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February 23, 2009
Top Rahman!
Slumdog Millionaire composer wins Oscars for score and song

A.R. Rahman

HOLLYWOOD—Indian composer A.R. Rahman won two Oscars Sunday night at the Kodak Theater, for best song and original score for Slumdog Millionaire.

Rahman – who shared the song Oscar with lyricist Gulzar, for "Jai Ho" – said "the essence of the film is about optimism and the power of hope in our lives." Between accepting the two awards, he participated in the nominated-song medley, singing both "O...Saya" (substituting for M.I.A., who had given birth just days before) and "Jai Ho."

Rahman's three 2008 music nominations (two for song, one for score) were his first Academy nods despite being one of India's most prolific film composers, a best-selling recording artist and composer of the smash London musical Bombay Dreams.

Subbing for writer-performer Peter Gabriel on the nominated WALL-E song, "Down to Earth," was John Legend, backed by nine members of South Africa's Soweto Gospel Choir. Gabriel was in the audience but had declined to sing a truncated version as part of a best-song medley.

All of Rahman's fellow score nominees – Alexandre Desplat (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), James Newton Howard (Defiance), Danny Elfman (Milk) and Thomas Newman (WALL-E) – were in the audience for the 81st annual Academy Awards, hosted by Hugh Jackman.

Michael Giacchino (Ratatouille) was music director, handling baton duties during the three-minute medley of score excerpts. This year's show was especially musical, with Jackman playing song-and-dance man in an opening number saluting Best Picture nominees and a "musicals are back" number later in the show, conceived and directed by his Australia director Baz Luhrmann and co-starring Beyonce Knowles, High School Musical stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, and Mamma Mia! stars Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper.

The evening's play-ons and play-offs were a surprising collection of classic movie themes, including Lawrence of Arabia, Out of Africa, The Big Country, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Dark Knight, Breakfast at Tiffany's ("Moon River"), The Sting, Never on Sunday, Casablanca ("As Time Goes By"), Gone With the Wind, The Magnificent Seven, Modern Times ("Smile"), Victor/Victoria ("Le Jazz Hot") and even King Kong.

The late composers Leonard Rosenman and Isaac Hayes, who died during the past year, were shown during the "in memoriam" tribute sequence as Queen Latifah sang "I'll Be Seeing You." And Jerry Goldsmith's 1998 "fanfare for Oscar" was performed during the evening, a tribute to the composer who would have turned 80 this month.

The night before, Desplat, Elfman and Newman appeared at the Society of Composers & Lyricists' annual champagne reception for Oscar music nominees at the Beverly Hills home of composer John Cacavas. Honoring the nominees were Academy vice president Charles Bernstein, music-branch governor Bruce Broughton and SCL president Dan Foliart.

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