In his 24-year-long career, Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman has never shied away from challenging himself. Now, after several years of being one of the country's best-known creative exports to the world, it seems that he is raring to plunge headfirst into completely unknown waters.
In a conversation with HuffPost India at a five-star hotel in suburban Mumbai, Rahman — who scores Indian movies in various languages as well as several international films — spoke about his work on the upcoming American film Pelé: Birth of a Legend (a biographical movie on the life of the Brazillian football star), his debut home production 99 Songs, and why music cannot be his only outlet of creativity:
Tell us about your work on Pelé: Birth of a Legend. What attracted you to this project?
I want to do something that was not easy for me. So, I have done the score and a couple of songs in this movie. It's completely Western; there's no Indian connection... it's not Slumdog Millionaire, not Million Dollar Arm. I've done American films, yes, but nothing related to Brazil. So far I've done Iranian [Muhammad: The Messenger of God (2015)], Chinese [Warriors of Heaven and Earth (2003)], Indian of course. Perhaps I'll do a Russian movie next [laughs].
You're also scoring the Sachin Tendulkar biopic. Is this your way of satisfying your inner sports fan?
[Laughs] I'm only now becoming a football fan. Even with the Sachin movie, I started learning and appreciating more about cricket only after working on it.
We've been hearing about your debut home production, 99 Songs. Could you tell us a little more about it?
The whole idea of me starting production was to break the monotony of having these five songs in every movie. Y'know... one item song, one love song... that sort of thing. It's nice, but every movie can't have the same formula — people deserve more thought than that.
So many South Indian movies — like those directed by K Balachander or K Viswanath — have given us some of the best musical moments. Then I've done Western musicals like Bombay Dreams [in collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber]. so I wanted to bring all these influences under my banner YM Movies. Songs can help the narrative but nowadays what happens is that you're watching a movie and a song comes in, and people say 'Oh God, another song'. So here the idea is to integrate the songs into the movie so well that if you take them out, the movie will fall apart.
You mentioned musicals. With stage productions like Beauty and The Beast being performed with a fully Indian crew now, is that something you'd like to dabble in as well?
Oh yes, absolutely, that's my dream, that we do musicals of that scale, but Indian stories in Indian languages. We have so much talent in this country. The whole world is looking at us now. And yes, we have the biggest film industry and lots of cinema halls, and that's great. But we should also be the largest when it comes to other kinds of music and performance art. For that we need more arts centres, more people to facilitate it.
Would you like to direct them? The stage productions, I mean, and... well... also films.
I would love to make as in produce them, but I don't think I want to direct. Not that it's impossible, but it's exhausting. If I try and do everything, it'll take four years. So if you have people who have common creativity connected together, then you can work faster and make a better product.
Do you see this as a new phase in your career, in which you're graduating from being a music composer to a storyteller?
Well, music is also storytelling. But yes, it's happening and I've always been interested in stories, especially many from Iran or Bengal — films as well as folk-tales. These aren't the mainstream ones that everyone may have heard of... many of them are more about what would God decide about the fate of a person, rather than another person. Not because it's different, but it's natural. You can study all the holy books and you'll see that there's a kind of natural progression in stories. I feel like that that is lost in today's storytelling when people manipulate as scriptwriters. You say 'Oh, I have the power to kill this character, so I will."
How long did it take you to come up with the story for 99 Songs?
[Laughs] Well, this one came to me in two days. But to make it a reality took four years.
Do you have more films in the pipeline?
Well, yes, we have ideas for another 12 movies. Sounds exhausting, right? [Laughs] It's a better outlet of creativity for me, I feel. I don't like whining about limitations. This way, I can push myself to do what I want and if anything goes wrong, I can't blame anyone... it's all on me.
'Pelé: Birth of a Legend' releases in India this Friday
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