There is hardly any person in India who has not heard of A.R. Rahman’s music or even danced to his tunes, literally! He is a Grammy and Academy Award winner, an Indian music composer and music producer, and a musical genius of international repute. His winning music for films and stage has earned him the nickname ‘the Mozart of Madras’ and “Isai Puyal” (the musical storm). The uniqueness in his work comes from integrating Indian classical music, World music and Electronic music to give it a completely new form, often backed with traditional orchestral arrangements. A born musician he plays many instruments like drums, percussion, keyboard, synthesizer, guitar, accordion, harp, harpejji, and continuum fingerboard. A.R. Rahman, the Man who makes ‘Dil Se’ Music!
A.R. Rahman was born in Madras on January 6, 1967, as A.S. Dileep Kumar. His father, R.K. Shekhar, was a prominent composer and conductor for Tamil and Malayalam films and his mother Kareema a housewife. He grew up with three sisters A.R. Reihana, Fathima Shekhar, and Ishrath Qadri.
Rahman began to show musical prowess from the age of 4 years when he received his first piano classes from his father. Seeing how naturally inclined to the music he was, his father often let him accompany him to the studio and play the keyboard there.
But sadly, this ended abruptly when at the age of 9 years, he lost his father. Initially, the rental of his father’s musical equipment provided the family with income but Rahman soon needed to step into his father’s shoes as the ‘Family Man’.
Young Rahman, had to drop out of his school Padma Seshadri Bala Bahavan as he often would miss classes to go to work to support his family. He moved to MCN for a year and later joined Madras Christian College Higher Secondary School, where he secured admission on his musical talent. However, his mother pulled him out of the formal education at 15 years, to assist music composers leaving his dreams to become a Computer Engineer behind.
Rahman’s early musical training at the age of 11, under Master Dhanraj helped him earn a place playing in the orchestra of Malayalam composer M.K. Arjunan. After that he soon began working with other composers, like M.S. Viswanathan, Ramesh Naidu, and Raj-Koti. He began to formally learn Indian classical music from Maestros V Dakshinamoorthy and N Gopalkrishnan and western classical from some of his father’s contemporaries. Soon after he joined the famous Tamil composer Ilayaraja’s music troupe as a keyboard player. He also formed a band called Roots with his childhood friend and percussionist Sivamani, John Anthony, Suresh Peters, JoJo and Raja. As a teenager he performed alongside luminaries like Zakir Hussain the tabla maestro and L Shankar, the singer. His professional experience in music helped him obtain a scholarship from Trinity College London to further study music at the Trinity College of Music, Oxford where he received a formal degree in Western classical music.
Starting a Music Career
From playing in bands to creating over 300 advertising jingles, Rahman met film director Mani Ratnam who introduced him to writing music for motion pictures. The very first project Roja (1992), whose soundtrack became a hit catapulted Rahman to fame. Since then, he has more than 100 movie scores to his credit, including the music for Lagaan (2001), the first Bollywood film nominated for an Academy Award. Some of his other music blockbusters include Rockstar (2011), Raanjhanaa (2013), Highway (2014), and Beyond the Clouds (2017). Rahman’s albums sold more than 100 million copies. What followed was 20 Albums, 284 soundtracks, and 146 Original Scores.
Fame and Fortune
Rahman tasted fame at the age of 25, with his very first soundtrack, for the Tamil movie ‘Roja’, which was listed on the Time magazines all-time ‘10 Best Soundtracks in 2005’.
What followed is:
- Two Oscars: In 2009, he won the Academy Award for ‘Best Original Score’ and ‘Best Original Music Score’ for ‘Jai ho,’ a Latin-infused dance track that featured in Danny Boyle’s Slum Dog Millionaire (2008) film’s closing Bollywood-style dance number.
- Two Grammys: In 2010, ‘Jai Ho’ won ‘Best Compilation Soundtrack Album’ and ‘Best Song Written for Visual Media’.
- A Bafta: In 2009, he collected a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for best music for Slumdog Millionaire
- A Golden Globe: In 2009, Jai Ho won him the Golden Globe for Best Original Score.
A world-famous composer and Honorary Fellow of the Trinity College of Music, his list of awards and recognition also include:-
- 2006, Stanford University award for contribution to global music.
- 2007 entered Limca Book of Records as “Indian of the Year for Contribution to Popular Music”.
- 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award from Rotary Club of Madras.
- 2010 awarded Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian honour
- 2011 Golden Globe, BAFTA, and two Academy Award nominations (Best Original Music Score and Best Original Song) for ‘127 Hours’
- 2014 October, an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music. He also has honorary doctorates from Middlesex University, Miami University, Ohio, Aligarh Muslim University, and Anna University, Chennai.
- 2015, Cultural Ambassador for Seychelles
- 2018, Brand Ambassador for the state of Sikkim
- 2020 Pride of Indian Music award at the first Zee Cine Awards Tamil
- Six-time National Film Award winner, 6 Tamil Nadu State Film Awards, 15 Filmfare Awards, and 16 Filmfare Awards South.
- A Kalaimamani from the Tamil Nadu, and state awards from MP and UP for excellence in the field of music.
The Family Man
Rahman married Saira Banu in 1995 and they have three children: Khatija (daughter), Rahima (daughter), and Ameen (Son). Like father like son….Ameen has sung “NaNa” from ‘Couples Retreat’, and Khatija has sung “Pudhiya Manidha” from ‘Enthiran’. Born a Hindu as A.S. Dileep Kumar, after his younger sister was seriously ill in 1984, he and his family got converted to Islam in 1989, changing his name to Allahrakka Rahman (A. R. Rahman). His life was molded by his mother who knew what he was destined for. Highly influenced by his mother, during the 81 Acamedy Awards ceremony Rahman paid tribute to her by saying the famous Hindi movie dialogue, ‘mere pass ma hai’, which means ‘even if I have got nothing I have my mother here’.
Today, when Rahman wants to enjoy a moment of solace away from work and limelight he spends time with the family or watching Charlie Chaplin movies!
A.R. Rahman’s Music School
In 2008, A.R. Rahman set up a music college in Chennai, India, called K.M College of Music and Technology. He aims to give every student interested in studying music an opportunity to master it. He not only ushers young talent but also introduces them to the limelight in the world of music. A.R. Rahman, India’s most famous and successful musicians, says, “Music is everything to me. What began as a passion, became a profession and now it has a purpose.”
Rahman has never shied away from holding the hand of his protégés till they find their own spot in the sun. Interestingly when his lead guitarist Sanjeev Thomas released his first solo album, Rahman turned to Twitter to tweet about it. As he posted one of Sanjeev’s songs ‘Chekele’ on his page, the attention Sanjeev got was unbelievable and the song soon became a ‘hit’.
‘Music is the language of the souls and what cannot be put into words can be expressed through music’, says A.R. Rahman.
A.R Rahman the music composer has regaled audiences around the world with hugely diverse soundtracks. We now wait for his next release!