What RD Burman did in the 70s, Rahman came and did in the late 80s. Music was going in one direction and he took it to another. He is a kind of a trend-setter. He brought in a different sound but also technology where people saw, Oh my god, Hindi music can also sound like this.
He is also from the advertising background and, in advertising, detailing is very important. Rahman was aware of the latest equipment, recording technology, sounds, processing of voice and all that revolutionized the whole sound of music. He also got the opportunity to do it. To be at the right time at the right place for the right film. If he had done it for a super flop film, then maybe his next film would’ve got noticed.
Roja was noticed, the music was noticed, a new world opened up.
When it comes to music, he is wonderfully educated. He is also technically educated. And he is a lovely human being. It's a very rare combination. When you combine all these elements together, you get an AR Rahman.
My success in the south I totally owe to Rahman because we did many Tamil songs together and my voice reached out to entire Tamil Nadu because of him.
I have never ever seen him talk ill about anybody. He is a saint actually who lives in his own world of music. I am sure when he was walking the red carpet, he wanted to run off where he is comfortable, cosy and can do his work. He looked too cute over there. I am really very happy that he got the Oscar. He wishes well for others. He’s happy with others' success. Even the Oscar, it is a big deal but it doesn’t mean a big deal to him. I know this.
Breaking the monopoly of star-singers? Yes, yes, yes. You know when he did Rangeela and stuff like that, when I sang Urvashi etc for him, he broke the myth that there are special voices for heroes, special voices for characters. He came and threw 50 voices in the arena and said here listen to these. He is a leader in many aspects of film music.
When we attribute new sounds to him we actually mean usage of technology to enhance the sounds already existing. When we record a voice in Mumbai studios, it was not even known why a certain equipment was being used. Rahman used it appropriately and made optimum use of the sound that was created.
Rahman is born with divine grace. You have got to be blessed to find a way to be there at the right time. Rahman has always been open to new things. There are times when I am singing for him and the melody was not even ready. He has all the elements of song-making at his fingertips: How to mix it, how to present it, how not to do certain things.
Working with Rahman is a pleasure and an opportunity.
As told to Lata Khubchandani