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A.R. Rahman Scores With 'Slumdog Millionaire'

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A.R. Rahman Scores With 'Slumdog Millionaire'

A.R. Rahman Scores With 'Slumdog Millionaire'

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JACKI LYDEN, Host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Jacki Lyden. Name a few musicians who've sold more than 100 million albums, Elvis, yeah, sure. The Beatles? Absolutely. Here's one to add to your list, A.R. Rahman. Rahman composed the music for more than 130 films in India and yes, he has sold over a 100 million records worldwide. But here in America, many are hearing his music for the first time in the smash hit film, "Slumdog Millionaire."

(Soundbite of "Jai Ho" by A.R. Rahman)

Unidentified Men: (Singing) Jai Ho, Jai Ho

LYDEN: This is a song called "Jai Ho" from A.R. Rahman's score to "Slumdog Millionaire" He's already picked up a Golden Globe for his work and he's up for three Oscars next month. A.R. Rahman joins us from the studios of NPR West. Thanks for stopping by.

Mr. A.R. RAHMAN (Music Composer): My pleasure.

LYDEN: This film has taken everyone in America by surprise with its success. How about you? Are you surprised that you're winning major awards here in United States?

Mr. RAHMAN: It's a big surprise. I think, I never even thought about awards when I did this movie. It was just - I just wanted to get away from what I was doing, and I just wanted to have fun.

LYDEN: But when I think about this music and what you've done with it, all the hooks in it, I mean, it grabs me in so many ways. It's impossible to sit still.

Mr. RAHMAN: I was very clear that nobody would understand most of the lyrics in Hindi. So, I need to have certain kind of syllables which will attract any audience and they could sing. So, "Jai Ho" is OK in that way. It means "be victorious." It was like a blessing, and it also could be pronounced very easily that any audience could sing that.

(Soundbite of "Jai Ho" by A.R. Rahman)

Jai Ho, Jai Ho, Jai Ho, Jai Ho Jai Ho, Jai Ho, Jai Ho, Jai Ho Aaja Ke Tale

LYDEN: Let's get a little background from you, you sort of came of age, I guess, with the whole curve of Bollywood music, haven't you?

Mr. RAHMAN: My first movie which I did in '91 called "Roja" was the turning point in my music career.

LYDEN: How old were you then?

Mr. RAHMAN: I was - I think 23, 24 or something.

LYDEN: Mm hmm.

Mr. RAHMAN: And that got me a national award which was really a surprise at that time. Usually - national award comes to people who are really old and about to die (laughing).

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAHMAN: And so, people said that don't you think that's too early for you and don't you think that you - you'll lose your motivation in life? So, I think music in my opinion, is not about motivation in the way it's - it's not a running base. It's art. And my whole philosophy of music is different. It's almost like cooking and serving to people, seeing them smile and enjoying the food, really.

(Soundbite of "Chinna Chinna Aasai" by A.R. Rahman)

Chinna chinna aasai siragadikka aasai Muththu muththu aasai mudindhuvida aasai...

LYDEN: We talked a moment ago about wanting to sort of almost like cook for people and you're known for combining these wonderful eclectic forms of music - reggae, Brazilian drumming, did you feel you wanted to deliberately expand upon traditional styles?

Mr. Rahnman: Look, at the time when I was composing, it was all very regional and folk and classical - Indian classical, so young kids were listening to other stuff, which they love like, you know, western bands or other big stuff. And then they were neglecting film music. So, since I was doing a film, I said why can't film music have this? It will be cool for me to listen to it in the car. And I didn't want to do movies. I just want to do like one movie and get out. So, it started like a joke and it became like a bread and butter (laughing).

LYDEN: I want to ask you, A.R. Rahman, Bollywood is known for turning out movies, and you have been a pillar for the Indian film industry. You scored dozens and dozens of films. Do you work very quickly?

Mr. RAHMAN: In India, I'm the slowest (laughing) compared to other composers, like some of the composers have done 30 movies, 25 movies a year. And when I came and I started doing a movie for six months and feels that this guy won't survive, he's too slow. He's too slow for the industry. So - but I wanted to enjoy my process here.

LYDEN: I'd like to talk about directors. What was your approach with Danny Boyle on "Slumdog?" Would he show you the rushes each day? Or did he say, here's the script, score me something that shows, you know, the principal actor trying to answer a question. How does that collaboration work?

Mr. RAHMAN: Yeah, what happened was he sent me the script on email before, but I couldn't read it. And when I met him, he had a copy of the DVD, a very basic cut, and I took it home and watched it and I was very excited. I thought it was a fabulous movie. Then I started sending him ideas on email and he would respond with like, I like number one and number three and number four. So, things like that. Every day we would meet for an hour, like from seven to eight in the evening after he finished editing, and then like that, two weeks we worked and finished all the songs.

LYDEN: In two weeks?

Mr. RAHMAN: The whole thing was done in probably two, three weeks, yeah.

LYDEN: Oh. Are there any other cuts on this CD that you'd like to talk about?

Mr. RAHMAN: There's one song called "Mausam & Escape," which is, there's a sitar player, and sitar for me could get very sad when we play. But here, it's a completely, radically different use and I really love the track.

(Soundbite of "Mausam & Escape")

LYDEN: Did you have two sitars or were you layering it somehow or, what's going on here? What am I hearing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RAHMAN: Some of them are layered, actually, so that's almost like a pulse which keeps going on and that's why we didn't use the traditional tambourines and all that stuff.

(Soundbite of "Mausam & Escape")

LYDEN: This seems like a studio-created piece. You couldn't do this live, could you?

Mr. RAHMAN: We could do it with a lot of electronic loops and stuff.

LYDEN: Yeah?

Mr. RAHMAN: But most of my shows, like about 70, 80 people on stage. Since I do film repertoire stuff, it varies. Like sometimes I have this full string section and we have these dancers, like 20 dancers on stage and all kinds of ethnic instruments and 12 to 18 singers coming - all superstar singers from India.

LYDEN: Hmm. Well, as I mentioned, you've collected three Oscar nominations and two of them are for best song. At the Academy Award Ceremony in three weeks, are you going to get 70 people up on stage performing some of your music?

Mr. RAHMAN: No. I don't think I can afford that (laughing).

LYDEN: How about you, will you be up on stage, performing?

Mr. RAHMAN: Well, I think they're still a bit unsure about what's going to happen because of various reasons. So, we'll be informed very soon.

LYDEN: I can't imagine they're going to turn you down (laughing).

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: A.R. Rahman composed the score to "Slumdog Millionaire" and he joined us from the studios of NPR West. Mr. Rahman, congratulations. Truly, it's fantastic to talk to you, and we wish you very good luck on the Oscars.

Mr. RAHMAN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: To hear more of A.R. Rahman's work, go to the music section of our Website at npr.org. And tomorrow morning on Weekend Edition, Liane Hansen talks with the star of "Slumdog Millionaire," 18-year-old Dev Patel. Now, it may surprise you, but he told Liane that he had no idea what Mumbai was really like until he went there to work on the movie and stepped off the plane.

(Soundbite of interview clip)

Mr. Dev Patel (Actor, "Slumdog Millionaire" Main Character): Bang, you're hit by this wall of heat and your clothes become sweaty all of a sudden and the air smells different. It's got this smell of sweat to it, because there's so many people around.

LYDEN: That's "Slumdog Millionaire's" Dev Patel tomorrow morning on Weekend Edition Sunday.

(Soundbite of music)

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