It was an awards function in Chennai organized by the company and paper I worked for. All the big stars of all the four languages n which films where made in the South were invited and they had all agreed to attend the function. One of my senior colleagues asked me to get him the permission to invite a young composer who he said was sure to make it big “because he was very dedicated and very determined to make it”. It was our first awards function in Chennai and we did not want to make any mistakes. I asked the Chairman of my company if I could invite the young man and he reluctantly agreed.
It was my duty to escort Padmashri Rekha and her pet dog, “Pixie” with Farzana Jaffery, Rekha’s secretary. Our man brought in the music composer and pleaded for two seats for him, one for his mother who he said had always inspired the young composer. The young composer was dressed in casual jeans and a white shirt and sat through the function applauding all the winners and clapped most when Rekha was called on stage to present the Lifetime Achievement Award to her father, the leading actor, Gemini Ganesan who was known as “the Adonis of the South” in his youth. The father and daughter were meeting after several years because he had deserted his wife Pushpavalli who was one of his wives and the mother of Rekha and her two sisters. It was a great moment and even a tense moment for me as it was my idea to get the father and daughter together, a secret I had kept all the way from Rekha in our flight from Mumbai to Chennai. The father and daughter met, she touched his feet and they both cried openly as the audience joined them in their great moment. “I don’t know when or if we will meet again, thank you very much for playing this noble trick with me”, Rekha told me after the function. It was almost like a premonition because her father died exactly a month later and the whole industry was there at his funeral, except Rekha….
The young composer was introduced to me by my colleague. He said something which I could not understand but imagined by the young man’s name. The composer folded his hands and thanked me for inviting him to the first awards function in his life. He said he had the ambition to make it as a music director in Tamil films and was quiet for the rest of the time he was with me. My colleague kept praising his talent but the young man refused to even smile. His face stayed on in my mind.
A few months later my colleague called me and there was excitement in his voice when he said, ‘you remember, I brought that young composer to our awards function, that boy, what’s his name, haan, yes A.R.Rahman, he has been signed by director Mani Ratnam to score the music for his film “Roja’ which is a film based on the trouble in Kashmir”.
Some time passed and we, a team of journalists from Mumbai were in Ooty where we first heard some tunes at a local pub. We were eager to know who the music composer of the tunes was. It was only after a long time that someone told us it was a new music director discovered by Mani Ratnam and the music was from the Tamil film “Roja”.
The music was released and was soon very popular and successful. He was hailed as a music director who had created a sensation and even a new revolution in music in Indian cinema. That young man was now known as A.R.Rahman, the music director who had swayed the entire industry.
Gulzar who had heard the music told me it was something like he had never heard before. He was the first celebrity in Bombay who took note of the new music director’s work and little did he know then that he would be working with him in some very important films in Hindi in a few years. The other music director who ruled Hindi cinema dismissed his music as just “a passing phase” and “music which was suitable for jingles for children”
Mani Ratnam however kept his faith in Rahman. He knew his discovery could work wonders and his faith in him proved right when he made him score the music for the Hindi re-make of “Roja” which was again a major hit and soon every one who knew anything about music talked about this new music director and his new music which was popular with people of all ages. It was soon after “Roja” in Hindi was declared one of the biggest hits that Rahman first came to Bombay and I was lucky to meet him at a hotel in Juhu. I talked to him for a few minutes after congratulating him and asked him what he felt about his success and he looked up and very quietly said, ‘I have only done my job. It is Allah who has done the other entire thing that has really changed my life.” It was a very different kind of reaction from one of the most successful young men of that time.
Soon Rahman who had grown into a house hold name in the South because of his music also became a part of Hindi film music and there were many who tried to imitate his kind of music but not one of them was able to score music like him which even frustrated some who felt threatened and even spent money to hold parties for music critics and even paid them to run down his music. But, all their efforts failed when he hit them where it hurt them most when he came up with his music in “Bombay” and “Dil Se”, both directed by the man he called “Mani Ratnam Sir”, “without whose support I, a no body would have been no where or at best been a musician in some group.”
It took the young man just three more years to be known as ‘the Mozart of Madras” and he was scoring music for some of the best films made in the South and in Hindi and took one big leap when he was selected to score the music for a musical revue on Broadway composed by Sir Andrew Webb Lloyd called “London Dreams”. It was praised by critics from different parts of the world. It was at this time when he was at his very peak that I met him at ‘Boskyaana’, Gulzar’s house and I was surprised when he remembered me and even my name even though we had first met more then fifteen years ago,. I asked him how he felt about his grand success and I was surprised with the young man’s humility when he almost repeated the words he had used to describe his feeling when he was first recognized after the success of “Roja”. He kept giving all the credit to Allah, his mother and men like Mani Ratnam, Sir Andrew, and all the musicians who understood him and played for him even though they were treated like out castes by the other senior music directors who were so petty that they did not offer them work because they worked with a “mad man who had driven music lovers mad with the kind of sounds that were never heard in film music”. They all stood by the “mad man” who went on to become one of the greatest music directors of our time.
I once asked Rahman how he, a drop out from school could know the music of Beethoven, Mozart, Yehudi Menhuin and R.D.Burman and he again said what he always says, “ it is not any one who teaches me anything. I don’t know any thing. Music just comes to me and I play it according to the greatest music director of the world, Allah”.
The only time I have seen Rahman looking totally disappointed and even angry was at another awards function organized by us in Mumbai. He was very busy at that particular time. He was not interested in attending the awards function, but my colleague in Chennai managed to convince him that he was winning the award in the hope of getting a promotion which was promised to him by the management if he got Rahman to the awards function. Rahman flew down to Mumbai and attended the function. He quietly sat in one of the front rows, in a corner. It was time for the award for the best music director to be announced and when the name of the winner was announced it was not his name. He got up from his seat and walked out of the auditorium without any one noticing him. I ran after him and tried stopping him but couldn’t. He just held my hand and said, “I don’t mind loosing the award. I can win other awards and even bigger awards if Allah wants me to, but what I am angry about is my being cheated by a man who I had so much faith and trust in. why did he have to tell me a lie? I would have come if he had told me the truth about his getting a promotion. I will never attend these award functions again”. He took a flight to Chennai the same evening.
For me, my greatest moment with Rahman was when it came to my book, my autobiography, “Life- Bits and Pieces”. It had won a lot of acclaim and was also bought by a filmmaker for which I was paid the kind of money I had never seen. But I rece
ived the greatest feeling of having achieved something when I received a call from Heathrow Airport, London. It was A.R. Rahman and I couldn’t believe it. He said he had found my book at a book stall at the airport and had finished reading it while waiting to change his flight. I still remembered his words when he said, “What have you done man? I have not read anything like this ever since I first learned to read English”. He gave me the feeling I have rarely felt.
The last time I met him was after he had come back with the victory at the Oscars and again his response to his greatest triumph was the same, just Allah, Allah and more of Allah. And I know it will be the same feeling and the same words even now when he is Padmabhushan Allah Raakha Khan and the winner of two Grammys, the first Indian to win such a great honour. Some men are born like that, so very humble in the face of all the greatness that comes their way.
More on Allah Raakha Rahman
- He was born in a Tamilian Hindu family and was known as A.S Dileep Kumar. His father was a musician who played several instruments but the violin was his favorite. He was a violinist in the orchestra of Illayaraja, “who was really the King of film music” and who has entered the Guinness Book of records for scoring music for more then five hundred films and is still active, his last film was producer Abhishek Bachchan’s “Paa”.
- Dilip Kumar’s father died very young and he was the eldest in the family. He had learned how to play the piano when he was
- four and the violin when he was ten. He often accompanied his father to recordings and sometimes stood below the recording room of Illayaraja only to listen to the tunes and the voices of some of the greatest singers
- His family’s plight became worse and one day he took his father’s violin and guitar and some other minor instruments to Illayaraja and asked him to buy them so that he could get some money to keep his family from hunger. Illayaraja knew about the boy’s talent and asked him not to sell his father’s instruments. Instead, he offered him a job in his orchestra where he went on to become the man Illayaraja depended on
- By the time he was sixteen he was capable enough of conducting his own orchestra and even formed his own orchestra in a little place which he called the “Panchthata Music Hut”. It was from year that he started scoring music for jingles. It was for one of his jingles that he won an award which was presented to him by Mani Ratnam who also offered him his first break as a music director. The film was “Roja”
- But before he could take on the challenge of scoring music for “Roja” something very disturbing and even mysterious (till now) happened in his family and his mother decided to embrace Islam and he was named Allah Raakha Rahman
- Rahman is perhaps the only music director who works only in the night. He spends the day praying five times, reading and practicing playing all the instruments of which he is a master. He has got big filmmakers from Mumbai and lyricists like Javed Akhtar and Gulzar into the habit of working through the night because he believes “ the goddess of music is at her blessing best at night”
- Rahman has never worried about competition. He believes every on e gets what God feels he or she deserves. The only Indian music director he “worships” is R.D Burman who he says was the greatest music director he has known and says “there will never be another like him”
- He takes his mother Fatima Bi with him wherever he travels in the world. He has made her receive several of his awards. He loves his mother’s food more than the best food he has tasted in the most luxurious hotels and even in the homes of royalty. Life for him is nothing without Allah, his mother and music.