An ear-shot away from the host of the event, AR Rahman is seemingly oblivious of the audience seated before him as he continues to whisper to her. Resembling an ebullient child fervent to share his joy with his pals, the maestro gives us a peek into a side less known, as he hurries her to call out names of his associates seated in the crowd, even before her eyes can catch them on her cue card.

He makes certain to not miss a name that went behind the creation of the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack as we gather at a small Dharavi school (home to Rahman-led The Dharavi Project) to mark 10 years since the film brought India, Oscar glory.


Meeting of the maestros
Putting his command over words on display, lyricist of the Oscar-winning Jai Ho, Gulzar aptly summarises the latent nostalgia suspended in the air as he starts off: “Bahut se raaste, mere pairon se hat gaye, yeh kal ki baat thi, das saal kat gaye.”

Heart-warming banter is made evident as the duo playfully throws jabs at one another. Sample these – Asked about the importance of the Oscar nod, Rahman points to Gulzar when stating: “Ask him! He refused to come and get the award. He doesn’t even care.” The veteran poet too makes his affection for the musician evident. “Bolte hain, mere paas ma hai. Main fakr se kehta hoon, mere paas Rahman hai.”

“I love writing for him,” Gulzar announces, crediting Rahman for breaking Bollywood’s monotonous ‘mukhda-music-antara-link line’ format. “In his composition, you never know when he’ll return to the asthai [primary theme]. He has something to say, and will describe it in detail. That is a [trend] that was seen in classical [music],” says Gulzar, adding that he’s still amazed by the composition of Rahman’s Ae Ajnabi (Dil Se, 1998). In a chat with mid-day, he recalls arriving at the hook line of the track that earned him global recognition – Jai Ho. “I was working in Chennai on another project and Rahman asked if I would write a special song for him. He narrated a synopsis and then played it on the keynotes. I found it interesting. When he finished, I [exclaimed] ‘jai ho’. He said, ‘Catch that word’.”

Gulzar and A.R. Rahman

A missed opportunity
Rahman, on his part, is constantly eager to share the spotlight with his contemporaries. Putting a brief halt to the proceedings as he calls on ‘late-comer’ Sukhwinder Singh to join them on stage, he seems almost apologetic when retracing an unfortunate event that occurred in 2009.

“Sukhwinder is still a little upset with me. I called him when the nominations were announced and said, Sukhwinder, we’ve got to go [for the Oscars and perform together]. Due to logistical [reasons], the performance was cancelled, then called [on] back. It was a volatile situation, and eventually, he [couldn’t travel],” Rahman says with a lingering sense of disappointment. He turns to him before making his adulation evident as he says, “I hope we do another song, and go back again.”

Way forward
If it comes to making amends, Anil Kapoor, who played the antagonist in the film, playfully reveals he has a grudge to hold against Rahman too. The latter breaks into a smile as he reveals what transpired during their win at the Golden Globes that year. “I was sitting next to him [Kapoor], and was feeling really thirsty. He was so sweet, he said he’d get me a [soft drink]. So, he went to get it, and by the time he was back, I’d already won the award.” Kapoor, eager to watch an Indian dominate a global stage, heartily chirps in, “I’ll never forgive him for that.”

On a sunny afternoon bustling with energy and merriment, Rahman finds his silence before he takes to the mic to reveal, “Something told me this will be [a] special [project], and that I have to do it right. We [in India] have to display whatever we had. I had probably one week [to work on the composition], and stretched it. For that, I got a lot of galis. Yet, I felt something beyond all this telling me [that] this was special.” In an interview taken in the interim between the announcement of the nominations and the big night, Rahman had expressed his desire to an international publication stating, “It would be a great honour [if I won the Oscar]… It would help me do bigger things.” Seated before us 10 years after he made that statement, we ask him what his Oscar nod has afforded him. “I got the best of everything after the win. It’s by choice that I moved away for a few years. I had a movie I was directing [Le Musk] and there were things I learnt, including film-making, [and exploring] new technology. The best thing is that I have a base there. I have a house and studio that I can head to at any time. And I’ve done mainstream Hollywood films like, 127 Hours, People Like Us, Couples Retreat, Million Dollar Arm, all of which are not connected with Indian culture. I wanted to try them.” He also counts being with “super heavyweights” like Mick Jagger, among his highlights. Yet, the patriotic Indian resurfaces when he says, “I wanted to see what one could acquire here [Hollywood] and give back to people at home [India], and what could be taken from here and given to them [Hollywood]. [I have promoted that] exchange in my own small way.”