When he started off, he gave a very new sound technically. His music was extremely focused and uncluttered and he used limited number of instruments and gave each one equal importance. That itself was a different concept for Indian music, because we are used to listening to a lot of music at one time. Rahman is one of the first people to do that.
He has this peculiar way of working where he records the entire song in the singer's voice and then he backs it up with music. That way he makes sure that the voice is given equal importance and the accompanying music complements the voice. And vice versa. It was a different approach to music.
Favourite composition? I enjoyed his earlier films like Roja. My brother had a huge collection of his music -- Gentleman, Bombay, the original of Saathiya. His compositions are fabulous, very hummable and still funky.
I couldn’t believe it when I got a call from his office. I was thrilled and super excited. It was wonderful. I started off singing for him in Iruvar, then I did a couple of songs in Gentleman in the south Indian version. I did Sapney, Rakshak, Love you Hamesha, Jeans.
I think he’s an extremely nice person and I think the Oscar was a gift from God to him because he’s such a sweetheart and such a gentleman. I was in the States for some years and I met him there and he called out to me and said, "How are you doing?" He inquires about me from my brother too. That's very nice.
To him, a voice is also another sound--a wonderful sound to which he gives due prominence. He’s willing to give new people a chance and is very open to experimenting with new voices. Then, he has a different kind of music where he doesn’t need traditional voices. When he does, he uses them. His approach to his work is very focused.
Rahman has brought back the stature of music in a film. His songs are important to the film and appropriate to each film. They are part of the story. If he does a Taal, it’s a Subhash Ghai kind of direction and you’ll see this in all his films. If he likes what you’ve done, he says so, but not in too many words.
As told to Lata Khubchandani