Rahman initially composed scores for different documentaries and jingles for advertisements and Indian
television channels. In 1987 Rahman, then still known as Dileep, composed jingles for a line of watches
introduced by Allwyn. He also arranged the jingles for some advertisements that went on to become very
popular, including the popular jingle for Titan Watches, in which he used the theme from Mozart's Symphony
In 1992, he was approached by director Mani Ratnam to compose the score and soundtrack for his Tamil
Rahman's film career began in 1992 when he started Panchathan Record Inn, a recording and mixing studio in
his backyard. It would become the most-advanced recording studio in India, and arguably one of Asia's most
sophisticated and high-tech studios. Cinematographer Santosh Sivan signed Rahman for his second
film Yoddha, a Malayalam film starring Mohanlal and directed by Sivan's brother Sangeeth Sivan that
released in September 1992.
The following year, Rahman received the National Film Awards (Silver Lotus) award for best music director
at the National Film Awards for Roja. The films' score was critically and commercially successful in its
original and dubbed versions, led by the innovative theme "Chinna Chinna Aasai". Rahman followed this with
successful scores and songs for Tamil–language films for the Chennai film industry, including Ratnam's
politically-charged Bombay, the urban Kadhalan, Thiruda Thiruda and S. Shankar's debut
film Gentleman (with its popular dance song, "Chikku Bukku Rayile" Rahman collaborated with
director Bharathiraaja on Kizhakku Cheemayile and Karuththamma, producing successful Tamil rural
folk-inspired film songs; he also composed for K. Balachander's Duet, which had some memorable Saxophone
themes. The 1995 film Indira and romantic comedies Mr. Romeo and Love Birds also drew attention.
Rahman attracted a Japanese audience with Muthu's success there. His soundtracks are known in the Tamil
Nadu film industry and abroad for his versatility in combining Western classical music, Carnatic and Tamil
traditional and folk-music traditions, jazz, reggae and rock music. The soundtrack for Bombay sold
15 million copies worldwide and "Bombay Theme" would later reappear in his soundtrack for Deepa
Mehta's Fire and a number of compilations and other media. It was featured in the 2002 Palestinian
film Divine Intervention and the 2005 Nicolas Cage film, Lord of War. Rangeela, directed by Ram Gopal
Varma, was Rahman's Bollywood debut. Successful scores and songs for Dil Se.. and the
percussive Taal followed. Sufi mysticism inspired "Chaiyya Chaiyya" from the former film and "Zikr" from
his soundtrack album for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (which featured elaborate
orchestral and choral arrangements).
Rahman's soundtrack album for the Chennai production Minsaara Kanavu won him his second National Film
Award for Best Music Direction and a South FilmFare Award for Best Music Direction in a Tamil film in
1997, the latter setting a record of six consecutive wins; he later went on to win the award three
consecutive additional times. The musical cues in the soundtrack albums for Sangamam and Iruvar used
Carnatic vocals, the veena, rock guitar and jazz. During the 2000s, Rahman composed scores and popular
songs for Rajiv Menon's Kandukondain Kandukondain, Alaipayuthey, Ashutosh Gowariker's Swades, Rang De
Basanti and songs with Hindustani motifs for 2005's Water. Rahman has worked with Indian poets and
lyricists such as Javed Akhtar, Gulzar, Vairamuthu and Vaali, and has produced commercially successful
soundtracks with directors Mani Ratnam and S.
Shankar (Gentleman, Kadhalan, Indian, Jeans, Mudhalvan, Nayak, Boys, Sivaji, Enthiran, I and 2.0).
In 2005 Rahman expanded his Panchathan Record Inn studio by establishing AM Studios in Kodambakkam,
Chennai, creating the most cutting-edge studio in Asia. The following year he launched his own music
label, KM Music, with his score for Sillunu Oru Kaadhal. Rahman scored the Mandarin-language film Warriors
of Heaven and Earth in 2003 after researching and using Chinese and Japanese classical music, and won the
Just Plain Folks Music Organization|Just Plain Folks Music Award For Best Music Album for his score for
2006's Varalaru (God Father). He co-scored Shekhar Kapur's second British film, Elizabeth: The Golden Age,
in 2007 and received a Best Composer Asian Film Award nomination at the Hong Kong International Film
Festival for his Jodhaa Akbar score. Rahman's music has been sampled for other scores in India, appearing
in Inside Man, Lord of War, Divine Intervention and The Accidental Husband.
His score for his first Hollywood film, the 2009 comedy Couples Retreat, won the BMI London Award for Best
Score. Rahman's music for 2008's Slumdog Millionaire won a Golden Globe and two Academy Awards (a first
for an Asian), and the songs "Jai Ho" and "O... Saya" from its soundtrack were internationally successful.
His music on 2008's Bollywood Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na was popular with Indian youth; that year, his score
and songs for Jodhaa Akbar won critical acclaim, a Best Composer Asian Film Award nomination and IIFA
awards for best music direction and score.
In 2010, Rahman composed the original score and songs for the romantic Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa, the
sci-fi romance Enthiran and Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, composing for the Imtiaz Ali musical Rockstar; the
latter's soundtrack was a critical and commercial success. In 2012 Rahman composed for Ekk Deewana Tha and
the American drama People Like Us, and collaborated with director Yash Chopra on Jab Tak Hai Jaan. all
were positively received. By the end of the year his music for Mani Ratnam's Kadal was critically
acclaimed, and the album topped the iTunes India chart for December. In 2013, Rahman had two
releases: Raanjhanaa and Maryan. Both were successful, with the former nominated for a number of
awards and the latter the iTunes India Tamil Album of 2013.
The year 2014 was one of the busiest years for Rahman, with him claiming to have worked in 12 films in
various languages. While his first release for the year was the Imtiaz Ali's road movie Highway which
garnered positive reviews, his very next release was the performance captured animation
film Kochadaiiyaan, a Rajinikanth starrer directed by Soundarya Rajinikanth. The film's score and
soundtrack garnered huge critical appraise with its score being long-listed at the forthcoming Academy
Awards. His next were the scores for the two back to back Hollywood films, Million Dollar Arm and The
Hundred Foot Journey, both of which got into the contended list for the original score category nomination
at the Oscars.
This was followed by the highly successful soundtrack album for the period drama Kaaviya Thalaivan teaming
up with director Vasanthabalan for the first time. His next release was Shankar's supernatural
thriller I and K. S. Ravikumar's period action film Lingaa, both of which were highly acclaimed and
appreciated upon release.