Just a Minute With: A. R. Rahman on "Slumdog Millionaire"

MUMBAI Tue Dec 23, 2008 11:09pm IST

Composer A. R. Rahman seen during a news conference in New Delhi in this March 13, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Tanushree Punwani

Composer A. R. Rahman seen during a news conference in New Delhi in this March 13, 2007 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Tanushree Punwani

MUMBAI (Reuters) - A.R. Rahman, one of India's best known composers, has just won a Golden Globe nomination for his score in “Slumdog Millionaire” -- a first for Indian music.

In an interview to Reuters, the 42-year-old composer talks about what that nomination means to him and also reveals plans to work with Australian pop star Kylie Minogue.

Q: We've heard you are going to be working with Kylie Minogue?

A: “Yeah, for a film called “Blue”. They (the producers) wanted a celebrity. There were three or four choices, but we chose Kylie. There was Beyonce and a couple of other people, but we thought Kylie would be the correct choice.”

“Things should happen in the next couple of months hopefully. I don't know whether I will just be composing, or singing with her as well.”

Q: When you did the score for “Slumdog Millionaire,” did you expect the kind of accolades it’s getting right now?

A: “No, I never had that intention. I just did the score because I liked Danny Boyle and because it's (about) India, so I thought it would be good to be associated. Also, it was good to see that he knew my work and wanted that kind of flavour, so that was very important. He respected my work.”

Q: How did you come onboard for the project?

A: “He (Boyle) was trying to get in touch and I also tried to contact him but I was so busy doing so many things that I could never get in touch. Suddenly one day we met, he gave me a script, which I didn't read unfortunately. Later he gave me a DVD cut, and once I saw it I was moved. I called him and said this is a masterpiece.”

Q: What has been the inspiration for this film?

A: “Well, for this film, working with (Sri Lankan artiste) MIA has also helped a lot. I met her after I was almost 50 per cent done with the film. I already met her before we met for a couple of days at my house in London. Speaking to her, talking to her, kind of opened up inspiration. That's how ‘O Saya’ came about. I worked on the song and sent it to New York and she sent her vocals back.”

Q: What does a Golden Globe nomination mean for you as an Indian artiste and Indian music as a whole?

A: “I think if it's a good film, it's like a beautiful girl, whatever you put on her, it’s just complementary. A good film demands its own score and if you are a musician, your conscience will never allow you to do something mediocre for a good film.”

“In this case, Danny was so friendly… you never get someone who is so simple. In the Western world, most of them are a little uptight, they say… oh you're from there… there is this put on diplomacy, sometimes. But here it was different; it was almost like I was a friend.”

“By that time he was almost in Mumbai, he was like a Bombay person. Within a year he started loving almost every place there, the people, this music, and that restaurant, while respecting everything there. He even sent the two kids who acted in his film to school; he was educating them, which was so great.”

Q: What’s the difference between working for an Indian filmmaker as compared to a Western one and how did you synergise your Indian sensibilities in what is essentially a Western film?

A: “When I started working on this film, I told Danny I want to do the whole soundtrack. That surprised him, because he asked me, ‘will you have the time to do that?’ and I told him, ‘I'll leave films for you’.”

“Certain times you feel that a project is right to put in that amount of work. I had to leave a couple of films for that which is kind of risky. One of which was my close friend, Ashutosh's (Gowariker) film, which he wanted to start immediately but I couldn't do it. So there were sacrifices, a lot of sacrifices made.”

Q: Do you ever imagine what it would be like to hold an Oscar or a Golden Globe in your hand?

A: “I don't think about that, the more expectations I have, the more frustration comes. It'll be a surprise if it comes, but so far so good, I am grateful to God for that.”

Q: Any plans to go Western now, work for Hollywood maybe?

A: “It depends, because definitely, both of them are merging. I am doing a film for Disney, called ‘19 steps’, which is a great film, with a Japanese star in it. Then Shekhar (Kapur) is doing ‘Paani’, so it’s happening in its own way. It’s all connected in a way.”

Q: Is Indian music truly going global and do you think that's a good thing?

A: “Everybody needs to express and I think there is a time for every country. First it was Rome and then Britain and then America, so we have a voice, we are 1.4 billion people and if we don't have a say in world culture, then we are either very complacent or sitting back in our shells.”

“There was a time when people here wanted to embrace American culture for everything, and now slowly that's dying. We are trying to see what's good in it, we are adapting some things from other cultures, but not totally, you know.”

“We can't throw away the good things we have, and we have come to realise that - which is great. It's important to show what we have, rather than being apologetic about it, which is happening these days.”

Q: Your song ‘Jai Ho’, which is shot at the climax of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, is shot at the Mumbai railway station, one of the places where terrorists hit on 26/11. Tell us about that song - do you feel like there is another level to it now?

A: “It does, very strangely actually. When that song was made, it didn't fit anywhere, except “Slumdog,” because he (the protagonist) is coming out of so much negativity, and he has won over life.”

“It seemed so apt for the last scene and seems so apt for Mumbai as well now.”

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