Articles - Stories | "Rahman's musical instrument starred in a TV Ad!"

Posted by Prasad Sangameshwaran (Mar 04, 2009)
Courtesy : | Thanks to Harikrishnan.M.A for sending me link
For the past few days Mark Manuel, director, films, at JWT Chennai, has been drinking his morning cuppa from a magic mug. It’s magic because it displays an embossed photograph of him with AR Rahman, everytime a hot beverage is poured into it. It’s not very well known but the man they now call Rahman has a very strong and long connection with the ad-world, especially Chennai. Back then though he was known as AS Dileep Kumar.
Dileep’s involvement with advertising was no brief fling, but a full-fledged affair. Advertising is where the long epic journey that has culminated in an Oscar began when Dileep started scoring with background tunes for ads in the mid-1980s. In 1986, when a public service commercial on drug abuse was being produced at the Audio Vision studio in Chennai the studio owner, Vijay Modi suggested to Trilok Nair, director, Trisha Productions, that he must try out a young talent. “One could barely spot the boy behind the keyboards. But when we heard the music, we were blown away,” recalls Nair.
Within a short span, Dileep composed music for a number of brands like Leo Coffee, Nalli sarees, Hero Honda and Asian Paints. Suddenly this 20-something ‘little guy’ had everyone looking at the advertising backwater called Madras differently.
Those who worked with him have many tales to tell. Like the one where one of his musical instruments starred in a commercial, without his knowledge. This was in an MRF commercial that showed the reflection of a synthesizer on the visor of the rider. That synth was ‘borrowed’ by film maker Bharat Bala from Dileep’s studio, when the composer was not around.
Watch Video
Watch YouTube Video | MRF Commercial ft. AR Rahman's Synthesizer
But life was not all roses for Dileep back then. On occasions, he got to see the downside of an industry unwilling to give new names a second look. One such example was a Gwalior suitings ad. Dileep had toiled for three full days working on the tune that would be ‘It’. While film maker and friend Rajiv Menon was convinced about the score, the client bounced the campaign and got Louis Banks, one of the more sought after names in the business redo it. “Advertising chases names. Now they must be kicking themselves hard,” recalls Menon, who teamed up with Rahman for several commercials including Fair & Lovely, Bru Coffee and the celebrated Asian Paints ‘Pongal’ commercial.
There were occasions though when film makers found a way to checkmate the client tantrums. For the Hero Honda Sleek campaign, Bharat Bala felt that the score composed by Louis Banks with Sivamani on percussion was not working. But the client and agency had approved it and to change their mind would be an uphill task. During one of Dileep’s late night sessions, Bala asked him for an option.
Three hours before the 9 am presentation, Bala got a ‘mind-blowing’ track. Of course, the client loved it, without knowing it was Dileep’s work. “Until recently I never confessed to this. The best part is the agency person never spotted the difference,” chuckles Bala. All those who worked with Dileep were dazzled by his willingness to experiment even in this genre. Nair reminisces about the Nalli Sarees client who wanted to make a commercial set to a famous old Tamil song. Dileep heard the client and suggested that they go in for a remix — remember that back then few were aware of remixing as a concept. “The client hemmed and hawed. But when they heard the final sound they couldn’t believe what they got,” says Nair. Such was the power of his tunes that some played on for years. Leo Coffee, one of the earliest ads, ran for 15 years and even when a new commercial was made about three years back, the music remained unchanged.
For ad men, Ashok Nagar, where Dileep had his home and studio, soon became the place to hang around. Colvyn Harris, CEO, JWT recalls spending several nights outside Rahman’s studio on that trademark Jhoola (swing), when the maestro was perfecting his art inside. “That swing has seen a lot of backsides, including Mani Ratnam’s,” jokes Nair. Harris also remembers the day when film maker Bharat Bala dragged him and his family out to a waiting car and made him listen to his album, Vande Mataram. “I was among the first people to listen to Vande Mataram.” says Harris
Ad men even played bit roles in shaping the destiny of Dileep’s career, or even life. A classmate from school, Bharat Bala rediscovered his old friend after he began making ad films; Rajiv Menon became the best man at his wedding; while Trilok Nair who happens to be Mani Ratnam’s brother-in-law introduced Dileep to the hotshot director. Among the several works that the extremely-hard-to-impress Ratnam reviewed before Dileep was signed on for Roja was the Leo Coffee commercial, which incidentally featured Arvind Swamy, who went on to play the lead role in the film after the original choice, ad film maker Rajiv Menon declined to be the hero. The world may know him as Rahman, but it was advertising that first uncovered the little genius called Dileep.