AR Rahman and the Oscars ‘curse’

When it comes to the likes of Rahman, and Pookutty, there could also be something else at play. There is a mindset that stops people from approaching artists that might simply be too good.

 |  4-minute read |   01-08-2020
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A few days ago, when AR Rahman spoke about the presence of gangs working against good movies coming to him, Shekhar Kapur pointed that winning the Oscar could have been the kiss of death for music composer in Bollywood.

While Kapur felt that winning the world’s most famous film award proved Rahman had more talent than Bollywood could, another Oscar-winner, Resul Pookutty also expressed how he experienced a near-breakdown as nobody was giving him work in Hindi films. This has led to people speak about the desi version of the much spoken ‘Oscar curse’, a superstition that suggests those who are awarded the acting Oscars witness a slide in their careers — or their personal lives.

A different context

The Indian version of the ‘Oscar curse’ might have some truth but it’s an entirely different scenario. While there are numerous instances across decades in Hollywood that might ratify the curse beginning with Hattie McDaniel, the first black performer to win the Oscar, who never got to play anything beyond an onscreen maid, to Cuba Gooding Jr., Halle Berry, Adrien Brody — artists whose stature remains limited to their award-winning performances, it might be a bit premature to apply the same to India. To begin with, there are hardly as many Indian Oscar ‘winners.’ In the case of Hollywood, too, the revelation of behind the scenes machinations and other things such as the harassment of actors, specifically women as seen in post-#MeToo movement, show how the industry operates. The trade’s self-selection process affects careers in showbiz more than talent and this is common for Hollywood and Bollywood.

main_rahman-oscar_re_080120100637.jpgIt’s not as if Bollywood does not have space for Rahman, or the Oscar-winning composer is out of ideas. (Photo: Reuters)

When it comes to the likes of Rahman, and Pookutty, there could also be something else at play. There is a mindset that stops people from approaching artists that might simply be too good. Hearing Sonu Nigam open up about the workings of the music industry brings to mind stories of how most music directors refused to work with him because he delivered more than what was expected. Legend has it that Nigam would question the composers when they insisted on multiple takes. He wanted to know if there was something that he missed the first time around but this was mostly demanded of him because the composer had to convey that they were his bosses.

Ahead of times

This was also around the time when technology had become so good that any mediocre singer could be made to sound better. Much like Rahman expressed stories about him being difficult filled the market, tales about the likes of Nigam being temperamentally circulated and things changed. In Rahman’s case, his style of working could be so intimidating, and different from the norm that people found it difficult to keep pace. A legendary songwriter who collaborated with Rahman on some of his most famous works found it increasingly difficult, and strange, to work with him over video calls and different time zones.

While one isn’t denying the presence of ‘gangs’ or ‘camps’ operating in the film industry, could there to more to why the likes of Rahman might be finding it difficult to attract good work? There had been superstar music directors in the past that could sell a film solely on the name, but Rahman’s arrival changed the way Hindi films perceived the music composer. He attached a rockstar status and more importantly, a sense of gravitas to the project. His use of technology, his ability to push the envelope earned him the praise of fans as well as the wrath of fellow composers, some of who considered him to be great ‘arranger.’ The way Rahman changed the rules — use unknown singers, get stalwarts such as Sonu Nigam to croon the background vocals, sing his own songs — democratised the game but the passage of time saw changes that didn’t help Rahman. The most significant change was the use of multiple composers for a single film and once that happened, the concept of ‘Pick-’N’-Choose’ became commonplace. What this also meant was that filmmakers were no longer limited to pick the likes of Rahman to deliver a blockbuster album.

Fixated on hits

It’s not as if Bollywood does not have space for Rahman, or the Oscar-winning composer is out of ideas. The question is why would someone travel to Chennai or Skype halfway across the globe when your neighbourhood kid or filmmakers themselves, such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali, can compose a chartbuster. In the end, as things go, what matters to Bollywood is a ‘hit’ that is relatively cheaper, and not a hit composed by so-and-so using such and such tools.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Soundtrack of someone who grew up in India in 1980s and '90s

Writer

Gautam Chintamani Gautam Chintamani @gchintamani

Cinephile, observer of society and technology and author of the of Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna.

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