Hollywood's bigwigs let out a collective twitter of nervous laughter when A. R. Rahman took the stage for his Golden Globe win. It was probably because they couldn't wrap their tongue around his name, mispronouncing it no less than three times but the humble maestro, gracious as always, acknowledged his surprise and gratitude at receiving the award by thanking the Slumdog Millionaire team and India's billion strong.
Rahman has had a predictably busy year working on Ghajini and Yuvvraaj's soundtracks among others and completed the masterly record in very little time. The movie, accused of packaging romanticized poverty to First World audiences that are equally guilty of lapping it up, is rich in its eclectic score. The glocal vibes have him collaborating with M.I.A., Gulzar, Ila Arun, Alka Yagnik, Suzzanne D'Mello, known for her Western approach to singing and rap artist Blaaze. So, compelling is the story and the soundtrack that screenwriter Simon Beaufoy wants to make a musical of it.
The movie about a boy from the slums who wins a fortune on India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Launched many faces but it brought Rahman the international recognition he so deserved. The musician's first success came with Mani Ratnam's Roja which even made Time magazine's list of 100 best movie compilations in the world. His tunes stand out for their longevity. In an industry that's sometimes stifled by the demands of playback music, Rahman's syncopations have managed to go off the beaten track and garnered both critical and popular acclaim.
It isn't hard to believe that two of the artiste's most appreciated soundtracks in recent times come from underdog movies Guru and Slumdog Millionaire. Young Rahman had a musically rich upbringing, but after his composer father R K Shekhar's premature death, the family had to rent out instruments to make ends meet and the maverick ventured into music making himself. "It's a very strange thing....actually going back to my childhood story. I experienced most of the disappointments in my life at that time. So whatever happens now, I suspect that hope, I always suspect that happiness. And even that moment of happiness doesn't exist because am waiting for how it's going to fool me and give me a kick again."
The impossibly mild mannered and soft-spoken composer had a hard time escaping the shadows of his keyboard at first. "I have to deliver my music to the public. Slowly, changed myself and started singing and began to extend myself as much as could... to the limits that could go. But I'm still not comfortable." And it's a good thing he did too. His visceral rendition of Vande Mataram earned him the wrath of a few old schoolers but brought out a previously dormant patriotic zeal in the younger generation.
The Mozart of Madras' repertoire includes recent epic Jodhaa Akbar, coming-of-age flicks like Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na and work on international productions like Elizabeth: The Golden Age and The Lord of the Rings musical. His win doesn't mean he's kicking back though. He's already in Chennai working late into the night on a Rajnikanth production. "I'm very restless during the day because there are so many things happening. It's very distracting. I work from three p.m. to early morning. When I have mixing to do, I start as late as seven in the evening. Then sleep till noon. But this is only when I'm in Chennai; not when abroad; there, work times are more regular."
That Rahman has stood the litmus test is evidenced by the fact that his tunes linger on long after the movies they were associated with fade to the recesses of the mind. Strongly inclined towards philanthropy, the genius established the A. R. Rahman Foundation and continues to work with it to rid the world of poverty. At the time this article was written, he had earned a BAFTA nomination and three Oscar nominations and a win seems only imminent. The accolades are paving a new path for him. It doesn't much matter then that a former alien-chasing FBI agent called him Reh-moon at the GG's, his melodies win over The X-Files any day of the week.