I had zero plans to pick up Allah Rakha Rahman’s (AR Rahman) biography. I was browsing through other books, and I just happened to stumble upon this one. I thought to myself, why not? Let’s give Rahman a try. Oh boy, am I glad or what, because reading his biography was one rewarding journey. At 334 pages long, it was actually a quick read (I was able to read it overnight) and what helped me immensely was to play his music alongside.
AR Rahman has always been a mysterious figure for me. Sure, he’s won Oscar awards, Grammy awards, numerous awards in India, and has gone on to create some amazing music, and even worked with bringing shows to London’s West End, but who is A.R Rahman really? What is he like as a person? How does he maintain his humility, given all what he’s achieved?
The biography is spread over three main chapters:
Phase one: Beginnings- detailing Rahman’s initial days as a musician
Phase Two: Metamorphoses- how his life changes when his movies become a phenomenon in India and world over
Phase Three: The World Beckons- Crossing over to Hollywood and the West and gaining worldwide recognition
Phase Four: Believer- how his faith never wavered and the importance of self-belief
There is a cute little foreword by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) who showers word of praise for Rahman, who merely wants us all to know that he “met this gentle, unassuming man- and my life did indeed change.”
The author, Krishna Trilok, wanted to get to know AR Rahman in depth. “We all know this [his music] and his career. What we don’t know is the man himself. What at AR Raman’s thoughts and feeling son things other than music? What is a day in his life like? Who is he when he’s with friends, his family? And what does he enjoy? And, above all, where is he headed?”
AR Rahman started his music career at the age of 13, where he would compose jingles and play the keyboard for some accomplished composers. It was a certain point in his life that made him constantly ask himself: “how can I do things better, do things differently?” He would often be annoyed about why everyone wants to listen to Western music. Instead of merely imitating the West, AR Rahman said: “let’s do something here and make them want to catch up with us.” It just this one thought that drove AR Rahman to push through with his career to achieve global fame.
In the more revealing part of the biography, there is no shortage of struggles for AR Rahman. Losing his father at the age of 9, supporting his family, balancing his music career with commitments at home, it was no easy ride for him in his hometown. But AR Rahman is no stranger to struggles. His father, who I had no idea, had a huge influence on his son as he himself was a musician.
From here on, AR Rahman pushed himself further and would meet up with various composers who helped Rahman get work as they saw commitment and passion in him. Interestingly, AR Rahman would routinely miss school and classes because he would be extremely busy supporting his family.
At one point, the author asks AR Rahman, “How do you juggle it all? Movies, music, albums, dozen of business deals?” AR Rahman merely replies, “Struggle.”
This is the most fun part of the book, as it chronicles his musical journey with Mani Ratnam. This was the period where AR Rahman started to get recognition world over through Ratnam’s movies (Bombay, Roja). The key thing here is that a “lot of people forget that AR Rahman appreciates human contact as much as anyone else.”
The change that AR Rahman goes through, from being a jingle composer to creating music was blockbuster movies, is interesting to read and we as readers go get an insight into the workings of his genius mind. A lot of AR Rahman’s success, I feel, was merely him being at the right place at the right time, in other words, luck.
On a more personal note, there is an entire chapter on how AR Rahman fell in love with his wife Saira and eventually got married. Saira is extremely supportive of her husband and she finally adds “I guess other celebrity wives all have their own stuff to do. My life is just about handling AR’s life. That’s what keeps me going. How he handles it, I don’t know, but I think only he can do it.”
Throughout the entire Phase Two, I would also play AR Rahman’s music as he would talk about it in the book—and rediscovered some gems, such as Bombay Theme, Dil Se, Rangeela, Lagaan and so on. Listening to his music alongside reading this part of the book made it a lot more personal and enjoyable.
We all know the impact AR Rahman has made the world over. Bombay Dreams, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and his glorious Oscar moment. Life for him became a lot busier after his Oscar moment. He had to balance his work in India and in the West, with a whole lot of other things going on in between.
The chapters in the third part are rather short, and some of it was honestly speaking a little boring as it delved more in his achievements and less on his personal thoughts and feelings. However, there are some experiences and opinions shared by people around AR Rahman who give an insight into their experience of working with AR Rahman. (By the way, AR Rahman has a very cheeky and mischievous side to him!)
AR Rahman identifies himself as a Sufi Muslim and he had connected to Sufi Islam much before he embraced it fully. He is very particular about his prayers and his faith in Allah. “They are an integral part of who he is. But the simple fac is this: more than religious, AR Rahman is spiritual.”
The Not So Exciting Part
Overarching the entire biography is AR Rahman’s venture of producing his first film Le Musk and his project 99 Songs. There are small tidbits thrown in between the pages, and it felt very strongly as if the author/ AR Rahman want to promote his film. Yeah, I am not interested in his new film at this point. I would just skin through these parts.
Secondly, I was more interested to know why he converted to Islam and how does he reconcile his music making skills with his faith in Islam. As some Islamists will tell you, music is actually forbidden in Islam. Some of AR Rahman’s songs are provocative, and almost all center around love and passion. These questions are never answered, and towards the end of the book, AR Rahman clearly states that he will not talk about the faith part of his life and what his life was like as a Hindu boy (perhaps he avoided this topic altogether to avoid creating any discontent from the Hindu readers).
“The reason he prefers not to talk about his earlier is not that he has anything against his old faith, but simply because ha associated his time before Roja with loss and sadness, insecurity and frustration. Dropping his old identity and everything to do with it gave AR Rahman a fresh start and paved the way for more peaceful days.”
On a side note, I was disappointed to see just one childhood picture of AR Rahman. No pictures of his family, his siblings, his hometown, his father– absolutely nothing. Instead, we have numerous pictures of him working on his projects that are being promoted slyly through his biography.
“You deserve everything you’ve got,” said Trilok. “And I know everything you still want is going to happen for you as well.”
AR Rahman shrugged, with a smile. “It’s luck,” he said softly. “It’s time. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it is always.”
So there you have it. It all comes down to him being at the right place, at the right time and for Lady Luck to strike it rich for him.