Saturday, January 02, 2010

A High Note

A project with Mick Jagger, a new studio in Los Angeles and two Grammy nominations.A.R. Rahman has his eyes on the world
It’s been a good year, perhaps the best so far, in A.R. Rahman’s career. If he had a fantastic start with a BAFTA trophy, a Golden Globe and two Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire, Rahman is closing the year with equal shine – two Grammy nominations, one for Slumdog Millionaire in the Best Compilation SoundtrackAlbum category and the other for Jai ho in the Best Song Written For Motion Picture category, alongside Gulzar. This weekend, he was also felicitated by the Trinity College of Music in London.

Rahman subscribes to the philosophy that Slumdog... made him popular. “It was written,” says the musician, without a second thought. “Whether I consider my Sufi teacher’s prediction years ago or this odd incident last year when a gentleman walked up to me and said that I would win an Oscar in 2009. It didn’t seem plausible then, but now, when their words have come true, how can I believe otherwise?” he says.
The Academy win was a proud moment for any Indian but for a musician, the Grammy is more coveted. For Rahman, it’s a double feat because the song that shot him to global fame, Jai ho, was his “most troublesome track”. “The team had sleepless nights for one month to meet the deadline for submitting entries for the Academy Awards,” says the musician, who also had to confront the loss of chief sound engineer H Sridhar and later, the terror attack in Mumbai. “But when I held that Oscar in my hand in Los Angeles, I sensed that I had done each of my fellow countrymen proud. I hoped that I had eased some pain,” he says.
The Oscar led to a wave of interest in his work among top international artistes. First,Pussycat Dolls jived to Jai ho, then Snoop Dogg named the promo single of his album Malice n Wonderland the title Snoop Dogg Millionaire, which featured Jai ho’s singer Tanvi Shah. Now, Rahman is working with composers Dave Stewart and Mick Jagger on a project, the details of which he doesn’t divulge much. He’s also set up his own studio in Los Angeles. “It’s tough to concentrate when you are like a migratory bird. If I am not in a space I am used to, I feel disoriented,” he says.
Rahman would rather not get disoriented by the flood of international work either. Refusing to jostle for projects, he says, “I want to focus on building long-term relationships. It’s good to get to know more international artistes. In the West, a lot can happen over coffee but I want to take up projects in which I can get personally involved.”
The musician is also planning to conduct an international concert series in 2010. The venues aren’t confirmed but will most likely include Dubai, London and a couple of cities in the US. Back home, though, the music of his recent release, Blue, was a rare disappointment.
Rahman isn’t too worried: “It’s important to strike a balance – if you don’t feel right and are not satisfied, there is no way the music will work.” Hits abroad and a flop at home, however, doesn’t deter the musician from where he began. Playing down rumours that he will do fewer Indian projects, he says, “I am happy to be finally working on Indian projects after nearly a year. I already have the Tamil film Vinnai Ehandi Varavaya, whose music releases this week, Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, Abbas Tyrewala’s 1-800-LOVE and Rajnikant’s Robot.”
With such a busy calendar, the reclusive Rahman can no longer ignore the incessant media and public attention. So, he’s changing himself a bit. “I am making an effort to be more open. After all, if I have adopted the role of musician, I better live up to it,” he says. During his concerts in Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad and Kolkata, the shy musician got off the stage to shake hands with and talk to the audience. To push Brand Rahman further, he has also ventured into merchandising, selling Rahman T-shirts and launching a calendar.
The highs, though, haven’t come without compromises, he admits. “My personal life has taken a back seat and I struggle to spend time with my family. I try to skip many events and have refused to accept four honours in the past. These are no justifications but one has to make compromises-some visible and some not-so-visible.”

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