MUSIC MAN A.R. RAHMAN
The release of Notes of a Dream: The Authorised Biography of A. R. Rahman has come at a fortuitous time. Proving that he’s as popular as ever more than a quarter century after his debut as a music director, Rahman has just scored two consecutive chart-topping Tamil film soundtracks, for Mani Ratnam’s Chekka Chivantha Vaanam and A. R. Murugadoss’s Sarkar. His first foray into television, Harmony with A.R. Rahman, began streaming on Amazon Prime on Independence Day. He recently concluded a 10-city tour in the US. And a second web show—a talent contest on YouTube called ARRived—is in the works.
Like many official biographies, Notes of a Dream occasionally veers into hagiography, but its biggest strength is that author Trilok Krishna is part of Rahman’s inner circle. Krishna is the son of advertising professionals Trilok Nair and Sharada Krishnamoorthy, whose association with Rahman began during his early days as a jingle composer in the 1980s. The author was, therefore, able to interview Rahman’s wife and sisters, business associates and personal assistants, and an assortment of music industry and advertising professionals and filmmakers. Of course they all express their admiration or reverence for “A. R.” or “Sir”. Controversies are mentioned—such as falling out with a few directors—but only in passing and without naming anyone. What we get instead are insights into the making of his landmark albums and a tour of his apartment in Mumbai, where he lives on the same floor as “sound engineers, assistants and domestic help”. Other sections portray what goes on at his recording studio Panchathan and music school KM Conservatory and outline the plans for his under-construction film production studio YM, all of which are in Chennai.
Fans will enjoy the stories behind the music of soundtracks such as Mani Ratnam’s Roja (1992), Shankar’s Gentleman (1993), Ram Gopal Verma’s Rangeela (1995) and Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar (2011). The one niggle with these parts is that the author mentions only the Tamil titles of the songs originally recorded in that language. Given that the book is aimed at an international readership, it would have been helpful if at least their Hindi names were provided in parenthesis or a discography was listed at the back. Also covered are Rahman’s career milestones, such as winning the Oscars for the background score and song ‘Jai Ho’ from Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008); creating the relatively less successful West End musical Bombay Dreams (2002) in collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber; and launching patriotic pop album Vande Mataram (1997).
A number of chapters are dedicated to Rahman’s decision to venture into the movie business and his upcoming production 99 Songs, directed by Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy, and the Virtual Reality film Le Musk, which has been helmed by Rahman himself. Filmmaking, Krishna emphasises, signifies the next phase in Rahman’s illustrious career. The aim is to make Indian movies that meet world standards, just like he did with his music.
There are a few sections about more personal aspects of his life. For instance, Krishna details his gradual embrace of Islam as well as the hardships he endured when having to work parttime as a sessions player when he was still in school. Among the pieces of trivia for hardcore Rahmaniacs are the names of all the bands he was in and independent albums he worked on before shifting his focus to films. Rahman, incidentally, shares why he dislikes being called the ‘Mozart of Madras’.
Ultimately, Notes of a Dream is a retrospective celebration rather than a critical analysis of the maverick who revolutionised the soundtrack scene with his mix of Indian and Western influences. He is arguably the best-known contemporary— as opposed to classical—Indian musician on the planet, and he’s been able to do this, as Krishna writes, thanks to his sponge-like ability to absorb new sounds and technology and use them to form something entirely his own.
Enlisting Rahman is a foolproof way for filmmakers to ensure a certain standard of quality, but there are today, younger composers, many of whom have been inspired by the maestro and are experimenting with sonic ideas and coming up with equally exciting work. Rahman may never make “bad music”, as Krishna says, but as far Hindi film music is concerned at least, his hit ratio has fallen in the past five years. This is something the author doesn’t broach. Maybe Rahman will try his hand at writing a couple of decades down the line when he has little to lose. Then he could tell us all the bits left off this tome, such as, what he really thinks of his contemporaries and successors. By the end of his official biography, we learn a lot about the man without getting to know him much at all.
By the end of the biography, we learn a lot about the man without getting to know him
NOTES OF A DREAM: THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF A.R. RAHMAN by Trilok Krishna Penguin 360 pages; `599