'Mozart of Madras' A.R. Rahman turns 42

Indo-Asian News Service

Mumbai, Jan 6 (IANS) Few of his fans may be aware that music maestro Allah Rakha Rahman, or A.R. Rahman as he is better known, started his career composing jingles for advertising films.

That was 20 years ago. Today, as he enters the 43rd year of his life, the eminently gifted Rahman is credited with creating one of the richest legacies of film music any modern music director has ever crafted.

After starting with Mani Ratnam's "Roja" (1992), Rahman never looked back as he effortlessly wielded the baton. The songs in the bi-lingual movie, including the title track "Roja Jaaneman" and "Dil Hai Chhotasa" became a national rage and topped the popularity charts.

"Roja" earned him the National Award for best music composer - the first ever time a debutant has bagged this honour.

Rahman followed it up with his first exclusive Hindi compositions for "Rangeela" (1995) and proved that he understood the taste of the Hindi audiences. Rahman offered them new sounds, unheard-of tunes and compositions that catapulted him to the top rung of Bollywood.

Rahman, who has redefined contemporary Indian music, continued his colossal stride over Bollywood with memorable compositions for movies like "Bombay", "Dil Se", "Taal", "1947-Earth", "Pukar", "Lagaan", "Zubeida", "Meenaxi", "The Legend of Bhagat Singh", "Water", "Yuva", "Swades", "Rang De Basanti" and many others.

He has a longer list of hits in Tamil films.

In 1997, Sony Music signed him to compose "Vande Mataram" on the occasion of the golden jubilee of India's Independence. In 2001, the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber invited him to collaborate on his smashing musical, "Bombay Dreams," which opened to packed houses in London and ran non-stop for two years.

According to an estimate, Rahman's music has sold over 100 million copies worldwide, making him one of the most saleable composers in India.

Born as Dileep Singh on Jan 6, 1966, the school dropout from Chennai belonged to a musically inclined family.

He started learning to play piano at the age of four. At nine, his father R.K. Shekhar, a music arranger, expired, leaving on his young shoulders the burden of supporting the family.

Initially, Rahman - who would later be hailed by Time magazine as the Mozart of Madras - started out by hiring his father's musical instruments to make ends meet. He cut his musical teeth at 11 in south India's famous music director Ilayaraja's orchestra as a keyboard player.

With Ilayaraja and subsequently in other troupes, including those of tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, Vishwanathan-Ramamurthy and L. Shankar, the young Rahman travelled around the world.

In between he won a coveted degree in western classical music from the Oxford University. It was around this time that he became deeply inspired by Sufism and converted to Islam.

"I am a deeply spiritual person. Sufism is about love, love for a fellow human, love for all-round humanity and ultimately love for god. For me, it's where music and spiritualism meet - at durgahs, you will find qawwalis. That's my inspiration," he once said.

Deeply involved in charitable causes in India and abroad, Rahman was appointed World Health Organisation (WHO) global ambassador of Stop TB Partnership in 2004.

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