I failed to notice AR Rahman in his prime: Kamal Haasan

A.R. Rahman and Kamal Haasan during their live Instagram chat  

Two of the biggest names of Indian cinema — Kamal Haasan and AR Rahman — got together for a virtual interaction, ruminating on life, art and everything in between. The conversation, which was part of the ‘Thalaivan Irukkindran’ series by the entertainment channel Open Pannaa, was moderated by VJ Abishek Raja on Instagram.

Rahman kick started the session by reminiscing about his early days with his composer-father RK Shekhar and how he was just a five-year-old when he stepped into the corridors of AVM Studios, prompting a “you too?” response from Kamal. The Academy Award winner touched upon the cultural significance of Madras in the ‘80s and how the city was “the melting point of South India”, with regard to the functioning of the southern film industry. Kamal chipped in saying that he prefers to call Madras the ‘National Cinema Centre’. “People would say it’s Bombay. But how many Tamil films were shot there? Whereas, in Tamil Nadu, Bengali, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi movies were shot,” he said, “I’ve witnessed Shammi Kapoor shooting here and Mohammad Rafi singing at the very same AVM Studios.”

Having grown up listening to Tamil songs, Rahman said that most of his acquaintances were Malayalis, since his father primarily worked in Malayalam cinema. “I used to crave for Tamil music and badly wanted to work here,” he said. That is how he landed an opportunity to work with the legendary composer Ilaiyaraaja, with whom he worked under for a year and a half.

Breaking barriers

The duo discussed their early entries into the field and the challenges artistes face in articulating their thoughts and converting them into a piece of art. “Lyrics are not just words and have to come with a deep philosophical sense, where the use of two words actually represent the world. I’ve had that in very few songs,” said Rahman. The emotion was concurred by Kamal, who recounted the hardships he faced how he was fortunate to find an audience in Kerala, when Vishnu Vijayam turned out to be a blockbuster. “That’s where I learnt cinema. The other place was K Balachander. I was fortunate to meet people like Bharathiraja and Anathu who were instrumental in shaping my career,” he said.

Often known to think and make movies ‘ahead of time’, Kamal said that he failed to live up to that reputation and discovered Rahman much later, after he was celebrated by everyone. “I was totally blanketed by Raaja,” said Kamal. Rahman had a lighter response with a simple: “I’m very proud of that. In fact, music makes you loyal.”

Asked about the opinion he had of Rahman’s music, Kamal admitted that he failed to take note of him, “It’s an uphill task for a talented person to live in a society that doesn’t even give a kind look. He broke through that glass door and the credit goes to Balachander and Mani Ratnam,” he said.

The actor also added that he was constantly surprised by Rahman when he started “paying attention” and that he reinvented himself and his music at every juncture. “I sensed a pattern when he worked with Mani Ratnam. But he broke that. In fact, I wasn’t impressed by ‘Kappaleri Poyachu’ [Indian] initially and even told Shankar,” said Kamal, adding, “But the finished song wasn’t the same as before.”

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A star is born

In a way, both Kamal and Rahman have a similar career trajectory; they started at a young age and became bonafide stars in their teens. Rahman wondered how he handled the height of stardom when he was relatively young. Kamal, on the other hand, had an interesting story to narrate about a boy (Dhasarathan) who played Pachai in Kalathur Kannamma. The Vishwaroopam star said that he used to admire him and envy his talent. “He was a year or two elder to me and almost had a grasp of everything — from singing to dancing. He even became a director before me. But the only issue was he turned out to be an alcoholic.”

Rahman said that working on Kamal Haasan’s Indian was challenging for him as a composer. “It was right after Muthu that we started Indian, which was another biggie. Being a fan of Kamal sir, I was excited to work with him. At that point, it felt like everything was coming in place,” said the composer.

The common subject between the duo, apart from K Balachander, Soori and lyricists Vaali and Kannadasan, is K Viswanath. “He is the director whom I missed working in his prime,” said Rahman, adding, “He was the one who kindled my interest in Carnatic music. His movies with Kamal sir were milestones.”

When asked to comment on the soon-to-be released movie that marks the writing debut of Rahman, Kamal said that an artiste should have “several dimensions” to him/her. “There’s something calm about Rahman, which I really like. He must have been a cool, quiet kid in school. He is harmonised on the inside, so I won’t be surprised if he writes or directs.”

They’re back

Kamal Haasan and AR Rahman have worked together in two movies, Indian and Thenali. They are joining hands after nearly two decades in Thalaivan Irukkindran, which will see Kamal donning the director’s hat yet again. The actor said that it was an enjoyable experience working with Rahman thanks to the “cool atmosphere without any external forces or politics”. “You don’t have to prepare much and I remember the way we brainstormed on a song. After all these years, it still was a magic for me,” he said.

The song that Kamal was referring to is reportedly part of Thalaivan Irukkindran. Without revealing much about the song, he added that it is one of Rahman’s best. “I have never had a song like that before. We were so excited creating this that I left his recording hall at We got the first work for the composition and he [Rahman] asked whether I could write. I finished writing it by 8.30 and the song was recorded wrapped that evening.”

As artistes, Rahman wondered how sometimes they do not bear fruits for their labour. He quoted the example of Dil Se and the lukewarm reception it got in the Northern belt. “I was shuttling between studios in the US and I met a white lady who came running to me and said, ‘Please tell Mani Ratnam that I’ve seen Dil Se 40 times’.” Kamal intervened at this point to say that the song they had created has a “trippy” nature to it, just like Dil Se’s album.

With inputs from Srivatsan S

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2020 4:16:04 PM |

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