India Today - - CONTENTS - —Amit Gur­bax­ani

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

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