Saturday, April 3, 2010

A R Rahman lives in his joint family. The family consists of himself, his wife Saira Banu, his 3 sisters (Raihana, Talath and Israth), his mother (Kareema Begum), his two daughters (Kadhija and Raheema) and a son ( Khwaja Mohammad Roo mi Rahman ).His sisters Raihana, Talath and Israth are professionally trained musicians. They often sing for him, and appear on stage performances as well.

Sister Raihana’s son, GV Prakash is a born talent, and he’s into music. He has sung songs for Rahman and now is an emerging music director.

Rahman’s mother and wife do play the most important part in his music – they are his critics.

Rahman got married at the age of 27. And unlike in the Indian movies, it wasn’t love at first sight.

Rahman had told his mother what his bride needed to have: some education, some beauty and loads of humility! His mother frequented the same Sufi temple as Saira and her family. His mother first noticed her there.

She cried Eureka when she saw this young girl praying in that Sufi temple. The girl’s parents also were looking for a bridegroom for their elder daughter, 21-year-old Saira. Her father is a Madras-based businessman, who belongs to Kutch , Gujarat originally.

Saira is sister-in-law of the Tamil actor who’s also called Rahman, and being a Rahman fan herself, she couldn’t let him down.Rahman remembers, “My first meeting with Saira was rather amusing. Back then, she only spoke Kutchi. I asked her whether she was interested in marrying me. I’d also told her what kind of life was going to be offered to her. She was very quiet then, but now I know she is anything but quiet! I had to smile throughout our three-hour meeting and, by the end of it, it was almost a pain.”

Rahman’s mother chose genuinely friendly Saira Banu to be his wife. Theirs was an arranged marriage. Saira and Rahman got married on Wednesday, March the 12th, 1995 in Chennai. It was a gala event.

About his personal life, Rahman once said “I’m very passionate about music and have very little place in my life for anything else. But whatever time I have after my recordings, I try and spend with my family, especially with my younger daughter. She listens to most of my songs and even has her favorites. It’s so wonderful to see your child growing up. I don’t want to miss out these little pleasures in life.” Saira and Rahman are blessed with two daughters and one son.

When asked ‘How much time do you spend with your family?’ he answers, “I have realized that I must spend more time with my family if I want them to listen to me.” He takes his children on small trips and picnics. His elder daughter Kadhija doesn’t like the autograph hunters running after him, so she restricts him from coming to her school. His younger daughter Raheema has interest in music. His son is too young, who shares the birthday with his father. He was born on 6th Jan 2002 and Rahman on 6th Jan 1966


Many people contributed to making Rahman what he is today.Though he completed his schooling from the prestigious Padma Seshadri Bal Bhavan in Chennai, and then shifted to the Madras Christian College , Chennai.there are many others who contributed to his success – as gurus and teachers.

Music Teachers

Dileep’s initiation in music happened in the early years. He obviously took the first music lessons from his father, RK Sekhar.

According to a story behind his music baptism, once a music director and colleague of Sekhar, Sudarshanam Master found the four year old playing a tune on the harmonium. Master covered the keys with a cloth. It made no difference. Dileep replayed the tune effortlessly. This impressed the music director who suggested that he be trained in music.

Dileep started taking his first music lessons on a piano and a pedal organ when only four. He also began to formally learn Indian classical music, carnatic from Dakshinamoorthy and N. Gopalakrishnan and Hindustani from Krishnan Nair. He took classes in film music from Nithyanandham and Western Classical from Jacob John. All this learning experience enabled him to earn a scholarship to the famed Trinity College of Music at Oxford University London, from where he obtained a degree in Western Classical Music.

Once back in India , he continued to be a part of various music troupes called Roots, Magic, Memosis, Aristocrats, and Nemesis Avenue etc . He also learnt the Sufi Qawwali style from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, in 1997, when he visited Lahore and met the great Pakistani Sufi singer.There is one more in the list – his favorite singer Hariharan – who teaches him Ghazals in relation to Hindustani classical music. In late 1998, he formally learnt the ‘Hindustani Khayaal Gayaki’ from siblings Ghulam Kader Murtaza Khan and Ghulam Kader Mustafa Khan.

In 1998, while composing for Subhash Ghai’s ‘Taal’, he thought learning Hindi and Urdu would help him compose music for the North Indian style, and got in touch with Anand Bakshi, the famous lyricist.

Spiritual Teachers

When his sister was ill, he came across Pir Quadri. This was well before Rahman was ‘born’.and Dileep was still ‘alive’. Pir advised him frequently and taught him the purpose of life.

For Dileep, the meeting with Pir was an inner awakening and cleansing. Pir taught him a different perspective of life. Soon he and his family accepted Islam. Thus Dileep became Abdul Rahman.

It was Pir Quadri, who gave him the first lessons of Islam. After the demise of Pir Quadri, he came in contact with Mehboob Aalam and Mohammad Yusuf Bhai, who now continue to be his spiritual guide, mentor, adviser, and guru.

For Rahman, learning is divine process. He says: “You’ve to learn from the inside out. No one can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is only teacher, and that is your soul.”


After his father passed away, the burden of earning the bread and butter for his family fell on Dileep’s shoulders at the very young age of 11, and because of that, he had been struggling extremely hard for some years.His family went through a rough patch following his father’s death, which literally shook their world. He even had to work in amateur Kannada plays at the age of 13, to earn money for his family.

Because of these hardships, sometime afterwards he stopped believing in the God. He believed that there was no God. There was a feeling of restlessness within him. But later when he stabilized himself, he found that the concept of God in Islam was very appealing to him.

He learnt that there can be no life without a force governing, without God. And then he found what he was looking for – in Islam. It all happened around 1988, when one of his sisters fell seriously ill, with similar inexplicable conditions as their father. Numerous attempts to cure her failed. Her condition progressively worsened. The family tried everything from medicine to religious methods like havanas and prayers in the church.

The family had given up all hope; when they came in contact with a Muslim Pir called as Pir Karimulla Shah Qadri or Sheik Abdul Qadir Jeelani Sahib or Pir Qadri.

The family had earlier gone to the Pir when Dileep’s father had similar troubles, but were too late to save him. With Pir’s prayers and blessings, Dileep’s sister made a miraculous recovery. Pir Quadri advised the family frequently. It was Pir who taught them the purpose of life, and also led Dileep and his family members to accept Islam.Rattled by the bad experiences earlier in the case of his father and now his sister, and influenced by the teachings of the Pir and the succor that they found in him, the entire family converted to Islam. So great was the influence of the Pir on the family, that Dileep started using the place which he had blessed first as his music room, and later, when he started becoming successful, a studio. When the family shifted to their current house, they resolved to stick to the devotion. So he and his family – excluding one of his sisters – converted to Islam. But it was not an instantaneous decision – it took them whole 10 years to come to that decision.

The meeting with Pir was, for Dileep, an inner awakening and cleansing. He started feeling, that it is not about being Hindu or being Muslim or anything, but there is this one feeling and that is God – The Almighty.

Both his father and mother were strong believers in Astrology. His mother took him along once to an astrologer called Ulaganathan, in Chennai, to get the horoscope for her second daughter Bala.

She asked the astrologer to suggest an Islamic name for Dileep. The astrologer immediately suggested ‘Abdul Rahman’ and also asked him to shorten it to AR Rahman. When his mother asked the astrologer why the other initial ‘R’, the astrologer replied “Give him a name with those two initials and mark my words, he will grow up to be a great man”. His mother did accordingly.This happened around when the production of the cassettes of ‘Roja’ was going on. The producers had decided to credit the composer as Dileep on the inlay cards of cassettes of the film. Dileep’s mother immediately approached director Manirathnam, and placed this unusual condition – to credit Dileep with a Muslim name. The new name of the 25-year old composer was: A R Rahman! And the rest, as they say, is history!

The initials A and R later became ‘Allah Rakha’ on the suggestion of renowned Hindi music composer Naushad Ali. Thus A Sekhar Dileep Kumar became Allah Rakha Rahman. This was around 1988.

He says, “Family problems and the need for peace of mind made us change the faith. Sufism has given me peace. As Dileep I had an inferiority complex. As AR Rahman I feel like I have been born again.”

Rahman adds: “I am whatever because of my parent’s prayers to God. I am whatever I am – because the prayers I pray conscientiously, sincerely and with full faith. I will be whatever I am – only because of Him, I know it. He has given me everything. He can take everything away and I accept His decision without any questions, without a murmur. He is everything to me. I am just an infinitesimal creation of His. He has created me for a specific mission. I will be committing a sin if I don’t fulfill that mission. That’s my only belief. That’s the only thing that matters to me. I don’t care for all the other temptations of the world. I am born for music. I live for music. I will live for music till the very end. My life and death are in His hands. I will live only till He wants me to live. I will die only when He wants me to die. It’s all God’s will… Insha Allah.!”Religion is a very personal affair for this sober young man from Chennai. He prays five times a day, carrying his prayer mat with him on his tours, and retiring to the prayer room he has had built next to his studio during recording. He says, “It’s like a meditation. Each time I pray, I die, my soul departs, and then I am like born again.”


Dileep was quite happy in his world of advertisements. He had no intention of joining the film industry as a music composer.Around 1991, ace Tamil movie director Manirathnam was on the lookout for a new music composer for his films. His long-standing, fruitful association with the doyen of Tamil film music Ilaiyaraja had come to an end when the latter reportedly made some disdainful comments during the making of Manirathnam’s ‘Dhalapathi’.

One day, at an awards function for excellence in the field of advertising, Manirathnam chanced upon Dileep, who received the award for the best ad jingle, which he had composed for the popular Leo Coffee ad.

At the celebrations party that followed the awards presentation ceremony, Manirathnam was introduced to the young composer by his cousin Sharada Trilok of Trish Productions. Rahman had produced some outstanding work for Trish Productions.

She (Sharada Trilok) had words of praise for the young composer. Manirathnam got curious and requested him for a sample of his wares. The composer readily complied and invited the director over to his studio.

Manirathnam turned up at the studio only after 3 months, where the 24-year-old lad played out a tune that he had been pushed into composing by his school friend G. Bharat Bala alias Bala when they both had been greatly disturbed by the socio-political tensions in South India over the Cauvery river waters issue.Listening to the tune that was played, Manirathnam was hooked instantly. Dileep effortlessly ‘qualified’ in Manirathnam’s eyes as ‘deserving’, and thus, when the appropriate opportunity came along, he decided to give him a ‘break’.

Without a second thought he signed on the composer to score the music for his next venture, produced by the veteran Tamil director K Balachander for his respected ‘Kavithalayaa’ banner. The film was ‘Roja’. That tune took the avatar of the song ‘Thamizha Thamizha’ in ‘Roja’.

Rahman’s D-Day arrived when ‘Roja’ was released on Saturday, August 15th, 1992 . It was awaited with curiosity since it was Manirathnam’s first film without Ilaiyaraja. Skeptics doubted the ability of a 25-year old debutant. The entire film world and filmgoers were in for a pleasant surprise. Rahman delivered the goods and how? To call the music just a ‘Super Hit’ would be an understatement. The music of the film became a phenomenal success and revolutionized modern day Indian film music.

Rahman became a household name in Tamil Nadu overnight. ‘Roja’ won every conceivable award in music that year. Rahman even got the ‘Rajat Kamal’ for best Music Director at the National Film Awards, the first time ever by a debutante. Every producer was trying to impress upon Rahman to work for his/her projects. Because of all this, Rahman decided to leave the jingles world and concentrate on film music.Throughout India , Rahman’s other work were also received wholeheartedly by music lovers. However, it was a Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Rangeela’ – Rahman’s first original Hindi score – which truly established him as one of the prominent music composers of Bollywood. In North India too, Rahman became a ’star’ overnight, and as is the tradition in Bollywood, suddenly all kinds of producers were seen queuing outside his house.

Rahman however, wisely chose to stay selective and took on only projects that interested him. He also made it a point to work entirely on his own terms and conditions. He still works only from Chennai where he lives; has his own studio in his house from where he works; likes to work only at nights.

Since ‘Roja’, he has created music for mega blockbuster films including ‘Pudhiya Mugam’, ‘Gentleman’, ‘Kizhakku Cheemaiyilae’, ‘Duet’, ‘Kadhalan’, ‘Bombay’, ‘May Madham’, ‘Indian’, ‘Muthu’, ‘Kadhal Desam’, ‘Love Birds’, ‘Sapney’, ‘Jeans’, ‘Dil Se..’, ‘Kadhalar Dhinam’, ‘Sangamam’, ‘En Swasa Katrae’ and many others.

His 1995 soundtrack for ‘ Bombay ‘ crossed 5 million units and Rahman had arrived as the ‘King of Indian Music’ with sales of more than 50 million albums over a period of 3 years. The success continued with films like ‘Dil Se…’ with Manirathnam, and ‘ Taal ‘ with Subhash Ghai. After working in many movies of the typical popular genre, several offbeat reputed directors and producers like Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal, Deepa Mehta have worked with Rahman in movies like ‘Thakshak’, ‘Zubeidaa’, ‘Fire’, and ‘1947 Earth’.