India should market its films, music like South Korea did K-pop: AR Rahman

Rahman said that India had missed an opportunity to bolster its soft power after ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.
AR Rahman
AR Rahman
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India needs to tell better stories for the world through art – be it film, music, art, or games – and bolster its soft power, said composer AR Rahman. In an interview with Faye D Souza on Saturday, the music maestro, who was recently named the ambassador of the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) Breakthrough Initiative in India, talked about better ‘marketing India’ to the world, and of the opportunity missed to do the same, among other things.

“We have to tell our stories in a way the world enjoys them. If we don’t, others will tell our stories, which is not fair,” Rahman said. “We can’t just be satisfied with the same kind of stories and narratives and sensibilities. We have to open up, show much more beauty and wisdom from India for the world to enjoy. In a way, it is marketing India to the world with art, sensibilities and beauty. It’s the biggest soft power of India.”

Rahman also made a comparison to South Korea and how art from there, such as music (K-Pop) and films, have become popular. “There, the government also helps [with marketing] their musicians, movies and television. We know that Parasite won the Oscar. They had one big hit – Gangnam Style – and they followed it up. Now there is BTS also.”

“We didn’t capitalise after Slumdog Millionaire. For a few years, India was at the centre stage, with everyone talking about us. But we didn’t follow up,” Rahman said. “Some of our heroes are world famous. There is a sense of complacency, and satisfaction[…]. Somewhere, you need to show your culture in a grand way, and that we are also the oldest culture. Stories have to come out through stories, art, gaming.”

Rahman also talked about the potential of gaming, and how India should tap into that. “Do we have one big game? No. Gaming has potential too,” he said.

When asked about the freedom of expression debate – and whether it should be absolute for artists, Rahman said that with more people having a voice and expressing on social media, one should be careful about telling stories properly. “We have to respect traditions and figures. If something is going to offend a billion people, why go there?” he added.

Faye and Rahman also spoke about the access that the internet provides, and how it has reduced the need to have ‘connections’. “These days, if I need to find an artist, I just DM them on Instagram. They ask, “Is it really you?” And I say, “Yes, you see the blue tick on my Instagram…” That’s how I find people now,” he laughed. He added that the internet has made it easier to learn things too, including for him.

When asked about what his process of composing music now is, Rahman explained, “After a while you start imagining the sound. If you hear a melody, and think how will it sound with a 40-piece string section here, a 40-piece choir, and then silence… Biggest thing for us is imagination. It becomes a habit where you start imagining things. So, to break monotony and fatigue, a happy accident has to happen. Sometimes we record everything and accidently close some things, and then it sounds great. We have to open to those kinds of things.”

For young artists looking to be discovered or make a mark, Rahman advised that they should focus on going deep into their art, and people will find them – which is what happened with him. “People who have the courage to say no […] and believe in their music, music will not let them down.”

Watch the full interview here.

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