Monday, August 6, 2012
Questions of a Rahmaniac
I edited this out of the book Memoirs of a Rahmaniac
“How did you feel when you won the Oscar? What was it like to be the sole bread winner of a family at the age of nine? How does your spirituality help you in the creation of music? Why A.R.Rahman always reserves his best for his mentor (Maniratnam)? Why do you prefer working at night? What went wrong with CWG Theme song?” – Some of the commonly asked questions in A.R.Rahman’s interviews.
A.R.Rahman could possibly be the most interviewed Indian film music composer ever. Most of these A.R.Rahman interviews have always been about A.R.Rahman the person, his humility, his philosophy, his childhood, his father, his beliefs, his success, his Oscars. There is very little spoken about what makes the man A.R.Rahman - The Music. All of those aforementioned questions and Rahman's replies for them are extremely necessary, for they give us abundant information to absorb, understand and ascertain the qualities in a composer that makes his music special, but, I, a diehard fan, a Rahmaniac, seen, heard and read enough of those archaic Qs and As. I am not blaming the interviewers. They get limited time to prepare and even lesser time to interview. There certainly were interviewers who managed an astounding balance between man and the music when interviewing A.R.Rahman, but, such interviews are far and few.
Most of the A.R.Rahman interviews, especially the ones in the recent past few years, happen not because A.R.Rahman wants to talk to people about him and his music, but because there is always a film soundtrack, or a film, or an album, or K.M. Music Conservatory, or a concert, or a book, or a brand to promote. Do not get me wrong, I am not blaming A.R.Rahman here. If my understanding of A.R.Rahman is right, given a choice, A.R.Rahman would like to stay in his studio and make music all the time instead of giving all these interviews. But, some chores have to be done.
Surprisingly or rather not so surprisingly, A.R.Rahman’s interviews that happen on the verge of the release of his Hollywood film scores have always been much more insightful with a clear focus on music, and the music alone. There, in their interviews, AR speaks in great detail about why he composed a piece in a certain way, why a certain instrument was chosen for a cue, his musical ideas and about his discussions with film makers. He is asked questions that demand such replies. I guess that is because, over there, he is not a larger than life Icon yet, on whose personality and personal life one could be interested in. He is still an upcoming film score composer.
Especially, when the interviews are a part of a grand PR exercise to push the score for the Oscars, the composer must talk about the intricacies and technical details; explain how hard it was to get the score right for the visuals of the film, for the jury and the critics circle to consider him as a worthy contender who may have a real chance of winning. There is nothing wrong in doing that. Even a John Williams has to do that. What if, A.R.Rahman did the same in his interviews back at home? There are thousands of questions any Rahmaniac would like to ask A.R.Rahman questions no one asked him before. This is just my list of questions. Most of these questions are follow-ups of the answers A.R.Rahman gave in many of his interviews and also are based on the media interviews of various film personalities and musicians who have worked with him.
You have worked as an arranger and played Keyboard as a session musician for many other south Indian film music composers including Ilaiyaraaja. You have said in many interviews that those recording sessions were boring, and you wanted to get out of it. What in those recording sessions irked you the most? Was it the lack of space to do anything creative on your own? (With Ilaiyaraaja, you just play the notes he gives you. You need not or rather should not do anything on your own.), or, was it the lack of credits? (Before A.R.Rahman, the names of the musicians who play for the recording of the film songs were hardly mentioned in the cassette) What did you get bored of – Creative process or the creation itself? You have always said that you admire Ilaiyaraaja as a person, for his saint-like discipline, but never spoke much about his music. What did you like the most in Ilaiyaraaja’s music? What is your most favourite Ilaiyaraaja album?
When Ilaiyaraaja is around and actively making music, anyone who wants to make a long standing name as a film music composer must not try to imitate Ilaiyaraaja or walk his path. That is what you said in one of your interviews. The key is to do something totally different to carve a niche of one’s own. Is that – not to sound like Ilaiyaraaja, how the sound that which we now call Rahman Sound, was born? Would Rahman have been a different composer, say, if he were born in North India and had never heard Ilaiyaraaja? How much of Rahman’s music is Rahman, because Rahman does not want to be another poor Ilaiyaraaja clone (which so many of Ilaiyaraaja’s contemporaries were)? What was the key take away, musically, from your experience of working with Ilaiyaraaja? There is not a single piece of music of A.R.Rahman that sounds like that of Ilaiyaraaja. Is this relentless refusal to invoke even faintest of Ilaiyaraaja in your music a conscious decision and effort? Or, is it that naturally, whatever comes to you never quite sounds like that of Ilaiyaraaja?
However, you do not seem to have any problems in invoking M.S.Viswanathan. I am not just talking about the songs in Iruvar. Many of your soulful melodies have a dose of M.S.Viswanathan in its melodic pattern, though you make it your own by embellishing it with modern synth arrangements and instrumental layers. At what period in your life, you started listening to M.S.Viswanathan’s music? What do you like the most about M.S.Viswanathan’s music? Have you ever started composing a melody thinking “let us make this song MSV style”? Or, does a dose of M.S.Viswanathan creeps into your compositions without even you being conscious of it? You said in an interview that you heard Mughal-E-Azam songs only when you started working on Jodhaa Akbar. I believe that you did not listen to Hindi Film music much in your growing years. Did you? Then, the music of Roja shattering the north-south barrier in Indian film music was purely coincidental. Wasn’t it? You just wanted to create a new sound, a new sensibility in film music through Roja songs, but its pan Indian success was a bonus. Wasn’t it?
No matter how new and fresh it sounds, Music is always about the melody. That you have said many times in many interviews. Where from your melodies originate? What is the initial spark that gives birth to a new melody in your mind? Where does it all begin? Of course, there is the script of the film, the situation, the characters and the mood that gives you a direction when you are composing a film song, but I would like to know the birth of melody for a song that you compose for no film. It may eventually end up as a song in one of your films, like say, Khwaja Mere Khwaja in Jodhaa Akbar, or Yeh Jo Desh in Swades. What happens in moments immediately before, when you sit, in front of your piano, to compose a melody?
Do you instantaneously compose and play melodies one after the other, on the spot, when a film maker narrates you the situation? From what I gather, you do not. You lock yourself in a room and compose a melody with no one around. Is Solitude the key for your creation? But, a new melody may pop up in your mind at any place and any time of the day. Does it not? Or, do you stop thinking music when you are outside your studio? Do you have the habit of singing and recording them with your phone or any handy recording devices as and when they pop up in your mind, for you may forget it if you do not? I ask this because you always seem to have a large bank of scratch tunes.
I do not understand what people mean when they say that A.R.Rahman takes time to compose a song. Is not creation an instantaneous and instinctive act? I guess you take just as much time as any other composer in the world to create a melody. However, if my understanding of your music is correct, it is the process of elimination and not the process of creation that takes all the time. Of course, the orchestration and the final production of the complete song takes time for obvious reasons, but the melody always happens in a composer’s mind in a jiffy. Am I right in saying so?
Director Vasanth in an interview (Rahmania Radio Show anchored by your sister Raihaana) mentioned that you gave him one sixty minutes long Piano piece as the tune for a five minutes long song. Don Black, in his interview, in the making of Bombay Dreams documentary says that you played a phrase and improvised on it for forty five minutes at a stretch. More recently, even Imtiaz Ali said in an interview that you gave him thirty minutes long scratch tune for a five minutes song in Rockstar, and that there is a forty minutes long version of Kun Faya Kun. Does this happen for every song you compose? How long do you sit composing and improvising a single melody? How do you know when to stop?
You created the song “Ishq Bina” in Taal from four different melodies you gave Subhash Ghai for the situation. Subhash Ghai asked you to create one song with all the four melodies, because he liked all of them. Hence, the song got a quirky structure it now has. But, your quirkiness does not stop there; it often seeps into the melody too. That, one can never predict how an A.R.Rahman melody would flow in a song is common knowledge, but even by your own standards, the flow of the melody in “Phir Se Udd Chalaa” song from Rockstar is stunning. Not a single phrase falls in line with our expectation. There is no groove to groove to. There is no hook to hook to. There is no comfort for a listener here, only twists and turns, surprises and more surprises. You do give us a hook – “Tu too du”, but by the time we catch hold of it and prepare to settle down with the song, the song ends. But, of course, to give us some comfort, there is that Mandolin motif you introduce right in the beginning of the song and allow it to loop throughout the song. Also, all these thrills, chills and surprises you never employ in the melody at the cost of the mood and emotion. Similarly, the free flowing “Rehna Tu” from Delhi-6 had a Guitar motif (borrowed from your own Chiththirai Nilavu Saelaiyil Vandhadhu song from Vandicholai Chinnarasu) looping all over the middle stanzas to give a hook-stick to the listeners. Is that how, you, even when at your lunatic self in experimenting with melody structures and song patterns, manage not to alienate the listeners?
This game that you play with the listeners is so taxing and tiring initially, but once we understand the rules of the game, we surrender and even get obsessed with it. But, the only rule when it comes to A.R.Rahman's music seems to be that there are no rules. How do you convince your film makers to pick such quirky song structures and melodies? Obviously, like any music listener, even they cannot instantly know whether they like an A.R.Rahman song? Do all film makers you work with also take a long time to allow the song to grow, before they approve a tune? When you play a melody to them for approval, do you put up a disclaimer upfront about whether this melody is "instantly likeable", or "slowly growing"? Ram Gopal Varma in his blog mentioned that he initially hated the Spirit of Rangeela and Hai Raama songs. Do you help and explain to them if they could not see the beauty of a composition by themselves?
With every tom, dick and harry sharing what was once an exclusive A.R.Rahman sound, do you see this quirk in the melody as the uniqueness of A.R.Rahman’s music that no one can replicate? We could not think of any other composer who could pull off a Phir Se Udd Chala. However, the Lyricists seem to be having a tough time writing for A.R.Rahman’s compositions. Filling sensible verses into such unpredictably flowing musical phrases is not easy. How do you convince your lyricists to do that? Almost all the lyric writers who write for your songs have equally criticized and praised your music. Most often a lyricist’s major grouse is that your melodies are set to quirky meter and pattern, and it is extremely tough to fit words into them. And yet, all of them have written some magnificent poetry in your music and have won loads of Awards and popularity. What is the trick? How do you approach the lyrics in your music? How significant do you think that it is essential to have meaningful lyrics for the song not just to be popular, but also to be remembered for decades?
There has always been complaints, sometimes even from some of the lyricists who have worked with you, about the lack to importance to lyrics in your songs. One of the most recent instances, where the lyricist was openly unhappy about how it was treated by you in the songs, is Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya and the lyricist is Thaamarai. Even, Gautam Menon defended you by saying that in Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya, he wanted music to drive home the emotions more than the lyrics. Have you ever had any lyricist objecting to write a song because he could not understand the flow of melody and write meaningful lyric for? Is that why you and Maniratnam together wrote Veera song in Raavanan and not Vairamuthu?
How often have you mended the melody that instinctively flew from your mind, on the insistence of lyricist because the lyricist finds it impossible to fit his verses into the melody? What is your preferred method of making a song – melody for lyrics or lyrics for melody? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of both of these approaches? I understand that in most of your songs, it has always been a combination of both, like some parts would be composed for the lyrics and some parts would be written for the melody. Is that the middle path you most often walk? Don Black said that you wanted hook phrases from him (the breathtakingly melodious Journey Home in Bombay Dreams was born after Don black gave you the phrase “Journey home is never too long”), to initiate a spark for the melody. Why is that necessary? How often do you do that for film songs?
In Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya audio launch held in London, after the singers performed the unplugged versions of the songs from the film, you said that the unplugged versions presented by the singers on stage sounded better than the original. Why then, there are those unending layers of instruments densely stacked in every song of yours? Has this Rahman soundscape now become an albatross on Rahman’s neck? Is there a fear of not being Rahman enough, if you leave the songs in its purest form with just the layers of acoustic guitar and Piano? When do you choose to leave a song like that? We had such pristine gems like Anbendra Mazhaiyilae, Vellai Pookal and even Aaromalae where it had minimal layers. Is A.R.Rahman averse to minimalism? Why not just leave the melody as it is? Why burden the song with such dense layers of instrumentation? You did win every possible music award for Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya music. If you had made the songs like the way singers sang unplugged in the audio launch, do you think that the songs wouldn’t have busted the charts to the extent they in their current versions did?
That brings us to the other most indispensable element of a song – The orchestration. What, according to you, the orchestration does to a song? How do you begin orchestrating a song? In the documentary on Making of Bombay Dreams, I see you sitting in front of your keyboard listening to “Salaam Bombay” track, and simultaneously playing whatever that comes to your mind instinctively, in sync with the main melody. The String section, conducted by Srinivasamoorthy, plays whatever you just played on your keyboard, and the track is overdubbed with this string section layer. Is this how you arrange every song of yours? Has it ever happened that when you think the melody in your mind, it comes to you along with additional instrumental layers and rhythm pattern? Or, do you consciously avoid thinking too many layers at the same time, and just concentrate only on the main melody? Has the approach always been a trial and error, of adding and removing layers? To make it simpler, how did you create “Tango for Taj”? I often hear you using the term “Template” when talking about a song. What do you mean by “template”? What constitutes a template? Do you sit and create various such templates of songs, totally different from one another, even before you have a melody to fill the template?
We would like to believe that every layer of instrument, ever clink and clank in an A.R.Rahman song is done by A.R.Rahman, but we often see names like Krishna Chetan, Praveen Mani, Clinton Cerejo, Ranjit Barot, Hentry Kuruvilla, Kazimir Boyle and many others mentioned as additional arrangers and programmers of your songs. What is the role of an additional arranger and programmer? What layers do they additionally add to a song? What do they bring in to a song? How do you confidently allow someone else to play with your creation and where do you draw the line? What do you tell them when you give a song for additional arrangements? What is the review process like? When you said PA Deepak, “We have a track called Pappu can’t dance, let us see what you can do with it”, what do you expect him to do?
You are an arranger yourself. You did arrangements for many other composers, before you became one. Those whom you arranged music for, composed only the main melody, and left the rest to you. However, with you as a composer, the case is totally different. You would have already arranged the song, before it goes to them. Isn't it? Have you ever left the arrangement of an entire song to your assistants? The only instance I could remember is the remix of “Pon Magal Vandhaal” in Azhaghiya Tamizh Magan, but you did give complete credit to Krishna Chetan for that remix on the CD. What does Kazimir Boyle mean when he uploads in the music section of his official website, the background score pieces (Ghajini, Endhiran Variations, Lathika’s Theme Variations) that we always thought were composed, arranged and produced by you? Kazimir Boyle was also credited as “Additional Background Score” composer for Jodha Akbar? What was his contribution in the background score?
You have expressed your thoughts on remixes before. But, I am more interested in some of the amazing rearrangements you did for your own songs. The romantic Poraalae Ponnuthaayi from Kizhakku Seemayilae became the anthemic Gurus of peace in Vande Mataram. Baba Kichu Kichuthaa from Baba became the lovely Dekho Na in Swades. Ottagaththai Kattikko from Gentleman became the worldly pop Musafir in Vande Mataram album. The funky Synth bass lines in the interlude of Chandralekha from Thiruda Thiruda became folksy Mandolin motif of Usilampatti Penkutty song in Gentleman. You totally re-arrange a popular track, and yet make it sound as appealing as the original. How do you approach such rearrangements? How does one consciously wipe out the original version from mind, especially when it is extremely popular, and make something that is totally different?
Have you ever thought that you are pushing it too far, while composing or arranging a song? Do you have to try too hard to be simple and conventional in your music? Do you feel that your music, especially now, when it is designed to sound simple and conventional, doesn’t excite the listeners enough? That, I believe, happened with Jhoota Hi Sahi, which in my opinion is as competent a soundtrack as any of yours in the recent past. It was simple and straight forward soundtrack, with soothing melodies and breezy orchestration. No one says its bad either, but people out there do not seem to accept anything less than earth shattering from A.R.Rahman. Isn’t that so unfair an expectation? Is it possible for a composer to shatter the earth in every damn song?
Let us also talk about a dreaded and confused term that has come to be associated with your music ever since Roja – “Fusion”. Though, it is common knowledge that Indian film music has always been a mishmash of many genres of music. What is your definition of fusion music? Playing a melody set in a genre of music in an instrument that is alien to the genre of the melody – is that fusion? Even when you do a club song, you include a semi-classical section in it, like say, the Thirikita Dhaana in Paappu Can’t Dance, the sargams in Yakkai Thiri (Ayutha Ezhuthu), or the melodious female vocals in “Shano Shano”. Carnatic music on club beats - Fusion? Or is it just a way to infuse some musical heft into something that otherwise could become totally fluff? And what is this obsession with RAP? Why a theme song for World Tamil Conference Semmozhiyaana Tamizhmozhiyam had to have a RAP section? And is layering traditional Tamil instrument like Thavil and Nadhaswaram alongside RAP portions a way to not make it sound not too alien?
An Indian classical melody is backed by a western classical harmony in Bombay theme. Mughal music is given a tango twist in “Tango for Taj” from Rockstar. There is a serene and sublime western classical take on a devotional Sufi song in the instrumental version of Khwaja mere Khwaja. Indian tarana meets Spanish Flamenco in Salvadore in Couples Retreat. Gujarati folk meet Arabic chants in the coda of Mayya Mayya from Guru. Carnatic music is set to Middle Eastern rhythms in Cairo to India. And, there are innumerable number of songs in which you have used Thavil like no one else used Thavil ever before. There is that simple yet exhilarating Guitar motif that adds a spiritual touch to a fun song in Katiya Karoon. There is a worldly confluence of sounds and instruments in the interlude of Dil Gira Daftan in Delhi-6. And, that Mylapore blues from Connections.
In Indian theme there is Palakkad Sriram’s Hindustani-based alaaps on one side, that brings in a sense of loss, a sense of fear, a sense of troubled past all at the same time, there is Spanish guitars on the other side to underline style, brevity and poise in the choreography of the action and in between there is a tribal chant that underlines the cold-blooded brutality in the way each murder is executed. How does this sort of a confluence of genres of music happen? What is the thought process that leads you to put together a piece like this?
Is fusion ever a conscious effort? Do you ever sit and tell yourself that “okay now I am going to make fusion music”? When in an interview, Maniratnam was asked about working with you, he said, "There is a lot of choice you get when working with Rahman. I would ask wildest thing and he would not brush it aside. He would seriously think whether we can do it. It could be a classical number and I could ask him to do a little Spanish in it.” How far Maniratnam has taken you with such wild ideas? Do you have a large bank of such ideas of what to mix with what, somewhere in a document, or as scratch templates in your studio computer?
Now that I have quoted Maniratnam, the director with whom you broke many new grounds in Indian film music, I would like to know how much A.R.Rahman’s music is envisioned by your film makers. Of course, it is you who are going to compose the melody at the end. But, how much of the conceptualization of the sound, structure and mood of an A.R.Rahman song is dictated by filmmakers? Do you blindly trust the film makers, and if yes, is the level of trust same with all filmmakers? You have worked with many of the A-list (whatever that means) directors in India and strangely you also seem to have no problems in working with film makers who make films, which many may not consider as a film worthy of A.R.Rahman’s music. How do you choose your films? You say, instinctively. But, when you work with such film makers, are you not worried that the songs for which you put so much of your heart, soul and effort into might go unsung because of the film's failure? Though, I know that, that has hardly been the case. No matter what the fate of the film was, your songs from these films have been ageing well and finding a life of their own outside the film. However, success of the music of the film depends a lot on the success of the film these days. Isn't it? For instance, “Jhoota Hi Sahi” did not bust the charts, I guess mainly because of the film’s failure at the box office. On the contrary, though Delhi-6 bombed at the box office, you swept every possible award for the best composer for Delhi-6 music. And then there are films like Ada, about which no one knows anything. Why did you choose not to compose music for Farhan Akthar’s “Dil Chahtha Hai”? What is the yardstick with which you make your final decision on a film?
In general, there is this general opinion that A.R.Rahman has lost his Midas touch and that his music is not as exhilarating as it used to be in 1990s. I do not agree with this. However, if I have to make a similar now-then comment on an aspect of A.R.Rahman, it would be about the live concerts. My most favourite A.R.Rahman concert, in the last decade, is the one you did for Doordarshan with a small band of musicians and singers. That concert was magical. In an earlier concert DVD interview, you said, “I need at least three months to prepare for the concert”. Those were the concerts in which the original singers performed the entire song with live instruments. But, now, you do nearly a dozen concerts in various cities around the world in a year. The singers who perform in these concerts are not those who sang the original, and furthermore, songs are being performed without even a string section. How satisfied are you, personally, with the quality of these concerts? What is the key takeaway for you, as a composer, from these worldwide concert tours? Have these concert experiences impacted the way you create music in your studio? Now, A.R.Rahman takes the centre stage, sings, shakes his body and sometimes even awkwardly walks up and down, in and out of the set pieces on the stage. Are you trying to come out of your comfort zone in your live performances? Also, you have been doing concerts of your instrumental film scores with symphony orchestras for quite some time, but they none of them hit the bull’s eye the way Classic Incantations Concert did? What went wrong in all those symphonic concerts?
It is an intriguing irony that the one who said, “I do not believe anymore that only the music recorded with real instruments is high quality music” in an interview given for Making of Bombay Dreams DVD, has now started a music conservatory that encourages Indian youth to learn playing acoustic instruments. And what is even more ambitious is the attempt at forming first Indian symphony orchestra, which could play classical western symphonies, and more importantly, your film score recordings. When did this change of mind happen? Also, we see you hard selling the concept of K.M. Music Conservatory in all your public appearances, to bring in more investors. Is K.M. Music conservatory slowly becoming a burden on your shoulders? You even told that “I cannot concentrate on the conservatory all the time. I also have a career as a composer”. Are there anything in the last 5 years of your career as a composer, you would have done differently if you had not started K.M. Music Conservatory? And when is A.R.Rahman going to write his first symphony? Earlier, you had said in an interview that you were not spiritually ready yet. Are you ready now, or are you in the process of making yourself ready to write a symphony? You cannot escape saying that people do not listen to such classical, symphonic compositions anymore. You are not a composer, who underestimates the listeners. I am sure you can do even a symphony in a way that could be liked by everyone. Whatever you have composed so far in Symphonic style has been for film scores.
Composing a film score requires a thorough understanding of the medium of Cinema and the relationship of sound and music with the visuals. If background-music scoring is making music to moving images, then the process of making music for commercials is not much different from that of a feature film. Is it not? You have always said in interviews that the experience of composing advertisement jingles helped you a great deal in becoming a film music (songs) composer. Did the experience in composing jingles helps you in writing scores for full length feature films? (If Rahman says, yes) How? Leo Coffee may not be the first advertisement that you composed music for, but it is the jingle that brought on you the spotlight so bright so that Maniratnam could not help but notice. In Leo Coffee Ad, music is perfectly in sync with the visuals. What came first, in Leo Coffee Ad - visuals or music? Do you remember any other commercial for which you composed music after it was shot? That exquisite Asian Paints Pongal Special Ad?
Before you became film composer, you must have known that in Tamil Cinema, unlike in Hindi cinema, the song composer is also the score composer of the film. How were you preparing yourself to be a film score composer before Roja happened? Were you listening to Hollywood film scores? Were you a film buff? What was the kind of films you were fond of watching before you entered films? What are your favourite Tamil films that released before Roja? You also worked as a musician in Ilaiyaraaja’s orchestra in the most prolific phase of Ilaiyaraaja’s career. You must have certainly played in a lot of background score recording sessions for Ilaiyaraaja. Did any of those sessions help you in understanding the art of writing film score?
Roja has a thematic score that diligently follows all the rules in the book. How much of it was because of Maniratnam? Do you remember any conversation that you had with Maniratnam before you started composing background music for Roja? What were his requirements? How difficult or easy was composing background score for Roja? Was there anything that you felt that could have been better in Roja background score when you saw the complete film for the first time? What is it and why? What, according to you, are the qualities of a right background score?
Could you elaborate further on what is the process you follow when writing score for a film? How many times do you watch a film before writing the score? How do you prepare yourself before starting to write the score for a film? Do you listen to all the songs you composed for the film again to draw some inspiration? How do you decide on whether a character needs to be represented as a leitmotif in the score? Do you start to score the scenes in the order in which they play out in the film? Or do you pick the critical moments from the film to score first?
In Indian film scores, mostly, the orchestral versions of the melodies of the songs become the background score cues. But, you have always composed new material for background score. How do you decide between using the melody of the song and composing a new melody for a character’s theme or a situation? What is the kind of discussions you have about the background score with the directors of the film? Do all directors actively participate in background scoring sessions? How do you prefer it to be? Do Indian film makers also use temp music, like it always happens in Hollywood, to communicate effectively to you what they want? Do you like this method of using temp music that directors use to ease the communication with the composer, or do you think it is narrowing down the options one could otherwise explore? Do you fully surrender to director’s vision even if you do not totally agree with their idea? (Though you weren’t for it, you agreed to use Voices in the background score of Ghajini because A.R.Murugadass insisted demand) Have there been any conflicts or difference of opinions?
Composing songs or background score - which is more challenging and creatively satisfying? “Anything that goes out of this studio must be good”, you have said that many times. In case of songs, you get a lot of time to think about each and every instrument used in each layer of the song and tweak it many times before you are convinced about the song as a whole. Usually, background score is done in the last-minute rush, before the release of the film. Do you get enough time to go for as many iterations of review and re-tweak the background score composed for the film? (You told that you completed the complete Endhiran score in 10 days and slept only 2 hours a day). Does your creativity suffer when you work in such hectic schedules? What is the minimum time you ever took for doing a background score for a film and the maximum time and for which films and why? Have you ever had to compose for the background score for more than one film at a time?
On what basis, you decide on whether a particular scene needs no music? What do you think is the significance of a silence that is deliberately written into the score of a film? How do you decide whether it is going to be thematic score or ambient score? Is it possible to be as quirky as you are in your songs in background score too? Would not that distract the audience? What genre of film or a scene excites you most when writing background score?
As a composer, the film that you compose music for may not always turn out the way you initially expected it be while listening to the story. It is easy to compose background score for good films. You had the privilege of working with some of the best of Indian film makers and films, but you also have worked in lesser films. Where do you get inspiration from for such films when the visual telling is not exciting enough? They often say that background score can elevate even an average film. Do you believe that? Can a bad film be turned better with good background score? Is it in such situations, you delegate the job of background score to one of your assistants like Pravin Mani, which you have done quite a few times. You said that, after watching the film Rang De Basanti, you decided to compose the background score yourself, though you initially thought of delegating it to one of your assistants.
You have done many period films. How important it is to restrict oneself to the sound of the period in case of period films? Like, in Rang De Basanti, you took a totally opposite route and used rock guitars for the scenes of the past. How did that happen? Whose idea was it? Have you ever accepted a film having the challenge of background score for the film in mind? If you had to do only background score for the films in the future, would that be okay for you?
You used a professional Symphony orchestra for the first time to record the score of ‘Legend of Bhaghad Singh’. Using Symphony orchestra for the score - Whose Idea was it - Yours or Rajkumar Santoshi’s? I am asking this because, the film Rajkumar Santoshi made just before Legend of the Bhaghad Singh also had a symphonic background score. Otherwise, what in the film makes you go for a symphonic orchestra for the score? Mostly it has been for either period films or Super hero films? Even in Meenaxi, you used symphonic score only for the Prague episode. Would you ever use a symphonic orchestra for a contemporary film? For example, say, can you imagine a Slumdog Millionaire or a 127 Hours with a full length symphonic score?
When you are creating songs in your style, you have the flexibility to add or remove layers of the track, stretch or shrink the piece, and try various combinations any number of times you want, but with a symphonic orchestra, once you have recorded the piece, that is it. Isn’t it? So, how different is the process, when the score is going to be recorded with symphonic orchestra? What are the challenges, advantages and disadvantages when recording a score with a symphonic orchestra? Almost all of your symphonic scores were orchestrated by Matt Dunkley. What is the role of an orchestrator? What do you tell an orchestrator when you leave a creation of yours for further development to someone else? How do you preserve your stamp in the piece, when a piece of yours is orchestrated by someone else? Because, when not recorded with a symphony orchestra, mostly you arrange and orchestrate your scores – for example, the grand orchestral pieces in Lagaan or Bombay theme, some of the tracks you regularly pick to perform in every symphonic Concert of yours were entirely arranged by you. You have told in many of your interviews that you don’t compose pieces to match with cuts and shifts in the visuals. How does this method of making cues work when it is a symphonic orchestra?
You have used a lot of tunes from your scratch-tunes bank as themes in background scores of many of your films, and some of these cues you later used for songs of other films. (The cue, which plays when Roja prays to Lord Ganesha for her Sister’s marriage, was later used in Telephone Manipol Sirippaval Ivalaaa song in Indian. The cue that plays when Roja speaks to her mother-in-law over the phone after Rishi is abducted, soon became the song Rakkoli Rendum Mulichirukku in the film Uzhavan. Azhagu Nilavu from Pavithra was a cue in the background score of Pudhiya Mugam. Also, Muppadhu Nimidam from Parasuram was a cue in the background score of May Maadham.) And this has happened even in your recent films. Does this happen often because, you feel a good melody is unnoticed by many, when it becomes a part of the background score? Do you feel that there is a lack of recognition for background scores in India? Then, why not release these background score pieces as a part of the soundtrack CD? It happened for all your films this past year. Can we expect that to happen for all your films in the future?
There is a vast fan base out there, who would like to listen to your film scores in good quality. You can easily see that there are hundreds of sites where you can download the background score pieces ripped from the DVDs of the film. Do you have any plans of releasing a compilation of themes from your films on CD? Are you aware that National Awards committee has included a separate category for background scores? What are your thoughts on the institution of separate National award category for background scores?
That is it as of now. I guess the list of questions will continue to grow....