‘Music should have subtext’

Some might find it debatable but the Oscar win has done A R Rahman good.

Published on:January 25, 2014 6:21 am

Some might find it debatable but the Oscar win has done A R Rahman good. Once uncomfortable with spotlight, the music composer has now made peace with the attention he receives. So, he is able to let his hair down during the shoot of a promotional video for his next release, Highway, and enjoy it even. In an interview with TALK, the talented composer talks at length about his working style and gets candid about the recent criticism his music has received.


After Rockstar, you’ve teamed up again with Imtiaz Ali for Highway.

Imtiaz and I first met to discuss music for Rockstar after his Socha Na Tha released in 2005. Back then, John Abraham was cast in the lead but the project was shelved and we went our ways. We met again after Love Aaj Kal; Imtiaz felt he had matured enough to tackle the subject and was ready to make Rockstar. The few songs we had earlier worked on were never used because the vision had changed for the better.

Imtiaz’s desire to make a wholesome product is what excites me. Also, he is flexible about the kind of music to be used and doesn’t come with a pre-decided length for a song, saying he needs a, say, 4.28 minute-long track, which is also how Mani Ratnam or Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra work.
Rockstar’s music was different. Part of the film’s story was in the songs, only swatches of which were in the film.

How was the concept devised?
Yes, with Rockstar, those who knew the music well also understood the film better. It was a unique experiment and Imtiaz’s idea. The biggest challenge was to make a movie about a rockstar that doesn’t ape the West; it’s something that had to also reflect in the music. I give it to Imtiaz for pulling it off so well.

How important a role does the director play in your music?
It’s important that a filmmaker be someone whom I can learn from, or that we can learn together, because whatever music I have created is already old, consumed. I need to evolve to create something fresh that excites me and the audience. I can achieve that only if the director and I take that journey together.

Do you need to connect with the film’s characters to do justice to the music?
No, I make sure I am in and out of the characters’ mindspace and don’t entirely immerse myself in it. That helps add a new layer to the music — make it complex, which is more interesting.

Please elaborate.
One approach to making music is Mickey Mouse-ing it, dumbing it down so that if the character is sad, the music should also sound that way. The other is thinking out of the box and using a different approach. I love it when music can communicate directly yet not be too abstract. For instance, once Mani Ratnam asked me to compose a marriage song for Bombay. I tried typical tracks, but nothing worked. Mani then said let’s do a sad …continued »

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