Why Rahman is every director's favourite
As a filmmaker with an intuitive ear for music, Yash Chopra has embellished his dramas by employing some of the best names in the business ranging from Ravi, Madan Mohan to R D Burman, Khayyam and Shiv-Hari to create a library of rich melodies.
It's only fitting that Academy award winner AR Rahman helms the soundtrack of his untitled new project to star Shah Rukh Khan. The director of classics like Waqt, Deewar, Kabhi Kabhie and Chandni hopes to blend his old school aesthetics with Rahman's new age wizardry.
And while there's no doubting the exclusivity of this collaboration, it would be interesting to observe Rahman's equation with 10 of the most significant directors he's composed for.
Every fairy tale has a beginning and Rahman's started after Mani Ratnam discovered him impressed by a bunch of catchy jingles. The acclaimed director roped him to compose the soundtrack of Roja for a paltry sum. Rahman took it as a perfect opportunity to branch out. The upshot was ground-breaking and there's been no looking back ever since.
Together they've produced some of their most compelling work (Roja, Bombay,Thiruda Thiruda, Dil Se...,Alaipayuthey, Kannathil Muthamittal, Yuva and Guru) with Ratnam bringing out the best of Rahman with every subsequent partnership. Including the latter's proficiency behind the mic.
Apparently, the filmmaker loved Rahman's version of Guru's Tera bina so much he insisted he retain it over the original rendered by Qadir Khan or dump it altogether. Hardly left with any choice, Rahman reluctantly agreed. The rest is chartbusting history.
Image: A scene from Roja. Inset: Mani Ratnam
When it comes to scale, Shankar believes sky's the limit. Known for his wild, ambitious creativity that endorses all things grand and SFX-friendly, the director has shared a long standing association with Rahman, also the music director of his debut, Gentleman. Shankar's keen sense of rhythm blended with Rahman's ingenuity to explore new horizons has resulted in spectacular stuff like Jeans, Kadalan, Indian, Jeans, Mudhalvan, Nayak, Boys, Sivaji and Endhiran.
And so when Shankar opted for Harris Jeyraj to score for Anniyan, it was widely speculated that things aren't hunky dory between the two.
Rahman's return with Endhiran refuted the theory. Interestingly, Shankar's next, Nanban, a remake of Bollywood's 3 Idiots, has Jeyraj on board owing to Rahman's increasingly busy schedule.
Image: A scene from Endhiran. Inset: Shankar
Ram Gopal Varma
Just like some million listeners blown away by the sounds of Roja, Ram Gopal Varma, too, was mighty impressed. His wish to sign Rahman for Rangeela wasn't all that easily granted though since producers were wary of signing a relatively unknown musician. They wanted a (back then) more viable option like Anu Malik.
In his blog titled, Rahman Times, Varma eloquently waxes on the joys of working with the maestro. 'AR is the only artiste I have met who does not have creative arrogance,' he writes.
During the making of Rangeela's soundtrack, Varma recounts how he wasn't particularly enthused by the thematic piece, Spirit of Rangeela and asked for a revise. Eventually he heard the same tune repeatedly and realised he was dismissing a perfectly first-rate tune.
Rangeela turned out to be a roaring musical success even if their subsequent outing, Daud wasn't.
Image: A scene from Rangeela. Inset: Ram Gopal Varma
Music has always been a specialty of Subhash Ghai's movies. Having worked with Laxmikant-Pyarelal through the prime of his career, the showman was looking for someone who shared his vision of emotional grandeur.
And no one provides gratification like Rahman. The duo teamed up for Taal, a large-scale musical romance, which allowed the wiz composer to soar in every sense of the word resulting in one of his career bests.
Greatness, however, doesn't come on a platter. Known to be most inspired in the quiet of night, Rahman, reportedly, kept Ghai away from sweet slumber to engage in feverish musical sessions.
Lack of sleep is but a small sacrifice if leads to hot-selling albums. No wonder then Rahman's lilting score is often the greatest USP of the out-of-form filmmaker's big but boring endeavors like Kisna and Yuvraaj.
Image: A scene from Taal. Inset: Subhash Ghai
Working with Rahman is like one's favourite ride in a theme park. You want to do it all over again. Ask Ashutosh Gowariker. The man worked with him on elaborate and intricate soundtrack of the Oscar-nominated Lagaan followed by two equally if not more exquisite albums, Swades and Jodhaa Akbar.
Rahman also performed some of his most soul-stirring numbers for Gowariker: Chale Chalo (Lagaan), Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera (Swades), Khwaja Mere Khwaja (Jodhaa Akbar).
Speaking of Khwaja, the trance-inducing track wasn't originally designed for the period romance. Rahman, a devout visitor of the Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty shrine, composed a dedication for his personal collection. But after hearing Gowariker's storyline and its Sufi influences decided to let him use it in the film provided it's executed in reverence.
Like most filmmakers, Rahman ranks foremost on Gowariker's wish-list too but had to pick an alternative (Sohail Sen) for What's Your Raashee? and Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey owing to previously-committed assignments.
Image: A scene from Lagaan. Inset: Ashutosh Gowariker
Rahman may have scored his finest for Ratnam but it's his creations in Danny Boyle's award-sweeping Slumdog Millionaire that earned him massive international accolade and a dream run at the Academy.
With Jai ho marching on every lip, Rahman won every possible award ranging from BAFTA to Globes to Grammys to Oscars.
And it all began with an email. After the Hollywood filmmaker introduced himself and asked him to get on board for his fast-paced fairytale with Mumbai slums forming the backdrop, Rahman began sending him scratches via internet which finally led to a full-fledged meeting in England.
Here's an amusing byte of what Boyle had to say about Rahman in Slash Magazine, 'He's like Michael Jackson, and Tom Cruise and Michael Phelps all rolled into one, he's that famous. And he saw the movie, said the most extraordinary thing about it.
He wrote me this email. He said "I watched it last night." He said, "It's like Shaw Shank Redemption." I thought, what? I couldn't work that at all, and I never have quite worked it out. But anyway he obviously loves Shaw Shank Redemption and he loved our film, so thank God.' The duo teamed up again for 2010's 127 Hours bringing Rahman more Oscar glory with two nominations.
Image: A still from Slumdog Millionaire. Inset: Danny Boyle
Shyam Benegal doesn't make run-of-the-mill cinema. And Rahman's incapable of doing routine. Obviously, when the twain combines, the end result is nothing short of exceptional.
Although the soundtrack of Zubeidaa garnered more coverage thanks to its leading lady Karisma Kapoor's mainstream appeal, Benegal's Bose withered in obscurity. Despite Rahman's extensive effort on the album, the historical drama was a victim of shoddy publicity.
It wasn't entirely a case of love's labour lost. While speaking to Rolling Stones, Rahman recalls, 'I went to a restaurant in San Francisco. This Iranian lady came to me and said: "You are AR Rahman." I said yes. She said: "Oh we love your Zikr in Bose. It's so famous in Iran." I never expected that.'
Image: A scene from Zubeidaa. Inset: Shyam Benegal
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Mehra calls Rahman his 'soul mate.' That's not a shocker considering the latter's contribution to two of Mehra's most hyped films Rang De Basanti and Delhi 6. Rahman's genius lies in constantly pushing the envelope. Not only has it made him a most sought after musician but someone you can rely on to amplify the impact of a brilliant film. Heck, even a half-hearted one.
With RDB, Mehra projected a defiant attitude that steered clear from lip-syncing stereotypes among many, was perfectly complemented by Rahman's equally rebellious tunes. Yet when he lost objectivity in Delhi 6, Rahman's luminous vision hadn't lost sight.
Image: A scene from Rang De Basanti. Inset: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Even before hopping on the Hollywood bandwagon, Rahman's leaning to meet new challenges came to foray after he was picked by Sony Classical Music to devise the soundtrack for He Ping's lavish Chinese martial arts flick, Warriors of Heaven and Earth.
Thrilled by Rahman's work on Lagaan, which gained worldwide exposure, Ping knew he wanted to work with the Mozart of Madras on his costume drama/action epic.
On his part, Rahman introduced fresh elements and sounds to the score with exotic instruments like erhu, duduk and taiko drums. The soundtrack met fairly good response while Warriors was China's official entry to Oscars for Best Foreign Film but failed to meet the cut.
Image: A scene from Warriors of Heaven and Earth. Inset: He Ping
Though they have scarcely worked together, Rahman and Shekhar Kapur are pretty close. When Rahman was criticized for his lackluster Common Wealth Games theme song, Kapur tweeted, 'impossible to compose a song for a govt committee, don't blame rahman till u give him the creative freedom.'
They were slated to collaborate on the long shelved grand-scale musical, Ta Ra Rum Pum Pum, which was supposed to launch Preity Zinta along with a bunch of other newcomers. Kapur was initially attached to the Broadway musical, Bombay Dreams and played a key role in Rahman bagging the assignment.
Ultimately he got Rahman, along with Craig Armstrong to do the music of his sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age followed by a Swarovski-sponsored short, Passage. The two reunite on Kapur's long-pending Paani with Kristen Stewart rumoured to play the lead.
Image: A scene from Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Inset: Shekhar Kapur