The 334-page book offers rare insights into the life of the 51-year-old musician who put India on the map of world music – the impact of the death of his father, music composer RK Shekhar, which forced nine-year-old Rahman to become the sole breadwinner of the family, his unplanned foray into composing for films, his entry onto the world stage, and his current plans of becoming a filmmaker
For nearly three decades now, several attempts have been made to decode the enigma that is Allah Rakha Rahman. The phenomenally talented Oscar-winning music composer is also an introvert, and thus remains something of a mystery.
But things are changing in the AR Rahman universe, as Krishna Trilok informs us in the authorised biography “Notes of a Dream” (Penguin Random House India).
The 334-page book offers rare insights into the life of the 51-year-old musician who put India on the map of world music – the impact of the death of his father, music composer RK Shekhar, which forced nine-year-old Rahman to become the sole breadwinner of the family, his unplanned foray into composing for films, his entry onto the world stage, and his current plans of becoming a filmmaker.
Here are some highlights from the life of the man known as the “Mozart of Madras.”
1. College or music?
Born Dileep Kumar on January 6, 1967, in Chennai, Rahman is the second child and the only son of Rajagopala Kulashekhar Shekhar and Kasthuri (who later became Kareema Begum after the family converted to Islam). Shekhar, a musician, composer and arranger, was also a “very talented musical pioneer” and “an innovator” who came up the hard way and worked mainly in Malayalam cinema. He had a profound influence on his son.
When Shekhar died at the age of 43 after a prolonged illness, the young Rahman had to become the “man of the household.”
Up until he was 16, Rahman balanced his studies with musical assignments, which included assisting composers during recording sessions, playing the keyboard and fixing musical equipment.
Eventually, it became impossible to manage both college and work. His sister Fathima recalls how he went up to his mother one day and told her that he will have to choose between the two. “Amma didn’t hesitate,” she tells Trilok. “She told him to drop out of school and focus on music. She said we could see about the studying later.”
2. The non-film years
Trilok writes that Rahman never intended to become a film music composer. “I didn’t like the Indian movies produced in the eighties,” Rahman tells Trilok. “My sensibilities were different.”
A career in films, however, was waiting to take off, especially after the extraordinary success that Rahman had as a composer for jingles in Chennai. The years that Rahman spent in the advertising industry “really opened him up as a person and as an artist,” but he also often felt trapped.
3. The film that changed his fortunes
Rahman was introduced to Ratnam by Ratnam’s cousin, Sharada Krishnamoorthy, and her husband, Trilok Nair. A nervous Rahman played a bunch of tunes for Ratnam the first time the director came to his studio.
Rahman thought Ratnam hated his music, but Ratnam told Trilok that he was “stunned” that day in the studio. “I could not believe what I was hearing,” Ratnam tells Trilok. “The music he played for me that day, it was fabulous.”
4. An arranged marriage
There’s a short but candid chapter on Rahman’s marriage in Trilok’s book. Saira Banu, from a Kutchi family settled in Chennai, did not find that upsetting in the least and tells Trilok that Rahman “auto-tuned” her before marriage. “If he just takes me out for an ice cream once in a while, I’m happy,” she tells Trilok. “We do simple things. That’s enough for me.”
5. Rahman, the filmmaker
Why has AR Rahman decided to plunge into the business of movie making? “I get bored easily,” he tells those asking that question, Trilok says. Rahman is currently steering the production of two different projects: the virtual reality short film “Le Musk” and the feature-length Hindi musical “99 songs.”
The article was first published in Scroll.in and is being republished under special arrangement