Anupama Chopra: Last year you celebrated 25 years of making music for films. Are you very different as a composer from the man who made history with Roja?
AR Rahman: At that time when I was composing, I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing. I was in a very spiritual zone. I was thinking that I was an instrument. I feel like the music was coming from elsewhere. I’m just cleaning up the surface for that to come in inside me. So I don’t take credit for that, I took the money, of course (laughs). So even now I can’t comment or review the work I do. Some of the bad stuff is from me, the good stuff always feels inspired and comes from another place. So if you ask me to compare between that and this, it’s still the old me. I still feel like I’m exploring and am surprised when some beautiful thing comes in.
AC: Do you like listening to your own work? You know some directors or actors say they can’t go back to watch their movies at all.
AR: Well, till it releases, it’s my baby. After that, I don’t want it. People take it, review it, tear it apart, celebrate. Whatever they do, I move on. But when we do shows, we go back to it. And sometimes we interpret it in the same way, sometimes we make it better or worse.
AC: In these 25 years, so much has changed. The viewers have changed, the narrative styles have changed, what viewers respond to has changed. And so many directors now talk about not being comfortable with lip-sync songs. Do you think the function of music in an Indian film has changed?
AR: Yes. In a good and a bad way, I think. There’s a certain beauty which it had, because people believed in it. And when they believe in it, every atom of it was created with love. Now I feel like there’s a certain kind of arrogance which says I can do anything. And I can do a movie without music, I can get five composers or I can borrow, I can remix. The power has actually superseded the art. And you can feel that and people also reject that. It is like a fatherless child or a motherless child. It is orphaned and gets hit all over the place. Because music is not just about art, it is from the soul. It is from another place like cooking, you know you cook with your heart and you’re like oh this is tasty food. And why do we go to that certain place or house, I love that particular dish in this house and I want to go and eat it. So music is like that.
AC: So what do you think of the film music we have today? I’ve heard people say that it’s the worst phase since the 80s. Would you agree with that?
AR: People should first get a credible composer or producer who can bring the best, and then invest in it and trust them, and not go and fiddle with it. And you know I recently read an interview by Sonu Nigam and he kind of has a similar thought. He said to trust the expertise, to trust an artist and leave, and nurture the magic rather than being fiddly with it and telling them what to do. Then you might as well do it. When Spielberg and John Williams work together, you see these videos floating around where Williams just plays the piano and you see the both of them interact very well. I work with Mani Ratnam like that. I think there are certain vibrations which still keep going on and the result is also favorable.
AC: Are there songs that you have loved personally, which didn’t sort of get the traction and then became classics later?
AR: Story of my life! Every day, every movie.
AC: But does it hurt?
AR: It’s fine, because I think I’m very grateful for what I have already. I have no complaints. Just as long as it’s not ignored, I’m fine.
AC: So you can distance yourself enough to take criticism?
AR: Always. I think it’s much easier now because when something comes, you see all these comments come in. There are some beautiful ones, some ugly ones, some with hate, some with love, some with adulation. But you just take what’s right. You say, ‘I should do this’. Sometimes it’s great to pick stuff which is very, very genuine.