‘Notes of A Dream’: A Glimpse of AR Rahman Beyond the Music
Krishna Trilok’s book shows us a Rahman who remains the  humble, devout man you envision him to be, despite the fame
Krishna Trilok’s book shows us a Rahman who remains the humble, devout man you envision him to be, despite the fame(Photo: Erum Gour/The Quint)

‘Notes of A Dream’: A Glimpse of AR Rahman Beyond the Music

“I’m lucky because for me spirituality and music have the same point of origin. Both are the same for me. I’m lucky that one thing is not different from the other.”
AR Rahman describes his music – his soul – to filmmaker Imtiaz Ali, as the two of them drove around the snow-laden roads of Kashmir

An artist whose music emanates from his spirituality and who considers himself as a conduit for music to travel from one realm to another. This is the portrait Krishna Trilok's book - the authorised autobiography of the maestro, aptly titled 'Notes of a Dream’ - paints of the man. The book attempts to peel the layers of the enigma we know as Allahrakha Rahman, or simply AR.

The book begins amidst the sets of a film in Mumbai's upscale Pali Hill, where the reader is introduced to an unassuming Rahman, who literally slinks into the narrative. And mind you, this is the Rahman of 2018 – a man with several accolades to his credit, including the two Oscar statuettes.

So who was Rahman before he boarded the fame train all those years ago?

Chin tucked-in, always looking to make a quiet entrance – that is how the maestro, whose compositions altered the dynamics of the music industry, has always been. But underneath that silent facade is the spirit of a fighter, with a deep-seated hunger. A hunger which has now led the music director to foray into film production, and even direction.

As the narrative progresses, we discover how Rahman’s hunger to be world-renowned is not fuelled by money or fame, but by the simple fact that he wants his music to be heard, for it to travel to the farthest corners.

Conversations that Never Ebb And Only Flow

Trilok, over the course of the book, holds scintillating conversations with several people who have worked with and have known Rahman in close quarters. From those who knew him as a young boy who strung jingles for advertisements, to his first director Mani Ratnam to his latest director Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy, Trilok has struck up a dialogue to understand the many faces of Rahman. In a way, the book is not just Rahman’s life through his own eyes, but also his life through their filters.

Conversations with Rahman’s sisters offer a glimpse into his tight-knit family, his relationship with his mother, and his fears. We discover the bold, but right decisions his mother made for him after his father’s death.

One particular conversation with his second sister Fathima describes how Rahman's world revolves around his mother -- an emotion that is very clear in the song 'Maa Tujhe Salaam’. The anthem is as much an ode to his mother Kareema Begum, as it is to his nation. The same can be said for the song 'Luka Chuppi’ from Rang de Basanti, another song on the mother-son dyad.

Admaker Rajiv Menon and his contemporaries unearth an extremely vulnerable portrait of the young Rahman, vehemently reluctant about getting into scoring for films. (Yes, you read that right. Rahman was never inclined towards the film industry.)

These conversations also shed light on Rahman's playfulness, his funny side. For instance, Rockstar director Imtiaz Ali recounts how during the shoot of a particularly tough song, Rahman refused to get singer Mohit Chauhan any coffee.

‘Once, as I was going to get coffee I asked Rahman sir if he wanted a cup,’ recounts Imtiaz. ‘And he said yes. Then I asked if I could get Mohit some coffee too.’ AR, according to Imtiaz Ali, spun around from his console and said with a mischievous grin, ‘No, let him suffer. Pain will make him a better musician.’ ‘I just couldn’t stop laughing when he said that,’ chuckles Imtiaz Ali. ‘It was the story of the film also—pain making a musician better! So Mohit just went on singing. Rahman didn’t let him have coffee for another half an hour.’

Gaining access to these people might not have been all that difficult for the 24-year-old author whose parents Sharada Trilok and Trilok Nair are well-known admakers in Chennai, and among Rahman's closest friends. In fact, Sharada is the executive producer on Rahman's ambitious production venture - 99 Songs.

Beyond A Mere ‘Album Review’

Any piece on Rahman is incomplete without his music. Trilok's book, however, does not just pour over the music he composed, but also the process behind it – right from the spat between K Balachander and Illayaraja which secured a young Rahman the chance to score his first film - Mani Ratnam's Roja. And there's been no stopping the man since.

The manner in which Trilok delves into the finer nuances of the songs, the settings of the scores, one cannot but unconsciously croon the songs as one reads on.

The book also brings out some of Rahman's classics from the 1990s, now buried under the trove of his work, such as 'Telephone Manipol’ from Indian and 'Kannodu Kanbathellam’ from Jeans among many others.

As the book journeys through Rahman's works over the years, one cannot help but notice how the image of Rahman evolves, from a pint-sized 13-year-old chap to a behemoth composer, with two Oscars and Grammys to his credit, rubbing shoulders with who's who of the industry, and otherwise.

But at his core, he remains the shy, amused, soft-spoken man you envision him to be – albeit a more self-confident showman than before.

A Defensive Fan At Work

While Trilok is careful to mention some of Rahman's film albums in the mid-2000s that did not do as well as expected, such as Azhagiya Tamizh Magan and Sillunu Oru Kaadhal, barring a few songs, he is quick to come to his idol's defense.

Trilok says the perceived stagnation in Rahman's music up to the 2008 Oscar triumph, was because he was breaking ground on international terrain, with work on a West End production - Bombay Dreams and also the Lord of the Rings stage adaptation. Apart from this, Rahman also scored music for some Chinese films, he writes.

This puts Trilok’s book at the risk of coming across as a two-dimensional ode to his idol– one that hardly focuses on the man’s weaknesses, if any.

But this ,too, is understandable as that is just who his subject is. It is almost impossible to find fault in the man that Rahman is – a fiercely devout individual, committed to his purpose. He is perhaps too exacting with his vision – a trait that his film crew often have a tough time navigating through – but what is one to expect of a man of such genius?

At one point in the narrative, Trilok notes how Rahman is not one to wait around for somebody else to come and take his place. Instead, he wants to create such a behemoth identity that it's going to be simply impossible to replace him.

And till such time, we might as well enjoy all that he's done

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