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A.R. Rahman talks “People Like Us,” working with Danny Boyle and finding a superhero franchise to score

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There are plenty of reasons to see “People Like Us” when it hits theaters today, but one of the more interesting ones is the fact that it was scored by “Slumdog Millionaire’s” A.R. Rahman and indie rock singer Liz Phair. This type of Hollywood film is a new experience for Rahman, and was a challenge he was happy to take on.

IFC had the chance to chat with Rahman in a recent phone interview and talk about some of his inspirations going in to scoring Alex Kurtzman’s directorial debut. We also hit on topics like his upcoming collaboration with Danny Boyle for the Olympics, the major differences between composing in Hollywood and India and what superhero franchise he’d like to work for.

IFC: What is your process like going into a movie like “People Like Us,” which is largely a family drama? What elements of the movie did you approach first?

A.R. RAHMAN: When I read the script I felt that it should have a certain lightness about the score. Initially, I had a different idea of the score. I wanted to make it more string oriented and more classical. But then I think it kind of drowned the movie with emotion, so I went on the lighter side with guitars and making it feel lighter; even though there’s a problem, it’s cool and it’s going to be okay. Kind of sending a hope message in the tonality of the score.

IFC: I know this is a really personal story for Alex Kurtzman, so how did the two of you work together to make sure that the tone was exactly what he wanted for the movie?

ARR: I met him before he was shooting the movie and before he was about to shoot with the script, and at that time he had another idea, but it evolved. Once we shot the movie, we had brainstorming sessions and he would play with some stuff and I would play with some stuff. So we kind of arrived at this slowly. Like, film ends, we were trying to discover what would be right, and the main challenge was how do you make the music like a lullaby rather than a love song. There’s a very thin line. [laughs] You play the wrong note, and it sounds like a love story.

IFC: Well, it is a love story in a certain way, just not necessarily a romantic one.

ARR: Yeah. It had to have the tone of lullaby, of two children who are communicating and not two adults in a different way.

IFC: You mentioned strings and guitars, but were there any other specific instruments that you wanted to use in this score?

ARR: I wanted to make it like a chamber session, not like a big epic orchestra. I mean, this thing was so in your face, because anything that we’d change it would just show so badly on screen. I loved working on the score. It was a huge experience for me.

IFC: You’ve scored quite a few movies in Hollywood, but you’ve also got a massive career in Bollywood, so what are some of the major differences you’ve found between the two industries?

ARR: Back in India, you just do a couple of songs and then people go and shoot and then come back and ask for more songs, and the movie goes forward and then you do the score. But here in Hollywood I think it’s like being locked, and you have three months of scoring time and everything has to come that time. Most of the movies I’ve done, the writing thing and then approval and then recording, and then we create. I don’t do anything else during that time. It’s completely dedicated for only that movie, so that’s the major difference.

When I come here to do a Hollywood movie, people understand, ‘Oh, you don’t want to do anything else. You’ll just do that.’ Back in India, I have like seven studios, I have like five or six writing bases, and the string section goes on, I do some lyrics in another room and a new arrangement or something in one room and imagine new songs all at the same time.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.