How virtual reality pushed AR Rahman towards ‘multi-sensory’ filmmaking
What does AR Rahman have in common with Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Madonna? A bit of inspiration perhaps from each of their musical genres apart, all these musicians have tried their hand — a few not too successfully — at filmmaking.
Now it’s Rahman’s turn to make his directorial debut with Le Musk, which is being touted as the world’s first virtual reality “multi-sensory” feature film. Unsurprisingly, it is technology that drew Rahman to films. “The (VR) technology is evolving and everybody is doing experimental stuff with it. I found the technology exciting and I had a story. I felt that my story would come out beautifully in this technology,” explains Rahman. The journey of an orphaned heiress and musician, with international stars in lead roles, the film will have an element of smell with perfume being dispensed as part of the viewing experience.
Rahman and tech aren’t strangers, and at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Rahman enthralled an audience by using Intel’s Curie-based technology to make music using hand gestures and body movements.
This time, though, he’s gone beyond music. “I had the right partners for the film, including Grace Boyle of Feelies, who is helping with the set design by providing the element of smell, and Intel helping with the technology and also the Voyager (VR) chair; for the cameras I have tied up with Radiant Images of LA. Everything came together, but it was the emotional aspect behind the story that kept me charged up and gave me the energy,” Rahman, who was in Delhi last weekend to launch the prelude, told ET Magazine. He is quick to add that it is the emotion behind the story that is most important for his film and technology should always remain sensitive and be used responsibly.
Rahman is now focused on completing the film. And then? “We are working on another film project based on Indian dances,” says Rahman adding that with more and more technology available to music composers, the roles of film director and music director are intermingling. “The synergy between music and films has always been strong and now in a couple of years it is likely that you can see me live on 3D when I’m performing at my home studio. That’s where it is going.” And whether it’s music or movies, Rahman will remain focused on content that is Indian with a global twist. “It is important to create content that appeals to global sensibilities.”
Music & Beyond
Whether he will now dabble more in films, Rahman still doesn’t know — “but I have a voice and around the world the response when I speak is favourable most of the time,” he says. “I wanted to go one step further from my music and see what I can do. Every day still remains a challenge, to rise to the next level and always try and speak sense. Besides, I have multiple things on my mind which I want to do and have to meet deadlines.” But his adventures with the film medium will be guided by technology.
“Things are changing fast,soon phones could become the headsets so you don’t have to wear cables and can watch anything, anywhere.” Till then he is happy to be in his home studio, which is his kitchen of creativity. Marry a great story with high technology, and you have Baahubali 2, the film that is making box-office history.
“Baahubali 2 has a great story, a great director and great characters first. Of course, visual effects (VFX) and computer-generated imagery (CGI) and other technology too are very important — with 30 tech companies from around the world having worked with us for the film and many technicians from overseas too,” says Prasad Devineni, one of the producers. He reckons that Baahubali director SS Rajamouli heralds the arrival of the new-age movie director in India who is tech-smart and hands-on. “Almost everyone in the team was techsavvy. Rajamouli himself worked with 10 monitors. We also made sure that viewers can enjoy the full experience, having launched in all formats, including 4D and IMAX,” adds Devineni.
PVR Cinemas, the multiplex chain that recently launched Asia’s first VR lounge in association with IT major HP Inc, has tied up with Rahman for Le Musk. “We are the only multiplex in India to provide the experience of immersive and interactive content — and Rahman introduced us to the concept. This will open the floodgates of VR content for us and we look forward to partnering with many more filmmakers who are creating such content,” Gautam Dutta, CEO of PVR Ltd, told ET Magazine. Rahman spent time with the PVR management, explaining the concept of VR, before he started work on Le Musk, because he felt the infrastructure had to be in place for people in India to watch his film.
The company now plans to launch 8 to 10 more VR lounges across India this year. Agam Garg, an IIT-Bombay alum who cofounded virtual reality studio Meraki in 2015 that specialises in cinematic VR, feels that it is important right now to develop the ecosystem for VR content in India. “India is growing in terms of the number and quality of VR content creation. We have companies creating both cinematic and CG/animated interactive content, but as overall demand for VR content is still low, these companies will need time to grow.”