It has certainly made him the most recognizable desi musician in the West. His Bollywood film scores include the Oscar-nominated Lagaan, such hits as "Chaiyya Chaiyya" from Dil Se and Bombay Dreams (named ninth in the BBC World Service's top 10 songs of all time) and, of course, "Jai Ho," the Slumdog song that garnered Oscars, Grammys and a Golden Globe—as well as other international awards— and enshrined him as the ultimate crossover artist.
The life of a Bollywood composer can tax the artistic temperament, though. Because of the way the films are made, the composing process is complicated. "You can't just finish doing one song and then go on to the next one," he says. When asked if he is ever requested to change his music once a song is being filmed, he responds with a laugh. "Always." And inevitably, some of his pearls go to waste: Asked if he sometimes wishes that a song had been in a better movie, he again says, "Always. If a movie is a flop, nobody ever listens to the music."
A tireless performer, Rahman is an instrumentalist, singer, music director and composer. He's also a synthesizer of diverse Western and Indian classical and popular styles, having collaborated with Michael Jackson, the Finnish group Vrttin and Andrew Lloyd Webber (on Bombay Dreams, an experience that "really opened up my brain a lot, seeing the world beyond music"). He, along with Marvin Hamlisch, recently entertained President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House.
Rahman calls his current tour, called the Jai Ho Concert, a "vibrant musical journey" that fuses a kaleidoscope of musicians, dancers and acrobats in a theatrical extravaganza. This is the most elaborate live Bollywood show the area has ever seen. Tickets available at rbccenter.com.