Allah Rakha Rahman (A.R. Rahman) born as A.S. Dileep Kumar is an Indian film composer, record producer, musician and singer. His film scoring career began in the early 1990s. He has won thirteen Filmfare Awards, four National Film Awards, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe and two Academy Awards. He has also been nominated for two Grammy Awards.
Working in India’s various film industries, international cinema and theatre, by 2003, Rahman, in a career spanning over two decade, has sold more than 100 million records of his film scores and soundtracks worldwide, and sold over 200 million cassettes, making him one of the world’s all-time top selling recording artists.
Time magazine has referred to him as the “Mozart of Madras” and several Tamil commentators have coined him the nickname Isai Puyal. In 2009, the Time magazine placed Rahman in the Time 100 list of ‘World’s Most Influential People’.
Early Life And Influences
A.R. Rahman was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India to a musically affluent Mudaliar Tamil family. His father R.K. Shekhar was a Chennai-based composer and conductor for Malayalam films. Rahman lost his father at a young age and his family rented out musical equipment as a source of income. He was raised by his mother Kareema Beegum (Kashturi) and she passed away on December 28th, 2020.
During these formative years, Rahman served as a keyboard player and an arranger in bands such as “Roots”, with childhood friend and percussionist Sivamani, John Anthony, Suresh Peters, JoJo and Raja. Rahman is the founder of the Chennai-based rock group, “Nemesis Avenue”.
He played the keyboard and piano, the synthesizer, the harmonium and the guitar. His curiosity in the synthesizer, in particular increased because, he says, it was the “ideal combination of music and technology”.
He began early training in music under Master Dhanraj. At the age of 11, he joined, as a keyboardist, the troupe of Ilaiyaraaja, one of many composers to whom musical instruments belonging to Rahman’s father were rented.
Rahman later played in the orchestra of M. S. Viswanathan Ramesh Naidu and Raj Koti, accompanied Zakir Hussain, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan and L. Shankar on world tours and obtained a scholarship to the Trinity College of Music where he graduated with a degree in Western classical music.
Film Scoring And Soundtracks
In 1992, Rahman began his own music recording and mixing studio attached to the backyard of his house called the Panchathan Record Inn, which was developed into India’s most advanced recording studio.
He initially composed music jingles for advertisements, Indian Television channels and music scores in documentaries, among other projects. In 1992, he was approached by film director Mani Ratnam to compose the score and soundtrack for Ratnam’s Tamil film Roja.
Roja’s score met with high sales and acclaim, in its original and dubbed versions, bringing about a marked change in film music at the time, and Rahman followed this with successful scores for Tamil–language films of the Chennai film industry including Ratnam’s politically charged Bombay, the urbanite Kadhalan, Bharathiraaja’s Karuththamma, the saxophonic duet, Indira, and the romantic comedies Mr. Romeo and Love Birds, which gained him considerable notice.
Many successful scores for films including Dil Se and the percussive Taal followed. Sufi mysticism formed the basis of Chaiyya Chaiyya for the former and the composition “Zikr” from his score of the film Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero for which he created large orchestral and choral arrangements.
In 2006, Rahman launched his own music label, KM Music. Its first release was his score to the film Sillunu Oru Kaadhal. In 2008, he scored the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack, for which he won a Golden Globe and two Academy Awards, becoming the first Indian citizen to do so. In the United States, the soundtrack topped the Dance/Electronic Albums chart and reached #4 on the Billboard 200 chart. The song “Jai Ho” reached #2 on the Eurochart Hot 100 Singles and #15 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
He is married to Saira Banu and has three children, Khadijah, Rahima, and Aameen. Rahman is the uncle of composer G. V. Prakash Kumar, who is the son of Rahman’s elder sister, A. R. Reihana. He had become an atheist as a result of childhood struggles, he eventually converted to Islam in 1989, the religion of his mother’s family.
He is very devoted to his mother. During the Oscar Award, he paid her a tribute saying: “There is a Hindi dialogue ‘mere pass ma hai’ which means even if I have got nothing I have my mother here.”
Rahman is involved in various charitable causes. In 2004, he was appointed as the Global Ambassador of the Stop TB Partnership, a project by WHO. He has shown support to charities including Save the Children, India, and worked with Cat Stevens /Yusuf Islam for his song “Indian Ocean”.
The song featured a keyboard player Magne Furuholmen and Travis drummer, Neil Primrose. The proceeds of the song went towards helping orphans in Banda Aceh, one of the areas worst affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. He produced the single “We Can Make It Better” by Don Asian alongside Mukhtar Sahota.
In 2008, Rahman opened his KM Music Conservatory partnered with Audio Media Education facility to tutor and train aspiring musicians in vocals, instruments, music technology and sound design. The conservatory – with preeminent musicians on its panel and a newly founded symphony orchestra – is located near his studio in Kodambakkam, Chennai, offering courses at Beginners, Foundation and Diploma level.
Rahman composed the theme music for a short film for The Banyan in 2006, in aid of destitute women in Chennai. In 2008, Rahman, along with percussionist Sivamani created a song titled “Jiya Se Jiya”, inspired by the Free Hugs Campaign and promoted it through a video shot in various cities in India.