A.R. Rahman (Allah Rakha Rahman) is an Indian film composer, record producer, musician and singer. He has won thirteen Filmfare Awards, four National Film Awards, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe, two Grammy Awards, and two Academy Awards.
By Gaurav D.
From an 11-year-old boy, who was sought after by Tamil film music directors to play the keyboard, music composer A. R. Rahman has become the most celebrated musician today, winning two Oscars and two Grammys and a recognition for Indian music at the global stage.
He has achieved this at the young age of 44. With millions of fans adoring him as a music genius, his status and the world around him has changed. But he remains untouched by fame, mingling with friends, fans and colleagues with incredible humility. He is friendly, amicable and rarely annoyed by overcrowding fans or the media.
Rahman is deeply attached to his wife and children. His wife, Saira Banu, listens to most of his songs and even has her favorites. Whenever he finds time, he spends it with his family, taking his children on small trips and picnics.
While Rahman encourages his children to do well in music, he is himself encouraged by his mother and sisters. Rahman was doubtful when he was nominated for the Golden Globe award, says his sister, Rehanna. “I told him that he would get it. And he did. Since then, it has been awards and awards all the way,” she adds.
Though the music maestro interacts freely with fans and the media, his mother and sister rarely come to public functions or pose for photographs. All his family members are deeply religious.
Besides his family, what does Rahman mean to his friends and colleagues? The picture emerging out of the answers to this question is that of a humble, affectionate and hard-working man, whose head and heart remain at the right place, despite his scaling great peaks.
His reaction when he won the Oscar was a proof of his humility. He simply said: “My music appealed to the sensibilities of the Hollywood audience, as it was very much new and different from what they were hearing till now. Just as we like a Chinese dish, since it is different from what we are eating regularly, they liked my music”.
Most of his close friends share the singer’s views. They adore his humility and describe him as a deeply religious man, with a philosophical outlook. To know his influences in life and what molded his character, his friends and colleagues cite instances from his early life and take us on a short journey of his life.
Rahman’s friends attribute his admirable qualities to his childhood of struggle and hardship after he lost his father at the tender age of 9.
His father, R.K. Shekhar, passed away immediately after his first film as a music composer was released. After his father’s death, the burden of supporting his family fell on his young shoulders. It was his mother who encouraged Rahman to follow in the footsteps of his father.
He was not able to attend school regularly and finally dropped out. At the age of 11, he joined South Indian music maestro Ilayaraja’s troupe as a keyboard player.
Nothing sweeps him off his feet because he knows the uncertainties of life. As a youth, he was uncertain and apprehensive of the future. He got his first break in advertising when he was asked to compose a jingle to promote Allwyn’s new Trendy range of watches, in 1987. As he received many more offers for jingles, Rahman quit playing in orchestras and moved full time into advertising.
The year 1991 changed his life. At a function where he received the award for Best Jingle Composer for the Leo Coffee ad, he was approached by popular film director Mani Ratnam. Rahman took the offer since Ratnam had the reputation of a director with a good taste for music.
Rahman later said: “I wasn’t sure myself why I accepted Roja. I was offered Rs 25,000 for it, a sum that I could make in three days composing ad jingles. I think it was the prospect of working with Mani that enticed me”. Roja was released on August 15, 1992, and Rahman became a household name in Tamil Nadu overnight. The rest of his journey is known to many.
His deep faith in God is also rooted in a life-altering experience. In 1988, one of his sisters fell seriously ill and numerous attempts to cure her failed. When the family lost all hope, he came to know of a Muslim pir, Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani or Pir Qadri. According to his family friends, the pir performed a miracle and with his prayers and blessings Rahman’s sister made an astonishing recovery. This incident was a turning point in his life as the whole family converted to Islam. Thus, A.S. Dileep Kumar became Allah Rakha Rahman. About his conversion, Rahman says: “Islam has given me peace. As Dileep I had an inferiority complex. As A.R. Rahman I feel like I have been born again”.
One day, the pir came to his house and blessed him, saying that he would attain world fame. The pir passed away the next day. Rahman set up his music studio at the very spot where the seer had blessed him. He named the studio as Panchathan Record Inn and it was attached to his house in Kodambakkam. A framed photograph of the pir is the first thing one notices when one enters this studio, which is covered with Islamic inscriptions everywhere. Rahman later developed this studio into one of India’s most well-equipped and advanced recording studios.
Valuable gold is made after it melts for hours under intense heat in a furnace. The most beautiful lotus has its roots in mud. All this holds true for Rahman. Like the Kashmiri roses in his first film Roja, this music maestro has grown out of a thorny background.