A two-time winner and five-times nominee of the Academy Award (Oscar), A. R. Rahman is popularly known as the man who has redefined contemporary Indian music. Hailed by Time magazine as the ‘Mozart of Madras’, Rahman, according to a BBC estimate, has sold more than 150 million copies of his work comprising of music from more than 100 film soundtracks and albums across over half a dozen languages, including landmark scores such as 'Roja', 'Bombay', Dil Se', 'Taal', 'Lagaan', 'Vandemataram' and more recently, 'Jodhaa Akbar', 'Slumdog Millionaire', '127 Hours' and ‘Rockstar’
Rahman pursued music as a career at a very young age and after assisting leading musicians in India went on to compose jingles and scores for popular Indian television features. He also obtained a degree in western classical music from the Trinity College of Music, London and set up his own in-house studio called Panchathan Record-Inn at Chennai. In 1991, noted film maker Mani Ratnam offered Rahman a movie called ‘Roja’ which was a run-away success and brought nationwide fame and acclaim to the composer. The movie also won Rahman the Indian National Award for the best music composer, the first time ever by a debutant. Since then, Rahman has gone on to win the National Award 3 more times, the most ever by any music composer.
In 1997, to commemorate 50 years of Indian Independence, Sony Music signed up Rahman as its first artiste in South Asia. The result was ‘Vande Mataram’, an album that instantly made Indians relate to it and succeeded in rekindling the spirit of patriotism. In 2001, Andrew Lloyd Webber, the well known composer of musicals like ‘Phantom of the Opera’ & ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ invited Rahman to compose for his musical, ‘Bombay Dreams’, the first time he would produce a musical he did not compose for. ‘Bombay Dreams’ opened to packed houses at London’s West End and had an unprecedented run for 2 years and later premiered at New York’s Broadway. In 2005, Rahman composed the score for the stage production of 'The Lord of the Rings', one of the most expensive productions mounted on stage.
Rahman has undertaken several sellout concert tours in over 50 international destinations including one at the prestigious Hollywood Bowl in 2006 and the Royal Festival Hall in 2010. Recently, Time magazine rated the soundtrack of ‘Roja’ in the Top 10 of their all time best movie soundtracks of the world; The Guardian, UK, listed the soundtrack of ‘Bombay’ in ‘1000 albums to listen before you die’.
Rahman’s music led him to be noticed internationally with several of his tracks featuring in movies such as 'The Lord of War', 'Inside Man' and 'The Accidental Husband'. His composition, Bombay Theme holds the distinction of being featured in over 50 international compilations. He also scored the music for the Hollywood productions, 'Elizabeth - The Golden Age', 'Slumdog Millionaire', 'Couples Retreat', '127 Hours', ‘People Like Us’ and the Chinese movie, ‘Warriors of Heaven & Earth' produced by Sony Pictures.
In 2008, Rahman's work gained global prominence with the extraordinary success of his score for 'Slumdog Millionaire' that won 8 Academy Awards including two for Rahman, for Best Score and Best Song. Rahman won over 15 awards for this score including two Grammys, the Golden Globe and the BAFTA. In 2011, Rahman was nominated again for his work in ‘127 Hours’ at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTA and won for Best Song at the Critics Choice Awards.
Rahman has been bestowed with the 'Padma Bhushan' and 'Padma Shri', two of India's highest national civilian honours, recognizing his contribution to music, in addition to several other awards including 4 Indian National Film Awards and 28 Filmfare Awards, India's leading recognition for films. He has also been conferred with honorary doctorates from the Trinity College of Music, Aligarh Muslim University, Anna University and the Middlesex University. He was also named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, in 2009.
In 2011, Rahman joined a super band, SuperHeavy, comprising Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Damian Marley and Dave Stewart. Rahman has collaborated with several other international artistes including Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Michael Jackson, Michael Bolton, MIA, Vanessa Mae, the Pussycat Dolls, Sarah Brightman, Dido, Hossam Ramzy, Hans Zimmer and Akon. Rahman remains one of the few mainstream artistes, classical adaptations of whose works have been performed live by the likes of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Babelsberg Film Orchestra and the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Rahman has expanded his focus to newer horizons like setting up the A R Rahman Foundation to help poor and underprivileged children. He released his first English single, ‘Pray For Me Brother’ in 2007, with proceeds from the sales going to the foundation. He also serves as the UN Ambassador for the 2015 Millenium Development Goals. Rahman has also announced initiatives to establish a tradition in western classical music in India and recently embarked on an ambitious venture to set up the KM Music Conservatory and the KM Music Symphony Orchestra based out of Chennai, India. He plans to provide a platform for non-mainstream music through his music label KM Musiq and recently launched Rashid Ali and a documentary on Ustad Bismillah Khan.
Rahman is currently scoring for Dreamworks Animation’s Monkeys of Mumbai, Warner Brothers’ Seventh Son, and director Mani Ratnam’s Kadal and the late Yash Chopra’s final directorial venture, ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’. His most recent releases include 'Raavan', 'Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa', 'Endhiran', '127 Hours' and ‘Rockstar’.
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