"If a music artiste wants to blossom into a full-pledged person, it's not enough if he knows only classical music; nor it's enough if he's well-versed only in raagaas and techniques. Instead, he should be a knowledgeable person interested in life and philosophy. In his personal life there should be, atleast in some corner of his heart, a tinge of lingering sorrow." – A.R. Rahman


Allah Rakha Rahman was born A.S.Dileep Kumar on the 6th of January in the year 1966, in Madras, to a musically affluent family. His father R.K.Sekhar was an arranger and conductor in Malayalam movies and had worked under the likes of Salil Chowdhary and Devarajan. Dileep started learning the piano at the tender age of four.


At the age of 9, his father passed away following a mysterious illness with rumours abounding that he was the victim of black magic by his rivals. The pressure of supporting his family fell on Dileep. At he age of 11, he joined Illaiyaraja’s troupe as a keyboard player. It was his mother Kareema Begum who encouraged him to follow in his father’s footsteps. But all this had an adverse affect on his education. Infrequent attendance and an unaccommodative management forced him to shift schools from the prestigious Padma Seshadri Bal Bhavan to the Madras Christian College and finally he dropped out of school altogether.


Dileep’s family embraced Islam following his father Shekhar’s illness and passing away. His mother’s belief in spiritual healers grew stronger after his family went through a rough patch following his father’s death. Sufi saint Karimullah Shah Kadri changed their lives with his strong spiritual influence and that led to the conversion to Sufism. But it wasn’t an instantaneous decision — it took them 10 years to convert. Rahman feels that the change in religion was like washing away his past.

His father had a lot of belief in astrology. When their family astrologer was consulted for an Islamic name for Dileep, he had suggested Rahman. Thus A.S.Dileep Kumar became A.R. Rahman.

Musical Background

He also played on the orchestra of M.S.Vishwanathan and Ramesh Naidu and accompanied Zakir Hussain and Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan on world tours. All this experience enabled him to earn a scholarship to the famed Trinity College of Music at Oxford University from where he obtained a degree in Western Classical Music. After he returned he continued to be a part of various music troupes. He was also a part of local rock bands like Roots, Magic and Nemesis Avenue where he performed with his future colleagues like Ranjit Barot and Sivamani.

Career in Advertisement

Vizi Manuel, the lead keyboard player in Illaiyaraja’s troupe, advised him to try other alternatives like advertising. Fortunately for Dileep he soon got his first break in advertising when he was asked to compose the jingle to promote Allwyn’s new Trendy range of watches, in 1987. The ads were a success and Dileep’s work in them was appreciated. Dileep moved full time into advertising as a few offers came his way. Thus began Dileep’s 5-year saga in advertising where he went on to compose more than 300 jingles.

Rahman did a lot of popular ads like those for Parry’s, Leo Coffee, Boost featuring Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev, Titan, Premier Pressure Cooker, Hero Puch and Asian Paints. The jingles that he composed for the Leo Coffee ad starring Aravind Swamy and the Asian Paints ad directed by Rajeev Menon also won him awards and recognition. He also won an award for composing the theme music of the Madras Telugu Academy’s Spirit of Unity Concerts.

Studio – Panchathan Record Inn.

In 1989, he started a small studio of his own, called Panchathan Record Inn, attached to his house. This would later develop into one of India’s most well equipped and advanced recording studios. In his established state of the art sound and recording studio he began experimenting in sound engineering, design and production. He also began a collection of sound samples, creating one of the most comprehensive sonic libraries in Asia.

Earlier Non Film Work

During his stint in advertising, he released his first album, of Muslim devotional songs, titled `Deen Isai Malai’. This was followed by `Set Me Free’, an album of English songs which was the launch album of singer Malgudi Subha, by Magnasound, where Dileep set the songs to tune. Both the albums went unnoticed in the market.


At an advertising awards function he chanced upon a young man receiving the award for the best ad jingle which he had composed for the popular Leo Coffee ad. At the party that followed the awards presentation ceremony Maniratnam was introduced to the young composer by his cousin Sharada Trilok of Trish Productions for whose company the young man had worked. Mani requested for a sample of his wares. The composer readily complied and invited the director over to his studio where he played out a tune that he had been pushed into composing by his school friend G.Bharat alias Bala who had been greatly disturbed by the Cauvery river tensions.

Mani was hooked instantly. He signed on the composer to score the music for his next film which was to be produced by the veteran Tamil director K.Balachander. That film was Roja. That tune would become the song “Tamizha Tamizha”. Rahman became a household name in Tamil Nadu overnight and the score of `Roja’ was the first step in changing the face of Indian film music. `Roja’ won every conceivable award in music that year. Rahman also got the Rajat Kamal for best music director at the National Film Awards , the first time ever by a debutante. He left ads and moved into film music full time.

Since Roja, he has created music for blockbuster Indian films including Roja, Pudhiya Mugam, Gentleman, Kizhaku Seemaiyilae, Duet, Kadalan, Bombay, May, Madham, Indian, Muthu, Kadhal Desam , Love Birds and others. His 1995 soundtrack for Bombay crossed 5 million units and Rahman had arrived as the “King of Indian Pop” with sales of more than 40 million albums over a period of 3 years. The success continued with films like Dil Se.. with Mani Rathnam, and Taal with Subhash Ghai.

After working in many movies of the typical popular genre, several offbeat reputed directors and producers like Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal, Deepta Mehta have worked with Rahman in movies like Thakshak, Zubeidaa, Fire, and Earth/1947. His music for the film ‘Lagaan’ was well appreciated and the film was nominated for Oscars in the foreign film category.

Experimenting with Voices

Rahman is well known for introducing several unknown voices into the main stream playback. He has shown an extraordinary flair for experimenting with untrained voices. Singers who have worked with him have repeatedly said that Rahman’s open approach during recording sessions has spurred them on to giving their best. Suresh Peters, Shahul Hameed, Srinivas, Shankar Mahadevan, Harini, Anupama, Dominique, Minmini, Shubha, Febi, Hema Sardesai are some of the singers who have thrived after the advent of Rahman. Singers like Hariharan, Sujatha, Unnimenon have had successful comebacks in the industry after working with Rahman. Unnikrishnan, Bombay Jayshree and Nithyashree Mahadevan who are successful Karnatak classical vocalists have been introduced into film playback by Rahman.

Playback Singing

In the movie “Bombay” Rahman formally took to playback singing. Rahman had lent his voice to his compositions earlier too but they had been part of the preludes or interludes like `Yelelo’ in `Chinna Chinna Aasai’ in `Roja’. But `Hamma Hamma’ in `Bombay’ was Rahman’s first complete song. His song `Mustafa Mustafa’ from `Kadhal Desam’ was another hit that made Sony take notice of Rahman and sign him on for the non-film album `Vande Mataram’. While he continued lending his voice to several uncredited songs, his solos such as “Dil Se Re” (from `Dil Se..’) have made his fans crave for more songs from him.

Patriotic Albums

In 1996, when Rahman had gone to Bombay to attend the Screen Awards ceremony, he met his childhood friend G.Bharat. During this meeting both had discussed a proposal for an album to commemorate 50 years of Indian Independence in 1997. In 1997, the International music giant, Sony Music, whose portfolio included the likes of Michael Jackson, entered the Indian market in a big way. They were looking to promote Indian artistes internationally. And the first person to be signed up by Sony Music from the Indian sub-continent was A.R.Rahman, on a 3-album contract.

Rahman suggested the idea that he had discussed with Bharat to Sony Music India and was immediately accepted. Called `Vande Mataram’, it was a tribute to the motherland and featured songs to mark the 3 colours of the Indian Flag. `Vandemataram’ was released simultaneously in 28 countries across the world under the prestigious Columbia Label of Sony Music on August 15th 1997. Rahman himself performed live at Vijay Chowk in New Delhi on the eve of the Golden Jubilee of Indian Independence to a packed audience that comprised of the Prime Minister of India. The album was a mega success and sold over 1.2 million copies in India and did reasonably well internationally too.

Three years after the successful “Vande Mataram” Bharat Bala and Rahman worked together in another historic album called `Jana Gana Mana’. This was a project in which several top artistes of the nation came together to sing or play the National Anthem “Jana Gana Mana”. The project had started as “Desh Ka Salaam” which was telecast in Indian TV channels and on the web on August 15, 1999, in which several greats of Indian music, from the classical to the contemporary, came together to give a soulful and modern rendition of the National Anthem. The `Jana Gana Mana’ was released on January 26 2000 to mark the 50th year of the Indian Republic.


Impressed with Rahman’s film songs, the famous musical composer and producer, Andrew Webber Lloyd, signed Rahman to compose a Broadway musical titled `Bombay Dreams’. Webber was introduced to Rahman’s style of music through the songs from `Dil Se..’ and `Taal’. Joining Rahman in this musical was Academy award winning lyricist Don Black. The musical “Bombay Dreams” was premiered in London in June 2002 and has had a successful run there and talks are on for moving the show to Broadway, New York.

Live Performances

A R Rahman has performed live several times in India and abroad. His live performances in India has been confined to awards shows and charity shows in India. He has given full-fledged concerts in Malaysia, Dubai, US and Canada. His concerts require ellaborate preparations, sometimes spanning months, and since this interfere with his composing time he prefers to have lesser number of concerts.


In his career Rahman has received several awards in various instituted Indian film awards. He was awarded the “Padmashree” titled by the Indian Government in year 2000. Thress national awards for best composer came his way for films `Roja’, `Minsara Kanavu’ and `Lagaan.’ He has received the best music director award in the Tamil Nadu State Awards six times. He has received awards in Filmfare, Screen-Videocon, Zee Sangeet, Bollywood Music Awards, MTV-VMA awards among others. Notable in this list is the Filmfare awards. He has received 14 Filmfare awards in all. No year has gone by without a Filmfare award for Rahman since `Roja’.

Collaborations & Inspirations

At the age of 32, Rahman has already worked with internationally reputed artistes like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Apache Indian, Zakir Hussain, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan, Dominic Miller, L.Shankar, Kadri Gopalnath, Vikku Vinayakram, Ustad Sultan Khan and Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt among many others. Rahman has in collaborations with artists such as L. Shankar, Zakir Hussain, David Byrne, Talvin Singh and Apache Indian – both recording and on tour. On a trip to India, David Byrne met Rahman and was so impressed that he went on to record some sessions with Rahman for a project he is currently completing (as yet unreleased).

In October 1999, Rahman performed a song “Ekam Satyam” in a charity concert in Munich with Michael Jackson called “MJ and friends”. The meeting between Rahman and Michael Jackson was arranged by Hindujas and Bharat Bala. Rahman and his troupe performed after Michael Jackson in the concert. Melodious strains of ‘Satyameva Jayate’ by Rahman provided the closing to the concert by pop king Michael Jackson.

Rahman lists among his favourites Naushad, Vishwanathan-Ramamoorthy, Illayaraja, R D Burman, S D Burman, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Carpenters, Carnatic, Rock and fusion.

He credits all his inspiration and success to Allah.

Article Credits to Gopal Srinivasan© and Rahman Online©. Some of the information mentioned in the article is out of date and has had more additions to its contents over the years.