He belongs to the East as much as he does to the West. Oscar-winner A.R. Rahman on his upcoming Hollywood flick, balancing projects and more

When you see a shot of two kids running into an open field in the Hollywood flick Million Dollar Arm (MDA), which is releasing this Friday in India, check out the music that goes along with it. You’ll hear a Tamil song — yes, you read that right — playing in the background. That number, ‘Thirakkadha kaatu kulle’, sung by Unnikrishnan and Chitra, featured in the 1999 film En Swasa Kaatre, and will be heard again, this time by global audiences.

It’s evident that music composer A.R. Rahman is at work again. So, how did this song fit into a Hollywood flick? “Frankly, I really didn’t know how it landed there,” he laughs, “The makers were researching my Indian music and must’ve stumbled upon this. When I saw the movie, I was like, ‘Wow, where did that come from.’ But it felt so good. I didn’t feel any need to change it.”

Interestingly, the lyric go with the situation in the film. “It’s strange because when they picked up this song, they had no clue what it meant. But the situation was about kids who have achieved something major. And when the lyric – Thirakaadha Kaatukulle Pirakaadha Pillaigalpole — plays along with it, it just sounds so fantastic,” says Rahman.

The pressure to deliver a hit song is much more in India. In Hollywood they tend to concentrate more on the score

Million Dollar Arm came to the Mozart of Madras through Disney and he accepted to do the score due to the subject and his state of mind at that time. “I was in a good mindscape when this project came,” he recalls, “For three years, I was avoiding Indian-based subjects in Hollywood as I was anyway doing them in Hindi. The last thing I wanted was to be typecast as a composer who’d only work on English films with an Indian setting. But when this script came along, I thought it was a good time to start again. It helped that the story was also hybrid in nature.”

The themes of both Slumdog Millionaire and Million Dollar Arm have similarities, for they focus on the underdog. Does he consciously pick such subjects? “Oh no, not at all,” he quickly clarifies, “It’s just a coincidence, that’s all.” His Hollywood film is slated for an Indian release this Friday, at a time when fans across the world will be celebrating Superstar Rajinikanth’s Kochadaiiyaan, which has music by Rahman too. How different was it working on these two films? “MDA is more contemporary. In terms of music, it is more orchestral. Rajini’s film, on the other hand, is a period film and working on that was very different. Both the movies, of course, have got their own set of audiences.”

Rahman also seems to have taken his role as a singer very seriously, having crooned in most of his recent albums. Ask him if he’s becoming choosy these days as a singer, “Not at all…it’s just that I want to spend a lot of time with the song before I can deliver it. I need to do riyaz regularly in order to sing well. I need at least three hours a day for that but I’m not able to get that kind of time now, with all the travelling and composing assignments and as the head of my music school. That’s why even when other composers call me for singing; I don’t usually take it up. To sing the way I want to, I need to work hard and practise. I feel that my voice is God’s gift and a lot of people seem to like it. Actually even I like it,” he chuckles.

With a host of projects, both nationally and internationally, he’s a busy man. Is time-management a big issue? “Well, travelling does take a toll on my health. I think I have to reduce the number of films I commit to — I might be doing too much now.”

After delivering a global hit song like ‘Jai Ho’, do Hollywood composers come up to him with requests for another ‘viral hit’? “Actually, the pressure to deliver a hit song is much more in India,” he says, “In Hollywood they tend to concentrate more on the score. If they want a hit song, they’ll somehow manage to get it from you.”

Back in Tamil, Rahman has Shankar’s Ai and Vasanthabalan’s Kaaviyathalaivan. KaavithalaivanI completed the last song of Kaaviyathalaivan just a few days back,” he reveals, “I thoroughly enjoyed working on it as it has elements of classical and folk music.”

And there’s more good news for fans of the Rahman-Rajini combination, for they’re coming back again for the Superstar’s next film, titled Lingaa. “It’s too early to talk about it,” he smiles, “But yes, a Rajini film is always special.”