Jan 16, 2009

Entertainment - In Conversation with A.R.Rehman

Meera Srinivasan & K. Manikandan

CHENNAI: Music director A.R. Rahman, the first Indian to win the prestigious Golden Globe award for original music score for “Slumdog Millionaire,” returned to a hero’s welcome at Chennai airport early Thursday.

As news reached that Mr. Rahman would be reaching the airport from Frankfurt by a Lufthansa aircraft at 11.50 p.m. on Wednesday, the crew of almost every news organisation in the city assembled at the arrival hall of the international terminal, only to learn that the flight was delayed.

About 100 artistes performing in the ongoing Chennai Sangamam fest reached the airport in chartered Metropolitan Transport Corporation buses.

The artistes performed ‘Thappaattam’ and other forms of folk art and the rhythmic beats on the traditional drums drew staff and waiting passengers to the arrival hall. As news about the arrival of Mr. Rahman spread, airport staff and people who had come to welcome and send off their relatives also gathered at the arrival hall. The performers started about midnight and continued non-stop till Mr. Rahman stepped out of the arrival gate, got into his car and zoomed away to his house.

He reached his residence in Samiar Madam, Kodambakkam, around 2 a.m. Here, once again, the media had gathered in large numbers. Even as he walked in, he was talking to reporters: “I am very happy about the honour.” He also dedicated it to the country that nourished him. To those who kept hinting at the Oscars as the next stop for Rahman, he indicated that he was not aiming at anything. “Everyday is a new day and brings challenges,” he said in his usual self-deprecating mode.

In an interview to The Hindu on Thursday evening at his residence, Mr. Rahman said: “I thought that I should get it for India! It was worrying me that if I don’t get it, I will be letting down millions of people. So when I got it, I was very happy.”

He recalled those moments in Los Angeles before his name was announced for the award. “Of course, this is a kind of recognition, but there are larger issues in life. But the foundation to all this or my vision is to eradicate poverty. This is a helping point for that.”

Asked if he had any specific projects in mind, Mr. Rahman said, “I am teaming up with some international people to do songs for my Foundation. It will happen very soon.”

On whether he thought his work would win global acclaim, he said, “No, not really. I wanted to finish it in time and I knew that it would be liked by the western audience, but not this much.”

He said the whole screenplay and the story demanded a different kind of music. “It is all very likeable music, still complementing the film,” he said.

So did the victory signify the coming of age of Indian audio technology?

Mr. Rahman said: “All of us have to do so much more for art. We were so rich in the arts at a particular point of time. Now it has declined and everything is toward cinema, cinema, cinema. We need to showcase our rich arts keeping in mind their universal appeal. Our own art is not represented in the right way. Even a small place like Hong Kong or Singapore has a performance space for multiple arts. I have been pushing for this with some of the politicians, too. We need a space like a symphony hall which is world class. I hope that this [the award] gives a clue. It’s not about me, I am a very small element in the city. There are so many things here that will come out beautifully given the right forum and encouragement. It’s about nurturing creativity in a big way, and presenting it to the world.

“In audio technology itself, we arrived three, fours years back. Every little kid is doing extraordinary work. It’s a democracy now. It is creativity and originality that will count hence.”

Apart from being a composer and the principal of an institution —KM Music Conservatory — Mr. Rahman plans to take up massive social projects. However, he remains unaffected by success. “When you look at what has to be done and what can be done, and then what you do, it looks so small. That keeps me going like an engine,” said the musical genius.

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