Four times AR Rahman flaunted his Tamil identity with pride

“Tamil is the link language,” AR Rahman said on Monday, seemingly in response to Amit Shah’s controversial remark on Hindi being the “link language”. Here are some instances in which the Oscar winner has let his love for Tamil be known.

Wielding a spear, a woman draped in a white sari dances against a stark red backdrop as her hair flies freely, wildly, around her. She is ‘Thamizhanangu’ (goddess Tamil), as portrayed in an illustration shared by Oscar-winning musician AR Rahman on Twitter on Friday, April 8. Thamizhanangu is a word from the Thamizh Thai Vazhthu (Tamil anthem), penned by Manonmaniam Sundaram Pillai and composed by MS Viswanathan. The picture is accompanied by a footnote, featuring a line from celebrated Tamil nationalist poet Bharathidasan’s poem Thamizhukkum Amudhendru Per (Tamil has another name – nectar). “Our beloved Tamil is the root that holds together our existence,” the line roughly translates.

The timing of Rahman’s tweet is apt – it comes a day after Union Home Minister Amit Shah made a controversial remark that people of different states should communicate with each other in Hindi and not English. The comment went on to invite widespread opposition, especially from the southern states. Subsequently on Monday, April 11, in a video that has since gone viral, Rahman is seen responding to a question about Shah’s comment on “Hindi being the link language”, with a statement that “Tamil is the link language”. The musician has since been trending on Twitter, garnering applause and criticism alike from social media users.

However, this is hardly the first time that Rahman has let his love for his mother tongue Tamil, or his stand against the imposition of Hindi language, be known. Here are four instances in which the Mozart of Madras proudly flaunted his Tamil identity in public.

A walkout over Hindi

In a video from a launch event for 99 Songs, a musical romance film that Rahman had co-written and produced, Rahman is seen walking off the stage as a joke after the host asked actor Ehan Bhat-who stars in the film-a question in Hindi. The event was held on March 26 last year. After introducing Rahman in Tamil, she was starting to speak to Ehan in Hindi when Rahman suddenly intervened. “Hindi?” he asked, before walking off the stage as the audience cheered. “Didn’t I ask you earlier if you speak in Tamil or not,” he went on to ask the host, before clarifying with a smile that he was joking. Taking the jest in stride, the host responded that it was her pleasure to be trolled by the maestro.

Later, in an interview with Bollywood Hungama, Rahman explained what had happened. “We were doing a three-language launch for the film. The Hindi launch had already taken place, and this one was for Tamil Nadu. So, there is a certain protocol one has to follow. We were talking to Tamil audiences… So, I told her (the anchor) to speak in Tamil and follow the protocol. I think she wanted to be kind to Ehan and he understands Hindi better. But it was only a joke. It was not meant to be taken seriously, ”Rahman said.

Autonomy defined

In June 2019, as a debate over the three-language formula under the National Education Policy (NEP) was raging, Rahman made a simple yet hard-hitting statement with a cryptic tweet. “AUTONOMOUS | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary, ”Rahman tweeted, accompanied by a link to the official Cambridge dictionary webpage that carries the definition of the said word. According to the dictionary, ‘autonomous’ means “independent and having the power to make your own decisions”.

Many saw the musician’s tweet as a message to the Union government, with him advocating autonomy for states to take decisions on matters including education. In fact, just a few days before this, he had put out another tweet stating that “Tamizh is spreading in Punjab”, along with a video of a Punjabi singer singing a Tamil song composed by Rahman. The tweet was interpreted by several Twitter users as the maestro’s way of saying that Tamil was finding a space of its own in other parts of the country, even amid the attempt to force Hindi upon Tamil Nadu that has long resisted such an imposition.

A day later, after the Union government announced its decision to withdraw the draft that imposed Hindi on schools in non-Hindi speaking states, Rahman once again took to Twitter to welcome the move. “A beautiful solution. Hindi is not compulsory in Tamil Nadu. The draft has been edited,” he tweeted in Tamil.

For Hindi and Tamil, a concert each

On July 8, 2017, Rahman had played to a full house in a concert at the Wembley Stadium in London. Much to the surprise of his south Indian fans, however, an overwhelming number of people responded to the program by criticizing the maestro for singing Tamil songs at the concert – ironic, since the concert was titled Netru Indru Naalai (Tamil for ‘Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’). Many took to Twitter to express their disappointment with the musician, seeking a refund because they felt like they were attending a south Indian concert.

In the light of these developments, Rahman announced that his upcoming performance in Canada in October that year will have two concerts – one for the Hindi fans, and another for Tamil. In a promotional video for the event shared by ARYA Canada Inc, Rahman is seen saying, “Canada, be ready! We are coming for you. We are coming with two shows – a Tamil show and a Hindi show. Tum saath ho? We are coming for you, just for you. ” By the end of the video, he cheekily adds, “I’m sure the Tamil show is for Hindi people, and the Hindi show is for Tamil people. I’m just joking. ”

Tamil at the Oscars

Ella pugazhum iraivanukke. ” This is what Rahman had to say after accepting his first Academy Award for Best Original Score for Slumdog Millionaire in 2009. That year, Rahman had created history by becoming the first ever Indian to win two Academy Awards. He won a second Oscar for the Best Original Song, which he received for the track Jai ho, penned by Gulzar and sung by Sukhwinder Singh. This line he spoke in his mother tongue Tamil, roughly translates to “all praise to god”. It has stuck with the maestro throughout his career, with him never failing to repeat it every time he wins an award.

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