Stories - Do we need to defend A R Rahman?

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As a person who closely follows him and his music, I don’t think I have to try and defend his music. There’s no point. So to the question in the topic, it’s a straight answer. NO. We don’t have to defend A R Rahman in this situation. Even Rahman never defended his music by talking anything about it. He defends his music by making music and making more music. So in the wake of the CWG theme ‘fiasco’ (that’s what media says!), where the same sections of media which were praising him (which again was unwarranted and without any control!) till now, are trying to reduce him to a mere money-monger who asked Rs. 5 crores for the theme and forget to see some truths behind the man and the music. So I thought I would take a comprehensive look at his career. So, I’m sorry for such a long post.

Pre- Roja

    He was mainly an advertisement jingle composer. And, since his father R K Shekhar was also a film composer, only the ones who belonged to that generation knew him. But, by proving his prowess in the ad world some people took note of him. And when Mani Ratnam was looking out for a new music composer for his new movie and since Mani’s cousin knew ARR, he was recommended for the same. Thus started a collaboration which in itself has become a landmark in the Indian Film Industry. ARR was paid Rs. 25000 for the same.

Roja & Post-Roja

    We still have the audio cassette of Roja at home. There was nothing unusual about the cassette at that point of time. But later, I realized that there was something special about the cassettes and CDs in which ARR has given music. The noticeable aspect was that credits. The musicians who played various instruments, the ones who helped to mix it and even the ones who were part of the chorus were mentioned in the credits. It was a welcoming change. And it has been mentioned over and again in magazines, by the people who were/are involved. I have not seen such a thing in any other CDs here. 

    Rahman was busy breaking records and breaching musical boundaries. With Rangeela, he broke into the Hindi Film music scene too. Sony grabbed the chance to release one of his albums, a first for them to work with an Indian artist, with Vande Mataram releasing in 28 countries simultaneously. They gave him a chance to work with a musician of his choice. He selected Nustart Fateh Ali Khan, the choice I believe is one of the greatest associations Rahman has ever done.

    Criticisms followed. People even claimed he was making music with software. When 1997 Filmfare music award went to Jatin-Lalit, they commented that they don’t need to grow long hair, make the producers to wait for months and work at midnight to get such accolades. There was no reply from Rahman. No talks. No statements. But Rahman replied. Through his music. The reply was Dil Se. Quite literally the reply was “from his heart”. Chaiyya Chaiyya became the first track to feature in UK Top 10 charts and the song revived Sukhwinder Singh’s career. And, currently, the Jatin-Lalit combo doesn’t exist anymore!

    When the decade ended with the landmark “Taal”, he became the top composer in Hindi Film Music. The producers started to realize the worth of the long wait at his studio for even months and the singers realized the worth of losing their sleep in the nights to sing for him.

Post 2000 & Pre Oscars

    When Airtel started their campaign, they roped in Rahman to score a jingle, which as per their current records, is the most downloaded music piece in mobile downloads in the world. Even now, after almost 10 years, every other ad jingle is yet to beat it.  

    When Kaho Naa Pyar Hai music became a raging hit in 2000, the same old comparisons, criticisms etc surfaced again. This time too Rahman never talked out to media. Nothing. But reply came through music. The soundtrack was for Lagaan, the first ever film production by Aamir Khan, which redefined many things in Indian Film making.

    He was noted by Andrew Lloyd Webber, a giant in his own right, who wrote scores for the likes of “The Phantom of Opera” and was invited to score and produce music for “Bombay Dreams”. After that he scored for a bigger project, the stage musical for “Lord of the Rings”, where he collaborated with an all-female Finnish band, Varttina. In between, in 2003, he scored for a Chinese film “Warriors of Heaven and Earth”, where after hearing the score no one would ever expect that it’s an Indian composer who has combined the Chinese, Turkish and Indian sounds together to create such a beautiful soundtrack. In 2005, the TIME magazine critic, Richard Corliss, picked Roja as one among the top 10 soundtracks of all time.

    He missed quite a few important projects domestically during these years because he had to give total attention to his foreign projects and so, for about 3-4 years, we got to hear only very few number of tracks from him. But, in 2006, he showed us how even a strumming rock guitar can infuse patriotism in a mass masala commercial movie. The background score of Rang De Basanti is bigger than the songs, and the movie minus even the small bit of its music is a dud. The Filmfare annual issues never had any changes in the “Top Music Composer” for years now.

Oscars & Post Oscars

    Rahman understood in the initial period itself that Indian music can grow beyond its boundaries and its people and he knew that visibility was needed for the same. And he knew that it will happen through only music itself. Somehow, Slumdog Millionaire happened in 2008. When he got a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and an Oscar double, some detractors claimed that a musician can prove his mettle in the global music scene only if he wins Grammy. Unfortunately for them, he won that too. Then people targeted “Jai Ho”, claiming that it’s not his best and many more. But, the scale of achievement was unbeatable and Jai Ho became an anthem that went across the boundaries.

“Giving Back to Music and Society”

    No one really knows about this side of Rahman. No one has any idea about what and how he gives back to music and society because the media never went/go beyond the peripheral stuff, where only films matter. The only other thing everyone hears is that he has launched many new singers, where he broke the monotony of using established singers and gave variety to the listeners. Many music directors just followed suit.

    An important aspect he has sometimes mentioned during his Chinese film composition and the Lord of the Rings projects, and knowingly or unknowingly ignored by the media, was about the usage of Prague Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He talked about the importance of live scores in the original soundtracks of movies. And also that he would start working in that direction. The result was the music school, the KM music conservatory, where he is trying to create such an orchestra and more importantly giving music lessons to students. The facts about the school itself would need another post to write about. As he says, it’s his small contribution back to the music.

    When the Shahrukh starrer “Don” was released, the makers and music composers never gave any credit to the people who dealt with music department of old “Don”. Because our laws are designed in such a way that in such situations, the original creators can only crib. But, in Kal Ho Naa Ho, Karan Johar bought the rights to just use the “Pretty Woman” for Rs. 8 lakhs, because internationally they would have been sued. Since the movie had a significant number of screens in USA, if the track had been used without permission, one can foresee the consequences. In dealing with the rights of music, ARR even walked out of an SRK-Karan Johar film because they couldn’t compromise in the discussions on music rights. He has been fighting for music rights for music directors and lyricists from the time when he could do it. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Vishal-Shekhar once gratefully acknowledged ARR’s role saying that only a music composer of his stature can do that and it would help them too in the future. Although, it’s not succeeded fully, the fight continues.

    He never talks about his A R Rahman foundation, which engages in charity activities. He composed theme song for free for “Banyan”, an institute that take care of mentally challenged women. He did concerts free of cost all across the Tsunami affected coastal areas of Tamil Nadu. He collaborated with many musicians from across the world for the same in a track called “We can make it better”. He worked with UN for Anti-Tuberculosis campaign and the Millennium Development Goals, at the special invite from the then Secretary General, Kofi Annan. Many of his concerts were charity concerts. And many and many more.

    But, no one knows about what he does because he never boasts about it and no one ever reports about it. As everyone who has interacted with him says, he still remains the same humble old ARR who started as a newbie in Roja. Even during the Oscar win, he claimed over and again that he sees it has a chance for more international collaborations for other people too and it would open new avenues for musicians, both insiders and outsiders.

The CWG Theme ‘fiasco’

    What I wrote till now, is a background with which one has to look at Rahman and the issue here. Else, no one understands the real Rahman and the CWG theme track and the Rs. 5 crores.

    Media asked him a question whether the theme will be like Waka Waka. He told them that their idea is to go beyond such a track and make it into a theme (Come Out and Play!) based track. But, how it’s being interpreted now in the media is there for everyone to see. Also, he asked media to portray positive image about our own games which we are hosting and now media is writing against him. If you dig some more, many comments that have come against the track are made up in the media and only a few are jumping in the bandwagon to pull him down. Such a rampant negative image for the track has given no chance for many to even to listen to the track. But the listens and downloads and many comments at websites indicate the track is on a positive side. Many like the song.  Now, what the Organizing Committee is going to do is yet to be seen.  The problem is that the comments from majority who like the song are somewhere hidden in this onslaught of negativity.

    The Rs. 5 crores and 6 months everyone is talking about is another thing. I don’t know why ARR should compose a song free of cost for the Indian Government. He is just an entertainer who is giving his time and effort for something for which he has to be paid. And as media skillfully hides, it includes the performances during the opening and closing ceremonies. For Shahrukh Khan to dance in a Baraat, people offer more. When ARR created something original and that too for the country, why is Rs. 5 crores an issue? Basically he’s doing his work and getting his remuneration. And the amount was agreed upon by the Organizing Committee. As of now, it’s not yet proved if this sum is right or if he has asked for Rs. 15 crores before and it was brought down to Rs. 5 crores and all that. The problem here is that now it has become tax payers’ ‘valuable’ money, whereas if it was a movie production company’s money, no one would have cared. And the 6 months, the Organizing Committee asked him 6 months back and he started work then and the fact is that he's simultaneously working on multiple things and isn't it common sense to understand that this talk itself is point-less? Media, on the way of making the whole issue sensational, has averted all attention from the CWG corruption to ARR and is just doing what the Organizing Committee also would have wanted. 

    About criticism from people apart from media, they were always there. But now, since media’s and their goals are in the same track, it has become so easy for them. The likes of Louis banks, Aadesh Srivastava etc has every right to hold hatred and grudge against ARR because they never won accolades Oscars, 4 national awards and 25 Filmfare awards. They are not and can’t be what ARR is today.

    The funny part is that African part of the song “Waka Waka” is a complete rip off from a 1986 track from Cameroon and it’s not credited by Shakira in the worldcup anthem version. The “Waving Flag” song was meant for a fight against poverty (just see the lyrics!) and as irony would have it, it was used by Coca Cola all across the globe during the world cup. The CWG Theme is the only complete original track and stand for what it is meant for. If it's good or bad, it's decided by listeners and not just a handful of journos. 


    ARR has worked with many filmmakers and they know what they want from him and he gives them. So, it won’t affect him anyway. But, the negativity the media created may take some time to go away. I hope the same media won’t praise him either in the future. Because even that would be an insult to him.

    When this is happening, the music he has done for “Endhiran” is ruling charts and breaking records in sales. The first song of “Jhootha Hi Sahi ” is out and the bit is as fresh as ever (see the comments in Facebook). And still, filmmakers are ready to queue up at his studio, waiting to pull night outs to get what he gives them. The queue at his studio will remain the same or increase in length.

A Hypothetical situation

    ARR is getting many chances from outside India now. He has his own recording facilities in London and Los Angeles. So, if he decides, because of this CWG theme issue, that he will concentrate on only Hollywood and other foreign and non-Indian stuff, it would be just our loss. We will miss out on all his music, the anticipated collaborations and all that. But, I guess it’s better for him because he can work with better technology, better facilities, better "people" and more money.

    And if that happens, the same media will write earnest requests to him to come back and do music for Indian films too. Indian media never fails to amuse me. :)

Why I wrote this

    I just wanted to write something about the man and his music for a long time. So it was just some thoughts, mainly coupled with facts. Actually, what I wrote above are facts and facts only. I am not a die-hard fan who is blindly following him. But, I always believe that he is a kind of person and his music is a kind of stuff, if one would enact and follow, that can make this world a better place. I think so because it’s so hard for a person to be grounded and down to earth when you have achieved such heights in life and it’s so tough to constantly churn out high quality stuff again and again. The thought itself amazes me. That’s it.

Of course, JAI HO!