For a man who is considered a musical genius, A R Rahman--whose oeuvre of music has cut a swathe from Bollywood to Hollywood and includes "Bollywood Dreams", the musical on the London stage--is shorn of attitude or flamboyance which is the signature statement of many stars and starlets. While others, such as his publicity managers, went into a tizzy over his "rare" press conference, Rahman casually walked in and headed to the middle of the auditorium. So did his group of advisers and musicians who are going to help birth Rahman's baby KM Music Conservatory in June.
Also present was L Subramaniam, so understated that it is difficult to believe that this man has played with class acts from the world of music.
So was Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, who will be tutoring the 150 students that the Conservatory will admit and train into first rate musicians.
"When we need to use an orchestra, we go to Prague and London. Even Bahrain and Iraq have an orchestra, but we don't," says Rahman. He wants to fill this void so students who really excel can hope to be part of the symphony orchestra in the western mode that he will set up, both to serve as a resident studio orchestra to perform his compositions and also to take the stage in Chennai and elsewhere in India and abroad.
Most people would have named their brain child after themselves, he was told at the press conference: It's not about him, said the maestro, it's about music and that he feels "spiritually close" to the initials. Hence the name KM Music Conservatory. KM? Kosmic Music.
All Ye Bathroom Singers…
Here's calling all bathroom singers and wannabes who can't stomach being verbally slayed by a Simon Cowell or fielding an acidic comment from some Indian clone on a reality show. A R Rahman, who will be founder and principal of the conservatory, is going to give you a chance to showcase your musical talent in his twice-a-week preparatory class. You could be 16 or 60, but if you have what it takes, then show up at KM`, which will initially operate from a property beside Rahman's Kodambakkam studio.
Eventually, the campus will be in a leafy suburb of Chennai ("where there will be no noise from horns") and will include classrooms, a concert hall, recording studio and residential facilities for faculty and students who are out of towners. Among the advisors are music experts including Randel Giles (curriculum advisor), Czechoslovak musician Vadislav (who has made India his home for the last 12 years), Pushkar (singer, composer, pianist), Shreenivas Krishnan (associated with a music college in the US and also the founder of the Global Rhythms ensemble) and Wendi Parr (voice trainer). The MD is the first Apple Certified trainer from Audio Media Education, T Selvakumar.
The serious class is for the really talented, who will be picked after an audition, and will go into a foundation or diploma course depending on their musical level. "Knowledge of music technology is a must in today's musical world, whether in Indian music or in Western music," says Rahman. Negotiations are on with the University of Madras to consider the possibility of the KM Conservatory getting a Deemed University status offering Bachelor's Degrees in Music and Music Technology. While the fees have not yet been decided, those who cannot afford but are musically talented will get a scholarship from the A R Rahman Foundation.
So, what's Rahman's answer to whether young people will invest time and money to learn music when they get their 15 minutes of fame on reality shows? He says simply: "Where there is a will, there is a way."
On The Fast Track
Brangelina have it. So does Richard Gere. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck picked up his Oscar (for The Lives of Others) driving it. The "it" is BMW, which made its market entry into India last year and has now raised the capacity of its manufacturing plant near Chennai to 3,000 cars from 1,700 cars after investing half a million euros.
Peter Kronschnabl, President, BMW India, says there is no typical buyer of the BMW in India unlike the rest of the world. Software czars, real estate developers, those with old money and the nouveau riche all buy the car that comes with a price tag of between Rs 25 lakhs to 1.25 crore depending on which one of the nine models you choose. "But the pity", as one of the car showroom's test drivers points out, "is that in India most BMWs in India are not owner-driven but driver-driven." And then again, as cynics point out, many in the construction and other businesses might be able to afford it, but wouldn't buy a fancy car lest it comes under the IT department's radar. Still, BMW managed to sell 1,387 cars in 2007, exceeding its target of 1000. And the target for 2008 is 2,000 and 80 per cent of these will come from the Chennai facility.
Vive la Chennai
Even as Anjuna in Goa, which could boast of an expat community that included a script writer in Hollywood, a musician of international repute, and even sometimes the likes of journalist and critic Philip Knightley, has now blotted its copybook with the Scarlett Keeling murder and rape, Chennai ranks up there with foreigners. A survey conducted by ECA Internationals Location Ranking Survey has ranked Chennai at 138, the highest among Indian cities. The annual survey compares living standards in different cities in the world on the basis of climate, air quality, health services, housing and utilities, social network, infrastructure, personal safety and political tensions. Benaguluru (153), Mumbai (156), New Delhi (169) and Kolkata (193) lag behind Chennai. Among Asian cities, Chennai gets 26th place. Here too other Indian cities like Bengaluru (29), Mumbai (30), Delhi (36) and Kolkata (40) lag behind. No wonder this metropolis is an expat-magnet.