He’s been variously described as the John Williams of India and the Mozart of Madras; he has sold more than 100 million albums, comprising scores from more than 50 movies; and helmers Spike Lee and Andrew Niccol have used his music in the films “Inside Man” and “Lord of War,” respectively.
Along the way, Allah Rakha Rahman’s legit musicals “Bombay Dreams” and “The Lord of the Rings” have also brought Indian music to Western audiences.
If Rahman isn’t exactly a household name outside his native country, you wouldn’t know it following his sold-out Hollywood Bowl concert in July. “Music goes beyond language,” he said backstage afterward. “It sounds cliched, but it’s true. Today when they heard music, they didn’t know if it was Tamil or Hindi or anything, but they were grooving with it.”
It’s that groove from his work with director Mani Ratnam — whose collaborations have included “Roja,” Rahman’s film debut in 1992, as well as “Dil se” — that piqued Andrew Lloyd Webber’s interest, leading to the musical “Bombay Dreams” and a showcase for his work on the West End and Broadway.
The 40-year-old Rahman, who started out playing the keyboards professionally as a boy in Chennai, India, says he enjoys straddling the worlds of movies and theater.
“Being a film musician and always being inside a studio, I think it’s good for me to move toward live performance,” he says.
But working in the West posed its own challenges. Although his wife and three children joined him in London during school holidays, Rahman found the environment and the deadlines daunting.
“In India, there is no (rush) — if you want to write a piece, you just call the musicians and you just sit and do your stuff and finish,” he says. “My studio, orchestra are all there. Abroad, you’re staying in a hotel room. It took me probably four years to get used to writing music there.”
His upcoming film work includes Shekhar Kapur’s “The Golden Age,” a sequel to 1998’s “Elizabeth,” along with a number of Bollywood features for which he has promised to compose the music. And though the musical version of “LOTR” received less than stellar reviews in Toronto, it is headed for a London run — that is, after Rahman has made some musical changes.