Oscar winner A.R. Rahman on the challenges of scoring ‘People Like Us’

Though he”s scored more than 100 movies spanning a multitude of genres, Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman found himself charting new territory when it came to writing the music for Dreamworks” “People Like Us,”  a drama about a man who discovers he has a sister he never knew about.

“The movie takes me away from what I”ve been doing for 20 years,” says  Rahman, who, though already wildly popular in his native India for decades, finally broke through in the U.S. following the tremendous success of 2008 “Slumdog Millionaire” and the film”s end title song, “Jai Ho,” which was accompanied by a Bollywood dance number.

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“There was a whole new palette of songs and going into another culture. Emotions are universal: sadness, love, etc., but the challenge was to extract what would come through me, yet be the sound of the middle class American.”

To that end, Rahman praises the movie”s writer and first-time director Alex Kurtzman for keeping him on track.  “Alex said [the music] can”t be epic, it can”t be world music…I was following his vision, while at the same time sticking to something that I wanted to do.”

The other big challenge was how to musically play up the relationship between the brother and sister that touches on a number of different emotions as they get to know each other, mainly while Chris Pine”s Sam knows about their sibling connection and Elizabeth Bank”s Frankie does not.

Rahman knew if he even alluded to romance in his music, it would ratchet up the “eww” factor. “You have to play it safe,” he says. “It needed to have a lullaby quality, not be committal about anything else. It couldn”t be romantic.”

Though Rahman grew up thousands of miles away from Los Angeles, Hollywood movies have been his constant companion since his teens. “I was watching two movies a day when the first  VCR came out, he says. “During the day, I was was working with Indian movies and then watching Hollywood movies. I grew up with [the music of] Vangelis, John Williams, Ennio Morricone…’Cinema Paradiso,” ‘Born on the 4th of July,” ‘Schindler”s List”…”

Rahman, who is also in the group Superheavy with Mick Jagger and Joss Stone, not only scored the film, but wrote the end title song, “Dotted Line,” with Liz Phair, who sings the tune. He says it was more of a joint effort than his similar effort with Dido for “If I Rise,” from “127 Hours.” For that song, Rahman wrote the music and Dido and her brother wrote the lyrics. In this case, “Liz wrote the lyric and some of the melody and took tome of my melodies based on the themes of the movie. It was a total collaboration.”

“People Like Us” opens in theaters today.  Watch Pine and Banks discuss their roles below.

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