A.R. Rahman: Our dream is to create an arts centre for Chennai

I want to make films on musicians that are liberating, says A. R. Rahman. -- File photo: V. Ganesan   | Photo Credit: V_Ganesan

The passionate Chennaite in A.R. Rahman is coming together with the passion he’s more known for — his music — to revive Tamil Nadu just recovering from the absolute devastation caused by the floods earlier this month.

In a freewheeling chat, at a rare morning interview, Rahman tells Ramya Kannan and Udhav Naig about this project, Nenje Ezhu, the new ones he is looking forward to, his Ar-Rahman Foundation, even touching on, with charming frankness, the turbulence that he had to endure in 2015.

Nenje Ezhu is an effort that revolves around the Chennai floods. Were you affected by the floods?

The water started seeping into the studio. I was not here as I was doing concerts in Delhi, Bengaluru and Pune, but my family was here. We wanted to do a concert in Chennai, but after the floods, we extended it to three cities, so we can give part of the proceeds to flood relief. From the Ar-Rahman Foundation, we gave money to the government and also privately provided a lot of food, blankets and whatever we could do…But still not as good as what other people there are doing amazingly well.

I was stuck outside, since my flight got cancelled and I couldn’t take off until six days later nearly. I was on Skype, and there was some connectivity here, so we were in touch.

Why is the concert named Nenje Ezhu?

Nenje Ezhu is a slogan to cheer people up, give hope and raise the morale of the people. It is from the movie Maryan [starring Dhanush]. We have tweaked the lyrics a bit to suit this one and we are releasing the promo on Saturday. We are doing three concerts, one each in Chennai, Coimbatore, and Madurai.

It is a part-fund raiser. Also, I have not performed in Chennai or Tamil Nadu much — I have probably done two or three concerts. I have performed in the U.S. more than here! It's a pure Tamil concert, no Hindi songs. We have been rehearsing for the Tamil show over the last two-three weeks. There is the whole line up of artists including SPB, Hariharan, Haricharan, Karthik, Benny Dayal, Swetha Mohan, Sasha Juanita, Blaaze and many others. We are also trying to make it slightly different from the last two concerts.

What can one expect from the concert?

It features songs from my repertoire. We want to give it to the younger generation. The concert will present my music to people who have been following me from 90's, 2000s and this decade, in style.

How is the Ar-Rahman Foundation involved in the concert?

The part of the proceeds will go to various NGOs, discounting the costs. The Foundation’s idea, which was started over 10 years ago, is to eradicate poverty, by creating leaders — teaching them skills. It was more wide, but we then limited it to teaching them music. There are 70-80 children studying free — full time — studying strings and composing. Now, 10-12 of them play in my orchestra, it’s called the Sunshine orchestra.

Our dream is to create an art centre for Chennai, which will create lots of jobs and promote tourism. Just as the Chennai girls and guys pitched in to help the community after the floods, I think the artists have to come together to create such a space. I want to do this in the next 5-6 years through the Foundation, and donors.

Right now, everyone comes to Bangalore and goes back and there is nothing here. We have places like school halls for performance. We are creating amazing musicians in our school, they are now performing in the U.S. and England. We have amazing performers but no place to perform. People don't understand that a quality arts centre creates a landmark for the city, it becomes an icon. We see how the Australian Sydney Opera house has become a landmark. It’s what many of us wish for, not only me, but others who were born here, and love Chennai and Tamil Nadu.

What about films? Are you going to be doing a lot of film music this year?

I've been consciously avoiding many movies this year; last year I did just 12 movies. I wanted to spend more time with my kids, my school, my movie-making process. So I'm doing less, spending more time on other things. It’s good. There are many composers, many things happening now, so sometimes it is good to just do other things — all connected to music anyway, but part of a longer process.

(But you sign big movies that require much of your time.)

That’s true. I have signed some big movies such as Enthiran 2.0 and Mohenjodaro. Pele: Birth of a Legend is coming out next year. Plus I have movies coming out in my own production — both in Hindi and Tamil.

What are your plans for your son? Will he be singing in the concert?

Not a bad idea to sing at the concert. He’s in school and he has lots of studies to catch up with. He loves not to go to school. So, if I ask him he is going to sing, he would ask to take a week off! (laughs). Let’s see.

2015 has been quite tumultuous for you…

It’s been a challenging year, but interesting though. The film, Mohammed, released yesterday. It is about going to the essence of the path. It brings the basic foundation of the truth that the Prophet preached. Sometimes, you’ve got to admit, the music expresses things better than words. If you watch the movie, if it ever releases here, you will understand the meaning of the music. Even if you do not watch the film, you will be able to understand the meaning of the film through music.

On the controversy:

They misunderstood the whole thing. I’m only a part of the movie, I just did the music, I did not shoot the images. In my response, I wanted to tell the truth, not to hurt anyone. At that point, truly, I was ready for everything. If you are afraid of everything, you cannot even step out of the house. Well, what happened during the floods? People inside their homes also died. In life you need some courage and of course, good intentions. Nothing will move otherwise. If you take the greater interest of goodness to humanity, then these small things don’t matter.

How important is the Sufi tradition to your music?

Like everybody finds something in life, for me it was the Sufi path. It started opening up something in my consciousness, and I started following it. It keeps me grounded. The whole ideology of the Sufi path is zero ego within. Again there is a duality here: No ego as a person, but not as a creator. As a creative person, you need a lot of ambition that a normal person does not require. You have to bring that pride in to create a composition; you need direction and the drive. You need a creative ego for this. In a way I try to divert my energies to that space.

Do you still think that you need to be associated with a film to get your work across?

I think films are fun. I have nothing against films — they have been the bread and butter for two generations of my family. I respect that art and that’s one of the reasons I do films. I believe in it, I believe that it can evolve into something more beautiful than what it is now. It is easier to do a film than a private album. With the latter, you have to think so much; in a film there is help — a script, a director, lyricist, reaches without going out to promote it. A film promotes everything. You just have to sit back and enjoy it.

You are a big technology buff, what’s your latest toy? Also, how would you answer critics who say young composers use too much technology to make music?

I was on Periscope [an app that allows live video streaming for twitter followers] a couple of days ago. I was able to converse with people from around the world, and there was no censorship! Music now is multi-layered. People love the melody of any composer. There is traditional music and there is also technology. Thing is, there is an audience for both. In those days, there was only one kind of music, now there are many kinds of music that co-exist — that’s what these critics fail to understand. What comes on TV becomes culture, rather than what should come on TV. Beautiful creations are often hidden, they are not promoted.

How important are lyrics to you?

Lyrics are very important to me, but they have to be interesting too. I believe that every word we say has magic, that sound has magic. I don’t like cursing, negative poetry and this I learnt from poets like Vaali. You should not write negative lyrics to attract attention, it affects people.

What do you think helped your success?

I think I was very lucky and blessed. My mother and family protected me from unnecessary things. All the people I have worked with inspired me, especially Mani Ratnam, poet Vairamuthu, all the singers, the people in the North.

What is next level that you want to go to?

Hopefully, movie production where the music will play a more holistic role in the films. I find in every film about music that has been made in the west, the musician is a loser! He takes drugs, he fights poverty, loses his home, his wife runs away, and then he dies (laughs).

I want to make films about musicians that are liberating. Making music is a not a job, it is a passion for many people. And, without vices, it works better. We have lost many musicians to drugs. This is what we are talking about to our students too — creativity does not need intoxicants. The best example is Ilayaraja — he changed all that and I have great respect for him for that.

(The Hindu is the associate sponsor for ‘Nenje Ezhu’, an A.R. Rahman concert to be held in Chennai and Coimbatore on 16th and 23rd of January 2016)

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Printable version | Oct 11, 2021 5:01:23 AM |

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