Allah Rakha Rahman is a versatile singer-songwriter, music producer, multi-instrumentalist who is well versed in Carnatic music, Western and Hindustani classical and Qawwali styles of music. His career began in 1992 with the Tamil Film Roja and by 1998, his composition for song Chaiyya Chaiyya from the film Dil Se hit the top of the charts. Winner of two Grammy Awards, two Academy Awards numerous Filmfare awards among others, he has earned himself the title of the "Mozart of Madras".
A.R. Rahman was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, to a musically inclined family as his father R. K. Shekhar, was a film-score composer and conductor for Tamil and Malayalam films. He began playing the piano at his fatherâ€™s studio when he was four years of age.5 His father expired when he was nine years old and his mother Kareema raised him. Rental from his fatherâ€™s musical instruments provided for the family. Soon, he became skilled in the keyboard, piano, synthesizer, harmonium and the guitar and played the synthesizer for a Band called Roots with his childhood friend Shivamani et al. Thereafter, he founded the rock group Nemisis Avenue.
After being trained under Master Dhanraj, at the age of eleven he began playing for his fatherâ€™s friend M.K. Arjunanâ€™s orchestra. He then worked with composers like M.S. Viswanathan, Ilaiyaraaja, among others and accompanied Zakir Hussain and L. Shanker on world tours. He then got himself a Scholarship from the Trinity College London for the Trinity College of music and graduated with a diploma in Western Classical music. In 1984, when his sister was gravely ill, he along with his entire family converted to his motherâ€™s religion the Qadiri style of Islam. He also changed his name from R.S. Dileep Kumar to Allah Rakha Rahman.
Entry into Filmdom
A. R. Rahman began his film career in 1992 with a recording and mixing studio in his backyard called Panchathan Records Inn. Initially, he composed advertisement jingles and music scores for documentaries. In the same year, he was approached by Mani Ratnam to score music for the Tamil film Roja while Santosh Shivam also signed him up for the Malayalam film Yodha. The film Roja won him a Silver Lotus (Rajat Kamal) at the National Film Award for Best Music Director. He went on to win Silver Lotuses for Minsara Kanavu (Tamil) in 1997, Lagaan (Hindi) in 2002 and Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil) in 2003. In 1995, the Tamil film Bombay won him a Filmfare Award for Best Music Director and became listed in The Guardianâ€™s 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die. It also won Rahman a Tamil Nadu State Award for Best Music Director. It is notable that twelve million albums were sold for the soundtrack of "Bombay".
One of his most popular numbers in this period was Chaiyya Chaiyya (Tamil version Thaiyya Thaiyya), from the 1998 Hindi film Dil Se, The track was filmed on the top of an Ooty train with no camera tricks and post production special effects. The song ranked ninth by a BBC poll among the ten most popular songs of all time from the people of 155 countries in 2002, and featured in the Nicholas Cage movie The Lord of War (2005). The song was later used in the opening ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
He then worked with director S. Shankar for the films like Gentleman, Kadhalan, Indian, Jeans, Mudhalvan, Nayak, Boys, and Enthiran. By 2005, he extended his studio by establishing AM studios in Kodambakkam, Chennai and created the most cutting-edge studio in Asia. The next year, he launched his own music label called KM Music. In between, he scored for the Mandarin language film Warriors of Heaven and Earth (2003) after researching Japanese and Chinese classical music.
He then went on to score for Shekhar Kapurâ€™s film Elizabeth: The Golden Age in 2007. The year 2008 was quite eventful with the release of Slumdog Millionaire, which won him two Academy Awards, the first for any Asian and the songs Jai Ho and Oâ€¦Saya were also immensely successful, internationally. The same year saw songs from the film Jaane Tu.. Ya Jaane Na become very popular while the film, Jodhaa Akbar won him IIFA awards for best music direction and score. Soon after, he scored for his first Hollywood film Couples Retreat (2009) which went on to win the BMI London Award for Best Score. Next came up his epic 127 Hours (2010) by Danny Boyle. Here, Rahman played a newly developed musical instrument in 2007 called the Harpejji, which bridged the gap between the guitar and the piano.
The Year 2010 also saw Rahman organize his first world tour entitled AR Rahman Jai Ho Concert: The Journey Home World Tour which started off at New Yorkâ€™s Nassau Coliseum and covered 16 cities worldwide. In 2011, Rahman collaborated with Michael Bolton for his album Gems â€“ The Duets Collection wherein he reworked on his song Sajna from his earlier film Couples Retreat to create a track.
In 2012, Rahman composed a Punjabi song for the London Olympics opening ceremony. Soon after, he composed for Ekk Deewana Tha and the American movie People Like Us, while also collaborating with Yash Chopra on Jab Tak Hai Jaan. All three movies were well received. Next, his music for the 2013 film by Mani Ratnamâ€™s Kadal won critical acclaim. Infact, the album for Kadal topped the iTunes chart for December that year. The same year Rahman made two albums Raanjhanaa and Maryan, both of which won several awards, Marayan also went on to become iTunes India Tamil Album of the Year.
Rahman in 2014 announced that he has collaborated with former Black Eyed Peas musician Will.i.am to recreate a popular early track called Urvashi Urvashi.
He is a recipient of honorary doctorates from Miami University Chicago, Middlesex University, Aligarh Muslim University and Anna University Chennai. Stanford University has honoured him with an Award for his contributions to global music. He has also received a Padma Shri (2000) and a Padma Bhusan (2010) from Government of India and a Kalaimamani from the Tamil Nadu Government for excellence in the field of music. His name features in the Limca Book of Records as â€˜Indian of the Year for Contribution to Popular Musicâ€™ (2007). A Street has been named after him in his honour at Markham, Ontario, Canada, in 2013.
â€¢ Filmfare Awards:
RD Burman Award for New Music Talent (1995);
Best Music Director Award â€“ Rangeela (1996),
Best Music Director Award - Dil Se (1999),
Taal (2000), Lagaan (2002),
Rang de Basanti (2007),
Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2009),
Delhi 6 (2010),
Best Background Score
The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2003), Swades (2005), Guru (2008), Jodhaa Akbar (2009)
â€¢ IIFA Awards:
Best Music Direction: Taal (2000), Lagaan (2002), Saathiya (2003), Rang De Basanti (2007), Guru (2008), Jodhaa Akbar (2009) and Rockstar (2012).
Best Background Music:
Guru (2008), Jodhaa Akbar (2009), Outstanding Contribution by an Indian in International Cinema (2002),
Music Director of the Decade (2009)
â€¢ Zee Cine Awards:Â
Best Music Director: Taal (2000), Lagaan (2002), Saathiya (2003), Rang De Basanti (2007), Guru (2008) and Rockstar (2012).