Monday, March 20, 2006

A R Rahman's Interview: Times of India

Unarguably India's best music composer today, AR Rahman is back in the hot seat with his score in Rang De Basanti. Jitesh Pillaai exchanges notes with the maverick musician TIMES NEWS NETWORK

He's pushing 40, going on 25. His chocolate mousse voice gently glides through the room. A bit like his entire demeanour. "Sorry for the delay, just have a lot of things to catch up on," he apologises as I grab a few minutes with the man who is unarguably India's best music composer today, on what is yet another whirlwind stopover for him. His current topnotcher, Rang De Basanti, has yet again perked up the stagnant genre monopolised by the nasalcrooning variety of musicians.

But that's another story. There's yet another apocryphal tale which bears repetition. At the height of the film industry strike in Chennai about five years ago, his mentor, Mani Ratnam, was waiting for the music wiz to complete the soundtrack of Alay Payuthe. Ratnam is reported to have deadpanned, "I can either handle the strike or Rahman. Not both simultaneously, please."

That then is the magic of Allah Rakha Rahman. Another industry joke that's often pulled is that after God, Rahman is the greatest leveller. Be it Mani Ratnam, Shyam Benegal, Ashutosh Gowariker or Shankar, they all wait for him. Time no bar. Music bar bar. You've heard the story about him playing the piano when he was all of four. Years later, after rigorously dabbling in the world of 30-second jingles and moonlighting as a musician with composer Illayaraja, he was ready to fly solo and test his métier. Came Roja in 1993. Rahman smiles, "The songs were composed in a small room. I kept thinking that people would hate the music. By the grace of God, it was liked so much that I even went on to win my first National Award for the film."

About Ratnam, Rahman says that he just allows him to do whatever he wishes and then chooses the best. Rahman recalls, "Even when we were composing Jiya jale in Dil Se, I felt a lot of Mallu 'Moplah' tunes coming into my head, Mani said, 'no problem, I'll change my character (Preity Zinta) into a Malayalee girl' and it all sort of fell into place."

It all also fell into place with Rang De Basanti circa 2005. When Rakeysh Mehra greenlighted the film about two years ago, Rahman had given him a scratch tune. When Mehra started the film, he was stuck for a background tune in the climax, miraculously, the tune which Rahman had composed earlier became the leitmotif. Just like that. Rahman smiles that gentle smile of his, "Mehra is a lot like Mani. He just lets me do my own thing. When I composed Paathshala with words like 'lose control', I thought he'd change it into Hindi. But Mehra stuck to it, saying that the only time his assistant came into his room was when he played that tune. So obviously he was sticking to the vibe." When Rahman composes, synthesisers meld into guitars, the dholaks blend with the keyboards. Fusing the music of different traditions, Rahman straddles the world of Bach and Carnatic music with easy facility. Among his oeuvre, his personal favourites include Roja, Muthu, Lagaan, Dil Se and Taal. But it was also the musical cadences of Gentleman, Kaadhalan, Rangeela, Thiruda Thiruda, Kandukondain Kandukondain and Alay Payuthe that burned up the barcodes in music stores. Born a Hindu, AS Dilip Kumar converted to Islam and the AR Rahman moniker a decade ago, his music is inspired by Sufi mysticism. It's reported that after all the hard times after his father's death, Rahman and his family found solace in Karimullah Shah Kadiri, a Sufi spiritual healer.

Reportedly, he's sold more than 100 million albums, won scores of Filmfare and National awards. His success prompts him to stay connected to his God. "Your faith keeps you focused. You never grow big by putting other people down," he sallies. Talk again veers to the drubbing of Mangal Pandey,when it was loudly asserted that Rahman had lost his touch. He is unequivocal, "I did my best. Maybe, it was too folksy, too much of in-your-face patriotism…"

But in a capricious industry dictated by the ticket windows, all's well after Rang De Basanti. The self-effacing composer tells me that he's just read a signboard outside a church in Bandra, Mumbai. He says casually, "It says, 'If you start judging people, you won't have time to love'. That's so true, the mind then loses its serenity, its naivete. I think to compose you need to have a purity of being. I also try to find that purity in music. Just before I compose, I'm a total mess, I don't know if I'm coming or going. And then through some divine intervention, it all falls into place. I guess you should just move lightly through life, carry no excess baggage at all."

He should know. Apart from the Padma Shri and collaborations with artistes like the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Peter Gabriel, he still travels light. His music for Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Bombay Dreams and the Chinese film Warriors of Heaven and Earth won him plaudits. He's also wrapped up the stage version of Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings, which opened in London to great reviews. He says, "For Bombay Dreams, they wove the story around my music, but for LOTR, I had to integrate the music with the story. For the Warriors, it was great to work with the live Symphony Orchestra. I didn't mercifully have to rely on my keyboard. Isn't it strange that India, with such diverse cultures, so many states, so many musicians of the highest calibre doesn't have a single national orchestra?"

So what of the charges that he doesn't understand the Hindi idiom too well? "Maybe you should ask the lyricists I've worked with. I love Urdu poetry, I understand Hindi, but I don't speak it too well. I tend to confuse the genders while speaking. That gives me a rawness that some people find appealing. For example, I keep saying Na koi padhnewaala in the Paathshala song. I don't say na koi padhnewaali. No one noticed, fortunately it worked," he smiles.

Of the current songs other than his own, Rahman picks out Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's Jiya dhadak dhadak (Kalyug), Vishal Shekhar's Allah Ke Bande (Waisa Bhi Hota Hai - pt 2), Dus bahane (Dus) and Shankar- Ehsaan-Loy's Har ghadi (Kal Ho Naa Ho).

But for the moment, life as he knows it, is a happy blend of the spiritual and the family man. He loves spending time with his daughters Khatija, 11, and Rafia, 8. Is he a good father? He smiles, "I try to be." Does he take up their homework? He laughs, "No, I don't do that." And is he a good husband to his wife, Saira? "I try to be that too," he dimples.

He gently taps on the mahogany table. The minutes have beguiled into a full blown hour. As he glides out of the room, I can hear the chocolate mousse vocals trail softly. And I can see that there's really no excess baggage.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

South Africa hit world record to beat Australia

South Africa hit a world record 438 for nine in the highest-scoring one-day international in history to beat Australia by one wicket and win the series 3-2 on Sunday.


In the most extraordinary one-dayer ever, the home side's victory was achieved with one ball to spare and sparked wild celebrations on and off the Wanderers pitch.

Before Sunday, no side had scored more than 400 in a one-day international and South Africa's total topped Australia's record 434 for four earlier in the day.

Two players, Australian captain Ricky Ponting (164) and South African Herschelle Gibbs (175), scored over 150 in the fifth one-dayer.

A total of 872 runs were scored. The previous record was 693 when India beat Pakistan by five runs in Karachi in March 2004.

The previous innings record was the 398 for five Sri Lanka scored against Kenya in Kandy in 1995-96.

World champions Australia had been 2-0 down in the series, suffering a record 196-run loss in the second match, before drawing level at 2-2.

After winning the toss and choosing to bat, Ponting reached his century off 73 balls. In all he faced 105 deliveries, hitting 13 fours and nine sixes.

Gibbs then kept the home side up with the required scoring rate by blazing 175, including seven sixes, off 111 balls. Captain Graeme Smith also scored 90, putting on 187 for the second wicket with Gibbs.

Gibbs's was the second highest score by a South African after Gary Kirsten's 188 not out against the United Arab Emirates at the 1996 World Cup.

Ponting is the first Australian to reach 9,000 runs in one-day internationals and his innings was the third highest by an Australian.

The two batsmen were jointly awarded man of the match but Ponting declined it, saying Gibbs deserved the honour alone.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Interview with Ram Gopal Varma

Ram Gopal Varma has rarely worked with the big stars. But now, the director appears to be changing his style, considering his next film will feature Shah Rukh Khan. He tells Subhash K Jha more about that decision. Excerpts:

A film with Shah Rukh?

Yes, finally! We've been discussing projects for years and are doing this in the second half of 2006. But I want to make a film that will project Shah Rukh's potential as a star rather than his capabilities as an actor. I want to tap what Shah Rukh is loved for -- his stardom. And I want to do it my way.

Why have you chosen to stay away from the media lately?

I haven't done so consciously. I have to have something to talk to about. During the last three months, I was completely engrossed in directing Shiva. It wasn't a conscious decision to stay away. I don't want to answer questions about my favourite food or holiday spot.

What is your favourite food and holiday spot?

Next question, please.

Will Shiva be like just another RGV film that comes and goes?

I don't think I make any film that just comes and goes. One reason I've kept silent is I wanted to steer clear of the confusion about whether Shiva was a remake of my first Hindi film Shiva, or James. The whole idea of making James was to make an action film in the style of the 1970s and 80s. It was meant to be a contemporary Shiva. By the time it came out, it was nothing like what it was planned to be. My new Shiva is a remake of my old one, but in a way that James was meant to be.

Shiva, which was out in the 1970s, was about one man's fight against campus violence. To me, that appeared outdated. In this Shiva, Mohit Ahlawat plays a cop just out of the police academy, faced with a harsh reality he isn't prepared for.

Do you have the same cast as James?

Yes, but they aren't playing the same characters. Why would I do something so stupid? I had tremendous faith in the original cast and crew of James. Just because the film didn't work doesn't mean I have to change my convictions and beliefs. I don't judge potential by Fridays. Mohit Ahlawat remains a talented actor, regardless of whether James worked or not.

You decided to do Shiva quite suddenly. Didn't that affect your other plans?

Not really. I only go from film to film. I was supposed to start Sholay, but Mr Bachchan's unexpected illness put a brake on that. In any case, Sholay was not supposed to start before July 2006. So I did have the time to squeeze in a film.

Your experiences with your films, assistants and associates haven't been too rewarding lately…

They aren't to blame. As the decision maker, the final responsibility rests with me. People don't understand the mechanics of making a film. They feel an assistant is responsible for a flop. But, for all practical purposes, I am equally responsible, if not more.

Then there's ingratitude. You had to deal with a lot of that lately.

What do you mean? I don't believe in gratitude. I don't work with anyone out of a sense of charity. I use people as long as they are useful to me.

What about Antara Mali? She said she felt bound by her commitment to your company.

I don't think she said that. She said she decided to move away from the Factory. I don't know what she meant. She was never under any contract to act in or make a number of films. She was free to go anywhere.

You are hiding your disappointment under practical cynicism. I have seen your protégés -- from Manoj Bajpai to Antara Mali -- move away.

That's your reading. And you're wrong. It's a free country. Everyone is entitled to do what they want. It could be that some of these people had unpleasant experiences with me, or they may not have liked my style of functioning. They had every right to move away. No one is bound to stay with the Factory. I will go as far as to say that they were all right. I was wrong.

In what way?

They fulfilled my expectations of them, but I couldn't live up to their expectations. It's not like I played host to them at a dinner. I didn't serve up a meal to satisfy their appetites. I did it for myself. I had a personal agenda. I work with them for my own selfish reasons.

Who but you would have given Antara Mali a chance to direct a film so early in her career?

Why go into specifics? I don't think anyone in my Factory was doing her a favour. Everyone needs a chance to prove him or herself. What about me? What if Nagarjuna hadn't trusted me with directing him in Shiva? It was a super hit. My second film was a disaster. If I knew how to make a hit film, why would I make flops? You have to trust people to deliver. Even if they don't, it doesn't mean you stop trusting people.

You need to keep discovering new talent because the old keeps moving away from you.

I don't think it is to do with the old and new. I give people a break when I see that enthusiasm and passion in someone. I cash in on those qualities. After a while, they don't remain the same. They want to move on, whatever the reason.

Your next production Darna Zaroori Hai is around the corner…

In March. There are seven episodes, each directed by different people. Sajid Khan has directed the prologue -- the beginning title sequences. Then there's Sarkar writer Manish Gupta, me directing Mr Bachchan and Riteish Deshmukh, G G Philips (of My Wife's Murder), Prabal Raman (of Gayab) and a new director called Vivek Shah, followed by Chekrvarthy.

How is it different from Darna Manaa Hai?

I felt the stories were not evenly put together earlier. The genre and concept was new and we couldn't make all the stories engaging. People ask me why I made Darnaa Zaroori Hai when Darna Manaa Hai didn't work. Just because love stories don't work, you don't stop making them. I have kept the old mistakes in mind. I might have made fresh mistakes, but not old ones. I never repeat mistakes.

Except trusting new talent…

There you go again. My intention was never for them to be grateful as I am not a grateful person myself. It's a stupid emotion. Let me tell you, I have too much happening in my life and career to bother about such things. I have quite a few assistants working on projects – 20 films by 20 assistants by the end of the next year. If you decide to make a film, I'll make you the 21st director.

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