I am now a three-book-old follower of Nasreen Munni Kabir’s writing. From Talking Songs on poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar, to Lata Mangeshkar...in Her Own Voice, to the recently launched A.R. Rahman: The Spirit of Music, her books take the form of transcripts of detailed conversations with iconic figures from the world of Indian cinema and music. While Akhtar, with his eloquence and quick wit, might possibly have proved to be easier to interview, her ability to get the elusive and almost reclusive Mangeshkar to agree to being interviewed via long, unhurried phone calls is nothing short of a miracle. And now, to get the celebrated but reticent Rahman to talk about his life and work is not just admirable but definitely suggests the high regard and credibility that the author herself enjoys.
In almost all television interviews that I have had a chance to see, Rahman remains all too brief, often doing a quick mumble in response to the questions posed to him, almost eager to get the interview over and done with at the earliest. But with Kabir, he definitely seems comfortable, ready to talk and share. Yet, you still can’t call him the greatest of conversationalists. In fact, what he seems most articulate about is his strong connection with spirituality. On matters pertaining to his music, his method of working, his preferences, his art and craft, he remains brief and eager to wrap up the conversation. But despite this, there is a lot of information that the author manages to coax from a man who essentially wants to be left alone in his music room.
Sheet music: Kabir’s book.
Singers wanting to make their mark in playback singing would do well to heed Rahman’s advice when he says (on Page 65): “I believe singers shouldn’t just sing well, but have acting and composing skills too. This adds so much to their abilities”. There are many more insightful remarks recorded in the book, making it a collectible even though it has none of the grand collector’s item appeal of the Lata Mangeshkar book. There are, of course, a handful of rare photographs of Rahman as a child, but by and large the selection of photographs seems to concentrate on flat for-the-record shots of celebrity artistes with whom Rahman has worked and collaborated, or concert shots. Unless you are up for collecting photos of Rahman in coats, jackets and achkans in different colours, they appear repetitive for the most part. My personal favourite, though, is a photograph of Rahman’s wife Saira, in warm amber tones, taken by the maestro himself.
The book also contains a CD titled Connections with eight tracks composed by Rahman and mixed by his long-time associate H. Sridhar, who died tragically in 2008. For students of music, the book also contains the score for the Theme from Bombay and Cry of the Rose from Roja. So there’s a lot that the book offers to die-hard Rahman fans and students of music. Meanwhile, I wait eagerly for Nasreen Munni Kabir’s next book.
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