‘Slumdog’ team switch gears for ‘127 Hours’

Rahman, Boyle go for immense energy, not self-pity

A.R. Rahman, the so-called Mozart of Madras, was already famous in Bollywood when Danny Boyle tapped him to score “Slumdog Millionaire.” That both helmer and composer would go on to win Oscars for that effort only confirmed the rightness of their partnership. But what about the distinctly American “127 Hours,” Boyle’s follow-up to “Slumdog”?

The new picture, based on a true story of extraordinary determination, is set in the Utah desert, its story largely confined to the actions of a single, essentially stationary, character (Aron Ralston, played by James Franco) trapped in a rock crevice. Absent completely are India’s teeming slums and thriving commercial centers.

“The biggest problem for A.R. is he gets pigeonholed,” Boyle says. “He’s an exotic composer, and I realize that’s the description of him.”

“What we were trying to achieve was immense energy, not self-pity,” Rahman says of his “127 Hours” score. “We wanted something constantly uplifting. That’s the primary emotion. We also wanted to suggest hope about the future, which comes in the image of his future child and motivates for the whole liberation process.”

To achieve that, the composer harnessed the quintessentially American sound of guitars, both acoustic and electric. “He’s one person, and he’s young,” Rahman says, “so we decided on guitars to convey that, and also live drums. At the same time, I was trying to do things slightly differently. I used a lot of textures, a bit of orchestra, and the lullaby, which comes in the end. It’s a very difficult movie to pull off, because you want people to come out with an uplifted mood, even though the story is harrowing.”

Speaking of which…just as viewers have found it difficult to watch Aron sever his forearm in order to live, so did Rahman. “Imagine,” he says, barely containing his queasiness, “I had to see that 70 times for scoring!”

The key to everything was defying expectations. The composer likens film music to a movie’s temperature. “It was very easy to pump it up and go,” he says. “But we thinned it out, to make the right temperature. Instead of going more, the music takes a back seat. That’s unusual. Usually you go high, higher, highest. But not here.”

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