Rahman, A.R.


Rahman, A.R.
▪ 2005

      Although it opened on Broadway in April 2004 to scathing reviews, the musical Bombay Dreams was a commercial hit and exposed North American audiences to A.R. Rahman, India's hottest composer. Rahman's score for Bombay Dreams, a lush electronic fusion of East and West, was seen as a possible drawing card for a new generation of musical theatre fans. The show was produced by the reigning “old guard” of musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber, who had handpicked Rahman for the job, hoping to inject an international flavour into the art form and perhaps draw new audiences.

      Rahman was born A.S. Dileep Kumar on Jan. 6, 1966, in Madras (now Chennai), India. His father, R.K. Sekhar, was a prominent Tamil musician who composed scores for the Malayalam film industry. Rahman began studying piano at the age of four. The boy's interests lay in electronics and computers, but his father's serendipitous purchase of a synthesizer allowed him to pursue his passion and to learn to love music at the same time. Sekhar died when Rahman was 9 years old, and by age 11 the boy was playing piano professionally to help support his family. He dropped out of school, but his professional experience led to a scholarship to study at Trinity College, Oxford, where he received a degree in Western classical music.

      In 1988 his entire family converted to Islam following a sister's recovery from a serious illness, and he then took the name Allah Rakha Rahman. He grew bored with playing in bands and eventually turned his talents toward creating advertising jingles. He wrote more than 300 jingles and would later say that the experience taught him discipline because jingle writing required delivery of a powerful message or mood in a short time. In 1991, while at a ceremony to receive an award for his work on a coffee advertisement, Rahman met Bollywood film director Mani Ratnam, who persuaded him to write for the big screen. Their first project was Roja, which resulted in Rahman's first film sound-track hit. More than 100 movie scores followed, including the music for Lagaan (2001), the first Bollywood film nominated for an Academy Award. Rahman's albums sold more than 100 million copies.

      Lloyd Webber heard some of Rahman's sound tracks and asked the composer if he would be interested in writing a stage musical. Working with lyricist Don Black, Rahman composed the score for Bombay Dreams, a colourful satire of Bollywood films, and the show opened in London's West End in 2002 without much fanfare. Rahman was already well known among London's large Indian population, however, and ticket sales were strong, which prompted the launch of the Broadway version of the show in 2004. At year's end Rahman was working on his second stage project, a musical version of The Lord of the Rings that was scheduled to premiere in London in 2005.

Anthony G. Craine

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Universalium. 2010.

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