A R Rahman - The King of Music

A R Rahman – The King of Music

AR Rehman strode as a colossus in the world of film music after his debut in Roja. Rehman, a man with grim look, shyness and long hair, is now considered to be the definition of music. From a keyboardist to the most respected name in music business today, it’s been a long and winding journey for this longhaired composer who has given sleepless nights to many a producer/director as he works only at nights.

In 1989, Rehman�s passion for music led him to launch and develop a small studio of his own called Panchathan Record Inn, attached to his house. Later it emerged as one of India’s most well equipped and advanced recording studios. In his established state of the art sound and recording studio, AR Rehman began experimenting in sound engineering, design and production.

AR Rehman released his first album of Muslim devotional songs titled Deen Isai Maalai in 1991. This was followed by Set Me Free, an album of English songs. Unfortunately for Rehman,
both the albums went unnoticed in the market.

Allah Rakha RehmanAllah Rakha Rehman (AR Rehman) was born as A.S.Dileep Kumar on the 6th of January 1966 at Madras to a musically affluent family. His father R.K. Sekhar was an arranger and conductor in Malayalam movies and had worked under the likes of Salil Chowdhary and Devarajan.

AR Rehman started learning piano at the age of four. At the age of 9, his father passed away. The pressure of supporting his family fell on Rehman. At the age of 11, he joined maestro Illaiyaraja’s troupe as a keyboard player. His mother Kareema Begum stood behind him and encouraged him to follow in his father’s footsteps. But all this had an adverse effect on his education. Infrequent attendance and an unaccomodative management forced him to shift schools from the prestigious Padma Seshadri Bal Bhavan to the Madras Christian College and finally he dropped out of school altogether.

In 1988, one of Rehman’s sisters fell seriously ill and numerous attempts to cure her failed. Her condition worsened. Rehman’s family had given up all hopes when they came in contact with a Muslim Pir-Shiekh Abdul Qadir Jillani. With his prayers and blessings, his sister made a miraculous recovery and got new life. The whole family was much influenced by the teachings of the Pir and converted to Islam. Then Dileep Kumar became AR Rehman. Rehman is the only son of his parents and has two sisters. His father Sekhar was very devoted to music. Most of his works were in Malayalam films.

Rehman also played on the orchestra of M.S. Vishwanathan and Romesh Naidu and accompanied Tabla genius Ustad Zakir Hussain and Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan on world tours. Trinity College of Music of Oxford University offered him scholarship by judging his experience and qualities. Rehman then studied there and earned a degree in western classical music. When Rehman returned from Oxford, he became a part of various music troupes. Rehman was also a part of local rock bands like Roots, Magic and Nemesis Avenue where he performed with his future colleagues like Ranjit Barot and Sivamani.

Fortunately, Rehman soon got his break in advertising. AR Rehman was signed to compose the jingle to promote Allwyn’s new Trendy range of watches in 1987. These ads of Allwyn proved a turning point in his career and his work in them was much appreciated. He then moved full time into this glamorous field of advertising and composed jingles. Then began Rehman’s 5-years saga in advertising where he went on to compose more than 300 jingles. His career in this industry has a lot of popular ads like those of Parry’s, Leo Coffee, Boost featuring Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev, Titan, Premier Pressure Cooker, Hero Punch and Asian Paints. The jingles that Rehman composed for the Leo Coffee ad and the Asian Paints ad earned him awards and recognition. Besides, AR Rehman also won an award for composing the theme music of the Madras Telugu Academy’s Spirit of Unity Concerts.

RehmanAt an advertising awards function where Rehman received his award for the best ad jingle, which he had composed for the popular Leo Coffee ad, met Mani Ratnam – the well-known filmmaker. The meeting was arranged by Sharada Trilok of Trish Productions for whose company the young composer had worked. Mani Ratnam requested Rehman for a sample of his wares. Rehman readily compiled and invited Ratnam over to his studio where he played out the particular tune. Mani Ratnam was hooked instantly. Mani Ratnam had previously worked with Illaiyaraja but this young genius changed his track. And AR Rehman finally got a chance to prove his worth when Ratnam signed him to score the music for his next film Roja.

The music of Roja was the first step in changing the face of Indian film music. Roja won every conceivable award in music that year (1992). At the National Film Awards function, Rehman also received the Rajat Kamal for Best Music Director. Then Rehman left ads and moved into film music full time. Roja, a film by Mani Ratnam, stormed the country not just because of its content and style but mainly its music.

Melody the key element in Indian music returned and the fact that the lyrics were mere translations did not take away the soul from the music and Roja became both a critical and a commercial success. In spite of the success of Roja, Rehman had to prove his worth as a Hindi film music director to consolidate his debut in Bollywood. Mani Ratnam’s Bombay was also a bilingual he had to do a pure Hindi film to conquer the country. Opportunity came in the form of Urmila Mantondkar running and pouting on the beaches of Goa singing Tanha Tanha in Ram Gopal Verma’s Rangeela. With this film, Rehman not only arrived but also came to stay. The songs of Rangeela topped the charts. Rangeela was a big success for both Rehman and Urmila. After Roja, almost every song of Rehman topped the charts. His 1995 soundtrack for Bombay, a film by Mani Ratnam, crossed 5 million units and Rehman had arrived as the King of Indian Music with sales of more than 40 million albums over a period of 3 years. The success continued with films like Dil Se with Mani Ratnam, Taal with Subash Gai, Zubeida with Shyam Benegal and with many others too.

Since Roja, AR Rehman has scored music for a number of hit films such as Pudhiya, Mugam, Gentleman, Kizhaku, Seemaiyilae, Bombay, Madham, Love Birds, Hindustani, Daud, 1947 Earth, Dil Se, Jeans, Pukar, Taal, Fiza, Zubeida, Nayak-The Real Hero, Lagaan, The Legend of Bhagat Singh and more others.

The music of Bombay, Dil Se, Taal, Fiza, Zubeida, Nayak-The Real Hero and Lagaan won the hearts of the listeners. And now AR Rehman is liked, loved and respected as a superstar like Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan.

In this young age, Rehman has worked almost all-top filmmakers of Bollywood from Mani Ratnam to Govind Nihalani, Deepa Mehta, Subash Gai to Shyam Benegal. Rehman still has a long way to go. And he is on his way to achieve higher and higher destination in this industry.

AR Rehman is well known for introducing several unknown voices in playback singing. He has shown an extraordinary flair for experimenting with untrained voices. Many of the current crops of singers got a break with Rehman. Singers who have worked with him have repeatedly said that Rehman’s open approach during recording sessions has spurred them on to giving their best. Suresh Peters, Shahul Hameed, Srinivas, Shankar Mahadevan, Harini, Anupama, Dominique, Minmini, Shubha, Hema Sardesai are some of the singers who have thrived after the advent of Rehman. Singers like Hari Haran, Sukhwinder Singh, Sonu Nigam, Sujatha have had successful comebacks in the industry after working with Rehman. AR Rehman also gave break to Unni-Krishnan, Bombay Jayshree and Nithyashree Mahadevan who are successful Karnatak classical vocalists now.

Rehman gave a successful comeback to Sukhwinder Singh in Dil Se when he signed him to sing the popular song Chaiya, Chaiya. After Chaiya, Chiaya, there has been no looking back in Sukhwinder’s career. Today Sukhwinder Singh is the highest paid singer in Bollywood. Sukhwinder described his experience of Chaiya Chaiya with Rehman: “I went to Rehman’s studio in Chennai to seek some work of writing lyrics (Sukhwinder writes lyrics too) and asked Rehman whether he had any work for me.”Rehman, in his usual soft style, replied instantly  “Do you want to sing for me (Rehman was very much aware of Sukhwinder’s skills of singing)?” I couldn’t believe it that the well-known composer like Rehman was offering me to sing rather I wasn’t sure about having work of writing lyrics from Rehman. Rehman gave me the song Chaiya Chaiya written by legendary poet and director Gulzar, to sing. And the result  all and sundry know! I am very much impressed by Rehman’s studio, his work and his style.”

The greatest asset Rehman has and continues to develop is the desire to innovate and introduce new styles, be it singing or orchestration. Rehman also gave new life to the voice of the legendary Asha Bhonsle in Rangeela. Jazz, Rock, Funk, Western and Indian Classical and Folk music all congregate in Rehman’s music to create a wonderful mosaic, which is different and also not shallow.

Sufism is very much apparent in his work right from Bombay and continues to find expression in films like Dil Se, Pukar and Taal. In 1997, as India was celebrating its 50th year of independence, Rehman sang the national song Vande Mataram and gave life to it.

Rehman’s own voice with its distinct nasal pitch came to be heard in the film Bombay. In Bombay, Rehman formally took to playback singing. Rehman had lent his voice to his compositions earlier too but they had been part of the preludes or interludes like Yelo in Chinna Chinna Aasai in Roja. But Hamma Hamma in Bombay was Rehman’s first complete song. His song Mustafa Mustafa from Kadhal Desam was another hit that made Sony take notice of Rehman and sign him on for the non-film album Vande Mataram. Then he continued his singing career too. Dil Se Re from the film Dil Se made him a hot singer and the producers/directors began to sign him as a composer cum singer in their films. In 1997, the international music giant, Sony Music, whose portfolio included the likes of Michael Jackson, signed AR Rehman. Rehman was the first person to be signed by Sony Music from the Indian subcontinent. And the both (Sony and Rehman) released an album, Vande Mataram. Vande Mataram was released simultaneously in 28 countries around the world on August 15, 1997. The album was a mega success and sold over 1.2 million copies in India and did reasonably well internationally too. Jana Gana Mana was his another hit album released on 26 January 2000. To satisfy his world fans, Rehman does concerts around the globe.

To this day, AR Rehman has worked with internationally reputed artists like Late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Michael Jackson, Apache Indian, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Kunna Kudi, Vaidyanathan, Dominic Miller, L. Shankar, Kadri Gopalnath, Vikku Vinayakram, Ustad Sultan Khan, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and more others. On a trip to India, David Byrne met Rehman and got impressed with the way this young genius worked. Byrne did a project with Rehman, which is yet to release. In October 1999, Rehman performed a song Ekam Satyam in a charity concert in Munich with Pop King Michael Jackson. The meeting between two legends of music was arranged by Hindujas and Bharat Bala.

Some years ago, AR Rehman worked with Michael Jackson on a single titled Satyam, the track composed by Rehman is part English and part Sanskrit. The Sanskrit portions written by AR Parthasarathy were rendered by Rehman while the English lyrics written by Kanika Myer Bharat were rendered by Michael Jackson. The track was released as a single. Rehman’s music in Lagaan was much appreciated by the audience. Rehman keeps in mind the script of the film when he composes the music that is why there emerges quality in his creations.

Rehman works only in his studio in Chennai, he does not go to Mumbai to work in other studios. He feels comfort in his studio. Describing the exact definition of creativity and success, Rehman said: “A creative person should crave for more and never be satisfied. If he is satisfied then it will only mean the end for him”.

Composing music is Rehman’s first love. But he also likes to sing and thinks that singing requires a totally different energy. Initially Rehman used to have a complex about his voice and never even dared to sing for any of his films till he heard late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He felt that if Ustad Nusrat could create wonders with his voice, he could also try his hand at singing. Ustad Nusrat was his inspiration in singing. Rehman is also impressed with Nusrat’s compositions. And later Rehman worked with this legendary singer and composer (Ustad Nusrat). When Rehman worked with Ustad Nusrat, it was like a big day of his life as he was working with internationally renowned musician. The big musician like Rehman thinks that singing needs a lot of practice on your part, it is not easy.

In future, Rehman has plans to compose ghazals too. Two big producers of Hollywood offered music maestro Rehman to compose original soundtracks for their films. Currently he is busy composing music for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams in London. Rehman thinks that it is a change doing the songs in English. Abroad, people like his style and want him to work the way he wants, which is very encouraging for him. Bombay Dreams is the most expensive Webber Production to date.

AR Rehman has received several awards including the Padmashree by the Indian Government in year 2000. Two National Awards for Best Composer came his way for films Roja and Minsara Kanava. He received awards in Filmfare, Screen-Videocon, Zee Sangeet, Bollywood Music Awards, MTV-VMA Awards, and more others. No year has gone by without a Filmfare Award for Rehman since Roja.

Following is a list of Rehman’s non-film albums

Hindi: Vande Mataram (1997), Gurus of Peace (1998), Jana Gana Mana (2000) Live in Dubai (2000), AR Rehman Live (2000) – Dubai, AR Rehman Live in -, Concert (2001) – Dubai

Pop/English: Set Me Free – Shubhaa (1992)

Tamil: Thenvandhu Paayedhu (1991), Deen Isai Maalai (1991), Andhi Maalai/Fantasy (1994), Beauty Palace (1996)

Short Films: Desh Ka Salaam (1999), Jaya He (2001) for Indian Navy, India on IMAX (2001)

Songs: Colours (1992), Oh Bosnia (1996), Chakra – Seven Centers Colonial Cousins Unplugged, Anokha – various artists

Zindagi Se Pyar Karo (1999), Hey Jawan Tujhe Salaam (1999), Ekam Satyam (1999)

The films for which Rehman has scored music listed below


1. Roja (Tamil)

2. Roja (Telugu)

3. Vaishnavar (Malayalam)


1. Ashokan (Tamil)

2. Dharam Yoddha (Hindi)

3. Donga Donga (Telugu)

4. Gentleman (Tamil)

5. Gentleman (Telugu)

6. Kizhakku Cheemayilae (Tamil)

7. Mawaali Raj (Telugu)

8. Nippu Ravva (Telugu)

9. Padmavyuham (Telugu)

10. Palnati Paurusham (Telugu)

11. Pudhiya Mugam (Tamil)

12. Thiruda Thiruda (Tamil)

13. Uzhavan (Tamil)

14. Yoddha (Malayalam)


1. Bobili Paparayudu (Telugu)

2. Duet (Tamil)

3. Duet (Telugu)

4. Kadhalan (Tamil)

5. Karuthamma (Tamil)

6. May Maadham (Tamil)

7. Pavithra (Tamil)

8. Pavithra (Telugu)

9. Pudhiya Manargal (Tamil)

10. Roja (Hindi)

11. Roja (Malayalam)

12. Roja (Marathi)

13. Super Police (Tamil)

14. Super Police (Telugu)

15. Vandicholai Chinraasu (Tamil)

16. Vanitha/Osey Krishnamma



1. Bombay (Hindi)

2. Bombay (Tamil)

3. Bombay (Telugu)

4. Gang Master (Telugu)

5. Humse Hai Muqaabla (Hindi)

6. Indira (Tamil)

7. Indira (Telugu)

8. Manidha Manidha (Tamil)

9. Muthu (Tamil)

10. Muthu (Telugu)

11. Premikudu (Telugu)

12. Priyanka (Hindi)

13. Rangeela (Hindi)

14. Rangeela (Tamil)

15. Rangeeli (Telugu)

16. Tu Hi Mera Dil (Hindi)

17. Yoddha (Telugu)


1. Anthimandaarai (Tamil)

2. Bharateeyudu (Telugu)

3. Chor Chor (Hindi)

4. Duniya Dilwalon Ki (Hindi)

5. Fire (English)

6. Fire (Hindi)

7. Hindustani (Hindi)

8. Indhiyan (Tamil)

9. Kadhal Desam (Tamil)

10. Khel Khiladi Ka (Hindi)

11. Love Birds (Hindi)

12. Love Birds (Tamil)

13. Love Birds (Telugu)

14. Mr. Romeo (Tamil)

15. Mr. Romeo (Telugu)

16. Prema Desam (Telugu)


1. 50-50 (Telugu)

2. Daud (Hindi)

3. Iddaru (Telugu)

4. Iruvar (Tamil)

5. Kabhi Na Kabhi (Hindi)

6. Meruppu Kalalu (Telugu)

7. Minsaara Kanavu (Tamil)

8. Mona Lisa (Tamil)

9. Mr. Romeo (Hindi)

10. Ottam (Tamil)

11. Rakshakudu (Telugu)

12. Ratchakan (Tamil)

13. Sapnay (Hindi)

14. Vishwa Vidhaata (Hindi)


1. 1947/Earth (Hindi)

2. Dil Se (Hindi)

3. Doli Saja Ke Rakhna (Hindi)

4. Earth (English)

5. Jeans (Hindi)

6. Jeans (Tamil)

7. Jeans (Telugu)

8. Prematho (Telugu)

9. Uyire (Tamil)


1. Dil Hi Dil Mein (Hindi)

2. En Swasa Kaatre (Tamil)

3. Hridayanjali (Telugu)

4. Jodi (Tamil)

5. Jodi (Telugu)

6. Kadhalar Dhinam (Tamil)

7. Muthalvan (Tamil)

8. Narsimha (Telugu)

9. Oke Okkada (Telugu)

10. Oonjal (Tamil)

11. Padaiyappa (Tamil)

12. Premante Pranamista (Telugu)

13. Premikula Roju (Telugu)

14. Pukar (Hindi)

15. Sangamam (Tamil)

16. Taal (Hindi)

17. Taj Mahal (Tamil)

18. Thakshak (Hindi)

19. Thalam (Tamil)


1. Alai Payuthey (Tamil)

2. Fiza (Hindi)

3. Kandukondain Kandukondain (Tamil)

4. Priyaralu Pilichindi

5. Rhythm (Tamil)

6. Rhythm (Telugu)

7. Sakhi (Telugu)

8. Thenaali (Tamil)

9. Thenaali (Telugu)

10. Zubeida (Hindi)


1. Lagaan (Hindi)

2. Love You Hamesha (Hindi)

3. Muthu Maharaja (Hindi)

4. Nayak-The Real Hero

5. One 2 Ka 4 (Hindi)

6. Star (Tamil)


1. Amritha (Telugu)

2. Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil)

3. The Legend of Bhagat Singh (Hindi)


The details of his awards listed below:

Civilian Awards

1. Padmashri (Jan 2000) title awarded by Indian Government

2. Awadh Sammaan (May 2001) awarded by Uttar Pradesh government (Lucknow)

3. Al-Ameen Education Society Community Award (2001)

National Awards

1. Roja (1993)

2. Minsara Kanavu (1998)

Filmfare Awards

1. Roja (1993)

2. Gentleman (1994)

3. R D Burman Award for Best new musical talent

(for Roja, Hindi 1995)

4. Kadhalan (1995)

5. Rangeela (Hindi1996)

6. Bombay (1996)

7. Kadhal Desam (1997)

8. Minsara Kanavu (1998)

9. Dil Se (Hindi 1999)

10. Jeans (1999)

11. Taal (Hindi 2000)

12. Mudhalvan (2000)

13. Alai Payuthey (2001)

14. Lagaan (Hindi 2002)

Screen-Videocon Awards

1. Kadhal Desam (South – Tamil 1997)

2. Minsara Kanavu (South – Tamil 1998)

3. VandeMataram(Non-film 1998)

4. Taal (Hindi 2000)

Dinakaran Cine Awards

1. Minsara Kanavu (1998)

2. Jeans (1999)

3. Mudalvan, Kadhalar Dhinam (2000)

Tamil Nadu State Award

1. Roja (1993)

2. Gentleman (1994)

3. Kadhalan (1995)

4. Bombay (1996)

5. Minsara Kanavu (1998)

6. Sangamam (2000)

Cinema Express Award

1. Roja (1993)

2. Gentleman (1994)

3. Kadhalan (1995)

4. Kadhal Desam (1997)

5. Jeans (1999)

Kalasaagar Award

1. Roja (1993)

2. Gentleman (1994)

3. Kadhalan (1995)

4. Bombay (1996)

FilmFans’ Award

1. Roja (1993)

2. Gentleman (1994)

3. Kadhalan (1995)

4. Bombay (1996)

CineGoers’ Award

1. Roja (1993)

2. Gentleman (1994)

3. Kadhalan (1995)

4. Bombay (1996)

Zee Awards

1. Zee Sangeet Awards (1999) Dil Se

2. Zee Cine Awards (2000) Taal

3. Zee Gold Bollywood International Awards (2000) Taal

4. Zee Fairglow Awards (2002) Lagaan

5. Zee Gold Bollywood Awards (2002) Lagaan

International Indian Film Awards (IIFA)

1. Taal (2000) London

2. Lagaan (2002) Malaysia


1. R D Burman Award at the SuMu Music Awards (1993)

2. Madras Telugu Academy Puraskar (1992 to 1994)

3. Bommai Nagi Reddy Award (1995/96)

4. Lux-Kumudam Award for Kadhalan (1995)

5. Mauritius National Award (1995 for contribution to music)

6. Malaysian Award (1996 for contribution to music)

7. Sanskriti Award from Delhi based Sanskriti foundation (1994)

8. Kalaimamani Award from Tamil Nadu Government (1995)

9. Thangapillai Award

10. Rajiv Gandhi Award

11. 3rd Channel [V] Awards – Coca Cola Viewer’s Choice Award 1998

12. The Channel [V]-IMI Award for Best Producer for Vandemataram 1998

12. Fanta Award in 1999

13. MTV-VMA Award for Dil Se Re song from Dil Se 1999

14. Stardust Cine Honours Taal (2000)

15. Filmgoers’ Award Taal (2000)

16. First Bollywood Music Awards (Best Music Director and Best Song) Taal (2000)

17. V Shantaram Award: Taal (2001)

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