By Anshul Chaturvedi
Sep 18, 2016
A day after Eid, India's most globally
recognized name in the field of music today was being awarded an international
honour for the preservation and creation of Asian culture - the Grand Prize of
the Fukuoka Prize, awarded annually by the Japanese city of Fukuoka.
At a point of time where the ISIS and Trump
grab headlines alternately, the soft-spoken, reticent man who embraced Islam in
his youth and has spent 25-odd years working silently and skilfully spoke of
the challenges of embracing modernity while retaining one's culture, and of how
the world is being torn apart today. Delhi Times attempted to engage him
thereafter, prodding him to elaborate, and asking if voices such as his should
be staying quiet in today's times.
Excerpts from a conversation where, just
like in an engaging soundtrack, AR Rahman frequently stops and leaves silences
for you to absorb the tune he's playing:
made a few points in your speeches and statements at Fukuoka, and
coincidentally they're in the week after Eid. You spoke to students and made a
point that it's difficult to retain your culture while embracing modernity
today. Later, you began to make a point, a half-sentence - 'the world is being torn
today' - and left it there. But while saner voices such as you often leave it
there, halfway, are the softer, nuanced voices in art and culture in Islam
being drowned out by the shriller, more radical voices? In your case, of
course, the question is literal as well as metaphorical.
for a while) Every decade has a phase. Every 30 years... every religion or race
gets confronted by situations because a few elements are creating chaotic
stuff. Right after Indira Gandhi's assassination, you remember, the Sikhs... (Quiet).
This is probably a recurring 20-year thing which is happening. I feel that the
more it happens, the more good things should be done. When bad things happen, a
lot of good things should be done, to outnumber the damage caused.
I just did a movie called The Viceroy's
House. It's Gurinder Chadha's movie and talks about the Partition - why the
Partition was done, even before it actually happened. It was all planned. And
it reveals very classified information, that makes you question if a million
people were killed for no reason.
But politics is not the artist's zone. The
duty of an artist is always to take people to another space, and music has the
capacity to do that without drugs and vices. And that's what we love about
poets and musicians, and even movie stars and movies, and I'm a part of that.
The more negative things happen, the more I want to just go into the zone and
make people experience my world.
dichotomy between the Aurangzeb model, in which music is Haraam, and the Sufi
model in which music is the enabler to take you to the Supreme - how does
somebody in your domain handle the reconciliation?
A: I don't
know. It's more about convenience sometimes, you know... (silence) I don't want
to get into religious aspects and doctrines and all that stuff, but I'll
narrate a recent example. I recently went to Medina for a pilgrimage because my
mother was ill. I had a Mannat and I wanted to go. I have a friend
(there) who invited me to his home. His mother's from Medina and his brother is
an Imam. At his home, after we had food, the brother asked him, so what does
your friend do? And he said, he's into music. The Imam instantly had a smile on
his face, and said, oh, music is, in a way, the language to reach God. And he
is from Medina; he's an Imam in Medina. I was stunned, I was expecting him to
frown, to change his expression or... (but) nothing like that happened. So when
people look at things like that in black and white, they are perhaps just being
safe in analysing something that is very complex. It is very complex, but it is
also very beautiful.
I come from a traditional music family - my
father was a composer, so I'm following my family tradition. And the beauty of
Sufism is, in a way, strangely connected to music. So for me (the connection
between these two) was very fine (laughs).
Sufism your introduction to Islam?
Even now, I just cling on to only that. Cling on to that because not everybody
gets that. It doesn't compromise on the basic values of humanity, and it
doesn't move away from the main doctrine in any way. But it's probably a Level
2 of understanding, or Level 3 of understanding. Because everybody is on
surface level... (silence) and the ultimate quest for anyone is to find the
next level of knowledge, which is lost, unfortunately.
almost a cliché now for SRK to keep saying that I just have to go to the US for
immigration to beat the stardom out of me, because the moment you have a
surname... When you go to perform in the UK, do you ever have that sort of a
vibe from fans or from the system?
never. Never. And in my heart, I want to serve humanity. And there were no
questions of agenda or anything in my mind. All the people who work with me are
from many different religions. Some people drink, some are vegetarians, some
are Brahmins, some are Christians; so it has been that kind of a vibe for the
past 20-25 years, and I love that! You should never force yourself on other
people. Or you should never let other people force themselves on you. I deal
with Americans and the British, and I don't make them uncomfortable, I think,
and they don't make me either. It's the way you handle life. I've seen many
people who drink, and then, I've seen people who've stunned me, like European
composers who say, 'Oh I don't drink', 'I'm vegetarian'. You don't expect that
from, you know, a European composer... so it's not a question of my beliefs,
your beliefs, and all that, unless you make people feel that way.
Q: For you,
your faith is a matter of choice. Like for Adnan Sami, his nationality is a
matter of choice, not birth - it's an informed choice rather than something you
were born into. In that sense, you're better placed to have a viewpoint in
times of conflict, aren't you?
A: For me, I
think the teachings, or whatever we learn, should be reflected in your
character, in your work, in your soul. Not just by the looks or what I speak or
anything. I keep telling my children the same thing. The goodness of what you
learn should come from your deeds, not from, you dressing a certain way, or
looking a certain way. That doesn't matter.
people like you necessarily be more vocal? Don the people who can explain the
softer, more nuanced side of issues speak less frequently and the shrill voices
speak more frequently, as default?
problem is, the moment you get into the frontline, of doing all this, you lose
what you're supposed to do, your music. I don't have enough time for music
alone, and I'm also writing a script. And it's not my job, I don't have to deal
with politics and hatred and all that stuff. My job is to entertain and play
beautiful music, and my spirituality comes into music, my spirituality comes in
my words, whatever I say, and the way I behave with my colleagues. That's it.
And that is important. The most important thing is to keep doing good things.
Because there are many good things which
everybody can do, whether you take Muslims or anyone else, and they are doing
it. Some people are doing it silently; I've seen many people like that. I've
met the Nawab of Arcot, his son was telling me that their family has given out
land to thousands of temples and churches. Nobody knows about it. They quietly
do things. So, some of the prejudice is from half-baked knowledge, I would say.
And I would say the media can also help a lot in countering the bad with the
good. Not just polarizing... (silence) everything should be known to people and
let people make their own judgment, instead of we telling them what to believe.
Q: Over the
past few years, is our cinema industry getting slightly divided around
political or ideological lines? Some cinema people are very vocal and
consistent in representing political views.
A: It's, I
think, emotional outpour rather than politics... because everybody has to see
everyone, somewhere we all have to see everyone (if we are working together in
this industry). And if we are in that (edgy) mode, I don't think we can work.
And that's the truth. Because somewhere, everybody is connected.