A. R. Rahman is one of the most famous Indian composers, singer-songwriters and music producers in the world.
He has worked on countless Bollywood films, but had his international breakthrough for his work on “Slumdog Millionaire,” which earned him an Academy Award, two Grammy Awards, a BAFTA award and a Golden Globe Award, to name a few. Rahman also received much acclaim for his work on “127 Hours.”
On May 16, Disney’s “Million Dollar Arm” hit theaters. The film tells the true story of an agent J.B. (played by Jon Hamm), who goes to India with a contest to recruit pitchers. Rahman worked on the beautiful soundtrack, which features collaborations with Wale and Iggy Azalea. Read our exclusive interview with the composer below:
Q: How did you end up working with Wale for the Million Dollar Arm soundtrack?
I was writing a lot of song ideas and Craig (Gillespie) was suggesting that we should have a mainstream rapper for certain sequences such as when the all the boys go to America, it feels more towards this culture. So Wale’s name popped up, we sent him the track and he loved it and did the rap and sent it back.
Q: Had you heard Wale’s music before?
I heard his name, but this is the first time we worked together.
Q: Similar story for Iggy Azalea?
Q: How did your collaboration with KT Tunstall come about?
We met actually in Scottland for the song … I did a concert there and we met there. We went back and forth, I was sending her files she was sending me files and so we got it done.
Q: Was this your first time working with hip hop artists? If so, would you do it again?
Yeah absolutely! I mean I worked with M.I.A. before on Slumdog Millionaire, some of those [hip-hop] artists have sampled my songs before but in terms of collaborations this would be the first time.
Q: Was it an enjoyable experience?
Yeah I had fun, I think rappers are pretty unpredictable in life, in a good way (laughs)!
Q: You’ve done music for many Bollywood films as well as Hollywood films that portray Indian culture, how do you keep your sound feeling fresh?
I think I go with the flow, sometimes it’s good to adapt around and it depends on which project I’m on. If the director is very experimental and he allows me to really work and they open doors. Some people are very rigid, some people say “no no we need this.” But I think Craig was more experimental, he said he loved all the stuff. In a way like Danny (Boyle), Danny loves experimentation, he loves modern young stuff. They blend well.
Q: What was the process like composing the “Million Dollar Arm” soundtrack? Did you feel any personal connection to the story and did that affect your process?
Well I got the script and they told me it was a real life story, a true story. My consideration was always that it’s a true thing that we all have different cultures that have good things in them, and it’s good to exchange and also learn and respect each other. I think it comes in very subtle ways … it’s a subplot, it is another layer of wisdom we take from the movie.
Q: What’s one genre of film you’d like to record a score for that you haven’t already done?
Wow, that’s interesting. I’m evolving slowly I feel. I’ve done the Indian industry, and when I work in Hollywood or when I work in Europe there’s certain things, which I’m learning also. And there’s always a sense about these issues and it’s about giving and taking I guess. The past 3 or 4 years I’ve been closely working with musicians, and arrangers, and studios … from Hollywood. And it’s exciting, it’s a new [path], and you also learn a lot of things, what is around and in that way, adapting other stuff makes my music newer I would say doing it for over twenty years.
Q: So you would do a horror film?
Maybe yeah, it would be interesting. (laughs)
Q: What’s your biggest inspiration when recording a film score?
I go with the picture sometimes … in what it needs. Sometimes certain movies need traditional scores and we do try something outside the box and nobody likes it. Certain movies are crying for something new, so it makes the whole movie experience newer. So I try to do both sometimes, even in Million Dollar Arm some of the stuff is traditional scoring with the strings and pianos and very subtly underlining the emotion. And some of them are really loud and driving, so it’s a mix of both sensibilities I would say in Million Dollar Arm.
Q: What’s been your most memorable Hollywood score to record?
Wow (laughs). I would say 127 Hours maybe. The one where I worked with Danny and the canyon, that tune and the song I wrote with Dido. Other films I wrote are great too, but this had more space for music, for the music to really come out and for it to mature and stuff like that.
Q: Have you been getting more film offers since you won your Oscar awards?
Yes I’ve been getting [more offers], but I’ve been a little choosy because I’ve had to travel a lot and go back to India. I’m going with the flow. If good movies are coming I stay here and sometimes do my work after the movie finishes.
Q: You’re viewed as the global face of Indian music, especially in America, does knowing that change your process at all?
I’ve been following Hollywood films since 1983-84, and sometimes in the late 80’s I’d be watching like four movies a day (laughs). Somewhere I think the culture, these movies have been in my body. The rhythm of it, the melody, the sensibilities. So coming here sometimes it doesn’t feel strange, sometimes it feels like familiar ground. People should feel the same way, they’re surprised when I start playing and they’re like “oh, how did you know that kind of thing?” So it comes naturally, but of course there’s a lot to learn.
Q: If you could pick one film score of yours and redo it again, which would it be and why?
There are many scores that I have done in India, which at that point I was very limited to string sections and orchestra, so I’ve used a lot of samples, brass samples. And when you hear it back, you go “there should have been a real brass section.” But there was no accessibility in those days, not much Internet before ’96. So maybe those scores with a real orchestra.
Q: Are there any particular hip-hop artists out there that you’d like to work with, especially now that you have added experience working with rappers?
Interesting question, maybe Jay-Z. It will happen when the time comes.
Q: Finally, where do you go from here? Which projects are you working on?
I’m doing a movie called The Hundred-Foot Journey, produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey. It’s for Dreamworks. I’m almost finished with it and then I go back to India
Million Dollar Arm track listing (tracks 8-16 are score cues:)
1. “Makhna” Performed by A. R. Rahman
2. “Million Dollar Dream” Performed by A. R. Rahman featuring Iggy Azalea
3. “Unborn Children” Performed by A. R. Rahman and Vairamuthu featuring Unni Krishnan & Chitra
4. “We Could Be Kings” Performed by KT Tunstall and A. R. Rahman
5. “Taa Taa Tai” Performed by A. R. Rahman
6. “Keep the Hustle” Performed by A. R. Rahman featuring Wale
7. “Nimma Nimma” Performed by A. R. Rahman
Score Composed and Performed by A. R. Rahman
9. “Never Give Up”
12. “Desi Thoughts”
13. “First Tryout”
14. “Calling Scouts Again”
15. “Welcome to India”
16. “The Final Pitch”