Monday, January 19, 2009

The Newbie's Guide to... A.R. Rahman

Yep, it's time for another Newbie's Guide post, and who better than the Man of the Moment: A.R. Rahman!

A.R. Rahman has an interesting religious background in addition to his professional achievements: he was born into a Hindu family and named A.S. Dileep Kumar. However, his sister fell seriously ill. After his parents visited a Muslim place of worship, she was cured, and the entire family converted to Islam. Afterwards, he changed his name to A.R. Rahman. However, his musical history is just as interesting as that little tidbit!

A.R. Rahman was born in Tamil Nadu, India in 1966. He comes by his composer tendencies naturally: his father composed music for Malayalam films. After his father died when Rahman was only nine years old, the family had to start renting out his musical equipment to pay the bills. Just two years after his father's death, the boy joined a musical troupe belonging to a composer named Ilaiyaraaja, as a keyboardist. Later on, he added computer programming to his list of skills.

Rahman won a scholarship to Trinity College of Music, London, and earned a degree in Western classical music. He also completed a few world tours accompanying other artists and played in an orchestra. He garnered recognition as a popular commercial jingle writer, but his talent would afford him much greater opportunities.

In 1991, Rahman founded Panchathan Record Inn, his own recording and mixing studio. That same year, film maker Mani Ratnam asked Rahman to compose for his Tamil movie Roja, which earned Rahman the Indian National Award for Best Music Composer. According to Rahman's official website: "Time magazine rated the soundtrack of ‘Roja’ in their top ten compilations of the all time 100 best movie soundtracks of the world." Rahman followed up his achievements by writing a lot of my very favorite soundtracks, including those for Dil Se, Kandukondain Kandukondain , Jodhaa Akbar, Rangeela, and Taal. Of course, he's written a lot more than those, but they were the ones I actually remembered. Hey, I'm still mostly a newbie myself! (He also did Lagaan, which tends to be the One Bollywood Movie Non-Bolly-Lovers Have Seen.)

In addition to the Indian languages in which he's composed, Rahman's also written music for the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical Bombay Dreams, the Mandarin language Warriors of Heaven and Earth, and co-wrote the score for Elizabeth: The Golden Age. He's released albums of stand-alone music on his own KM Music label (founded in 2006). He also co-wrote the music for The Lord of the Rings theatre version (be still my pounding, geeky heart!).

Rahman is active on several philanthropic fronts, the most recent being the proceeds from his first English-language release, "Pray for Me Brother." All proceeds from the 2007 song go to his own A.R. Rahman foundation, which focuses on eliminating poverty by giving the poor skills to succeed in life.

Rahman's won, oh, a bazillion awards, but the one for which Westerners will most likely recognize him is for his recent Golden Globe win for Slumdog Millionaire as best composer. He's the first Indian national to ever win the award. He certainly isn't one to rest on his laurels, however; he's got nearly a dozen upcoming Indian-language projects lined up for this year and next, and if his past success is any way to judge, he'll undoubtedly garner even more critical and popular acclaim during the coming months and years. In my opinion, he deserves every bit of it!

Side note: there's been a bit of debate over at BollyWHAT's forum about how best to pronounce Rahman's family name, something nobody at the Globes seemed certain about either. In the end, the common consensus seems to be that nobody can be bothered to transliterate it properly, but that it is not pronounced like the Ramen Noodles brand. Thanks for clearing that up, guys.

Sources for this post:
The A.R. Rahman Official Website and the A.R. Rahman Wikipedia entry


  1. Thanks for clarifying that to a very out of the know white girl:)

  2. There are two people who, above and beyond everyone else, make me a fan of Hindi cinema. A. R. Rahman is most certainly one of them. What makes his contributions all the more astounding are his background scores, that add so many intangibles to the narratives. What a talent!

  3. Nice post. Again, i want to thank you for spreading words about India, through its artists.

    Rahman, is simply God of Music.

    There is something wrong with image you have placed. Please correct it.

  4. Awesome post. I'm sure many Westerners have been wondering about him since Slumdog Millionaire has been doing so well and he won the award for the film.

  5. Brilliant! By the way, have you listened to Rahman's Delhi-6 yet?

  6. Yeah, even if a movie sucks, this man's soundtracks can make them shine like a diamond.

  7. Behind my music learning (yeah, I do learn music), there is the motivation from two people - Sonu Niigaam and A.R. Rahman. These two continue to give us great songs and music. And I love both. Whenever I lose my passion for music, I listen to there songs. And my passion gets renewed!

  8. ('their' should be the right word, sorry)

  9. M'Ellen: you're not the only one; I always learn a lot when I do this sort of post. LOL

    The Bollywood Fan: Hmmm, should I even bother guessing about the second person? ;-) Rahman's seemingly endless creative stream has me absolutely in awe.

    Thanks Ashish! I hope it spreads the word a little.

    Darshit: my pleasure; my pastor would probably like it a lot if I were as effective an evangelizer as I am for Bollywood. LOL I fixed the pic, thanks for pointing it out.

    Nicki: Thanks! I'm sure you're right; his win made me want to do the post just to learn more than his bio blurb on BollyWHAT. :-D

    Bhargav: Thanks! No, I haven't heard the whole thing yet, though I heard bits and pieces on the player on his website. What I heard sounds really good though (no surprise there).

    Nae: When I first started watching Bollywood movies I never would've believed that music could take my opinion of a movie from "suck" to "passable," and if there's one composer who can do it it's Rahman.

    Bollywood Lover: Sonu Nigam is my favorite playback singer--he brings so much passion to his delivery! I can definitely understand why he and Rahman are your go-to artists for inspiration.

  10. Hmmm, should I even bother guessing about the second person? ;-)

    ROTFL, no!!!

  11. Thought you and your readers would enjoy this very telling article:

    On another note, it seems we'll be losing some of Rahman's time to Hollywood :(

  12. Lovely post & a great intro indeed. Allah Rakha Rahman is indeed a visionary and has certainly won over this old school Bollywood fan like few others in the post K.K. (Kishore Kumar) world. I find it interesting that he was born Dileep Kumar and is now known by a Muslim name and that the actor we know as the legendary Dilip Kumar was born as Yusuf Khan. Yes, yes, I know that Rahman converted to Islam and that the other Dilip Kumar just changed his name but it's neat nonetheless.

    I believe alot of Hollywood fans already know of his music as the intro song in 'Inside Man' with Chaiyya Chaiyya from 'Dil Se'. As far as the controversy surrounding his name - well that is the beauty of our Indian languages. With the alphabet being phonetic, it's virtually impossible to mispronounce any names. To put it another way, the way you write a name specifically instructs you how to pronounce as well. I cannot tell you the countless relatives of mine that were huge fans of Seen Connery (who remains the best 007 this movie fan has ever seen:)

  13. The Bollywood Fan: Haha, didn't think so! :-) I'll visit that article after this, thanks for the link.

    Sanket: It is neat; I had no idea of the significance of names in India until I started watching Hindi films so I'm always fascinated with the meanings of name changes. :-) I did indeed hear Chaiyya Chaiyya in Inside Man first but didn't learn he was the composer till over a year later. And tee-hee about Seen Connery--I need to learn Devanagari. (And I will be very heretical and state here where it's least likely to be seen that I prefer Daniel Craig to Sean Connery--the first 007 ever to take the Scotsman's place.)

  14. I'm from Nepal and like Rahman's music so much. I hope he'll keep on composing more and more music. I love his tracks from Bollywood movies like dil se and rang de basanti the most.

    my website:-

  15. Bino Kary, thanks for visiting and commenting! I'm with you; I hope Rahman doesn't slow down; Dil Se is my favorite too. :-)


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