With over 600 compositions to choose from, it is little wonder that award-winning Indian composer A.R. Rahman finds the work of streamlining a set list to just 26 songs, when he’s preparing for a concert, a mammoth task.
That difficulty can be seen in the musical documentary One Heart: The A.R. Rahman Concert Film, currently in cinemas, which was filmed at one of his concerts in Austin, Texas, in 2015.
As Rahman and his musicians leave the stage after the last number (Slumdog Millionaire’s Jai Ho), the audience starts screaming other song titles composed by Rahman that he didn’t perform that night. After entertaining the fans for a bit, the 50-year-old humbly apologised for not including the requested songs in the set list.
This year marks Rahman’s 25th year in the Indian music scene. He is responsible for some of the more memorable tunes to come from recent Indian cinema like Chinna Chinna Aasai, Tu Hi Re, Chikku Bukku Rayile, Chale Chalo and Tere Bina to name a few.
His compositions have also crossed over to international productions; he wrote tracks for Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, Shekar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Chinese feature Warrior Of Heaven And Earth.
However he has never been featured on the big screen himself. Well, until One Heart, which is produced by his new company (Ym Movies).
“I am more an introvert, happy to be just doing music. But while doing a two-day concert in Austin, Texas, I felt the energy was great – we had great musicians. So I thought, let’s document it,” he said when asked what prompted the production of the documentary. Rahman was in Kuala Lumpur for the premiere in August.
After previewing the recording of the concert, Rahman and the production team decided to turn it into a film.
“One Heart has its own narrative and story. It’s not a formulaic film or a concert film, it’s a new kind of film,” he explained.
One Heart shows footages from the concert as well as interviews with Rahman and his musicians. He also talks about the stories behind his compositions.
The documentary also turned out to be a way for Rahman to fund a charity he’s been wanting to start. The proceeds will be channelled to a foundation called One Heart, which is meant to help underprivileged children and musicians with education in music as well as providing musical instruments.
In an interview with Khaleej Times last month, Rahman said: “The success of the movie is the success of the foundation.”
Rahman hopes to elevate the talents in the music industry with this documentary. He wants musicians to be taken more seriously in India.
“The musical director’s name comes in the sixth position, after the actors’, director’s, producer’s, etc. I want to change things in film, which is why I started Ym Movies (to make musicals). By creating a platform to make movies to suit the music, it gives me the freedom to control how music is seen. One Heart is the start of my journey in film.
“And in the process of making this movie, I have learned many things – things I never knew. I believe learning actually keeps you younger,” he said with a smile.
It must be true because, in person, Rahman does look younger than his age. He believes working with people is a way to learn as well.
The maestro has gained a reputation for working with both big names as well as nobodies. His resume includes working with top artistes such as Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
One Heart features known musicians like 18-year-old bassist Mohini Dey, drummer Ranjit Barot and American violinist Ann Marie Calhoun, as well as unknown singers and dancers, one of whom he discovered via YouTube.
Rahman said: “Names are not important. I would collaborate with anyone who’s good.”
However, he did share that he’s sad that he didn’t get to work with the late King Of Pop: “Michael Jackson would be my dream collaborator. We talked about it and there were plans, but it never happened.”
Rahman’s passion for music has garnered him numerous awards in India, besides winning two Oscars, two Grammys, a Bafta award and a Golden Globe award.
Rahman’s take on music is that it’s a medium that transcends language. “When you are doing a concert, your audience is made up of different people. When I did my first concert in the United States, there were a lot of Gujeratis in the audience, who sang along to Tamil songs. Music (unites) us under one umbrella.”