January 6 marks the birthday of one of India’s biggest gift to the music lovers around the country and the world at large. Allah Rakha Rahman who was born as A S Dileep Kumar in Chennai in 1996 to a musically affluent family, is now more known to the world simply as A R Rahman. A musical genius, Rahman has revolutionized Indian film music since his first film Roja, a Tamil language film way back in 1992.
As a youngster, Rahman was musically inclined and a good keyboard player. At a tender age of 11, he joined the famed music master Ilaiyaraaja as a keyboardist. Soon thereafter he started accompanying orchestras for their shows. Later, he won a scholarship to the Trinity College of Music in London and passed out with a degree in western classical music.
Back in India, he set up an ultra modern music recording studio; one of it’s kind in India. It was in 1992 that a chance meeting with Mani Ratnam saw him being introduced to the world of film music and he ended up composing music for his maiden Tamil language film Roja. From jingles to films, it was a giant leap for this down-to-earth man who over the years despite the steep rise up the ladder of success still stuck to his gentle ways.
Roja was an instant hit in both the Tamil version as well as the other dubbed versions and its music was hailed as the generation next music that appealed largely to the young generation. More films followed that established Rahman as a modern day musician who knew what the generation next preferred. It was Ram Gopal Varma’s Rangeela that marked Rahman’s entry in the Hindi language films. Rangeela too proved to be a massive hit. Rahman went on to score the music for Mani Ratnam’s debut Hindi film as well. This was Dil Se… way back in 1998. Though the film bombed at the box office, its music became a rage breaking various records on the way in spite of there being stiff competition that very year.
Over the years, Rahman continued to cater to both, the South film industry as well as the Hindi film industry and produced exceptional work of arts that had his trademark blend of fusion music. He has also been instrumental in working with new singers as well as established singers such as Lata Mangeshkar as well as compose music for lyrics written by great masters such as Javed Akhtar and Gulzar from Hindi film industry as well as other greats from the South film industry. It was in 2003 that Rahman ventured overseas and scored music for the Mandarin language film Warriors of Heaven and Earth. Four years later, he went on to co-score music for the Shekhar Kapur directed English film Elizabeth: The Golden Age in 2007. But it was Slumdog Millionaire in 2008 which gave him instant recognition in the western world. His composition ‘Jai Ho’ for Slumdog Millionaire became a national anthem the world over and he went on to win a Golden Globe and two Academy Awards for it making it a first for an Indian composer.
As a composer, Rahman constantly reinvented himself and way back in 1997, on India’s 50th anniversary of independence, he produced an album Vande Mataram that showcased the patriotic song in a different flavor. The album was an instant hit. Couple of years later, he along with some other performing artists performed with Michael Jackson in Munich for Michael’s concert, ‘Michael and Friends’. Over the years, Rahman has ventured from composing and singing for jingles to films, to composing for international stage productions to international films including collaborating with international music artists like Vanessa Mae among others.
Rahman even conducted worldwide sellout concerts around the world which has been stupendous success. In 2009, during the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office visit to the U.S., Rahman performed at the state dinner the U.S. President Barack Obama hosted for the Indian Prime Minister. Earlier last year in 2010, he was one of the 70 artists who performed at the ‘We Are The Word’ concert to raise funds to help the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Later last year, Rahman was honored to be assigned the task of composing the theme song for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi which was again a big success.
One thing that stands out with his musical compositions is his experiments with both traditional and contemporary musical instruments as well as digital electronic sounds. His love for fusion music is evident with the kind of works that he’s done over the years. The critics have described him as a man with a Midas touch, an innovative composer who’s completely changed the way contemporary music should be. His musical compositions over the years have given him countless film awards both at the national level as well as the international level including two Grammies for best compilation soundtrack album as well as best song for Slumdog Millionaire. The Indian government has rightly bestowed upon him two of the highest civilian awards – the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan. 2011 sees him nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score for the English feature 127 Hours.
Rahman is not just a music composer, arranger, singer or a song writer. As a human being, he is also involved in various social causes over the years. In 2004, he took over as Global Ambassador to fight TB, a project initiated by WHO. He is actively involved with the ‘Save The Children’ foundation along with some other charitable trusts. His own A R Rahman Foundation was set up to eradicate poverty and helps the poor and underprivileged children get a firm footing in life. With his KK Music Conservatory in Chennai, he aims to establish a tradition in western classical music.
Time magazine has been right in summing up the man as the Mozart of Madras and that the music of Roja is rated among the top 10 movie soundtracks of all times, just signifies the greatness of the man. If this wasn’t enough, Rahman was also rated as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2009 by Time magazine. With about 25 Filmfare Awards and 4 National Awards to his credit along with hosts of other national and international awards including being conferred the honorary doctorate by Trinity College of Music, London, Aligarh Muslim University, Anna University and the Middlesex University, his achievements and greatness definitely stands out. We for now wish that the musical genius continues to shower upon us his music compositions that shape our minds and souls for many more years to come.