To call A.R. Rahman’s sound diverse is like saying Roger Federer plays a decent game of tennis. Over the years, the Academy Award-winning composer has developed a style that melds Carnatic, Western classical, Hindustani and Qawwali genres with electronic and orchestral currents. The Chennai, India, native gained a considerable American following (and nabbed that Oscar) when he joined forces with Danny Boyle and M.I.A. for the soundtrack for “Slumdog Millionaire.” This month, the duo went at it again for Boyle’s film “127 Hours,” the true story of Aron Ralston’s treacherous accident in the canyons of Utah.
And Rahman’s soundtrack only heightens the experience, mixing his own original, meditative compositions like “Liberation Begins” and “Touch of Sun” with soul-jazz (Esther Phillips’ rendition of Edith Piaf’s “If You Love Me”), French new wave (Plastic Bertrand’s “Ça Plane Pour Moi”) and a collaboration with Dido, with whom Rahman had been discussing ideas for an album.
At 11:30 p.m. his time in Mumbai, the 44-year-old chatted with WWD about guitars, amputations and lullabies.
WWD: What was your first reaction when you read the script?
A.R. Rahman: I took the movie in, and I thought the guitar would be a very nice instrument for it. I think that it’s very American, the movie, the character is very independent. Even though he’s stuck, he thinks in such a way that it’s very typical American. And young, that phase of life you go through. I thought this would be the right relationship with the instrument.
WWD: What kind of sound were you looking to create?
A.R.R.: More electric and distortion and then sometimes just acoustic guitar. The movie is about a lot of loneliness, but what he would go through would be just being ready to burst out and a desire to be freed and that kind of energy inside. He has not eaten and he has not had water, but you just go into a hypothetical situation where you imagine yourself combating that thing.
WWD: How do you score a self-amputation scene?
A.R.R.: It’s just a very harsh scene, but we wanted to think, What would hold people to watch that at the same time? It had to do a lot of things. At that stage, they’re very vulnerable because of the scene before, where he sees [his future child] and then this attacks you. We had to be very, very careful.
WWD: For that future child scene, you worked with Dido on the track “If I Rise.” What made her voice so perfect for it?
A.R.R.: For me, it’s a very healing voice, and she sang to me like somebody soothing you and comforting you, and that’s the situation there. It’s like a future lullaby, actually, like a child singing for the father. it just gives the hope for him to stand up and do it and free himself.