At a time where racy pop idols and music videos are the norm, Oscar winner AR Rahman’s niqab-wearing daughter Khatija Rahman seems to go against the grain.
The rising singer’s new meditative Hindi-language single ‘Farishton’ (meaning angel) released globally across all major music streaming platforms on October 25. It will be paired with an animated music video, inspired by Japanese legend Hayao Miyazaki — whose films she watched with her family during the recent COVID-19 lockdown in Chennai. The video’s teaser is as family-friendly as it gets. Her iconic father, AR Rahman, even posted the hashtag #Childfriendly as he talked up his daughter’s latest single along with a video snippet.
But wearing a niqab (a face veil worn by Muslim women) doesn’t hinder her self-expression, believes Khatija who is a proud nonconformist. “I don’t see it as a challenge. Things are changing. The most important thing is to keep your identity intact and not trying to fit in,” said Rahman in an exclusive interview with Gulf News over Zoom.
Khatija — who famously called out Bangladeshi columnist Taslima Nasrin for remarks about her modest attire, which the celebrated author found suffocating — believes that she doesn’t have to resort to racy elements to attract listeners.
Her goal was to create a video that appealed to both adults and children alike. The teaser to her latest video shows a purple burqa-clad young woman — bearing a strong resemblance to Khatija herself — distributing food to a group of hungry children.
“A lot of those [hyper-sexualised] elements are added for people to watch … But that’s not the kind of way that I would want to communicate or grab someone’s attention. Everything has its pros and cons, I would say,” she said.
Perhaps, Khatija’s confidence in being true to herself also stems from the immense love and respect that she seems to have gathered over the years. Her fan base consists of women and men who revel in her traditional values.
“A lot of people message me who are not exactly like me but are from different backgrounds. I get a lot of their support and comments. I have not changed my identity ever to be accepted whether on social media or anywhere, but I have got so much love and support,” she said.
Her devotional single ‘Farishton’, composed and produced by her father AR Rahman, also seems to reflect her live-and-let-live philosophy.
“We basically went with an animated video because we felt like trying something different during the lockdown. For the first time in our lives, we had a lot of time with us to discuss ideas. Otherwise, each one of us in the family are in one corner of the house. But lockdown brought us together. We watched a lot of interesting Miyazaki’s movies during the lockdown. I find animation films — such as those Disney movies — so fascinating and it makes me wish for a world like that. We wanted created that world and we felt that animation is something likeable for children adults. Who wouldn’t want to live in a fantasy?”
‘Farishton’, which features Khatija’s immensely likeable and saccharine vocals, also touches upon a cause that she’s deeply invested in.
“’Farishton’ is about women’s empowerment, something I strongly believe in … There’s women’s empowerment, magic, science and fantasy — such interesting elements fused in the video … I hope you find solace after listening to my song,” she said.
Khatija also adds that a predominantly women-led crew worked on the music video extensively.
“The music video will be a reflection of what I believe in. Since it’s my music video, it’s about my life and how I have accepted people from different walks of life.”
The Tamil version her single will be released owing to popular demand by the end of this month, claims the singer. So, what is like growing up in the home of one of India’s biggest music icons and how has her surname helped boost her career? AR Rahman is one of Asia’s biggest cultural exports to the West and has won several awards including two Grammys, two Oscars, a Golden Globe and a Bafta. Her father has also won six National Film Awards and composed dozens of iconic tunes for Tamil and Hindi films.
“I definitely owe it to him … but after that it is going to be my hard work. Just with my last name, nothing can be done. At the most it can give some placement or make it easy initially, but after that it’s only my work that will speak for itself. And, that what I truly believe. But I am always grateful to him,” she said.
Her admiration towards him quadrupled during the compulsory lockdown in India. Khatija, who is known for her social work for cancer patients, got to spend more time with her father and her family.
“There were no concerts, so probably we got a lot of time to spend with each other. A lot of reflection in terms of learning also happened. I am not just an artist, I am also into the social sector and so I tried to learn whatever I could,” she said.
“I want my art to speak for the causes I believe in, so thankfully all the kinds of projects I have been getting has been that way. I have not chosen them that way but the universe has heard it and that’s what has been happening,” she said. “I want to heal people, I don’t want it to be just a song, it should touch people. That’s the identity that I am looking for, like they should feel at ease when they listen to me. Some solace to someone who is in pain because it is not possible for me to interact with everyone so at least through my songs that is conveyed I will be more than happy. I also want to be versatile, this is the identity I am seeking for.”
The women behind 'Farishton'
“My dad found Sam Madhu, the creative director for the project. She’s a powerful woman and I learnt a lot from her. My sister and I are the executive producers of the single. Whatever good work of animation you will see are from Ghost Animations from Kolkata. I am so excited for you all to watch our work … Continue praying for me and thank you for all your love. The other day, I teared up to see all that love that came for my teaser. I hope you find your inner peace.”
“I have not planned anything except to learn singing … Whatever happens, just happens. I have never said I will not sing for movies or reject any such offers. As long as a song is meaningful and not indecent or abusive towards women, I am open to singing them … I am just going with the flow.”
Did you know?
Khatija Rahman doesn’t listen to as much music as she thinks she should. On her to-do list is to become a musician who’s acquainted with different styles of music.
A day in the life of Khatija Rahman
“Sleeping late, waking up with no time for myself. I haven’t spoken about self-care deliberately in any of my interviews. I have no fixed, organised schedule… I am quite messy, but at work I can schedule and organise everything. But basically, outside of that, I am disorganised.”