In this regular column Gopal Srinivasan writes on a particular topic related to AR Rahman. This time Gops answers several questions related to A R Rahman’s albums and his reasons for moving to London in this columns titled “A R Rahman’s non-film ventures”.

A.R.Rahman started his musical career with non-film ventures but established himself as a film-music composer. But time and again, Rahman has always been expressing his desire to work on more non-film ventures. He has at every opportunity said that he finds composing for films restrictive. Not only does he have to limit himself to composing within the cliched mould of Indian films, but he also has to work within severe time constraints. Before entering the cine world Rahman had composed music for 2 albums. In fact he debuted with an album called ‘Deen Isai Maalai’, a collection of islamic devotional songs. This was followed by ‘Set Me Free’, an album of English pop songs. In addition to his he has also played the Keyboard for albums like ‘Colours’,’Andhi Maalai’ etc. And of course he had also composed over 300 ad jingles.

From 1992 onwards Rahman has been totally almost involved in only film music. The one non-film project was ‘Thenvandhu Paayudhe’, Vairamuthu’s rendition of his own poetry to which Rahman scored the background music. The first real opportunity he got to break free from the clutches of film music was when he was invited in late 1995 to compose the theme music of the Cricket World Cup that was to be held in the Indian sub-continent in February 1996. But for cited reasons of ‘insufficient time’, Rahman backed out from the project. At around this time there were rumours that Rahman had been signed up by Pepsico International to compose the music for its new international ‘Project Blue’ campaign. But these stories went unsubstantiated and so we don’t know if he had indeed been offered the project but we do we know now Rahman didn’t work on that project.

After these aborted attempts, Rahman was signed up by international music giant Sony Music which entered India in late 1996. The deal, made for an undisclosed sum and reportedly the largest of its kind, was that Rahman would do 3 albums with Sony Music. Rahman relaunched his non-film career with ‘Vandemataram’ in 1997, the first of his ventures with Sony Music. The album was an unqualified success both creatively and commercially and took Rahman international. ‘Vandemataram’ ensured that Rahman became a name recognised by the likes of Jeremy Spencer, Ian Anderson, David Bryne, Deep Forest and many other international music giants.

This was followed up in 1999 with Rahman reinventing the Indian National Anthem in the multi-medium campaign ‘Desh ka Salaam’. Desh Ka Salaam cuminated with the release of the album ‘jana gana mana 2000’ in January 2000. This album was extremely low profile. It was not even released through usual channels of music retailing and was available only online on CD format only. That limited the popularity of the album a great deal.

From here onwards, Rahman seemed to be taking more interest in non-film works. In May 1999, Rahman recorded the song ‘Ekam Satyam’ in London. This turned out to be a real biggie. On June 27 he rendered the song ‘Ekam Satyam’ alongwith the biggest star of the music world Michael Jackson at a concert for underprivileged children in The Olympic Stadium in Munich, Germany. He performed along with a troupe comprising dancers Shobana and Prabhudeva. The song was sung together by Rahman and Michael Jackson, Rahman in Sanskrit and jackson in English.

The concert was part of the ‘Michael Jackson & Friends’ series. The song was penned by Kanika Bharat. The song was recorded by Rahman in London within a week. Not much is known about this number and there was virtually no publicity. But this song could be on the verge of release. This song might form part of Michael jackson’s forthcoming Millenium album reportedly headed for a summer release. But Rahman said on an Internet Chat programme in March 2000 that Ekam Satyam would be released separately.

Apart from this Rahman is currently working on two non-film ventures. The first and the lesser known one is ‘Listen’. In July 1999 he became part of this unique international project, “Listen” which aims to raise $99 million for the downtrodden children of the third millenium. “Being the only representative from India, it is my responsibility to deliver the composition according to international standards. Having started to work at the age of 11 after losing my father at 9, I understand the plight of kids who have to work for their survival,” said Rahman.

For the “Listen” project, Rahman is to compose a modified version of one of Beethoven’s symphonies. In India, two NGOs – Save the Children, and Consortium for Street Children – are expected to benefit from the proceeds of the project. The “Listen” campaign includes two one-hour international TV specials, two albums, two videos and a spectacular three-hour international television concert from India. “Listen” has the support of 99 creative artists. They include film stars Brooke Shields, Liam Neeson, Vanessa Redgrave, Goldie Hawn, Jeff Bridges, Jamie Lee Curtis and Susan Sarandon; musicians Peter Gabriel, John Lee Hooker, Sting and Rahman; visual artists Jeff Koons, Sheela Gowda and Robert Wilson, and songwriters Diane Warren and Lamont Dozier. The album is expected to be released sometime this year.

The other non-film project which is going to take up most of Rahman’s time and creative energies for the next 6 months is the now well known ‘Bombay Dreams’. Mooted late last year the project was formally launched on March 7th in Mumbai. To be produced by the greatest composer of musicals in history, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, ‘Bombay dreams’ represents the increasing international acknowledgement of Rahman’s musical prowess and could well be the ticket to a full-fledged International career for Rahman.

Rahman is the first composer to be invited by Webber to work in a musical. Bombay Dreams will have Webber as the producer and Shekhar Kapur as the collaborator. The project is a full-fledged musical that is to feature Asian performers and to be staged worldwide The musical is to be in English and the characters to be based on the city of Mumbai. Rahman is expected to move to London temporarily to work on this mega project.

Thus Rahman is now working on two non-film projects with one completed project yet to be released. Apart from this other internationally popular musicians like David Bryne, Jean-Michel Jarre and Deep Forest have been speaking to Rahman about possible collaborations. This apart Rahman has long cherished the idea of making an album featuring the poetry of the great Tamil poet Mahakavi Subramania Bharati. Rahman reiterated on the same internet chat that this album is still on his agenda though one can’t say when it will actually be made.

Also Rahman has spoken many times about wanting to do an album with Asha Bhonsle but also confessed that he has simply been unable to come up with tunes to match her status. There are also on and off rumours about Sony bringing together the Colonial Cousins to work with ARR. That would make a real interesting combination. So, at the start of the new millenium we witness a Rahman who is increasingly involved in non-film music which is of an international nature too.

It is hazardous to guess how many of these projects will see the light of the day and how many will succeed, but what one can surely say say is that they will provide just the right platform for an innovative composer to bring about in non-film music the sea change he brought about in film music 8 years ago.

© Gopal Srinivasan

Original Article Revived from which was one of the famous fan websites created by Satish Subramanian in early 2000’s.