Undoubtedly, the two Oscars won by A.R. Rahman for original score and best song forSlumdog Millionaire, which ran away with eight top honours in all, is a fitting tribute to the maestro’s consummate talent and a proud moment for all Indians. At the same time, it is also the culmination of a process that has over the years reinvented India for the global arena and may well mark a new beginning for the 62-year-old democracy.
From the time he made his debut in Mani Ratnam’s Roja till he walked away with his two top trophies at the 81st Oscars in Los Angeles, Rahman has demonstrated repeatedly his desire to learn and experiment.
Many were quick to dismiss it. But Rahman was unfazed. From the beginning it was clear that he wanted to break the mould that defined Indian popular music to carve out a unique idiom that sought to give a contemporary flair to the country’s music. It is this ability that drew global attention to his prodigious talent and led to him doing a musical, Bombay Dreams, produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber; it first premiered in London and then performed on Broadway, New York—the first time for an India-inspired musical.
Throughout this period, India, too, was defining itself. The immigration to the US in the 1980s and 1990s of a large number of software engineers, or the so-called techies, provided a different flavour to the global Indian community. And by the turn of the millennium, India-US relations, too, underwent a radical makeover, opening up more frontiers between the two countries. It was inevitable that this would be accompanied by the export of Indian pop culture. But without adaptation it was just a niche— like the Indian chicken tikka masala—and unable to bridge the divide to reach out to the mainstream. Bombay Dreams failed to inspire the Broadway crowds precisely for these reasons.
Once again, Rahman came back with an original Indian musical score. So his twin success, along with Resul Pookutty’s for best sound mixing, at the Oscars is a tribute to his determination as well as ability to create an Indian flavour that is part of the global lexicon. And, it is therefore apt that the first such honour should have gone to Rahman.
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