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Enigmatic Mozart of the East who wrote 'Slumdog' score

A recent book on A.R. Rahman, India's only Oscar-winning musician (two for "Slumdog Millionaire") shatters a lot of myths about the man.

"A.R. Rahman - The Musical Storm" by Kamini Mathai, published by Penguin Books, is neither a conventional nor an official biography but a well-researched melange. It is a herculean effort on the part of Mathai to put together a flawless narrative with insights from the maestro's producers, directors, musicians, friends, himself - but not many foes.

It is the gradual unfolding story of an enigmatic phenomenon who "never spoke and hardly smiled; who lost his father and his faith at the age of nine; who had to work day and night to support his family." The book is like a film script of sorts told in a flashback and takes us back to "Mundakanni Anuman Koil street where it all started" in the house of R.S. Sekhar, a musician.

The child Dileep who began to mystify everyone with his natural flair for music was not an ordinary child. He was a musical prodigy, "the musical storm," who would one day be hailed as the "Mozart of the East." There is an apt description of Rahman's studio, which is like a railway platform where people wait endlessly for his darshan. There are stories about this waiting, some hilarious, some painful. Everybody has a "waiting for Rahman" story.

She then recounts a yarn from lyricist Javed Akhtar which excels in irony in terms of waiting. Flautist Navcen is, perhaps, the only one who has learned to counter the patience game. She also recounts how "Subhash Ghai once came down from Mumbai for two days to meet Rahman. The only person in Chennai he didn't get to meet during that trip, which lasted two weeks, was Rahman."

"It is a surreal world inside A.R. Rahman's studio. Work begins in the evenings and ends in the mornings. Midnight sees the height of activity."

There are other peculiarities - for example, the "studio is sprayed with incense, the home and studio smell of attar" and "it's almost as if Rahman is trying as hard as possible to live his life as close to the life of the prophet." "From a one-man composer named Dileep, A. R. Rahman has now grown into a full-fledged industry." In his own words: "It is not that I am not on a spiritual path right now and that I will pack up my music and leave. I will be here as long as I am needed."

Subhash Ghai, one of the most successful mainstream Hindi film makers, sums up the Rahman phenomenon: "From rags to riches, from scrap to success, from ordinary to extraordinary, A.R. Rahman is the right story to be known, read, written, to be studied and finally to be followed." And Kamini Mathai has succeeded in lyrically weaving together a journey that started "with a dot but ends with a star."


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