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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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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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