Exclusive: AR Rahman Opens up on Faith, Self-Doubt & Bigotry

On his 51st birthday, the music director looks within. 
Nishtha Gautam
Indian Cinema
Even after enjoying 25 years of unchallenged stardom, AR Rahman still finds himself in the middle of the classic ‘faith and doubt’ debate.
(Photo Courtesy: Saumya Pankaj/The Quint)
Even after enjoying 25 years of unchallenged stardom, AR Rahman still finds himself in the middle of the classic ‘faith and doubt’ debate.

When the stalwarts talk of self-doubt, it almost sounds like Robert Browning’s immortal lines, God's in his heaven — All's right with the world. Yes, when even genius grapples with the issues of faith and doubt, all indeed is well with the world. The certitude of the quacks be damned.

AR Rahman’s humility is nobler than his music. His self-criticism is even more endearing. In this exclusive interview, Rahman, who turns 51 today, speaks about issues he’s rarely touched upon earlier – his wife being one.

“My wife was my first female acquaintance,” shares AR Rahman.

From New Delhi to New York, Bangalore to Boston – everyone dances to Rahman’s tunes. Whose tune does he dance to? “I can’t dance,” comes the repartee. A little later, however, I figure out how Saira Banu, his wife, is the chief conductor of his life.

She’s a bubbly person and loves peppy music. Whenever I drift towards spiritual music she pulls me back saying there’s enough time for that kind of music.  

She’s also one of his ‘collaborations’ where faith has triumphed over doubt.


When Faith Trumped Doubt

Rahman recalls how it was Mani Ratnam’s faith in him that made Roja possible. When he met the director for the first time he told him clearly that he was not ready for that mammoth project. “I had self-doubt but Mani said no no... you’ll be able to do it,” Rahman shares. Something similar happened during his Broadway musical Bombay Dreams.

The Broadway production was again a huge project. I was just a film musician working out of a studio when this project came my way. It was Andrew Lloyd Webber who convinced me that I could do it. Looking back, I feel I should have worked a lot harder! 
AR Rahman

Another moment of doubt crept in when Imtiaz Ali asked him to compose Kun Faya Kun for Rockstar.

Kun Faya Kun is a very powerful phrase in the Holy Text. I was a little hesitant to touch it. But Imtiaz assured that we’d do it with great respect. 
AR Rahman

Faith in a Film

What makes this globally sought-after music director say yes to a film?

It was as if he’d been waiting for this question to be asked. “It’s a great question! And I have a great answer for it. Once I heard an actress answering a similar question. She said that if filmmakers can make a film without her, let them make it. This answer is good for music also. Do you really need AR Rahman?” he loops a question in. With some of the finest film and music collaborations to his credit, Rahman enjoys working with people whose projects really need his music.

The Clashes of Faith

It is easy to ride atop an ego horse when you have possibly the greatest awards and honours to your credit. What does it take to not let ego come in the way of one’s passion?

“When you are passionate, it’s difficult to be humble. You get angry and raise your voice. However, ultimately it’s all about destroying your ego. That’s what sufism has taught me. It’s about going the sufi route,” Rahman says. Incidentally, for the next two years, he’s associated with a sufi project called The Sufi Route – Concerts for Peace. The inaugural concert happened in Delhi at the Qutub Minar complex on 18 Nov. The curators, Friday Filmworks, INvision Entertainment and Invloed Matrix, plan to take The Sufi Route to the iconic Blue Mosque in Turkey next year.

He adds, “As a film musician I’m not supposed to have an opinion. I give what the director asks me to. My job is to make the filmmakers’ job easier and not cause them trouble. Ultimately, the film has to work. It’s a big gamble.”

His response steered the conversation towards films running into trouble due to offended sensibilities, Padmavati being the latest. On growing intolerance, Rahman’s response remains measured and positive. Likening the country to a big family where members fight with each other he says, “It will all settle down. When people have power it easily corrupts them.”

Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar

Video Editor: Mohd Ibrahim

Production Assistant: Sai Sethu

(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 20 November 2017. It is now being republished to mark AR Rahman’s birthday.)

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Published: 18 Nov 2017,05:54 PM IST