Wednesday 1 July 2009

Demystifying AR Rahman

A. R. RAHMAN — The Musical Storm: Kamini Mathai; Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017. Rs. 499.

“You know how it is with guys, everyone is walking around in their shorts and underwear, in their towels. But Rahman … He would wake up early, quickly rush to the bathroom, bathe, change and emerge fully dressed, and would even go to sleep like that. No one saw him bare-chested.”

That’s how John Antony, an old friend of Rahman, remembers him during their trip to Bangalore to play for a composer.


Kamini Mathai’s ‘A.R. Rahman: The Musical Storm,’ is full of such anecdotes that attempt to demystify one of the most enigmatic popular culture icons of our time.

Apparently, Rahman’s team that read the biography didn’t find the account of his life to be flattering. As a result the composer went all out to clarify that the biography is unauthorised; initially, he had provided the writer with all the access she wanted.

In fact, it’s the unauthorised tag that gives this book an edge. It has a few details about him A.R. Rahman probably does not want to be known.

This is no ‘Life and Times of A.R. Rahman’ — it is too premature to attempt that, double-Oscar notwithstanding. Nor is it about how he went from Mundakanni Amman Koil Street to Hollywood Boulevard to pick up his golden babies. There’s quite a bit missing there — the period from his arrival to his meteoric rise has casually been breezed over. This isn’t an analysis or a study of his kind of music either and hence the ‘Musical Storm’ in the title is a bit of a misnomer.

But what the book tackles head-on is — A.R. Rahman: Early Origins — the story of how Dileep became Rahman, his childhood, the impact his father’s death had on his life, his conversion to Islam, his early days… to how he finally arrived.


Mathai peppers her discovery with insightful observations about him from friends, colleagues and also gets him and/or his mother to refute controversies she encounters during interviews. A friend says Rahman always loved attention, a former rock band member claims that Rahman threw his mates out of his studio without even giving them the tape that contained eight months of their work, his father’s friends and relatives talk about the distance his family maintains from them and his own colleagues talk about how he makes people wait for ages that almost everyone has a “Waiting for Rahman” story.

Mathai is a cheeky storyteller. Her style is quite chatty, conversational, and borders on gossip but her approach is that of a journalist. She merely observes facts and gets others to say what she wants to say. The footnotes are all mischief but fun.

Despite some factual errors (apparently some of the technicians have been credited incorrectly) and some repetition, this biography is worth a read purely because of the lesser-known things you find out about A.R. Rahman (he believes his father died because of black magic), his borderline obsessive compulsive quirks (plastering ‘786’ stickers over every bit of equipment) and the factors responsible for his way of life.


Mathai treats Rahman not like a demi-god but like an underdog who went on to become a millionaire purely letting his music do all the talking for him.

She tries to take us into the mind of the master composer by giving us an insight into where he’s coming from. For instance, she lets us into his jingle-making days to explain Rahman’s need to put a catch-phrase in every song whether or not it makes sense — be it ‘Chinna Chinna Aasai’ or ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ or ‘Jai Ho.’

For a book that’s nicer to Rahman, maybe you should wait for his official biography by Nasreen Munni Kabir.


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