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We have lots to give the West: Rahman

NEW YORK: Should A.R. Rahman win an Oscar or two on Sunday, the Indian film composer has written just the right tune for the occasion: “Jai Ho,” the celebratory ode sung during the Bollywood-style, song-and-dance finale of “Slumdog Millionaire.”

“I can relate to the film because I take life positively and feel that even after great depression, something good will come out,” said the composer in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “Almost everything is finished for this guy [film’s hero] but there is still hope and then he... succeeds in the end.”

When Rahman performs his two Oscar-nominated songs, “O ... Saya” and “Jai Ho,” at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony he will be realising his own dream. Rahman believes that music and film have the power to bring people together across boundaries of caste, religion, nationality and race.

Rahman, who has already won a Golden Globe and British BAFTA award for his “Slumdog” score, says he would like to share the Oscar prize with his many fans in India and elsewhere. They have made him one of the world’s best-selling recording artists, globally on a par with Madonna and the Rolling Stones.

With Oscar nominations for best song and original score, Rahman could wind up getting in one night as many golden statuettes as Indians have won in the Oscars’ 80-year-history. Costume designer Bhanu Athaiya won for “Gandhi” in 1982, and arthouse director Satyajit Ray received a lifetime achievement award in 1992.

Rahman hopes an Oscar win will make Western audiences more aware of contemporary Indian film music, much as the Beatles raised the profile of Indian classical musicians like Ravi Shankar.

“We have a different philosophy of approaching film music and I would say there’s lots to give which I always wanted to happen,” he said.

The composer overcame many hurdles in going from his native Chennai (formerly Madras) in south India, where he began studying piano at age 4, to the Kodak Theater for Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony.

“I think my philosophy of life is music is universal ... so I’m never closed to things,” said Rahman. “Like some people say, ‘Oh, I hate heavy metal,’ or ‘I hate jazz.’ Why do you need to hate it? Why don’t you appreciate it in a certain context.”

Rahman thought of “Roja” as a one-shot project, but it ended up changing Indian film music.

He became the first debuting film composer to win a National Film Award, India’s equivalent of the Oscar, for best music director. Time magazine critic Richard Corliss rated the “Roja” score among the all-time best movie soundtracks.

“I kept hearing his music and really liking it ... there was a fresh sound and a fresh approach ... and a completely different way of looking at film music,” said Rahman’s friend, German-born composer Hans Zimmer.

“Like any good artist, A.R. is not a traditionalist, he’s a revolutionary. He uses all the revolutionary things that come from all over the world in his stuff ... hip-hop beats, electronics .... and there’s an incredible inquisitiveness and playfulness in his music ... .

Rahman said he accepted British director Danny Boyle’s offer to write the score for the low-budget, independent film because he needed a break from Indian movies.

“This was a perfect opportunity to work with a British director with a different vision of things. He wasn’t catering to Indians but to an international audience,” he said.

Mr. Boyle, who used rapper M.I.A.’s Grammy-nominated hit “Paper Planes” for one scene in the film, suggested that Rahman collaborate with the British-Sri Lankan hip-hop artist Maya Arulpragasam on “O ... Saya.” The high-energy tune, mixing Rahman’s chanting and M.I.A.’s rapping, sets the tone for the scenes of children fleeing from police through Mumbai’s alleys.— AP

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