1996 | A R Rahman Biography - New

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Last Updated on 23 March, 2009 at 08:00 PM (India)
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courtesy: Gopal Srinivas .I have edited for better Reading.

Controversies >

Rahman's popularity touched such heights, that other composers began to cash in, rather innovatively, on his name rather than his music. Many albums like 'Fantasy' and 'Beauty Palace' which actually had music composed by someone else but was falsely credited to Rahman were released in the market. Usually such albums had Rahman's photograph splashed across the album cover to draw the attention of buyers. And most people bought such albums without question if they saw the name A. R. Rahman on it.

So much so, that the music company Magnasound re-released one of Rahman's first albums 'Set Me Free' under the title 'Shubhaa' without the consent of Rahman, which led to the souring of relations between the two. In its earlier avatar as 'Set Me Free' the focus was on singer Malgudi Shuba and Rahman was a mere footnote as Dileep. But this time around, the spotlight was on Rahman and Shubha was relegated to the background. Magnasound publicised the release as 'Rahman's first international English album'. Hoardings publicising the album sprung up overnight in major cities.

Rahman was livid. "I'm not ashamed of my old album. Neither am I trying to hide my past," explained the music director. But he wanted the public to know that 'Set Me Free' was a six-year-old album which was done as an experimental venture with singer Shubhaa. Magnasound, he said, was wrong in trying to pass it off as a brand-new album. Magnasound sold 2 lakh copies in no time, an increase of over 10000% in sales since the previous time. But Magnasound's Managing Director Madhav Das was unapologetic about it, "See, we had the rights to the album. And today A.R.Rahman's name is an instant guarantee to success. So, what is wrong in exploiting that?". That summed up the brand equity of the name 'A. R. Rahman'.

Relatively, 1996 proved to be a listless year for Rahman, career wise. He had only three major releases, 'Indian', 'Mr. Romeo', and 'Kadhal Desam' along with Bharathiraaja's extremely low-profile 'Anthimantharai'.

Though the music of both the films , Indian and Kadhal Desam did very well they did not take him to any newer heights on counts of both creativity and success. From 'Indian', starring Kamalhassan, 'Akada', 'Maya Machindra' and 'Telephone Mani' became huge hits.

In 'Kadhal Desam', his second film with Kadhir, he went the whole hog and sang 3 of the 6 songs with 'Musthafa Musthafa' becoming extremely popular. . 'Mr. Romeo' and 'Lovebirds', both starring Prabhudeva. bombed. His background score for Deepa Mehta's 'Fire' where some enchanting new compositions were embellished with snatches from his score for 'Bombay', was internationally appreciated. But the soundtrack of 'Fire' was not released in India and was available only through mail order from a German company. This denied the score not just public acclaim but also prevented the masses from listening to one of Rahman's best soundtracks.

That year, he was offered a very prestigious multilingual project, 'Kaalapani' by director Priyadarshan with whom he was already working on 'Kabhi Na Kabhi'. But, reportedly on the request of lyricist-writer Javed Akhtar who had scripted 'Kabhi Na Kabhi' that he concentrate on any one of Priyadarshan's films he opted out of 'Kaalapani'. Following the failure of his 'Trimurti', Subhash Ghai decided to put 'Shikhar' on hold and make a relatively low-budget film called 'Pardes' and he asked Rahman to handle the score. But Rahman's response as he recounted later was "At that time I was extremely busy with 7-8 films. I told him that if I had to work with him I had to give him priority and I if I gave him priority I wouldn't be able to do these films. So I said let me finish these and then we will work together. He said alright and demanded full priority on the next film". And he later went on to do Ghai's 'Taal - The Beat of passion'.

First Concert >

He also went on his first ever concert tour, to Malaysia, in October 1996 where he was greeted by hysterical crowds. For this concert he specially composed a song 'Bosnia Oh Bosnia' since the concert was in aid of Bosnian War victims. This song was rendered by a chorus of 40 children accompanied by Rahman on the piano. The lyrics were in the local Bahasa-Malay language. The concert was a humongous success. It featured all the top singers from India including Hariharan, S. P. Balasubramnaniam and others. For the first time Rahman sang in public when he rendered 'Musthafa Musthafa' at this concert. As always, he won numerous awards that year, the notable ones being two Filmfare Awards for 'Bombay' and 'Rangeela'.

In end-1996, Rahman went on a signing three in Tamil films. He signed Kadhir's next film 'Kadhalar Dhinam'. He then signed his friends R. M. Sait and Anwar Ali's 'Love Letter'. There was lot of speculation that Rahman was producing this film along with his friends. But this turned out to be false. 'Love Letter' was later retitled 'En Swasa Katre'. He also signed 'Engineer' starring Arvind Swamy and Madhuri Dixit to be directed by Shankar's assistant Gandhi Krishna. Unfortunately the film has remained unmade till date owing to a cash crunch. One other film that has remained unmade was "Mudhal Mudhalaaga' starring Arvind Swamy and Karisma Kapoor directed by Mani Ratnam's assistant Perumal.

One very interesting incident that occurred that year, was at the annual Screen-Videocon Awards for cinematic excellence in Mumbai. Following the super success of 'Rangeela', everyone took it for granted that Rahman would win the award for Best Music. Even the organisers forced him to come all the way from Madras to Mumbai, saying that he had got the award and he had to receive it personally. On the night of the Awards ceremony, everyone at the event and those watching the show live on T.V. were shocked into stunned silence when the award for Best Music Score was given away to Rajesh Roshan for a fairly popular though largely copied score in 'Karan-Arjun'. Even the compere of the show Javed Jaffrey was taken aback and immediately rushed to Rahman in the audience and asked him for his reaction. All that Rahman said was 'God is Great!' which immediately won the hearts of everybody. Such is the humbleness of this man.

By the end of 1996, the relative non-success of scores like 'Mr.Romeo' and 'Lovebirds' prompted the know-alls in the industry to comment that Rahman was facing a burn out. Also the failure of dubbed Tamil scores like 'Tu Hi Mera Dil' made the critics carp that he was running out of steam and was recycling his own tunes and had exhausted his limited repertoire. They also remarked that the public was now tired of the 'Rahman sound'.

Critics on Rahman >

Gradually, criticism also began to pour in. He was said to be very slow and was accused of taking his own time in composing, something that reportedly forced Mani Ratnam to drop a song from 'Bombay' to release the already delayed film on time. Rumours were rife that Mani Ratnam had dropped him from his next project for this reason but they were proved to be unfounded.

The above problem threw up another quirk in Rahman's scores. Due to the lack of time in completing scores Rahman began to serve up his lesser known earlier compositions in new avatars. This happened for the first time when he used the 'Raakozhi Rendu' song from 'Uzhavan' as 'Aa Siggueggulenta Varaku' in the Telugu film 'Super Police'. He followed this up by using the song 'Baboo Love Cheyyara' from 'Gangmaster' as 'Yaaron Sun Lo Zara' in 'Rangeela' 'Maanpoove' from 'Yodha' as 'Chevaanam' in 'Pavithra'. This dubious practice earned Rahman a lot of criticism but he didn't seem to care.

This feature would become a hallmark in many of his future scores. He would reuse 'Porale Ponnuthayi' from 'Karuthamma' as 'Gurus of Peace' in 'Vandemataram', 'Ottagathai Kattiko' from 'Gentleman' as 'Musafir' in 'Vandemataram',, and 'Jumbalakka' from 'En Swasa Katre' as 'Jumbalika' in 'Thakshak'. But he would top himself when he would go on to reuse not one but two songs for 'Pukar'. 'Oh Bosnia' would reappear as 'Ek Tu Hi Bharosa' and 'Nayagara' from 'En Swasa Katre' as 'Kay Sera Sera'.

Another charge against him was that his music was getting repetitive.Many of his colleagues in Madras and Bombay, unable to compete with him took the route of slander and took digs at him calling him 'only a jingle composer' and saying that he would fizzle out in a couple of films. The same 'composers' who copied him left, right and centre made grandiloquent statements like "Let us see if he is around after two years, Rahman's type of music is just a temporary passing fad which will wear out once the crowd gets used to his music, he will not be able to sustain himself". Always one to shy away from controversies, Rahman refused to be drawn in to a war of words and responded characteristically with a very curt "Music speaks, statements don't.". And as expected he replied with his music which blew all the other composers out of the scene.

Other filmmakers, whose offers he turned down spread rumours about him. he turns down so many offers even when he is offered stacks of tempting money.One other criticism levelled at him was that his hip-hop tunes had no scope for good lyrics. This allegation was also disproved when lyricist Vairamuthu won National Awards repeatedly for songs set to tune by Rahman, namely for 'Roja', 'Pavithra', 'Kadhalan'. Rahman himself insists on good poetry for his songs.

Another strange criticism levelled at Rahman was that he made excessive use of singers without the knowledge of the nuances of a particular language, like he made Udit Narayan sing in Tamil and also the use of untrained singers. To the first allegation Rahman replied that it was quite true and said that he had reduced the use of Hindi singers in Tamil. To the second, Rahman's reaction was " Why should any actor or actress sound like S. P. Balasubramaniam, P. Susheela or Chitra? Why can't a new singer sing in his own raw voice? It's the done thing in jingles and non-film music. Only in films, they insist on an established voice. I ventured to break the convention and the public has accepted it."
also he uses so many different voices in a film, irespective of whether they suit the character or not Yet another criticism that was levelled at Rahman in the initial stages of his career was that he was at home only with Western rhythms and would never be able to give typical Indian tunes. But Rahman quickly disproved that allegation and demonstrated that he was equally at ease with Indian Classical and Folk rhythms and melodies with his scores in 'Indira', 'Kizhakku Cheemayile', 'Karuthamma', 'Uzhavan', etc.

One other very notable thing that Rahman can be credited with is the fact that he has consistently introduced a whole host of new talented singers, the notable names being Suresh Peters, Shahul Hameed, Aslam Mustafa, Unnikrishnan, Sreenivas, Mahalaxmi, Harini, Minmini, Sujatha Mohan, Nithyashree etc. He even got his secretary Noell James to sing in films. Once, in 1995, Rahman was invited by Padma Seshadri Bal Bhavan, his former school, to be the judge in a singing competition. Rahman promised that he would give the winner of the contest a break in cinema. True to his word, he introduced the winner of the contest, Harini, with the song 'Nila Kaigiradhu' in 'Indira' and then gave her 'Telephone Mani' in 'Indian'. This song was a big success. She then went on to sing many more songs for Rahman. He has also given a fresh lease of life to the careers of fading and failing singers like Asha Bhonsle with 'Rangeela'. He also brought to the mainstream Sreenivas and let him prove his worth after being a chorus singer for a long time.

Also a very important reflection of Rahman's humility, fairness, honesty and sense of equality is reflected in the fact that he is the only composer who ensures that his entire team ranging from the rhythm programmers to the instrumentalists and chorus singers are credited on the inlay card of the album. If, today, Noell James, Febi, Feji, Sivamani are household names the credit goes to Rahman's sense of fair play. Sivamani has repeatedly thanked Rahman for bringing him into the limelight.

Rahman is also known for some strange personality quirks. Like his inclination to work during the nights and sleep during the day. When asked how he developed this unexpected and unusual habit of sitting up all night and working and making others work with the same passion, the same perseverance, the same precision to come up with nothing but the best, the best that will satisfy him and satisfy a filmmaker like the filmmaker who is madly in love with his music. He says he used to work the whole day when he worked as a jingles man, working on all kinds of ad films. He started working on the few films that came his way after 6 pm. Soon he was working from 6 am to 6 p.m. and then from 6 p.m. to 2 am and then it went on from 6 am to 6 p.m. the next day. The unusual man's unusual schedule now starts at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. and then goes on till 6 am.


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