Rahman’s Terrific Ten

When my editor suggested I write about AR Rahman’s ten best songs, I let out a nervous laugh. As if there were any mediocre songs to pick from! What do you write about the report card of a student who gets straight A’s; how can you pick the best stone out of glittering diamonds: such thoughts raced furiously through my head. My editor tried helping with a ‘make it your personal choice’ reassurance. Once I started the piece, I realized I needed to go back several years to pick my real favourites. It’s been an exhausting and fun-filled journey, and here’s the list. Not all the songs on the list became the chartbusters they should have. But in a way, that makes them even more special.

This album remains my favourite Rahman yet, for it was a formal introduction to his music. As a lover of music, I am indulgent and listen to an album till I wear it out, but even after all these years, I find Rangeela’s music extraordinarily fresh and experimental. This particular song is a sensuous, romantic one set against Indian classical instruments, and Rahman infuses drama in its every pore. You have vocals by noted singers Swarnalata and Hariharan, and their voices contrast beautifully. The lyrics are by Mehboob who has also wrote songs for Bombay and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

No one has touched the experimental tone of this song and this was in 1995! I remember people’s reactions to this song were tad hesitant, as this song (such a mad medley of world music) confuses at first before casting its spell. And the more you hear it, the more you enjoy its complexity. The song was sung by Rahman and Shweta Shetty.

I didn’t like the song as soon as I heard it; though everyone kept raving about it. But it was during a long trip home, after a tired day, when I warmed up to it. Then the film came, and I saw Shah Rukh Khan match the energy of the song, on top of a train that too, and I was mesmerized. It’s never happened before, and I’m sure this is not the correct manner to fall for a song; but I began to appreciate the song’s worth after “seeing” it. Chaiya Chaiya remains very special to me, and always brings back memories of my earlier years, so fraught with idealistic debates in media school.

Lata Mangeshkar and Udit Narayan team up for this lilting bhajan that I was surprised to have fallen for. Not big on bhajans any way, I was mesmerized at being mesmerized by this song. It has that effect that devotional songs across religions seem to have, regardless of whether you are a believer. The music sweeps you to another place altogether; and this enigmatic journey’s yours as long as you choose to hit rewind.

This enigmatic song is my favourite out of favourites. I’ve had long-winded arguments with those who called the song “nice” and “beautiful”, because I thought they weren’t worthy enough adjectives to describe the song. Once the song is on, you feel like the heavens are singing for you; you just cannot remain unaffected. Rendered by Murtuza Khan and Qadir Khan, incidentally it is writer-director of the film M F Hussain himself who penned the lyrics.

Two things bound me to the song: the lyrics that were mischievous and romantic at the same time, and Rahman’s aalap that elevates the song to another level. Classical singer Madhushree’s voice worked perfectly with the tone of the song and she added her own nuances making it that much more special.

Lata Mangeshkar had sung for Rahman before; but this was the first time she was singing with him. The evocative lyrics by Prasoon Joshi are about a mother worrying about her child as evening dawns. The duet between these two legends is so electric and magical, it makes your heart swell with emotion.

The star of the album, according to me. In an interview recently, Aamir Khan said that this song, one of his favourites, was a difficult one but had the potential of becoming a superhit leaving the other songs from Ghajini’s album behind. Bekha has been sung splendidly by Karthik. The music has several hooks and plays around with varied music genres like pop, hip-hop and jazz. Lyrics are wonderful; but it’s not so much the words as how they are rendered that sets the song apart. Bekha reminds one of the songs from Rangeela, especially Kya Kare (what a coincidence for both to be picturised on Aamir Khan).

When I heard it, alone, for the first time, I could swear I felt affected to the soul. The clich├ęd term `soul-stirring’ wore an immediately new meaning for me. Rahman’s voice seemed to call from the heavens, and there was so much integrity in the song, it was disarming. I don’t recollect how many times I rewound the song that particular evening.

The song, like all songs sung by Rahman, convinces you why Rahman is a genius twice over. With singing as soulful as the music, Rehna Tu is a masterpiece. Utterly romantic, the lyrics are beautiful with lines like Tujhe badalna naa chaahoon ratti bhar bhi sanam, Bina sajaawat milaawat naa jyaadaa naa hi kam. The ending is an unexpected music monologue with strings and the flute. In his booklet that comes with the album, lyricist Prasoon Joshi mentions this to be one of his favourites with Rahman.


1 Born January 6, 1967, was named Dilip Kumar

2 Father RK Sekhar was a music director and mother Kasturi (later Kareema Begum), a homemaker. Has three sisters: Kanchana (Raihanah), Balasaraswathy (Fatima) and Rekha (Izrat)

3 As a child, Dilip loved to play chess and carrom

4 Studied at Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan until Std IX, then moved to Madras Christian College. Dropped out of Class XI at MCC to pursue a career in music as the family needed the money

5 Father died when he was nine, and family had to rent Sekhar’s instruments to make ends meet

6 Drawn to music from an early age, could play many instruments, had many gurus. Learnt to play the guitar from Pilot Edwin, piano from Jacob John, Hindustani classical from Krishna Anand (briefly) and film music from Nityanandan

7 Took Trinity College of Music exams in Chennai and the then principal Gavin Anderson described Rahman as “a talent to watch out for”

8 Early in his career, he was associated with many musical troupes, including Ilayaraja’s. He worked for Telugu and Kannada films, assisting Raj-Koti, Vijay Anand and Chakravarti

9 He started composing ad jingles in 1986, the memorable ones being for Titan and Leo Coffee. A tune he composed for a leading telecom company has become the world’s most downloaded piece of music clocking 60 million hits

10 Roja’s release in 1992 made him a star. Mani Ratnam gave him the break, and AR Rahman became famous overnight

11 Although he had converted to Islam much earlier, he officially changed his name to AR Rahman only in 1992

12 With Roja ruling the charts, Time magazine hailed him as the Mozart of Madras: Rahmania had taken country by storm

13 Close on the heels of Roja’s success, USbased Indian producers of a film approached him to score music. He rejected the offer; there was a nude scene in the film and the young bachelor wanted nothing to do with it

14 Rahman bridged the gap between the Tamil and Hindi film industry. Soon enough, the rest of the world took note. Ram Gopal Varma invited him to score for ‘Rangeela’, Subhash Ghai for ‘Taal’, Ashutosh Gowarikar for ‘Lagaan’, Shekhar Kapur (‘Elizabeth II’) and Andrew Lloyd Webber
(‘Bombay Dreams’) Kareema Begum

15 spotted Saira Banu at a dargah, proposals were exchanged and one of Chennai's most eligible bachelors got married in 1995

16 The couple have three children —Khatija, Rahima and Ameen (who shares his birthday with his father). The children lead a life free of celebrity trappings — with school, family and games in the courtyard

17 Rahman’s personal space is his studio, where Carnatic, Hindustani, Arabic, Latino, European folk, Indian folk, hip hop and every other genre of sound finds space. A rural Tamil voice, a Spanish contralto or a typical American mid-West drawl — you can hear all of them here

18 His inner circle comprises his mother, wife and children

19 Professionally, he has a good rapport with everyone in the industry, although Rajiv Menon and Bharat Bala are the people whose judgment he trusts the most.

Forgotten Bollywood Heroes

As India was still celebrating the success of Jai Ho, India’s bonafide contribution to the British production Slumdog Millionaire, two of its key bollywood participants, singer Sukhvinder Singh and lyricist Gulzar, found themselves watching the event unfold on television, miles away from Los Angeles where they were meant to be.

The irony is sharper for Sukhvinder, who was supposed to perform live along with A R Rahman at the 81st Academy Awards ceremony at the Kodak Theatre. The singer and lyricist couldn’t make it to the event as their paperwork was botched. His absence has raised quite a few eyebrows in the music industry.

A source close to the singer said, “Sukhvinder was charged up, and was looking forward to the live performance at the Oscar event. Rahman had worked out an updated version of Jai Ho, and the two were to sing the new version at the event.”

“However, as the date of the event got closer, bollywood singer Sukhvinder was surprised to learn that he’d not received the official work permit letter from the Oscar authorities. A work permit letter is required because Sukhvinder was to perform there. Sukhvinder had even completed the formalities sending across a photocopy of his passport along with the required documents. But somebody goofed up.”

Whether the balls-up came from Rahman’s end or Foxlight Productions is still a mystery. “By the time Sukhvinder realised it, it was too late,” said our source.

Gulzar too failed to receive an official letter from the Oscar committee. “He was looking forward to attending the event, but missed it because no letter came,” the source said.

Sukhvinder was disappointed, but took it in his stride. “Rahman and Sukhvinder are friends. Rahman had even a talk with the singer and said he’d celebrate his victory.”

Sukhvinder, when contacted, confirmed that attending and performing at the Oscar night remained a dream. “Yes, it is true that I did not receive any official intimation from there. Therefore, I could not make it to the event. I don’t know what went wrong? Rahman and I are like brothers, and he is not responsible for this. In fact, he was the one who insisted on my performance at the event.
Somewhere, someone must have goofed up. But I don’t know who is responsible for it.”

Gulzar remained unavailable for comment.

Composed by Rahman and penned by Gulzar, the song Jai Ho won the Oscar in the Best Achievement in Music written for Motion Pictures, Original Score category.

Raja of Roja now rules the O-Zone layer

As A R Rahman tapped his feet to ‘O Sayya’and belted out ‘Jai Ho’for the audience in Hollywood, the transformation was complete.The nervous Dilip Kumar who never spoke, the boy who never looked up, who used to turn out the lights before he sang in front of anyone, had morphed into an international star.

He always knew he wanted to be famous. He dreamt—and told his friends too — that he wanted his music to be played all over the world. But it was a dream that took a long time to realise.

As a boy of 11, Rahman, then known as Dilip Kumar, saw his father R K Sekhar, a music arranger and composer, die of cancer. He didn’t have time to mourn though, he had to pick up from where his father had left off and earn for the family of five. While his three sisters focused on academics, the young Dilip never managed to give books enough time. In the words of his teachers in Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan, the school he went to until the ninth grade, “He managed to scrape through.’’

The young ARR spent all his time after school at the recording studio, playing keyboards for composers (having got the first set of job offers thanks to the goodwill of his father).

There were days when his mother would be seen waiting for him outside school in the morning, uniform and breakfast in hand, according to his teachers. He gave up studies for the keyboard
Chennai:The Oscar honour was a dream come true for A R Rahman,once Dilip Kumar. He used to spend all his time in a recording studio.A studio van would drop off the tired Dilip who would be fed and changed by his mother before being rushed to school. The only reason the school remembers him is that during all the school programmes they needed him to play the keyboard — he was the best in school.

ARR dropped out of Padma Seshadri in the ninth grade, and then out of school altogether, midway through class XI because he could not cope with both studies and work. “When I was a teenager, I was spending most of my time with 50-year-olds and 60-year-olds. They were very sweet people,’’ says Rahman about his early life when he played keyboard for the likes of greats such as Ilayaraja.

“What I learnt from the seniors were values and ethics. And then there were things I learned not to do... I learned not to become complacent.”

A lot has changed in A R Rahman’s life over the years in terms of his personality as well as his music, but the two most important aspects of his life remain constant—God and his mother. He doesn’t just say it every time he is on stage because it seems like the right thing to say. He truly believes that the first is the driving force in his life, the reason he is who he is. The second, quite simply, is the reason he is where he is.

PINKI smiled & slept

You couldn’t fault her on anything. Nine-year-old Pinki, whose fairy-tale makeover from a cleft-lipped waif in hiding won an Oscar for short documentary, carried out her real life role in Hollywood with aplomb. “She faced the cameras boldly, smiled often, even fielded queries from inquisitive goras and walked the red carpet with ladylike dignity,” says a proud Dr Subodh Kumar Singh, her surgeon and mentor. But when the award was finally announced and cameras focused on the cast and crew of Megan Mylan’s 39-minute masterpiece Smile Pinki, the little girl from Rampur Dahaba was fast asleep.

“She was obviously tired and none of us had the heart to wake her up,” says Singh, who accompanied Pinki and her father Rajendra Sonkar, a farmer, to the awards. Singh also doubled up as Dr Higgins to groom Pinki for D-day. “For a girl who had never seen a television screen or an electric bulb, exposure to Los Angeles would have been too much of a shock,” he told from LA over the phone. The week-long training involved introducing the child to basics like how to hold a brush, squeeze out paste from the tube, and even delicate issues like use of Western toilets or the toilet roll.

Then Pinki had to get accustomed to putting on shoes as she was used to loitering around bare-footed in village lanes. Next came table manners. No more dal-bhat scooped out of fingers, she was taught how to handle a knife and a fork. Wardrobe also was a ticklish issue. The girl did not have a single colour-coordinated dress. So the doctor picked up outfits from Delhi including the one Pinki wore at the Oscars. To complete the Cinderella story, Megan’s hair stylist gave her the final impish touch.

“Pinki surprisingly was already muchtalked about here when we arrived,” says Singh, adding “She was followed by the ABC and CBC crew as soon as she arrived in New York. And ‘thank yous’ and ‘hellos’ she learned back home, came quite handy here.”

Sound statuette signals shift

“Not even in my wildest dreams did I think I’d win an Oscar nomination,” said Resul Pookutty, hours before he flew out of the country to the 81st Academy Awards. When he finally held aloft the prized gold statuette, it was the grand climax to a career that began in a Kerala village.

The youngest of PT Pookutty and Nabeeza Beevi’s eight children, Resul attended a government school in Vilakkupara in Kollam district.He was fascinated by films but never thought he would work with some of the biggest names in world cinema.“Nobody in my family has any connection to the world of entertainment or films,” he said. The physics graduate’s entry into films was pure chance. “When I applied to Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, I thought it would be a natural progression of physics,”says Pookutty, who went to MSM College, Kayamkulam. It was only after the week-long orientation course at FTII, which all candidates are given on cinema and filmmaking, that he realised what the course was about. “That’s when I understood the role sound plays in film.”

He didn’t get through the first year, so he returned to Thiruvananthapuram and spent the next year preparing to take the entrance exam again, while also studying law. Joining FTII in 1991 was a major turning point. “It is not a technical institute but an art school with a major focus on film and allied arts,” he said.

His desire to do live sound took him to Mumbai. “I always wondered why our films sounded so bad while Western films sounded so natural. I realised that our films do not give that experience because of the way sound is done,” said Resul.

He got his first break on Rajat Kapoor’s Private Detective. “He insists on absolute silence on the sets,” said cinematographer Ravi K Chandran, who worked with Resul on
Black, Saawariya and Ghajini.

While Resul was working on Saawariya he got a call from the Indian producers of Slumdog
Millionaire. “As a student in FTII, I had a picture of the cult film Trainspotting in my room. I couldn’t believe I was going to work with the same Danny Boyle,” Resul said. “When I first met him, he had a list of films I’d worked on and asked me which of them he should watch; I was struck by his humility,” Resul said. . “I told him he could have his pick since a part of me is there in every film.” Doing live sound for Slumdog was no mean feat. “It was shot in a very unconventional way, to capture live sound in the city of Mumbai was very challenging,” he pointed out. Resul did the location sound mixing, giving Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke, who won the Oscar along with him for best sound mixing, all the raw material. “Since post production was done in London, I had no direct interaction with Rahman though we did exchange a lot of material,” he added. Resul, who also won the BAFTA, is the first Indian to win the Cinema Audio Society awards. And he is glad technicians in Indian films are getting the attention they deserve. “Unlike other countries, technicians here are usually looked down upon,” he lamented.


Perched on a swinging chair at a sun micatopped table in his Aram Nagar office at Versova, Anurag Kashyap is beaming. The director of Dev.D is evading a pesky relative from Benares, a person who has chosen to remember the director after what seems like a sizeable hiatus. The phone call ends, Kashyap flashes a wide smile. “You’ve got an hour, then I have the BBC to attend to. Can you believe that? Who would have imagined?” Excerpts from an interview:

• Your take on female sexuality is a quantum leap for Bollywood. You’ve subverted the idea of the Punjabi lassie running in a mustard field, the stock-in-trade of Yashraj Studios from its better days. Here a woman herself is taking a mattress to the field, expecting to make out with a lover she has invited.
I always fell in love with sexually and culturally liberated women. I automatically connected with them. It is my intrinsic proclivity towards what Indians call ‘sluts’. The word ‘slut’ always bothered me. I find the word horrible. In fact, the seeds of the sexual liberalism that you see in Dev.D were sown in an earlier, albeit unrealised, screenplay of mine called The Girl Who’d Sleep with Anyone. That title though is from Haruki Murakami.

• The insecurities of the urban Indian male in the sexual hemisphere are well-documented in your film. Dev literally comes full circle from ditching Paro for perhaps ‘not being a virgin’ to ending up in a deeper, more meaningful equation with a hooker.
Two things worked in this narrative arc: a) I wanted to reveal the tragic consequences of always expecting a ‘virgin’ to be your girl; it remains sadly a very Indian male trait. Indian men like their women to be ‘virgins’. And b) Historically, my heart has always reached out to Chandramukhi, the courtesan prototype in Devdas.

• To reinvent Chandramukhi in the Russian hooker mould gives contemporary Delhi a classic edge, an Indo-Russian dosti of the ilk that Nehru might never have imagined. What sort of research did this require?
Well, the Russian hooker scene is certainly a sign of our times, and one merely needs to read the newspapers to know what’s going on. There was a Regent Hotel scandal in which Russian hookers were caught. That was in Karol Bagh. For the film, I used Paharganj and Dariaganj areas in New Delhi. These areas are so quintessential to the lostin-hell hippie trail that they automatically get a cinematic tinge. There are pimps waiting to find the next junkie, a gori junkie, so that she can be cajoled into the flesh trade. It’s really a very disturbing milieu, but one can’t deny the macabre, brutal fascination that it instigates in a filmmaker. It’s a cultural exchange of the most skewed sort: it’s lost foreigners seeking India, and lost rich Indians seeking white flesh.

• Yes. For instance, Chunni, the local pimp, when finally revealed in his home, has a white wife wearing a sari.
Exactly, it’s like he’s made his peace with the twisted milieu he inhabits, its intricate functionings and its rules. And that does exist all over. I know of a camel rider in Rajasthan who has four white wives, and one of them is from Sweden.

• It was refreshing to see Abhay Deol just being himself and yet being able to seamlessly pull off Dev the character, minus props like a rock band or a waxed chest. How did you cast him?
I’ve known Abhay for the last 12 years. He is genuinely very cool. For instance, this is a big one for him. The film has released, he should be hanging out in Mumbai, basking in the glory. But instead he’s in New York learning wood carving. Earlier he was in Barcelona doing a course in bartending. Abhay’s cut from a different cloth. He has the capacity to be himself, and yet he goes to great lengths to fit into a role. Like he lost 10 kgs for this role. That’s a lot of weight. In fact, the halfeaten burgers and pizzas become a motif for the alcoholic, anorexic nightmare that Dev the character represents.

• And yet the film exhilarates for the risks it takes within the mainstream. Were you not apprehensive about the Censor Board having issues?
No, I make films close to my heart. I make films without fear. With Dev.D, since it was diving into the terrain of a liberated female sexuality, I made one small request to the Censor Board. I requested that more women be on the panel than men. When a man is there, he ends up thinking for the woman, which is where the trouble begins. With women watching themselves in newer avatars, issues of representation become less problematic.

• It’s been a long journey coming into your own, becoming Anurag Kashyap, if that’s a phrase. You started out illustriously with Satya, but your directorial trajectory has been a checkered, jinxed one. There is almost a collective sense of relief among many at the success of Dev.D. How did you cope with the long, gloomy innings before the tunnel gave way to light?
I lost a lot of friends. I lost my family. It was a nightmarish cocktail of booze, drug abuse, failed relationships, and being broke all the time. It altered me irreparably. That said, there were always some folks from the industry who have always been there for me. I will remember them. And then it always helps to have successful friends. I borrowed copiously from John Abraham, all my rich buddies! And now that I am successful, I am also noticing that suddenly everyone outside this hemisphere is also my friend. And relatives are choosing to call me and play the ‘don’t you recognise my voice’ number. I hate that shit. Some things never change.

Adnan Sami’s wife to file for divorce... again!

The ongoing saga of musician Adnan Sami’s domestic crisis has reached a flashpoint. On Monday morning, Adnan’s estranged (though living in the same house) wife Sabah was set to approach the high court to file for divorce. The couple had remarried only last year.
Confirming this dramatic development in his personal life, Adnan said on Sunday night, “Sabah’s lawyers sent me the papers very late on Saturday night. Since then I’ve been consulting with my lawyers. Yes, she has asked for a divorce and also the house which we now share in separate wings.
“She has accused me in her divorce papers, among other things, of playing my music too loud.
“Quite frankly, I can only say, all the best to Sabah. No matter what happens I will always wish her the best in life.”
What Adnan resents is the time his wife chose to bring out all her grievances against him. “Her timing sucks. My father is seriously ill.
“In fact, last night he slipped and fell in the bathroom. Nice timing, no? Just when my life and marriage have also slipped out of my hands.”
Adnan claims his wife has asked for his parents to be evicted from the disputed house.
But Adnan is determined to fight it out to his last breath. “This house belongs to me, my parents and my son. I’m willing to give up the marriage. But I’ll be damned if I give up our home.
“I’m a lawyer and I’ve hired the best available legal talent to fight my case. Fortunately this country has the best legal minds in the world. And I’ve full faith in the Indian judicial system.”

French men go GAGA over Bips

Traveling the world is a perk that comes with the job of acting. And Bipasha Basu is most thankful for that. Of all the cities visited, Bipasha is madly in love with the City of Love, Paris! “I have visited Paris only once, and please note, I wasn’t romantically attached at the time. But the love I received in Paris is something I will never forget. It’s a place every woman should visit, while she’s young,” advises Bipasha. The best thing about the men there is that they aren’t afraid to express their love, she claims. “They flirt shamelessly, but are always gracious and polite. Men sang songs for me, gave me roses, and made me feel beautiful. I love my memories of Paris,” said the dimpled lass. Hope John has got down to practicing some singing and gathering roses already!