For nearly three decades now, several attempts have been made to decode the enigma that is
Allah Rakha Rahman is. The phenomenally talented Oscar-winning music composer is also an introvert, and thus remains something of a mystery.
But things are changing in the AR Rahman universe, as Krishna Trilok informs us in the authorised biography Notes of a Dream (Penguin Random House India). Trilok, the author of the 2017 fantasy novel Sharikrida, reveals that Rahman has decided that “the time has finally come to give some long-awaited answers – to break a long silence”.
The 334-page book offers rare insights into the life of the 51-year-old musician who put India on the map of world music – the impact of the death of his father, music composer RK Shekhar, which forced nine-year-old Rahman to become the sole breadwinner of the family, his unplanned foray into composing for films, his entry onto the world stage, and his current plans of becoming a filmmaker.
Trilok is the son of Sharada Krishnamoorthy and Trilok Nair, the advertising filmmakers from Chennai who gave Rahman his earliest break as a composer of jingles. Krishnamoorthy and Nair also introduced Rahman to Mani Ratnam, who is Krishnamoorthy’s cousin, and who has collaborated exclusively with Rahman since Roja (1992).
Here are some highlights from the life of the man known as the “Mozart of Madras”, a title the composer isn’t fond of, Trilok writes. “Mozart is Mozart and I am who I am,” Rahman tells Trilok.
Born Dileep Kumar on January 6, 1967, in Chennai, Rahman is the second child and the only son of Rajagopala Kulashekhar Shekhar and Kasthuri (who later became Kareema Begum after the family converted to Islam). Shekhar, a musician, composer and arranger, was also a “very talented musical pioneer” and “an innovator” who came up the hard way and worked mainly in Malayalam cinema. He had a profound influence on his son.
Rahman was introduced to Ratnam by Ratnam’s cousin, Sharada Krishnamoorthy, and her husband, Trilok Nair. A nervous Rahman played a bunch of tunes for Ratnam the first time the director came to his studio. What he didn’t expect was how Ratnam would react. The director thanked Rahman and left the studio. A baffled Rahman asked Nair, “Eh enna da? Onnumae sollala” (What man, he didn’t say anything?)
Rahman thought Ratnam hated his music, but Ratnam told Trilok that he was “stunned” that day in the studio. “I could not believe what I was hearing,” Ratnam tells Trilok. “The music he played for me that day, it was fabulous.”