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Lord of the Rings Musical: Composer A R Rahman

November 2, 2003 at 1:13 am by Tehanu  - 

Curious about the music for the LOTR musical that is being planned for London’s West End? Ringer spy Kalki was kind enough to send us not just this link to composer A R Rahman’s website, which includes a biography, [More] but he has also written a knowledgeable and very interesting summary of who A R Rahman is and how his work is admired by those who know it, and why we should be excited about his involvement in the LOTR Musical. Kalki writes:

Who is A.R. Rahman? Too put it in a few words, he is probably the biggest thing that has happened this generation, in the Indian world of music. The Indian music scene is almost entirely dominated by film music. Just about every commercial film made is a musical, with characters breaking into syrupy songs and gaudy dances every few minutes. Just for your information, the songs are actually sung by play-back singers‚ in studios and are dubbed into the film with lip sync!!! The success of films depends largely on the songs, which play a larger role in marketing than anything else. Cheesy, no? But this tried and tested formula has been producing some brilliant music since the 40s, and continues to do so. Each major language has its own film industry and the Tamil film industry is one of India’s most thriving entertainment industries. Not only does it have world class directors and actors, its musical talents are second to none. Sadly, this music rarely left the borders of the Tamil Diaspora, who form a small part of the Indian race. Despite a fine feel for music and lyrics, the Tamil music scene simply lacked sophistication. Especially, in choice of musical instruments. Westernised tunes, especially, sounded extremely lame, when played unimaginatively on electronic keyboards. That was during the pre-Rahman era.

In 1992, a film by legendary director Mani Ratnam was released. It was called “Roja.” Generally speaking, a film by Mani Ratnam, is considered to be a film not to miss. But, despite the expected high quality of the film itself, the biggest news on everyone’s lips was the music. The songs pandered to every taste, ranging from village folk, to stirringly patriotic. Modern, but very cultured. The music director was a simple Tamil Muslim by the name of A.R. Rahman. “Roja” raked in virtually every music award to be won, including the National Award [India‚s most unglamorous but most coveted film award].

From then on, there was no looking back, for Rahman, or for Tamil music. He said that he had received 25,000 Rupees for Roja [that’s US $650, BTW], but you can be rest assured that his asking price shot up pretty soon. Entire films would become mega hits if his name appeared in the credits. Award upon award came to him. The younger generation was entirely at his feet, but that is not to say that he couldn’t bring a tear or two to an old gaffer’s eyes.

Fusing tunes and instruments from different cultures is Rahman’s forte. India being one of the most diverse countries in the world [in every way imaginable], he really should have had an easy time mixing melodies from the hundreds of different languages and lands, not to mention the different religions. He, however, was also adept at bringing in Western music from every genre into his work. Another special touch possessed by Rahman was his ability to bring out the best in the play-back singers. He not only has an uncanny ability to “discover” unknown singers, but also adds new dimensions to the voice of anyone who sings for him.

Quite often, Tamil films get dubbed in different Indian languages, to be released in different states. It was through this method, that Rahman initially achieved national fame. Before long, he was being roped in to do work in Hindi, India’s national language. His first Hindi movie was “Rangeela,” and needless to say, its soundtrack won over all audiences. Within no time, Rahman became a household name throughout India – and any place in the world where Indians lived.

And his rise to international fame? Probably, it started off when he created an album called Vande Mataram, which was a patriotic album to celebrate India’s 50th Independence Day. The album was a great success, but what was equally important was that it was produced by international giants Sony Music. This probably helped accelerate the inevitable.

He sung a bit in Michael Jackson’s Invincible album. Last year, Andrew Lloyd Webber staged a play called “A. R. Rahman’s Bombay Dreams.” As I understand it, the play received luke-warm response. Also, Rahman’s songs were largely recycled [on Webber‚s request] and, in my opinion, came across as rather dilute [for lack of a better word]. Rahman himself seemed a little unhappy with having to adapt his old work with English lyrics. But finally, India’s music whiz kid was firmly on his way to international stardom. Very recently, he got his first break in the international movie scene. Not in the most expected of ways though. It was in the Chinese [!] movie Warriors of Heaven and Earth. Its producers, Sony, figured out that Rahman would be perfect for the job, since the film is about the Silk route‚ which involves China and South Asia [India, Pakistan, etc.].

I shall not risk naming his best efforts in the Tamil film industry, as I cannot speak for the entire Tamil community [BTW, I’m not even Tamil in the first place]. Everyone has their own favourites. My favourite film with Rahman’s music is “Bombay.” Again, it was directed by Mani Ratnam. I’ll not even start about the film, but Rahman’s music – both the background score and the songs – were simply breathtaking. Somehow, it seems that Rahman always saves his most potent magic for Mani Ratnam, and it is a partnership that never fails.

And so what is Rahman, the person, like? I’ve seen a few of his interviews and he appears to be simple and rather reserved. But it is clear, that he is a very spiritual person, a deep believer in Sufi Islam. He is undoubtedly hard working and sincere. And despite his work taking him further and further away from his home, he still stays true to his mother tongue – Tamil, and the Tamil film industry, which made him a star. Even this year’s National Award for Best Music went to Rahman for the Tamil movie Kannathil Muttamithal. And no prizes for guessing who the director is. Yerp, Mani Ratnam.

Some Indians out there might accuse me – and every other 18 year old – of being too fanatical about Rahman, and I know that I might have made it look like he is the only music director in the whole of India. I must say that there are several other Indian musicians who deserve to be called geniuses. But I don’t think that anyone can argue that the consistency, sophistication, and variety of Rahman’s music, began a new era in Indian cinema history. In fact, in Indian music history. So, pardon me if I have described his music as something sacred. And anyway, looking at the way these TORNers write about Tolkien – well, you get the idea :).

And coming to Tolkien, and The Lord Of The Rings. I’ll not waste anyone’s bandwidth by talking about his works. I’ll just say this: he wrote The One Book, the greatest book ever. ‘Nuff said. And as for Peter Jackson’s movies, W-O-W!!! I fall at the feet of the great, hairy man. Now, they‚re trying to make a stage play out of the story. It should be obvious by now how much I love Rahman’s music and Tolkien‚s literature.

So you can imagine what a delightful shock I got, when I read that A. R. Rahman is going to score music for a West End adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings. Now I know what Eomer must have felt, on the Pelennor Fields, when he realised that the ships from the sea carried not new enemies, but heralded the return of the King. The very same astonishment and victorious joy. It was so unexpected to see Rahman‚ and LOTR‚ in the same sentence. Too bad that LOTR is almost unheard of in India, so very few are going to share my euphoria. Anyhoo, fellow Tolkien worshippers know a thing or two about healthy obsessions :), so they’ll probably understand my feelings. On the bright side, Rahman’s fame might expose more Indians to Tolkien. Well, I think I’ve raved enough about Rahman, so joining all of you in anticipation of December 17th, namarie malor.

Regards, Kalki

Posted in Old Special Reports on November 2, 2003 by

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