February 14th, 1999.