In composing the music for acclaimed director Danny Boyle’s intoxicating new film Slumdog Millionaire, now playing in select theaters, A.R. Rahman has conjured the sound of a city, fusing the frenetic scramble of daily life in Mumbai, India into beautiful fugues that ride upon the dust clouds kicked up by its everyday people.
From the movie’s first frames — with children racing through alleyways, knocking over merchants and pottery, police kicking loose clay roof tiles, disrupted birds fluttering from gutters – ” we hear the sound of their commotion made manifest in “O… Saya.” It’s a rumbling hybrid of Bollywood and hip-hop, a brand new collaboration between Rahman and M.I.A. It’s the kind of cinematic moment where image and sound coexist. And that’s only the first five minutes.
Filmed in the streets and slums of Mumbai, India, Boyle needed just the right music to compliment the film’s cinema veritÃ© urban realism. He turned to internationally renowned composer A.R. Rahman (a huge star in South Asia – ”selling more than 100 million albums worldwide and 200 million cassettes – ”Rahman is one of the world’s top 25 all-time top selling recording artists.) The film’s score is central to the propulsive modern grit that pervades the story, but is also a nod to classic Bollywood productions where the music is front and center. And loud. Says Rahman, “We wanted it edgy, upfront. Danny wanted it loud.
M.I.A.’s appreciation for Bollywood music led her to record much of last year’s Kala inside A.R. Rahman’s studio in India, although the two had never worked together until now. Referring to him in URB magazine as “the Indian Timbaland,” M.I.A. obviously jumped at the chance to work on “O… Saya” with the famed composer. Rahman says, “She’s a real powerhouse. Somebody played me her CD and I thought, “Who is this girl? She came here and knew all my work, had followed my work for ages. I said, “Cut the crap, this “my idol” crap. You have to teach me.'”
M.I.A. crops up again, later in the film, with the remix of her worldwide hit “Paper Planes” seemingly made for Slumdog, as the lyrics pronounce, “Sometimes I feel like sitting on trains… ” while a light blue locomotive chugs and hurls its way through India, young boys perched up top in the sepia sunlight scoping out for a scrap of food.
Other songs on the soundtrack include “Gangsta Blues,” featuring hip-hop artist BlaaZe, which flutters with the rhythms of a film projector, capturing a bit of the madness of crowds as they disperse in a thousand directions to escape the claustrophobia of back alleys. And nothing quite prepares you for the triumphant climax, the overarching ode to joy that is “Jai Ho,” closing out the film in a rousing sing-a-long that’s had film audiences burst into spontaneous applause. As Rahman told Variety, “The energy of the film takes you through a roller coaster, and that’s one of the main inspirations for the whole music.”
His acclaimed music compositions have led TIME Magazine to declare him the “Mozart of Madras”. He was just nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Slumdog Millionaire in the category of Best Original Score.
A.R. Rahman took a few minutes out of his schedule to speak with us on his recent trip to the United States.
ASIANCE: How did Danny Boyle get you into this film?
A.R. Rahman: Danny called me and sent me the movie. I saw the movie and I was really impressed. So I agreed to do the music and we started working together. I went to the UK for 2 weeks to finish the score.
Here is a great video of A.R. Rahman in concert. You can get an idea of his music and performance.
ASIANCE: Did you have to be convinced?
A.R. Rahman: Yes absolutely
ASIANCE: How did this film differ from scoring other films?
A.R. Rahman: This film has a lot less work for me. (laughs) In proper Bollywood movies there are 200 Q’s to read but here there are just a few important ones and everything else is taken care of. Danny uses the song and the score in a very different way.
ASIANCE: I read he told you he wanted the music loud?
A.R. Rahman: Yes. It was easy because he was a nice person, encouraging and communicative. It was really easy working with him.
Listen to the song O…Saya by A.R. Rahman and M.I.A for the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack
ASIANCE: Can the film’s story connect with moviegoers from all different countries?
A.R. Rahman: Yes because there are slums everywhere. There’s poverty everywhere and there’s hope. This film gives hope to everyone. Anybody can become anything, even a millionaire. That’s always a good thing, especially optimistically. Like being reborn.
ASIANCE: You’re getting Oscar buzz. What if you win an Oscar for Best Score? Has that been something you’ve always wanted?
A.R. Rahman: (laughs) It’s not a goal for me but I would be surprised and honored.
ASIANCE: How was it working with M.I.A, who just received a Grammy nomination last week?
A.R. Rahman: She’s cool and she’s really a phenomenon. Working with her was great. We had nice things to share and enjoyed working together.
ASIANCE: How often did you work together?
A.R. Rahman: We just talked for a day and then spent about 2 or 3 days together and finished the song.
ASIANCE: She was a big fan of yours right?
A.R. Rahman: Well yeah she followed my music and I followed her music. She speaks Tamil (Indian language) which is in some of the verses.
ASIANCE: Who would you like to work with in the US?
A.R. Rahman: I met a lot of people yesterday. (Los Angeles) I met a lot of composers. I’m not really sure. It depends on the project. There are a couple of collaborations happening next year.
ASIANCE: What would be the ultimate project for you?
A.R. Rahman: I think it’s better to expect less and then be surprised if something good happens. Haha because then you get frustrated. In my life I always think that. When it comes, I’ll take it. Otherwise I’m just quiet enjoying my life.
ASIANCE: What is coming up next for you?
A.R. Rahman: I’m just finishing Manavar Dhinam and Dilli 6 is coming out?
ASIANCE: How was it working with Aishwarya Rai in the movie Provoked?
A.R. Rahman: It was an important film. Half the households in Asian countries have that problem. (abused housewives)
ASIANCE: How would you describe her?
A.R. Rahman: I scored music for one of her first films. She’s come a long way, which is good.
You can listen to the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack here www.foxsearchlight.com/slumdogmillionaire
Picture pulled from vrble.com/archives/56