His film career began in the early ’90s. Since then, there’s been no looking back for AR Rahman. But even today, numerous films, honours, two Oscars and two Grammys later, the musical maestro’s enthusiasm to live up to his audience’s expectations remains intact.
Here, Rahman talks to us about his journey, his motivations and more.
Does the fan following and the success ever get overwhelming?
The hard part is keeping up with the respect that people have given me. Many extraordinary people fizzle out after a while. I want to keep making good music till I feel it’s alright. I will quit when I am unable to cater to people’s expectations.
So the thought of quitting has crossed your mind?
You never know. Calls will be taken when they are supposed to be taken. But I love creating music and I think there is enough motivation for me to keep going. Also, I have a music school and I want to pass on whatever I have learnt to the new generation.
You’ve avoided composing for Bollywood’s action potboilers. Is it because the music in these films is primarily meant to suit the stars’ personalities?
I did that for Shah Rukh Khan for Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012) and it did have some elements that suited his personality. I do that for Rajinikanth every time. People expect certain things from me as a brand and, if I don’t give them that, they will throw me out. But yes, I would say that films have their limitations and artistic boundaries. You can’t supersede what the film is saying. Musically, you can’t go somewhere else.
Have you become choosy about composing for Bollywood films?
People have been really kind to give me lots of offers, but it’s not possible for me to be physically present for so many of them. I also don’t want to leave Hollywood and there’s a Tamil audience to cater to as well. Everyone wants a piece of me. It’s a hard battle.
What’s your take on the ongoing royalty issue and the tiff between the artistes and music companies?
I think there should be a credible company that all of us can trust, which collects the money. Right now, everybody fears that when they sign (a contract), it’s the end of the game. Abroad, there is transparency, credibility and you know that nobody can fool around with your accounts. I’m talking generally; not about one company. It might take years here (to set up a similar system).
How different is it to cater to Hollywood and Bollywood audiences?
The sensibilities are slightly different. There, there are more people in the studio to approve of compositions. They have screenings to see whether the music works. It freaked me out in the beginning, but things go well if they like your work.
Do you get enough time to spend with your family?
I do get complaints from my kids for not spending time with them. In fact, they have grown up now. I communicate with them through the Internet and keep a watch on what’s happening. So life is what it is.
Do they also want to pursue music?
They are learning, but I don’t know what decision they will take eventually. Also, it’s my duty to give them choices and see what’s best for them.
Is Highway a musically driven film?
Initially, it was supposed to be a tight story with only a background score. Then, I think, the more Imtiaz went into the movie, it imbibed the flavour of the places where it was shot and turned into something else. We have nine tracks on the CD now.
And now there is special music video being shot with you as well for the film’s promotion.
We have two versions of the song — one is in the film and the other will be probably be played during the credits. Everyone felt that it’s a strong track, so a special video should be shot.
Now that you have announced your own production house, is there any film that you will produce this year?
I am on the verge of finalising the director. There are two or three ideas, out of which one will come alive this year. The casting will be finalised once the director is on board. It will be a musical.