18 years after debuting with Mani Ratnam's Roja, you are back once again with Mani for Raavan. How has the journey been?
It's all been very good and exciting. The thing with Mani is that he receives every idea with great respect. It's not just the usual "Give me 5 tunes for my film" We try to explore various avenues while composing the music in the interest of the film.
In spite of your super-busy schedule you always manage to take out time for a Mani Ratnam project. You have composed music for all his films. What is it about Mani that makes it difficult for you to say 'No' to him?
After a point I think you understand exactly what a person needs and what is it that he actually wants. It's pretty much the case between Mani and I. However having said that, getting such vibes and sharing such a comfort level with someone is easier said than done. By the grace of God we've pulled it so far and continue to do so in the future (smiles).
The one word synonymous with your music is Experimentation. So what kind of experimentation have you tried in Raavan?
I don't think in terms of experimentation in each project that I do. I just go with a theme that will make the project sound exciting. In case of Raavan, we have used a lot of African vocals and sounds in some of the songs keeping with the mood and theme of the film.
The music of Raavan released last amidst much fanfare. There are 6 tracks in the album. Could you take us through each of the tracks in your own words and explain the essence of songs...
'Beera' is a song that describes the lead character played by Abhishek Bachchan. When we set out to compose this song, we didn't want to make the song or the character seem dark. We wanted 'Beera' to be liked by everyone. He is someone who has a point of view, it may be wrong according to some sections of the society but when you see the film you will realize his justification for the same. The song is like a celebration of his character.
Karthik sang this song as a scratch. At that point in time, we didn't know if we were going to retain it but everyone seemed to like the version and we did retain it. We also added some background vocals by Mohammed Irfan to give a different edge to the song. It's not your usual typical song.
'Ranjha Ranjha' is an idea that I had done earlier but gave it a skip. It's poetry of Baba Bulleshah. Though the song that you hear in the album (sung by Rekha Bhardwaj, Javed Ali and Anuradha Sriram) doesn't feature in the movie, we have created another version of the song that is sung by Ila Arun and Richa Sharma which would be featured in the film. This version has been shot beautifully and works better for the film.
'Thok De Khilli'
'Thok De Khilli' of course has Sukhwinder at his energetic best. He is simply a powerhouse of energy and talent. However, in this song he didn't get a chance to improvise a lot as he had to fit his vocals to match the form of the song. In spite of that he has done a fabulous job
'Kata Kata' is a very typical Mani Ratnam style song. In every film of his you have this folk celebration kind of song like you had 'Chalka Chalka Re' in Saathiya or for that matter 'Rukmani Rukmani' in Roja. However, this time we have given it a different feel and it was really an enjoyable process composing this track
'Khilli Re' has been sung by Reena Bhardwaj who earlier sang 'Yeh Rishta' from Meenaxi. She has got a beautiful voice which suited the song perfectly. She is a very talented singer who certainly deserves more opportunities in the future.
During the music launch you also surprised everyone by composing and singing a new additional song 'Jaa Re Udd Jaa Re'. Is that song going to be added later in the album or featured in the film?
The song was a very last minute addition. I saw the movie and felt like adding a song to a particular situation in the film. The lyrics of the song were ready for a while however I had to yet compose the tune. Meanwhile we had already planned our music release for the 24th of April so we didn't want to delay or postpone that because of one song. The song may be later added to the album; however it would feature in the film.
In every album of yours a striking aspect is zeroing in on the right singers for the right song. How do you manage to do that?
Well...to be honest, I don't know (smiles). Most of the time, it's not planned. I just look at who would suit the song and more importantly who is available at that point of time.
So do you have multiple singers recording scratch versions and then you taking a call on whom to consider for the final version?
Well... No we don't actually do that. Usually its just one or two times that we rehearse the song before recording except for directors like Abbas Tyrewala who is very particular about getting the right voice. Most of his songs are recorded about 6 - 7 times (smiles)
In Raavan, you once again re-unite with Gulzar saab after the Oscar winning score in Slumdog Millionaire. How is it working with him time and again?
There is a certain kind of affinity that Gulzar saab has for Mani and me. When he works with us, he is always very happy. I think when you are happy working as a team, it shows on the result of the end product.
In June, you embark on your world tour called The A.R.Rahman Jai Ho Concert...The Journey Home. Tell us something about that and why is it called 'The Journey Home'?
It's called The Journey Home because even though it's a World Tour, it's going to feature a repertoire of songs from my 18 year old career. We are not going to go with the obvious way of mainly performing English songs just because it's a world tour. I am really excited about the tour as its going to have some really spectacular and different production values. A lot of money has gone into that and a lot of Western artists have been working on giving the tour a whole new feel. The show is also directed very differently giving a whole new perspective to my music and to our country.
So who are the singers who are going to be a part of this tour?
There is Hariharan, Javed Ali, Shweta Pandit, Benny Dayal, Blaaze besides my usual troupe comprising of Sivamani on percussion, Naveen on the flute etc.
Over the last couple of years Rahmania has reached an all time high with you bagging the BAFTA's, the Golden Globes, the Oscars and the Grammys. Closer home there were awards like the Padma Bhushan, Indian Of The Year etc. Is there a special section where you keep all your awards?
There is a place in the office for them but once you get an award it's a thing of the past. You just keep marching on and look forward to the future
Now that the music of Raavan has released, what are your future projects?
After Raavan, there is a Telugu film called Puli. Then there is Shankar's Robot and Abbas Tyrewala's 1-800 Love.
Are you also composing the music for Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar?
Yes...we've just started. In fact we just finished out first sitting. It's a great experience working with a team comprising Irshad Kamil and Imtiaz Ali.
How is your pet project KM Music Conservatory doing?
It's doing really well. We just signed up with Middlesex University to oversee the whole education. We are expanding and going to a larger campus very soon.
Finally we know that you listen to all kinds of music. So what's currently playing on your iPod?
Well...I've been listening to Susan Boyle's album, Kumar Gandharva's songs and Coldplay. Besides I am always listening to my songs while mixing (smiles).