Award-winning music composer AR Rahman now turns a producer and writer with 99 Songs, a film based on a journey of a musician. He is known to take music a notch higher. So to make the music experience more surreal in this film, he is the first Indian artist to create a music album of the film in Dolby Atmos. In an exclusive interview with The Quint the maestro spoke about what made him take script writing classes, why is he unhappy about his song being remixed and his collaboration with Dolby Atoms for his upcoming film 99 Songs.
I’m here with two eminent personalities. Welcome to The Quint. Collaborating with Mr Rahman and ‘99 Songs’. How did it happen? And how was it like?
Pankaj Kedia: I mean for Dolby, you know, we’re very passionate. And it starts for us with content. So, you know, from a content creator, from an artist, I mean, we couldn’t have asked for a bigger and a better association than what we got with Mr Rahman and ‘99 Songs’. So we’re very excited.
Rahman: So strangely, I think, you know, the music industry has gone through a change. So a lot of remixes and rap songs and all the stuff... So when something’s successful, they overdo it and kill it, right? So then people have felt like, ‘Where are the original songs? Why are there not songs like before? Where’s another ‘Rockstar’, where’s another ‘Taal’.’ And so I think ‘99 Songs’ comes at the point where people are craving for original songs and to receive them, and so I thought, why don’t we join and make this an even more better experience? We get Dolby Atmos encoded, and they’ll be a first for Indian people.
Like you were talking about remixes. So I wanted to ask you, there are remixes all over the place. Every other song is a remix. What do you think about remixes?
Rahman: I think it is not compensated with other things. It was not a bad idea. But when it gets too repetitive and a million people do that, then it becomes like, you know, over done and becomes a cliche and it becomes annoying. So the thing is, I heard from a lot of composers, there is an original composition and people have worked hard on it. The director was given a, you know, an idea and the composer has done, the lyric writers done, actors have acted, so it’s holy for people. You can’t take that, push all the names and put the remixer’s name on it. And they don’t even credit the original composers. So that was the annoying thing. That’s what I’ve heard a couple of songs have been like, they don’t even credit and they put something, just add two more lines to it and it becomes theirs. So in a way that this generation will think, ‘Oh! that’s a cool song by this remixer.’ So that’s not a good thing. So credits have to be given and permission has to be taken. Like for instance, one of my songs ‘Ishwar Allah’ is one of my favourite songs, and Javed Akhtar sahib wrote it. They took that song and they really killed it.
Did you do anything about it?
Rahman: I didn’t do anything but because I was like, what’s going on? But they really killed it because whatever is added to that maybe beautiful, but not with this. I know because it’s – it’s memories, it’s respect. It’s something which happened at that time. It’s destiny. You can’t change that. And I hate to use the word bastardised it. Yeah.
How did you become a producer? And you also... I will call it secretly taking classes of script writing. What’s this happening Mr Rahman?
Rahman: What happened was... I’ll tell you what happened. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ happened, Oscar happened, Grammy happened, all the stuff. And then I was in LA and then I just relived my life. You know, my life was always in the studio, playing things and composing. So there I was just... I had a car, I was driving, I was meeting co-Academy members, I was going for all these big luncheons and with Spielberg and, you know, JJ Abrams. So everything felt so easy. I’m having access to Hollywood. I am having access to all the studios and you know, all the knowledge and nobody’s going to judge me. So I took this thing and said, okay, let me learn this stuff. I met a friend and so he said, ‘Yeah, my friend teaches at UCLA, he’s going to come to you.’ And so I took classes from there and then all this idea of developing stories which are musical-oriented. Music, you know, ideation usually for me comes from the director who gives this what the scene is, and then the lyric writer and then we jam. So far, 25 years it’s been happening like that. And then suddenly now if I conceive a scene – actually the kind of happened when Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2001 asked me, ‘AR do you have any story?’ I was like why is he asking me for a story? I’m just a composer. And then I discovered that he wrote stories and he did musicals and he was successful. And then I took a while. 10 years later, I started thinking of stories and of course, this is the first one. And after this, probably 22 other stories are all waiting to see what the result is.
Because you’re producing and it’s your story. Didn’t you think about let me also direct it? Can you imagine how it would have been if he would have directed it?
Rahman: Yeah, so direction is something which requires multiple antennas in your head. It requires so much of energy. It’d be exhausting. You have to be in public, you have to lose your inhibitions. All that has to happen. And I think I love music. And I love composing and producing, you know, doing this stuff. So if I take that job, that means I’ll be limiting, probably if I do 20 movies then I’ll be probably doing two movies, music and directing this movie. So then I found the right target. So I got Vishwesh. It’s like let them do all the hard work. And let me just design the movie and give it him and then we were just constantly in touch. Seeing what we were doing.
This film is a journey of an artist. When you look back at your journey, what do you see?
Rahman: I’ve been so lucky. And that’s why I always thank god, I always say, (Phrase) which means all praises to God because all the trouble my father had, my father did all the suffering and I’m actually enjoying all the goodies, which maybe he was blessed with.
Rahman: Well, I’ll come to that. So, okay, it’s very easy to call nepotism. But then on the pretext are you like, if you take Gandhi. There’s a book called ‘Gandhi My Father’. There’s a book about Gandhi’s son reporting about Gandhi not being a father. So you learn from our, you know, our forefathers, you will learn from them and say that, if I’m good to everyone else and I’m not good to my own family, am I a good father? And that is the basic need for a family, then don’t become a father. Don’t become a parent. When you can’t treat your kid properly, when you can’t nurture them well, don’t humiliate them. Just don’t put them there. And you know, it is important to nurture them, it is important to guide them because then they have nobody else. You can put them in Harvard, you can put them in Yale, but what comes from the parent is the most important thing.
Is there anything that you are looking at directing or producing next?
Rahman:I have something but...Okay, I’m directing – not a 2D movie – it’s an experience, sensory experience and installation called ‘Le Musk’. And it’s not in Hindi or Tamil, it’s in English. And so we did a mini screening of six minutes in Cannes Lexa last year. The whole experience is around 60 minutes. And that’s the kind of thing I want to do because it’s a fresh path. And it’s got, again sound, 3D visuals, 360, smell, haptics and motion. So all this combined. So the experience is going to be so real, that if you experience this, you feel like five days you don’t forget the experience. So that’s what people have told me. And it is taking time because of the switching of the cameras. In that the next one is something which I’m very, very interested in doing, but then I want to test it out. I want to see how ‘99 Songs’ is doing and then.
Also about your lead actor. Why did you think of choosing a person who has no knowledge of music as an artist in the film? You could have chosen someone who can sing, who knows music.
Rahman: I wanted to find the next superstar. I wanted to find the people who could even surpass and go to Hollywood and become a Batman. So when I looked at Ehan, I was like I forgot about his acting skills or musical skills. That, you know, everybody can learn. I looked at them and said, ‘This guy looks like the next Batman or Superman,’ you know from India. So he was so charming. When we talked to him, he had a sense of poetic, humble nature in him and yet he looked rugged. And so we were proud that we were giving something to the industry, we are giving something to Indian cinema, or world cinema. And so it was worthwhile. It was worth nurturing him. And so we are proud of that part. Definitely.
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