“When I envisioned a rock music score, I didn’t want a copy of western rock,” Imtial Ali says, “I wanted music that adhered to the principles of rock but originated from our land and from our realities. I wanted music that was organic to the character and yet had an appeal beyond conventional Bollywood music.”
He elaborates, “I never have to fit songs in. They simply take the story forward. And just as you cast actors, you look for the best guy to compose that style of music. Most often, the best guy is Rahman sir. In this case, he very specifically was.”
Though their first discussion on Rockstar didn’t go anywhere, Imtiaz approached Rahman again last February. “He instantly went - Oh my god, I have no time! There is no way I can do this,” Imtiaz pauses and smiles. “But I will do it. I want to do it - Rahman said. I felt relieved. He was in the thick of a hundred commitments - recording in LA, performing at concerts, jamming with SuperHeavy, Hollywood, Bollywood and Tamil movies. But he said let’s do it. That was good enough for me.”
Apart from a lowdown on the script, Imtiaz’s brief to Rahman was only a few lines on the tortured artiste that Ranbir Kapoor plays. “I told him how Jordan, the protagonist, is inarticulate, how he can express himself only through music, how his music is influenced by not only his situation but also by the music of the place he visits. So when Jordan is in Prague hanging about with gypsies, he imbibes their spirit and makes gypsy music. This is what Hawa Hawa is. Likewise, when Jordan is thrown out of his house, he goes to Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah, spends time with the Qawwals, absorbs their music and plays with them. That journey was not only about understanding music, but also about understanding life,” says Imtiaz.
Imtiaz felt there was a need with an anthem song. “Lyricist Irshad Kamil and I spent a lot of time just thinking of phrases, such as Ban jaa, Banjaara, before stumbling on Sadda Haq, Aithay Rakh ((It’s) Our right, keep it here).
Rahman roped in Orianthi Panagaris, one of the zaniest contemporary guitarists who also performed with Michael Jackson. At his LA studio, Rahman recorded her loud guitars for six hours. I was on Skype throughout,” says Imtiaz.
First song they recorded last July,was Phir se udd chala, “Rahman had recorded himself singing gibberish. He told me there is something good in it and maybe we can cut out portions. But I really liked it so much that we retained the way it is. Nothing repeats itself and it is just pure expression,” he says.
With its dreamy guitar-work, Jo bhi main is probably the most scintillating track of the album. “Jordan feels - I have beautiful thoughts in my mind. But when I try to express them in words, it gets clerical and the beauty of the thought gets destroyed with the first word I speak. Irshad came up with - Jo bhi main, kehna chahoon, barbaad karey, alphaaz mere - and Rahman improvised on it.”
Rahman Sir keeps telling me; you are the director, you don’t like one tune, I’ll come up with many. You must do your job, I must do mine.”
What he does is he draws out the best from whoever he works with.”
Imtiaz recounts the first time Irshad met Rahman. “We were waiting for Rahman in his studio and Irshad was trembling. The hall was splattered with the choicest of award statuettes - Oscars, Grammies, Filmfares, what-nots. Irshad told me nervously - Imtiaz bhai, aap hi unse bolna. Meri toh awaaz nahi niklegi. Yeh Rahman...bahut badi aura hai. Yet within five minutes of us meeting Rahman, I saw Irshad doling out fundas - Sir, hook toh hota hai sir, aap jo bhi bolo (laughs). Rahman nodded along patiently.”
“I was told Rahman doesn’t respect your time. We were supposed to have nine songs, but there are 14 tracks on the CD and around six extra pieces in the film; which makes it 20 in all. None of this has come late. I only had to tell him that I am shooting and the song would reach well in time.”
“Rahman, Ranbir and I would travel about in search of good food. We were inviting ourselves to locals’ homes to eat. It was great fun.” Imtiaz also credits Rahman for filling in the narrative with thoughts from sufi philosophy. “Rahman says, sometimes, you have to go against your grain for a greater experience, to experience life better than be bound by the limits of your personality.”
AR RAhman on Rockstar music
“Mohit’s voice has innocence and character. Until now, he had one particular style. But in this, he was stretched and pushed to all kinds of zones (laughs). We both worked very hard on it. Some songs took four days to record, some even seven. But when you hear it, you will feel how effortless it is.”
We didn’t have to make four rock songs, a sad song and an item song. Each song carried a different expression. So I kept the sound organic - less synthesizers, less effects, more acoustic guitar and bass. The gypsy song (Hawa hawa) was the most difficult to compose as it had so many layers, styles and instruments woven in
I have got it all - the Grammies, Oscars. I have done all this for 20 years. Now let me enjoy the process without the pressures. Every day should be a bonus for me.
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