‘I am intimidated by the camera’
…says AR Rahman, in a freewheeling interview about his upcoming concert film, One Heart, and directorial ambitions
Two Academy Awards, a BAFTA, two Grammys, a Golden Globe… It’s not every day that you meet a person who has them all, let alone even one. The man, AR Rahman, is completing 25 years in the industry this year, and what better way than for him—and for us—to celebrate it by releasing a documentary titled One Heart: The AR Rahman Concert Film on September 1. The film contains unseen behind-the-scenes footage of sixteen of his most popular songs performed at his concerts. It also has in-depth interviews of the singers and musicians who were behind those songs. “The plan was to release it this month, but we are trying to push it to September, as Ajith’s film and a few others are coming in,” Rahman says.
The idea to make this film arrived when Rahman was out touring for one of his concerts and suddenly felt a need to capture the moment. “There was so much positive energy, and I realised then I must archive such moments. A year later, when I looked at the video, I felt it could be made into a film. It’s common practice in other countries to release videos of concerts,” he says.
Being a private person, it wasn’t easy for him to be in the glare of a camera. “I can’t compose music in front of a camera. I get intimidated; I hate it,” he says. “A concert is fine though. And at least some people should be able to watch the film, right?”
The ace composer is much used to adulation, but even still, the final scenes at the end of the first screening of his film in Canada was quite something. “I saw many shed tears. I think the film will be an unusual experience. I kept tweaking it till the last possible moment,” he says.
The film will feature songs from several languages, including Tamil, Hindi, and Punjabi. Given the sheer variety he has composed, it must not have been easy for him to choose the songs. “I have chosen those that have made me and my band proud. In Tamil, we’ve got Munbe Vaa (Sillunu Oru Kaadhal),” he says. “I wonder if this language divide matters at all. Most Hindi fans tell me that they love the Tamil version of Roja. Sometimes, people are unhappy when they listen to a song from another language. But I respect all of them. I understand that some can get attached to their language or nationality. I don’t blame them.”
He turns emotional. “I don’t know if I am worthy of people’s love. I’ve always mainly tried to stay relevant, and I truly believe that the more music that comes in, the better the world becomes.”
Rahman’s music, in a sense, owes itself to his reticence. “When I speak, I can’t really articulate myself all that well. I am a person more comfortable with silence, with nights, with darkness. That’s why I prefer being a musician,” he says. But he loves those who can talk well. “For me, it’s best that I let my work speak.” He admits it was unsettling to look at himself on camera. “I was focussing a lot on the technical aspects of the video. I was very conscious that I not look silly on camera,” he says.
The conversation veers to his upcoming projects, including Le Musk, 99 Songs, and 2.0. “I pick projects by filmmakers who can bring to screen things that I can only imagine. I loved working on Majid Majidi’s Beyond the Clouds. I was mindblown by his thoughts. I think we have been able to create some great music. It’s hard to find like-minded artistes who don’t mind letting go of their creative ego, in order to create high quality work,” he says.
2.0 has a lot of fan following. And I can see why. Shankar is the James Cameron of India.
I can never remember a tune. That’s why I always have my phone with me. I remember composing Jiya Jale when I was on a pilgrimage with my mom to Iraq.
Rahman has no doubt that he has let go of his own ‘creative ego’. “There are directors who insist on a specific variety of songs. I can’t tell them I’ll do only my kind of music. Perhaps that’s why there are some songs that seem ill-placed in some films,” he says. There’s a general notion that in Rahman’s music turning global, the mass-y side of him has taken a back seat. He points in the direction of Vijay’s upcoming film, Mersal. “It will be mass-y,” he assures.
He’s excited about Le Musk, a virtual reality film he’s directing. The idea for it was born during a conversation he had with his wife. “She’s fond of perfumes, and suggested that I make a film in which smell would play a big part.” The idea of making it as a VR film followed. “We have a wonderful team of international technicians and artistes who can do justice to it.”
With two films that he’s directed being in the offing, is it conceivable that he could be transitioning into a filmmaker slowly? “Direction takes time. It means I have to cut down on the music. I need to be convinced it’s worth my time. But yes, I have lots of ideas,” he says. “Art becomes a formula after a time, and you feel bored. A film, according to me, should be a transformative experience. One Heart will take the audience straight to my studio, into my composing room. The ending will be quite interesting too.”
The point of One Heart was also to aid the families of ailing musicians. “Not every musician is rich and famous. I am looking to help some of the less fortunate. I know the film won’t run for 100 days, but whatever that comes out of it will be used well. And I hope it makes the viewers happy,” he says.