The children of an Indian school in Dubai fulfilled their dreams last night by singing a medley of AR Rahman's most famous songs - in front of the composer.
The Oscar-winner is in Dubai ahead of a concert this weekend. He will also be the youngest recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dubai International Film Festival this week.
During an hour-long function yesterday, Rahman, 45, took questions from children of the Global Indian International School in Dubai's Mankhool area, and heard them singing some of his songs.
"You have to find yourself. Find out what your dreams are made of. Don't try to be someone else," Rahman said. "You have to work hard and be the best in whatever you do. You must find new ways to be different from other people. Work hard and define yourself so you are unique."
Several hundred wide-eyed students and their equally star-struck parents snapped his picture on cameras and mobile phones. Some children scribbled notes; others waved slips of paper and pleaded with their teachers to be allowed to dash on to the stage for his autograph.
Rahman has composed the score for more than 100 Indian movies, winning two Oscars, a Bafta and a Golden Globe two years ago for his soundtrack to the multi-award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle.
"I am so excited because he inspires me with his music," said Meenakshi Anil, 11, a Grade 6 student in the school choir. "He makes India proud and today I am the proudest to sing before him."
The children sang a foot-tapping medley of Rahman's best known songs, such as Dil hain chotta sa, Chaiyya Chaiyya and Jai Ho. They rounded off the evening with Rahman's stirring Ma tujhe salaam (Mother, I salute you).
In the audience, Ashlesha Sringhapure, 9, was among several youngsters who found his music inspiring. "You feel peace all around you," the Grade 4 student said. "His songs are so melodious, you feel peace in your mind."
Nitin Narayanan, 12, furiously jotted down Rahman's quotes for the school magazine. "His music helps me in tough times," Nitin said. "It helps me if I'm worried or scared."
The Indian consul general Sanjay Verma said he too was a fan. "Movies may be forgotten but his songs and music will be remembered forever," Mr Verma said. "He is the most popular icon in India today going by his music, and he inspires Indians all over the world. I also get inspired listening to his music."
The students posed some tough questions for Rahman, such as asking for an inspirational message and whether he would leave behind a protégé to continue his legacy.
He responded by urging them to work hard in whichever field they chose.
"Each one of us is blessed with something. There is a treasure in each one of us," he said, responding to a parent's query about how he defined success.
"You sometimes find this early, sometimes late," he said. "Often you find it after you are tested in life. Success is also the blessings and good wishes of your family and friends."
Known for giving breaks to new singers in the cut-throat world of Indian cinema, Rahman faced challenges while growing up. He began learning the piano at the age of four. But after his father's death, he toured the country with music troupes as a keyboard player to support his family. By the late 1980s he was composing jingles for the advertising industry before being spotted by the director Mani Ratnam who asked him to write the music for the hit 1992 film Roja.
After that, there was no looking back as Rahman composed a string of hits for Tamil and Hindi-language movies. He also collaborated with Britain's Andrew Lloyd Webber for the musical Bombay Dreams in 2002 and more recently released a song with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones
For his Dubai concert, Rahman has promised vintage and contemporary numbers. He will be joined by the musicians Sivamani, Mohit Chauhan, Shweta Pandit, Neeti Muhan, Harshdeep Kaur and Suresh Peters.
The AR Rahman - Live concert will take place at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai Sports City, on December 9.