BooksTNM catches up with Krishna Trilok, the man behind Ar Rahman’s official biography. Prathibha Parameswaran rahman_biography_03_650.jpgYoung and upcoming writer Krishna Trilok will pen the first official biography on the Chennai-based musical maestro Ar Rahman. The 24-year-old writer, who had previously come out with a fantasy novel- Sharikrida, has been working on the book tentatively titled ‘Ar Rahman: The man in the music’ that will hit the stores early next year. Krishna is the son of renowned ad filmmakers Sharada and Trilok Nair, who had earlier collaborated with Rahman for several popular commercials and also introduced him to Mani Ratnam. The Rahman biography will explore the lesser known facets of the award-winning composer’s personality, his daily life and views on relevant issues. While Rahman has been busy composing music for films like Rajeev Menon’s Sarvam Thaala Mayam starring Gv Prakash, Shankar’s 2.0 with Rajinikanth and Majid Majidi’s Beyond The Clouds, he has also been recently exploring newer territories. He’s turned writer and producer for the musical 99 Songs and has also ventured into direction with a virtual reality film, Le Musk. What prompted you to work on this biography? Two other biographies have already been written on Rahman-Nasreen Munni Kabir’s ‘The Spirit Of Music’ and Kamini Mathai’s ‘Ar Rahman-The Musical Storm.’ What fresher insights do you hope to provide for his fans and music lovers? The earlier books written on him were either compilations of brief conversations with Rahman or collections of journalistic pieces, with the authors spending very little time with the person himself- if at all. Both the books chronicled the sides his life and career that many people were, up an extent, already aware of. With this biography, I have strived to get to the heart of the person behind the music, awards and films. He’s a man whose personality has not been explored—someone who’s very humorous, great and a gentle human being. It’s of course impossible to write about him without talking about his music and other works, but the aim has been to bring his personality to the fore. The book will feature some nice anecdotes from all the people that he’s worked with in his earlier years—Bharat Bala, Mani Ratnam, Sharda and Trilok Nair, who introduced him, Vijay Modi—who ran Audio Vision where he recorded his earlier jingles, Rajeev Menon, Rahman’s sisters Raihana and Fathima, Jyoti Nair Belliappa from Km Music conservatory, a few film directors, R Samidurai, his man Friday right from the 70s, his audio engineers, his business manager-Karan Grover and Vijay Iyer, his personal manager. They have all shared some interesting stories, like what he thought of Mani Ratnam and Tamil films before becoming part of the industry. Krishna Trilok There’s a lot of information on him out there, how do you think a biography will be relevant at this point? He’s pioneered the evolution of film music in India in a lot of ways. He introduced a lot of musicians to the technology and equipment they use in India today. He made film music composing lucrative for many upcoming music directors and with the help of his strong legal team pushed for procuring copyrights for his songs. I think he should be given his due. Right now, he’s becoming a lot more than just a musician and composer. He’s branching out into production and writing with 99 Songs, he’s directing a virtual reality film- Le Musk and he’s also come out with a concert film—One Heart. He’s becoming wider in his scope of activities. He has got the Km Music Conservatory going and he’s also set up a shooting floor and visual effects facility-ym Studios in Red Hills. From being an instrument player during recording sessions to composing jingles; to scoring music in Tamil and Hindi films; to going to Hollywood- he’s always been evolving. I wanted to write a book focusing on the turning points in his life. Your parents were some of the first people to discover his talent and introduced him to Mani Ratnam too. What have your interactions with Rahman been like before the idea of the book came about? What inspired you to write about him? It was a sudden plan. I’ve grown up with his music and I love his work. He was the only Indian artist from the film industry, who seemed intent to make a global impact. He has revolutionised his stage performances- moving from singers just standing with pieces of paper and mikes on stage, he’s brought in dancers and lights and made it a spectacle. He’s incredibly ambitious but also very humble and grounded—I find his persona very paradoxical. There’s a lot of information available on his work, but very little about the man himself and that was definitely intriguing. He’s never lost touch with anyone whom he knew earlier or been friends with. My parents would often talk about him and I would just be a disinterested listener because I never imagined myself becoming a writer one day and drawing on all this information. He would visit us once in a while or my parents would attend his closed-group Qawwali concerts that he conducted along with members from his music school. Unless I went with my parents, he couldn’t have recognised me earlier. There was an element of familiarity and it wasn’t like I met him for the first time when I approached him for the book, but I got to know him a bit during the course of writing this book. Poster of Le Musk, a virtual reality film directed by Rahman How did he react to the idea of a biography? What are the facets of his life and music that the book will be touching upon? He was very enthused by the idea of the book. I got a sense that he wanted someone other than a journalist or someone who would fit into the regular profile of biographer to interview him. He had glimpsed through my first book and he was on board. There’s a lot more to him than being a spiritual person or a composer who works late nights and wins a lot of awards-that’s often been written about. For example, his wife spoke to me about the kind of relationship that they share. He’s an extremely loving husband and father. She told me, “It’s a gift to have a husband like him.” It’s common knowledge that he does a lot of charity work. But you know, he remembers everybody who’s been connected with him in the past and calls them whenever an opportunity arises that could help them in anyway. He has a fantastic sense of humour and his one-liners and on the spot jokes are amazing. He loves technology and his mind is like sponge that can absorb any amount of information. He had to drop out of school early on, but he’s got that childlike curiosity to learn about stuff even other than music. '99 songs', a musical has been co-written and produced by Rahman How have you been finding the time to converse with him amidst his busy schedules and tours? Whenever he’s in the country, even if he’s in Mumbai, I would spend about a week with him following him around from morning to evening. So sometimes we have conversations while travelling in the car or I’d have meals with him in his house with others there. I think that most of the questions that could possibly be posed to him have already been asked and you can find almost anything about him on the internet. I wanted to observe him while he worked, interacted with others, his quirks and habits, the food he liked and his routine. I did that in Mumbai and Chennai. I have spoken to a lot of people connected with him over the years. Besides merely recounting the information gathered, I have tried to interpret them and put it in a larger context. Lot of people say that he arrived in the music scene with Roja in 1992. But we also need to see it in the context of the huge shift that the entertainment industry in India was going through post-liberalisation when western influences were setting in, cassettes were in vogue and the reach was more. His evolution as a composer is also in sync with the evolution of technology and the social sentiment at the time. In 2008, the global socio-political setting seemed just ideal for Rahman to win the Academy Award too. Were you allowed to observe him while he’s at work? He doesn’t let anyone in while he’s actually composing. Nobody is allowed to disturb him—it’s like prayer for him. But he comes back and is willing to share what went on and talk about it. He allowed me in during recording sessions though. He’s very chilled out and jovial for the most part but obviously if you mess up too much he’s going to get angry—just like any other human being. He cracks jokes to put new singers at ease. I think at heart, he’s still that boy who’s jamming with his band. There’s a lot of love and light-heartedness, but also a lot of passion. He always makes his singers feel like they’re part of a team; there’s absolutely no attitude. Was it hard to get him to open up? He was shier earlier on, but now he’s pretty talkative. He would not just answer my questions, but would touch upon various other things and I would often go back with more information than I had hoped to gather. The whole experience was just like two people chatting, so getting information was quite easy. Krishna Trilok’s biography on Rahman is nearing completion and is expected to hit the shelves in early 2018. Enanble Notification: NoTNM Marquee: NoSee full article at The News Minute »
You can’t walk into the AR Rahman Foundation wearing shoes. It’s sacrosanct—everyone, from the office staff and bustling personal managers coordinating the musician’s commitments to A.R. Rahman himself, leaves their footwear outside the inconspicuous two-storey building in Chennai’s Kodambakkam area.
“That’s what we do anywhere, it’s a south Indian tradition,” Rahman demurs. It’s 31 degrees Celsius outside. The calm within seems to be a reflection of the man who could weather a storm with a smile and a strum. Tamil auteur Mani Ratnam’s Roja—the first film that Rahman composed the score and soundtrack for—released in 1992. Our meeting last Saturday was the culmination of efforts to track him down to mark his 25 years in the movies.
But now, I have the two-time Oscar and Grammy winner seated cross-legged on a footstool. We’re in a well-lit, orange-hued room on the first floor—well appointed to double up as a studio for photo shoots and television interviews. It is right above his workstation a floor below, and noiseless except for the faint hum of the air conditioner and the man who seems to audibly process each word before releasing it to the world. It’s been a hectic week—nothing unusual, he tells me. He has been juggling Hindi, Hollywood and regional projects, and has just returned from a music tour in Australia with composer-orchestrator Matt Dunkley.
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“Music is an art, at least for me and my family. It is informed by spirituality. And where there’s a spiritual environment, we normally take our shoes off, right?” he offers.
Dressed in a white T-shirt, black trousers and a black sweater vest, he looks far younger than his 51 years, though he jokes that his limited social skills are getting even more impaired with age.
Rahman moves without an entourage, gliding through the studio barefoot without hangers-on. There is no one else present at the time of the interview, a rarity as far as film industry meetings go.
The numerous trophies and certificates—he has four National Film Awards and five honorary doctorates, besides countless other felicitations—have made little difference to the genius of the man whose music, as collaborating film-maker Abbas Tyrewala observes, is purely “internal”, almost revealing itself to him before he processes it intellectually.
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Born A.S. Dileep Kumar, the singer, musician and composer converted to Islam at the age of 23, a move that he says honed his music skills and continues to define much of what he is known for today.
“I was never happy with my music earlier. But the whole thinking changed from ‘I’m playing music’ to ‘I’m an instrument’,” he says softly, arranging his thoughts. He has just finished a video bite but hasn’t snapped out of the formal camera position.
“There is some zone of self-discovery for each of us. Earlier, it was easy to say I’m practising and playing but I’m not good. Now, to even say that is a complaint against the inspiration. Also, music is not a solo activity, there’s an entire team working with me and everyone is spiritual in their own way. I feel like we’re an empty vessel or a zariya (means) and the art that comes out in the process is bigger than us; it defines itself.”
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Over the years, Rahman has collaborated with many professionals who aren’t spiritual in the conventional sense, the most significant of them being film-maker Mani Ratnam, whose Roja set a music milestone when it released. The Tamil film album that won the debut composer the National Film Award for Best Music Direction was the first to challenge the syntax of the traditional Indian film song. It introduced orchestral melodies instead of using regular instruments and reversed the mukhda-antara (chorus and stanza) structure. It was a choice that Time magazine referred to as “Rahman’s gift for alchemizing outside influences until they are totally Tamil, totally Rahman”, while naming it as one of the magazine’s “10 Best Soundtracks” of all time in 2005. Rahman attributes the now legendary structural reversal to his exposure to different kinds of music, from jazz, fusion bands and African music to commercials from 1986-91, when he quit his job as a sessions player for films under composer Ilaiyaraaja.
“It was not done just to make a statement,” Ratnam says on email. “But the way AR perceived specific songs, he would go back to a conventional format whenever it was right but did not feel the need to be bound by it. He was not fettered by film music traditions, or by region or language. He was, and still is, making music as he sees right for the film. He goes with the flow and brings in a musical dimension to the narration.”
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An unconventional musician may have been uncommon for Indian cinema then but breaking rules and pushing boundaries are what continue to endear Rahman to audiences, says UK-based television producer and writer Nasreen Munni Kabir. He effectively discarded the templatized music of the 1980s, where the focus was entirely on acoustics, preferring to “assemble” songs on the keyboard thanks to his sound programming skills. This also ensured that many of his songs were heard in their original Tamil version beyond south India on the basis of their extraordinary orchestration.
“Rahman does not operate with any safety net. Every song that we’ve made together has seemed like a very big risk to me because he wasn’t following any pattern that would elevate the song midway if the overall conception didn’t come through well,” says film-maker Imtiaz Ali.
For example, Maahi Ve in Ali’s Highway wasn’t even part of the film originally. Having improvised a 20-minute track for another song, Patakha Guddi, the composer decided that the last portion of it could be developed into a completely different song, despite knowing there might not be any place for it in the film.
“The risk-taking in this was that he was making it for a situation that didn’t exist (in the movie), knowing that it would add to its emotional heart. He had obviously seen something that none of us had,” Ali says.
Inspiration of this kind may have come, to a great extent, from the A-team that, as Rahman points out, collaborates to make a musical statement and a film-maker who acts as a friend in co-producing a thing of beauty—an opportunity music directors in India rarely get now with songs no longer driving narratives as they once used to.
“I believe music is an inevitable, compelling part of movies and the art of it is lost because the belief in it is gone. If Andrew Lloyd Webber produces a film, my music (for it) will be different because he understands what melody is and how much joy it can bring. Whereas when I worked on the Lord Of The Rings (the stage adaptation, 2006), it was more about the story,” says Rahman. “I understood that there. Even here, if you’re a very music-focused director, the movie will have wonderful music. Like Aanand L. Rai is all about storytelling and very culturally rooted, so the songs in Raanjhana are helping the film but they’re not soaring out. If you take Mani Ratnam or some other films in the 1990s, you can see how the songs would soar out. But that’s increasingly rare now. La La Land happened because the director is a musician and understands the power of melody.”
That is why, the composer emphasizes, he launched a movie production company, YM Movies, earlier this year. He has been courteous and attentive throughout our interaction but the needle really moves when you bring up the latest initiative. Directed by theatre and dance artiste Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy, his maiden venture 99 Songs, which releases later this year, is a Tamil-Hindi bilingual film with music and story by Rahman. He shows me pictures on his phone of the sound stage they’ve built.
“I feel like it’s time we make international movies from India,” he says, keen to put his Hollywood learnings to use in India. “They should be in English to reach a global audience. It’s exciting to learn new things and bring the knowledge to your own people. Here, they learn things in probably one-third the time others take and they are much more loyal. Of course, I love working with orchestras abroad but it gives you a different high to work with your own people.”
Rahman says he doesn’t know how to look back on the legacy he has created in the last 25 years—he doesn’t see or understand it that way.
“I thought Roja would be my last movie and the world would perish in a year. But it never stopped spinning. Now, there’s a challenge and a task every day. So the day never ends; even if your body says you have to sleep for two days, you have to keep going,” he says, walking out barefoot