Text by Ryan Bradley
On Sunday night, A.R. Rahman became the first Indian ever to win two Academy Awards—one for best original song (“Jai Ho”) and another for best background score—both for the gargantuan-little-engine-from-the-developing-world-that-could, Slumdog Millionaire. It was a good night for Bollywood, a good night for India, and a very good night for Rahman, who further solidified his place in the rarified canon of Indian music maestros. His talents, like his country, are manifold and multilayered. He’s a composer, a singer, and an ace on the keys and the guitar. He toured with some of the greatest stars of classical Hindustani music before he hit puberty, and then went on to receive a degree in Western classical music from Oxford. He really hit is stride, though, when he started scoring for Bollywood films (he is from Tamil Nadu, on the east coast of India, and had already gained a major foothold scoring for Malayalam films). There is no genre he will not touch, it seems, and his music, like the subcontinent, is dazzling in its density and styles. What follows is an overview of a ridiculously impressive, precocious career—the guy is only 44—from the “Mozart of Madras.”
Rahman’s first film score for a major Bollywood production was hailed as “One of the 10 Best Soundtracks of All Time” by Time magazine’s film critic Richard Corliss. Not bad for a first film.
A politically charged film from Tamil Nadu about the events leading up to the Bombay riots, Rahman’s score received awards and accolades and was reused in the Nicolas Cage film “Lord of War”—a thoroughly forgettable appropriation, but important in that it introduced Rahman to the West.
A great film that garnered an academy award nomination, Lagaan revolves around a cricket match between British Officers stationed in the subcontinent during the Raj, and Indian villagers. Rahman blends traditional music with classical film scores. It’s East meets West and pure Rahman.
Rahman spent two months planning the score of this movie, and just two weeks recording it. Here’s a very good Q&A in which he talks about the movie, how he met Danny Boyle (the director) and singer M.I.A. worshipping his work.
Finally, iTunes has wisely compiled a “Best Of” collection, which you can find here.