Rahman (left) receiving a platinum award at the MagnaSound Awards; MagnaSound released his first film soundtrack, Roja, in 1992.
Rahman at the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Concert.
A.R. Rahman and musician Dave Stewart of SuperHeavy attend the SuperHeavy launch party at The Double Seven on September 21, 2011 in New York City.
Berklee President Roger H. Brown and A. R. Rahman announce the A. R. Rahman Scholarship in Chennai on April 3, 2015.
A. R. Rahman started learning the piano at the age of 4, and at the age of 9, his father passed away. Since the pressure of supporting his family fell on him, he joined Ilaiyaraaja’s troupe as a keyboard player at the age of 11. He dropped out of school as a result of this and traveled all around the world with various orchestras.
Later he obtained a scholarship from Trinity College London to the Trinity College of Music. Studying in Madras, Rahman graduated with a diploma in Western classical music from the school.
At the age of 16 he worked full-time as a session musician on soundtracks under the popular South Indian composer Ilaiyaraaja. The monotony soon grew tiring however, and at the suggestion of a colleague, Rahman tried his hand at television commercials, eventually composing over 300 jingles in just five years.
It wasn't until 1989 that Rahman planted the first seeds of his film career. That year, he began acquiring the equipment and organizing the sound library for his Panchathan Record Inn. When Sharada Trilok's ad for Leo Coffee (for which Rahman penned the music) won her an award, she introduced the young composer to her cousin, Mani Ratnam. Impressed with his work, the director signed Rahman to compose the music for K. Balachander's 1992 film Roja. Rahman's score, a colorful, uncluttered combination of pop, rock, reggae, and his country's traditional music, reshaped the genre, winning him three awards for Best Music Director. Roja became the equivalent of an Indian crossover success. Originally filmed in South Indian Tamil, it was re-dubbed (and its soundtrack re-recorded) in Hindi, the language of North India's famous Bollywood film center.
His star on the rise, Rahman proceeded to compose music for six films in 1993 and nine in 1994, including the score for Ratnam's Bombay (1995), the story of a Hindu/Muslim marriage in a time of heated relations between the two cultures. Rahman's score displayed a characteristic (and appropriate) disregard for the confines of culture, be they Eastern or Western, once again mixing traditional and modern elements. Bombay was hugely successful and the movie's theme was featured on Talvin Singh's Soundz of the Asian Underground compilation. Rahman became the first Indian artist to sign with Sony Music, negotiating a three-year contract in 1997. His premier release for the label, Vande Mataram (his first collection of non-film music), was a tribute to India, commemorating 50 years of the country's independence. The album reached record stores in 28 countries on August 15 of that year.
Rahman finally seemed poised on the brink of the international success he desired. Performances were booked in Europe, Canada, and the United States during the final years of the century and a session was arranged with singer David Byrne (owner of the Luaka Bop label and a Rahman fan). Andrew Lloyd Webber chose Rahman to compose the music for his Bombay Dreams, a musical based on the Bollywood film industry. The pair began work on the project during the second half of 2000, and the musical opened in London during 2002. Bombay Dreams also ran for 284 regular performances at the Broadway Theatre in New York from April 2004 to January 2005.
After the turn of the millennium, Rahman only saw his global recognition and acclaim grow, as he rose to the upper echelon of film composers worldwide. In 2005 he opened AM Studios - regarded as one of the foremost recording facilities in Asia - as an adjunct to Panchathan Record Inn, and the following year the composer established his own record label, KM Music. Rahman served as musical director for nearly 50 films from 2001 through 2008, the majority being Hindi- or Tamil-language movies, including noteworthy collaborations with Roja and Bombay director Mani Ratnam (Kannathil Muthamittal, Ayutha Ezhuthu/Yuva, Guru). During that time, he also worked with Rajiv Menon (Kandukondain Kandukondain), Shaad Ali (Saathiya), Ashutosh Gowariker (Swades), and S. Shankar (Boys, Sivaji), the latter of whom, like Ratnam, also directed a number of films scored by Rahman during the '90s. He scored the 2003 Chinese (Mandarin-language) film Warriors of Heaven and Earth directed by He Ping and co-composed (with Craig Armstrong) the score to the 2007 English-language film Elizabeth: The Golden Age, directed by Shekhar Kapur and starring Cate Blanchett.
However, Rahman's widest recognition to that point - at least with Western audiences - came with British director Danny Boyle's 2008 hit film Slumdog Millionaire. It won eight Academy Awards in the United States, including Best Picture and Best Director as well as two for Rahman: Best Original Score and Best Song. Two Rahman songs from the film had been nominated for Oscars, "O... Saya" and "Jai Ho," the latter of which won the statuette for Rahman and for lyricist Gulzar. In 2010, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilian award. The following year, he was nominated for two more Oscars, this time for best song and score for 2010's 127 Hours, also directed by Boyle.
Rahman’s later notable scores included those for the films 127 Hours (2010) - for which he received another Academy Award nomination - and the Hindi-language movies Rockstar (2011), Raanjhanaa (2013), Highway (2014), and Beyond the Clouds (2017). In addition, he scored the biopic Pelé: Birth of a Legend (2016).
Born Hindu, Rahman converted to Islam when he was in his 20s. After the early death of his father, his family experienced difficult times; Sufism influenced his mother who was a practicing Hindu and, eventually, his family.
"Music is something that takes you to a world which is very different from the world of hatred,jealousy, and all those negative emotions."
"Your best success comes after your greatest disapponitment."
"If music wakes you up, makes you think, heals you...then, I guess the music is working."
"All my life I have had a choice of hate and love. I chose love and I am here."
"Rather than making money I believe in making people happy, all other things are secondary. Money isn't important, creative satisfaction is."
"There is only one of the two that can reside in our hearts, GOD or ego. If GOD is in ego is out."
"My biggest dream to connect people through music has come true. In a world where there are enough reasons to separate us, the Oscars have unified us."
Rahman is involved with a number of charitable causes. In 2004 he was appointed as the global ambassador of the Stop TB Partnership, a WHO project. Rahman has supported Save the Children India and worked with Yusuf Islam on "Indian Ocean", a song featuring a-ha keyboard player Magne Furuholmen and Travis drummer Neil Primrose. Proceeds from the song went to help orphans in Banda Aceh who were affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.
Quotes from others about the person
“Baz Luhrmann: "I had come to the music of A. R. Rahman through the emotional and haunting score of Bombay and the wit and celebration of Lagaan. But the more of AR's music I encountered the more I was to be amazed at the sheer diversity of styles: from swinging brass bands to triumphant anthems; from joyous pop to West-End musicals. Whatever the style, A. R. Rahman's music always possesses a profound sense of humanity and spirit, qualities that inspire me the most."”
Rahman is married to Saira Banu and has three children: Khatija, Rahima and Ameen.