Final days in India—with the composer of Slumdog Millionnaire

To round off his trip, Berklee film scoring chair met famed composer A.R. Rahman of Slumdog Millionnaire fame, and reports on his efforts to promote musicianship in Chennai.

India Trip Conclusion (Feb. 16, 17, 18)

Tuesday morning marked our second day of Mumbai auditions. (Michael and I were greatly relieved to discover that the maintenance crew at the audition building had worked through the night to fix the air-conditioning.) Again we heard a wide range of student presentations—including a couple of really extraordinary performances. To the extent our India travels were initiated with the goal of finding talented Indian students who would thrive at Berklee, this trip has been a clear success.

During the lunch break, I left my colleagues and headed to the Mumbai airport for Chennai (Madras). I was welcomed most warmly by Srini Krishnan, provost of the KM Music Conservatory. His driver delivered us to the home and studio of A.R. Rahman, the Oscar/Grammy-winning composer of the film Slumdog Millionaire.

Young Dr. Rahman is a very impressive fellow—mild-mannered, gracious, and extremely talented. We talked about Hollywood, the people we know in common, the current Oscar season, and then about the conservatory he has established. A.R. is putting his words and wealth into action by creating opportunities for promising young composers. Current funding for the conservatory comes from him and whatever tuition is collected; however, it is my understanding that, in anticipation of expanded programming and the move to a 75-acre site across town, the plan is to go into full fundraising mode.

I visited the school on Wednesday morning and presented an abbreviated version of the film-scoring clinic I offered in Delhi and Mumbai. I then was shown the school’s impressive recording/mixing/dubbing stage, which looks and sounds no less sophisticated than working rooms in New York and Los Angeles. The dubbing mixer on duty interrupted his current assignment to show us a fabulous demo reel of A.R.’s film work, which includes much more than Indian movies. Because most of this was new to me, I was surprised by the depth and extent of his artistry and craftsmanship—to say nothing of the breadth of his styles. He is destined to enjoy a very long and successful career in film composition.

Srini then took me to the Film and Television Academy that is run by his brother Hari. Here they have a huge soundstage containing both permanent and movable sets. They also have an impressive collection of historical and contemporary equipment and gear. Srini and Hari’s father was a Vice President of Eastman Kodak in India, so the brothers are steeped in film knowledge and tradition. At Hari’s request, I delivered a lecture to his students, which was particularly enjoyable for me in that I was able to emphasize the role and responsibilities of directors when dealing with composers and others involved in integrating music into films.

I arrived back in my Mumbai hotel room in time to freshen up, pack, and meet Michael (along with our Mumbai hosts) for a farewell dinner. As in Delhi and Chennai, we were treated with great kindness, respect, and care in Mumbai. The Indians with whom we met during our tour could not have been more welcoming and supportive.

Traveling to the third world is not a vacation on the Amalfi Coast. For historical reasons having nothing to do with the intelligence, skill set, or tenacity of the indigenous population, there remain significant challenges in such countries. As reported earlier, one cannot help but be depressed by some of the living conditions while also being impressed by the entrepreneurial ingenuity and alacrity with which many endeavor to improve their lives and communities. That they also can maintain their traditional musical art while excelling at ours is more than remarkable. I hope that many of the emerging composers and performers whom we met are able to bring their talents to Berklee (and elsewhere), thereby enriching us all.

A few words about my Berklee fellow travelers: The senior member of our group is Greg Badolato, a 30+ year Berklee veteran, who heads up international programming. Greg is a monster tenor-sax man, who enthralled the students with both his playing and mentoring. Greg leaves the organizational oversight of these trips to his junior colleague Jason Camelio, a trombonist and bandleader, who had the toughest job of all. Jason managed to pull off our trip with no hitches, was the first to take the most uncomfortable seat in the van, and did it all with ease and humor. David McKay, although with us in a fundraising capacity, gallantly took on the task of interviewing students when the walk-ins threatened to overwhelm us. Gojko Damjanic from admissions served as Jason’s collaborator and also was the principal interviewer. An experienced world traveler who hails from the former Yugoslavia, Gojko is an adept sailor in foreign waters. Rounding out the crew was Michael Farquharson, the Canadian native. Like other musicians with whom I have collaborated on these audition tours, Michael is incredibly talented on his primary instrument (bass), while also able to function professionally at the piano. And like Greg and Jason, he demonstrated patience and kindness during clinics and the audition process—to both students and the chair of film scoring. Berklee is extraordinary because of the talent, character, dedication, and good will of such men and women; and I am a lucky guy to have been welcomed so warmly into their community.

Best wishes and Happy Trails,

DAC 4

Read the entire set of posts from Berklee’s 2010 India trip:

One thought on “Final days in India—with the composer of Slumdog Millionnaire

  1. Atish Mukhopadhyay

    To whom it may concern

    I am a professional Indian Classical musician from Kolkata, India. I play the most majestic Indian classical instrument, the Sarode. I have traveled around the world and gave performances in other countries. Personally I visited Barklee in 2008 in Boston. It was just an unofficial visit.

    However, I always wanted to study Jazz/Contemporary improvisation at Barklee but never had the proper information about the Scholarships etc. how all these work.

    I am very glad to know that Barkee came to India for talent hunt and I hope it was quite successful. Congratulations to Barklee for their honest effort!!

    BUT, this is very unfortunate that, Barklee failed to visit Kolkata which is famous for Art, Literature and Music- the cultural capital of India. Mostly all world famous Indian musicians, poets, writers, painters belonged and belong to this culturally rich city and even until now numbers of extremely talented young musicians belong to Kolkata.

    I therefore hope that, next time Barkee will make their mind to visit Kolkata.

    Thank you once again Barklee for your wonderful effort.

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