By Tejas A. Sawant
Documentary “Jai Ho” which portrays the major turning points in the personal and professional life of one of the most acclaimed Indian composers and musicians of all time, A.R. Rahman, premiered at the Museum of the Moving Image on February 25th. Rahman and director Umesh Aggarwal attended the premiere followed by a discussion moderated by Scott Foundas, Chief Film Critic, Variety.
The title of the documentary, which means “Victory!” is the same as the Grammy and Academy Award-winning song, from the successful 2008 film “Slumdog Millionaire,” for which Rahman is best known in the U.S.
At the core of the documentary are interviews with such influential figures in the world of music and film as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Shekhar Kapur, Subhash Ghai, Mani Ratnam, Gulzar, and Danny Boyle among several others who have closely worked with Rahman and have been simply astonished and captivated by his musical genius.
A significant feature of this documentary is that it lacks narration, but rather employs some of Rahman’s most famous and successful tracks as a fitting way to direct the course of the story.
“Encapsulating three decades of music in 60 minutes was a big challenge that we faced,” said director Aggarwal as he addressed the audience before the screening.
Followed by the brief portrayal of his difficult childhood years, the plot takes the audience on a musical tour through his career, beginning with his first major gig “Roja” (a 1992 Tamil film), whose soundtrack was named as one of the best 10 soundtracks of all time by Time magazine, followed by his sensational entry into Bollywood with the 1995 film “Rangeela,” his journey abroad beginning with his phenomenally successful collaboration with the deeply-impressed British legend Lloyd, and culminating in his “Jai Ho” fame of recent years.
The plot also beautifully captures facets of his personal life including his spiritual self-discovery and subsequent conversion to Sufi Islam; the filial bond he shares with his mother, Kareema Begum; and his efforts at balancing his professional and family life. At the same time, the director has carefully avoided an overly sentimental tone here and has focussed on a proportional overlap between these two aspects of Rahman’s life. True to the subject, the heart of the narrative continues to be his musical journey.
The ingeniously-chosen score reflects Rahman’s biggest contribution to the world of music — a revolutionary synthesis of Indian and Western elements beautified by his own personal touch.
The persona of the usually introvert Rahman shines through his candid and engaging responses in the plot, especially when he talks about his love for music and his goal to unify the world through the language that transcends all borders — music.
“I decided to be selfless and give my message to the world through this documentary,” said Rahman during the talk after the screening.
A treat for Rahman lovers, this documentary is also sure to be a palatable experience for others, given the universal appeal of his compositions and his touching and inspiring journey.
Tejas A. Sawant is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.