AR Rahman probably has a cupboard full of awards the way some Bollywood names have cupboards full of skeletons. In both cases, it’s usually a case of ‘what’s the big deal about one more’.
But the Golden Globe puts him, literally, in the global league. At this point, looking back, which is the first award that really meant something to him? “I think the first big award that I treasured was the National Award for Roja. That was a great feeling. It was also very unexpected.”
This one surely wasn’t. How does the kick of getting a Golden Globe for Danny Boyle’s Slumdog compare with that years-old high of the National Award for Mani Ratnam’s Roja? “I think I feel a kind of sense of déjà vu. The whole thing. Because all those comments that came my way then – I am hearing all of them again. People are saying ‘Oh, the same kind of music has been in Hollywood for so long, and this film has come and re-energised the whole thing, it’s on a different path, it’s such a relief to hear a different kind of soundtrack…’ It feels as if the whole experience which came with the first award for Roja is being repeated, just at a different place.”
That experience moved him from the regional to the national stage in one definitive move, and now he’s been propelled firmly onto the global platform in a manner unprecedented for an Indian. No harm in such déjà vu moments at all, surely? “Yes…,” he laughs. “God is kind…”
God is kind to the deserving, some would say. Just before the Globe awards, Rahman said, ‘The more you expect, the more frustration comes’. On the other hand, he’s been fairly – and uncharacteristically – vocal about saying that he wants an Oscar for Slumdog’s music. Isn’t that contradictory? “See, the film was just a heartbeat away from getting the Golden Globe. At the same time, we weren’t very certain about it actually happening. So instead of lusting over it, we said, okay, let’s just be cool about the whole thing, if we don’t get it, that’s okay… But after I said that this award doesn’t mean very much for me, but for India, it means a big deal, so I want to win it for India – after I said that, I was terrified every night. What if I don’t get it? I’ll be letting so many people down. This is the first award ever that I have been so terrified about not getting. That’s because seeing the disappointment of so many people would have been tough – that way, getting it was great. When I said to the audience here also, that this is for the one billion people of India – the people just loved it.”
The superlatives are flying thick and fast – Indian Mozart, Genius, Danny saying it is one of the high points of his career to have worked with Rahman (“He did? So sweet!”). Unlike a SRK, who carries his compliments and adjectives with a swagger, he generally ducks them, is rarely seen preening while counting the feathers in his hat. But how does it really feel inside? “I think I feel much lighter when I don’t take these things very seriously, personally, when I can just behave naturally. I think it’s very difficult to progress when there is too much luggage on your head, metaphorically speaking. I feel much better and spiritual when I am away from that, definitely, and so I consciously choose that path of life.” So his personal spirituality is an extension of his work, right? “Very true.” Then, after a quiet moment, he continues, “The most beautiful thing is that after you work really hard, and it comes out, and then it changes – it becomes a part of people’s lives, and people own it. You don’t own it anymore, they own it. That’s the most beautiful thing. Awards and all are definitely secondary. However, in this particular case, someone from India getting an award like this for the first time, it’s important because I think it serves to raise the spirits of people, of all creative people, to tell them that that there is a way, and if we work hard, we will make it, we can make it – that’s the great thing. And I am glad that I was like an instrument for that.”
Is India a fad, the flavour of the season, or is it here to stay? “India is so rich in culture, it has so much spirituality in it, it has so many hidden qualities to it, it has to come out one way or another. If people are incompetent to show it, somebody else who is competent does it.”
Can we read between the lines here – he’s saying that internally, we haven’t developed that sort of competence in cinema? It’s been said that this was a film that an Indian director should have made long back, but none could, till Danny came along and made it. He then obviously agrees with that line of thought. “Absolutely, ya. In my opinion, there’s too much that we try to do… if you aim at too many things, you fail. You aim at one thing, it works. You need to be honest with one film and go with your passion. Here, when we do a film, we are saying I want to satisfy the South Indian audience, I want to satisfy the Bihari audience, I want to satisfy the Punjabi audience – and I also want to win an award at Cannes! Which is just not possible, because the sensibilities are different. Either you raise this taste to that level – or you do films for, you know, the audiences, be proud of the stuff which we have been doing. Nothing wrong in doing that either.”