Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman The 25 Years of Collaboration. Every music director in Tamil Nadu was on their hands because they knew Mani Ratnam was making a movie for K. Balachander, one of the biggest producers in the South. Everyone knew that Mani Ratnam had fallen out with Illayaraja. It meant one of them could get an opportunity to work with two of the biggest names in the South. For the first time, Illayaraja wasn’t in the picture and other music directors had a chance.
Was there pressure to impress Mani Ratnam at that stage?
ARR: I was in a zone when I had faced so much of rejection. When you do commercials, you do a hundred tunes and just two get the go-ahead. So, I was in that zen mode. I thought Mani sir would listen to my tunes and not come back. I felt at ease only after a couple of films with him. But the biggest disappointment then was listening to the songs in the theatre, after listening to it in great quality in the studio. I was like, ‘If this is going to be the way, I don’t want to do it.’ It was Mani sir and Sridhar (the late sound engineer) who said things will change in the future… and they have.
Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman The 25 Years of Collaboration. Let’s go back 25 years. What was going through your mind when you visited Rahman’s ‘small room that produced wonderful music’?
MR: There was this nice small cozy room in which he played me some tunes that were electric. For me, it was a totally new experience as I’d never heard a composition so seductive.
Flexibility is one aspect that you love about Mani. Tell us specific instances when you felt that about him. Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman The 25 Years of Collaboration Defines.
ARR: For a song in KV, he wanted me to try the tango style and I was very excited about it. But then, once I composed it, I felt that there was nothing new. We kept working on it — the original tune was about 15 minutes long — and he felt that what was missing was the usual call I have in my songs. Then we added ‘Kelaayo’ and I felt that it was complete. Constructing a song and doing something new in a culture that’s not used to it… that’s how Mani’s brain works. It’s helped me many times. In Bombay, the challenge was to make people sit through the second half of the film that has a realistic, documentary-like footage. He came up with the idea of using Indian classical with drums.
How do you consciously work on getting an album to feature mixed moods so it works commercially?
ARR: It is very important. A movie caters to a universal audience and not just one section of it. It’s also about adding to the story. In Mani’s films, if you remove the songs, then the movie might not work because it is constructed that way. Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman The 25 Years of Collaboration of music are also very special to the whole audience.
AR Rahman also added that there’s a Thirukkural that says: ‘If you’re with learned people, you also become learned’. It works that way with Mani and Vairamuthu. It’s incredible to think that we have someone like Vairamuthu who has raised the bar so much.
There was this nice cozy room in which Rahman played some tunes. They were just electric. I had never heard compositions so seductive. He was evolved as a musician even then – Mani Ratnam
The second half had documentary-like footage. Mani suggested using Indian classical with drums. Every album has one song that takes a long time; in Bombay, it’s ‘Kuchi Kuchi Rakkamma’. – ARR
Kannathil Muthamittal (2002)
Other directors tell me to add something when I offer a simple tune. With Mani, I can do what I like. ‘Vellai Pookal’, with just a guitar and a voice, is one example – ARR
Kaatru Veliyidai (2017)
I like the fact that Rahman comes up with something unusual for the situations I give him and that makes it that much more exciting. It is not necessarily parallel but lateral – Mani Ratnam.