The Chosen One Says New Sunday Express

Picture courtesy: sawf.org

THE CHOSEN ONE

It wasn’t mere lip service that AR Rahman was paying to the almighty after winning the Golden Globe. It was a heartfelt acknowledgement of a guiding force that’s shaped his miraculous career.

JAN 18, 2009 - “UNBELIEVABLE,” HE SAID, AFTER HIS NAME WAS ANNOUNCED, after he sprinted onto the stage and fished around in his pocket for the piece of paper containing his acceptance speech. That was the exact word in my mind. Unbelievable! We knew our cinema was going around the globe, but who would have dreamt that one of its shining ambassadors would go to the Golden Globes. AR Rahman’s subsequent words, too, appeared to have been lifted from my head. “I thought I won’t win, so anyways…” he declared, to much laughter from the audience, and I knew what he meant – for even if he deserved to win, would voting vagaries and political considerations take their toll on a relatively unknown musician from a land far, far away from Hollywood?

Thankfully they didn’t – and it was one of those moments we’re going to play in our minds over and over. Thank you Rahman, for winning, for putting a face to the great tradition of Indian film music. Thank you Rahman, for acknowledging, on that resplendent platform in Beverly Hills, all your musicians in Chennai and Mumbai, those nameless faces that untiringly translate the ideas in a composer’s head into concrete musical form. Thank you, Rahman, for that shout out to the billion people from India, for raising a toast to the brown face amidst that sea of white. “Thanks for all your prayers,” he concluded, with characteristic humility, as if it were simply our outpourings of faith that propelled him to his win, and not his dazzling talents.

But the most touching aspect of Rahman’s acceptance speech was surely when he acknowledged, “Thanks to the almighty God for bringing me here.” On one level, this is entirely expected, for Rahman’s faith in the divine is no secret. But even otherwise, this invocation of God (or destiny or providence or fate or however you wish to name the mysterious forces that shape our lives) is entirely appropriate – for Rahman has been fortune’s favoured child in ways that no Indian film music composer before him has been. A look at his miraculous career appears to indicate that it may not be simple coincidence that he has always been guided to the right place, and always at the right time.

When Mani Ratnam, the most visible and influential face of Tamil cinema, was shopping for a new music director, Rahman found himself there. Roja was a spectacular musical success, not only in Tamil but also Hindi. The fresh strains of music that emanated from Rahman were, it seemed, just what a jaded nation wanted – even if it appeared, for a while, that dubbed versions of his Tamil hits were all that would sneak through to the north of the Vindhyas. And then Rahman found himself the chosen one again, when Ram Gopal Varma made Rangeela, and he got himself a smash of a Hindi soundtrack – and beginning then, no composer before Rahman has bridged the tastes and the terrains of the North and the South so spectacularly.

And the reach of Rahman’s sound just kept expanding – first from South to North, and then from India to the world. When Dil Se became the first Indian film to break into the UK Top Ten, at the box office, Rahman found himself, again, at the right place, at the right time. On the strength of Chhaiya chhaiya, Andrew Lloyd Webber beckoned, the London’s West End beckoned. And thus, with his global sound, Rahman became the global face of Indian film music, the way Aishwarya Rai is the global face of Indian cinema – the one name that springs to the lips of people outside the country when they refer to the curiously fascinating world of Bollywood.

But more than anything else, Rahman has been extraordinarily blessed to arrive as a musician at a time the world has shrunk beyond recognition. The great composers before him were, at best, cherished and celebrated within their states or perhaps, if they worked in the Hindi film industry, within the country. But today, thanks to the Internet and a gaggle of news channels traversing the breadth of the nation in search of stories – can you imagine a Tamil masala movie named Sivaji, starring a Tamil hero named Rajinikanth, becoming a nationwide sensation even ten years ago? – the world is clued into what is happening at our doorstep, and when we raised a toast to Rahman, it’s was always only a matter of time before the world did too.

And Rahman continues to be at the right place (Bollywood) at the right time (the present day). He still dignifies the odd project in Tamil or Telugu, but a significant portion of his energies are channelled towards gilding the visions of Bollywood filmmakers who are ambitious, who understand the value Rahman brings to their films, and who do not mind giving him the space and the time and the collaborative creative inputs to bring out the best in him. Where a composer from an earlier era may have burned out because of having to conjure up, for the millionth time, a generic love song or a generic estrangement number, these directors today have kept Rahman’s creative fires burning.

To say that Rahman is extraordinary is to state the obvious, but his circumstances have been almost as extraordinary. The talented composers before him couldn’t have even imagined scaling the heights that he has today, and that’s surely why Rahman chose to thank God at the podium. The fates have shaped the story of AR Rahman into one that rivals the fictional happenings ofSlumdog Millionaire – a young lad is picked out of utter obscurity to become the beacon of inspiration for millions. At the beginning of the film, a title card questions the titular underdog’s unprecedented success: “How did he do it? A) He cheated. B) He’s lucky. C) He’s a genius. D) It is written.” At least in Rahman’s case, the latter appears to be the answer.

Courtesy: New Sunday Express/Desipundit