Kamini Mathai’s “AR Rahman – The Musical Storm” is a fascinating book on many counts. At times it is slow, repetitive and seems to be full of eulogies. But it also opens up AR Rahman’s world with some interesting insights into one of the most brilliant individuals of our times.

As a fan of AR Rahman and , there are many questions I have e.g. how does he get that song to a level where even if one tries, one can never just listen casually and get away with it?

Take for example the song Jaage Hain from Guru (2008).

I have the song on my phone and have had the opportunity to listen to it while traveling to office or returning back. It starts with a simple soft prayer like chant. And then the strings team start. And there’s a break. Then ARR’s voice breaks in, again slowly, almost cracking up. And then he jumps to a high pitch. By this time you have goosebumps, your mind is jammed trying at one level to keep pace with the musical journey while gathering the meaning of Gulzar’s lyrics. And then all hell breaks loose with the choir.

Listening to every song made by AR Rahman is an experience, an experience that is both spiritual (in the sense it takes into the meaning of the song) and material (in the sense that it entertains you).

Answers to such questions is what one seeks when one reads any writing on the man. Kamini does not disappoint. I was able to discern three main insights into the man from the book.

1. AR Rahman (note: He does not like to be called Rahman as it is the name of Allah. Instead AR, ARR or AR Rahman in full) takes music as a form of devotion, one with his faith. A pious Muslim, his faith is a source of strength and peace and for him, composing music is a holy act of creation that serves as a focal point of all his energies.

He is known for taking enormous time with his tunes, often delaying movie releases. When people come to meet him, they have to wait because he is busy inside his studio. Even though he says he will be out in 10 minutes, it is not always so. Quoting from the book, AR Rahman says he immerses himself into the music and the act of composing music. When he is in that state, he will get out only when it is done – to his satisfaction.

That immersion, on hindsight, can be felt in every composition of his.

2. AR Rahman never filches from anyone. Everyone is given a credit. Even the person who does backing vocals and only does “la la la”. And he does not direct. He just says “Play something”. Or “Just be free”. Or “Make it wild”. And his musicians, singers, lyric writers, engineers do just that.

Naveen, a flautist, was asked to “play something”. A few notes were given. So he played. You can hear his “something” in the Bombay Theme

All this means that not only is AR Rahman creating, he is getting everyone around him to be creative as well.

3. There was one line in the book “every song should be a masterpiece”. That kind of says it all.

I duly recommend reading this book – to really understand how an individual can create brilliance.

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