A R Rahman is creating a new destiny for himself. Next April, his name will appear in bright lights at London's West End along with Andrew Lloyd Weber. Prem Panicker meets the musical genius from Chennai.
On stage, Allah Rakha Rahman has all the air of a diminutive Yanni. Off it, he has the composed mien of someone confident of his abilities and his stature; of someone aware that he doesn't have to be loud to be seen, and heard.
In Mumbai recently for the release of the music of Nayak, the Anil Kapoor-Rani Mukherjee starrer that is a remake of Shankar's superhit Tamil film Mudhalvan, Rahman works the room at the Regent hotel with practiced assurance.
Every request for an interview is honoured, each interviewer is treated as though s/he is someone special, yet no 'interview', you notice, lasts more than three or four minutes.
It is however much later in the evening, once the crowd has thinned and he is no longer surrounded by the lights and boom-mikes of the electronic media, that he visibly relaxes. 'To be effective on television you have to say clever things in few words, and I am not good at that," he grins. And then settles down at his ease, on a sofa in the ballroom, to talk.
Conversation first touches on the fact that if all goes on schedule, London's famed West End will throb to a new musical next April -- a new Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, that is.
Only, it will not have any Weber tunes. For once, the man with the likes of Phantom of the Opera, Evita and Cats to his name is content to play producer, while yielding his baton -- and, he says, his mantle -- to another.
The story, written by Meera Syal (Goodness Gracious Me) has worked on a story outline produced by Weber and Shekhar 'Elizabeth' Kapur.
Briefly told, Bombay Dreams is the story of a wealthy Bombay film producer who falls in love with a man from the slums. Or differently put, the story of love versus the eternal enemies -- money, and ego.
If love is the platform, it is the music that, as always with Weber, provides the impetus. And ever since Weber heard Rahman's music on a television program, he was hooked. "Rahman is fantastic," Weber is on record as saying. "His music is so beautiful, and I believe what he is writing is so far ahead of the game that we could be talking about the future of musicals for a very long time. I really look on Rahman as someone I can pass the mantle on to."
Thus, it will be A R Rahman, the whizkid from South India, who will compose the 16 songs that feature in Bombay Dreams.
Rahman at a music release function is something of a rarity these days, isn't it? After Andrew Lloyd Weber, have you lost interest in film music?
Not at all, I was in any case never one for churning albums out at the rate of several a month. I've recently had Lagaan, now Nayak, there is Udhaya and Star and a few other projects in Tamil, so I've been as busy as before.
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