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Rah-Man of the Moment

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At his first press conference on his return from Los Angeles, the Mozart of Madras A.R.Rahman fielded questions with a new ease and flourish. SUDHISH KAMATH reports

“The first lesson we must learn from Hollywood: They take pictures without fighting among themselves,” joked Rahman, trying to ease the tension on his delayed entry, with a hundred lensmen jostling to get a clear shot of him and his gold-plated britannium babies.

“Ok, I am going to leave then. Save my face and don’t fight here,” he pleaded before giving in and surrendered with a smile on his face, showing off his Oscars as the non-stop clicking bathed him in strobe light.

Rahman fielded questions for an hour at his first press conference on his return from Los Angeles — a trip that fetched him the priceless twins of the most coveted trophy on the planet.

“It costs only $500. I didn’t even have to pay duty at the airport,” he laughed. From the shy composer who used to give single-line and near monosyllabic answers during interviews, A.R.Rahman has come a long way indeed. The new Rahman is confident, articulate and even funny as he demonstrated to the world with his now famous Oscar Speech.

Down-to-earth

But he still remains as down-to-earth as he has always been and cannot conceal his boyish excitement about having made it to the headlines in a newspaper in Bosnia or on being recognised everywhere from Starbucks to airports around the world.

What stops us Indians from winning Oscars, a journalist asked.

“Motivation to do something extra-ordinary and planning systematically. Look at you, if you had planned this photo shoot systematically, you wouldn’t have been fighting among yourselves.”

But then, he also added: “Our films are made for our audience and not for Oscars. Let’s make it for them and then see if we win or not.”

“The whole world’s eyes are on India. A lot of collaborations are possible. The West has started listening to us. A single recorded with Pussy Cat Dolls (a remix of ‘Jai Ho’ called ‘You’re My Destiny’) is out and will be available on Youtube,” he said.

From Spielberg to Hans Zimmer to Michael Jackson, Rahman has made many of the people he once looked up to, look him up. Imagine growing up on Peter Gabriel and then robbing him of an Oscar. “I am a representative of Indian aspirations,” he said.

“My dream is to connect people with music. We live in troubled times. There is a divide between North and South India, East and West, Hindus and Muslims, and then, there’s the caste divide. And in these times, we can only look towards love,” he said, to a question on what prompted his speech.

What almost everybody wanted to know was if he considered “Slumdog Millionaire” to be his best. “I’ve said this before too. If there’s a beautiful ornament and if somebody really beautiful is wearing it, it makes the ornament look even better. I think ‘Slumdog’ matched their sensibilities. According to your sensibility, you might have liked some other songs. There is no language for music. Gulzar’s song has phonetic value apart from its extraordinary lyrical quality and meaning.”

He believes that “Slumdog Millionaire” won because it made a stronger impact than the other nominees as a film. “For them, it was a change of seeing something extra-ordinary.”

He recalled how initially there were no buyers for the film. “There was no budget either. Hardly one-tenth of the money needed. But Danny Boyle is a legendary director. People watch even his bad movies and they say this is his best.”

Though Rahman has received two or three offers from Hollywood, he’s yet to finalise his schedule.

“The expectations have become higher. My priority is good films, the language does not matter.”

But at his studio, it’s business as usual. He had just finished a song and handed it over to Mani Ratnam before he left for LA last week. He has the ‘Thirukkural’ and the ‘Bharatiyar’ projects in the pipeline and his KM Music Conservatory and Foundation to keep him busy.

Looking back at “Slumdog” and the few weeks he spent on it, he says: “At that time, that’s all the time I had and it was enough. I think it’s destiny.”

It was an opportunity he seized. Boyle came to him for two songs; Rahman gave him a full album. In the end, it all paid off.

The OSCAR moment

I was like a zombie. I did my rehearsals for my performance. And slept only for three hours. I woke up and had my Oscar rehearsal again in the morning. I think more than the awards, the performance was historic. Later, when the award was announced, I just said what was in my mind. When I got off stage, I didn’t have time to take in the happiness. I had to perform within minutes. And performing there was a matter of pride. I had only 5 per cent expectations that it would win the second award.

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