A.R. Rahman
Maryse Boyce - May 2, 2019

A.R. Rahman: between traditional and modern Indian music

While the name A. R. Rahman might not mean anything to you, you’ve probably heard his music before. He’s the mind behind the score to the film Slumdog Millionaire, including its most celebrated song, “Jai Ho.” While Rahman has composed the original music for numerous Bollywood blockbusters, he’s also famous for taking typical Indian melodies and sounds, and sharing them worldwide. 


Allah Rakha Rahman was born in 1967 in Chennai (formerly Madras), in southern India. His father, a noted composer, happened to also own one of the very first synthesizers in the country. Rahman was instantly fascinated.


Though he displayed a clear talent for music at a young age, he was also attracted by new technologies. This intersection of music and technology influenced Rahman’s compositions and helped him find his one-of-a-kind style. Today, he’s known for breathing new life into Indian music, taking classic songs and interpreting them with modern instruments, then inserting these melodies into his own works.


A prolific, widely popular composer


Rahman’s discography is astonishing both for its breadth and variety, with more than 130 soundtracks to his name and more than 200 million albums sold. Rahman also works as a lyricist, singer, and composer for advertising and major sporting events.


In India, a country with more than 200 native languages, the composer has managed to create music that inspires his fellow citizens, from young people living in the slums up to high-ranking statesmen of a certain age.


Though he first made a name for himself composing television jingles and documentary soundtracks, his first major success was his score for the film Roja in 1992. Since then, his star has only risen higher. 


Coming to America


A.R. Rahman’s score to the movie Slumdog Millionaire, from English director Danny Boyle, propelled Rahman to American and international stardom in 2008. The film’s score and the song “Jai Ho” brought him two Academy Awards, two Grammy Awards and one Golden Globe.


This success made him the toast of the town worldwide. Time magazine listed him as one of the 100 most influential people of the world in 2009, giving him the nickname “the Mozart of Madras,” in reference to the region where he was born.


A. R. Rahman in three clicks


“Jai Ho,” the song from Slumdog Millionaire that made him a global star.





The trailer for the musical show Taj Express, which is filled with references to his work.




The song “Nanare,” taken from the movie Guru, directed by Mani Ratnam, with an original score composed by A. R. Rahman.



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