A.R. Rahman's loyal contingent of ethnic Japanese fans live in hope that he will one day give a concert in their country.
The groupies follow him everywhere. A dozen of them, waving placards besieging "Please come to Japan," were camped outside hotels where he was staying in San Francisco and Vancouver.
They will doubtless be in Toronto when Rahman lands, along with a troupe of 70 singers and dancers, for a nearly sold-out concert at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday.
His huge fan base is a testament to his status, by some estimates, as the bestselling recording artist in history. With more than 200 million album sales, he's arguably bigger than Elvis or the Beatles.
But in his characteristically humble way, Rahman, who has a degree in Western classical music from Oxford University, explains it this way over the phone from Vancouver: "I'm not a pop artist. Most of my albums are film soundtracks and when the movies become a big hit, so do my songs.
"It used to be before all the downloading started, you could easily sell 20 to 30 million albums in India. I've had about 10 films that went on to become big cult hits, so it's a calculation of that," says the soft-spoken Rahman, 41, adding with a chuckle, "We don't get paid royalties like (in) the U.S. If that were the case, I would be a very rich man."
Further boosting his popularity was the fact that Rahman's films previously were dubbed in three languages: Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. Miami University in Ohio offers a course on his music and last year 150 students there put on a show with Rahman as the chief guest.
To say that his concert here is long-awaited, is an understatement. It was supposed to happen two years ago as part of a world tour that included London, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
The North American leg was postponed due to scheduling conflicts with other projects, namely the theatrical production of Lord of the Rings, for which Rahman wrote the musical score in 2006.
Indeed, Rahman has often collaborated on crossover projects – he composed the music for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Bombay Dreams, as well for Deepa Mehta's movie trilogy: Earth, Fire and Water. His more recent Bollywood work includes Rang De Basanti and Guru, which had its worldwide premiere here earlier this year.
With more than 75 film scores to his credit, Rahman confesses he is on a mission with his music.
"In these hard times music is really an uplifting shrine where all communities can come together. There's so much turmoil happening in life whether it's religious, political or racial. Music is all about love. It's a unifying force," says the Chennai-based Rahman, who is married with three children.
"Even in India and Pakistan, when Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was there, most of the Indians were listening to him and Pakistanis were listening to Lata Mangeshkar."
Bollywood could not come up with a better storyline than Rahman's true life. Born A.S. Dileep Kumar to a Hindu family in Chennai, India, his father died when he was nine. The family ran a small firm renting out musical instruments. In 1988, after his sister was miraculously cured of a mysterious illness by a Sufi saint, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Allah Rakha Rahman. A devout Muslim who prays five times a day, Rahman says he has never faced a backlash because of his conversion.
"In life, the journey is what's interesting. Everyone has their struggles. Each person gets led into a path. We had some trouble and we got redemption through this path. Religion is a personal thing and I think people respect that."
Rahman was doing jingles for television commercials in 1992 when director Mani Ratnam tapped him to do the score for the movie Roja, which became a massive hit.
Aside from performing his film songs, he has a few surprises in store for fans on Sunday.
"Each concert is slightly different. I go by instinct. Nowadays when you do a concert it's all over the Net ... but you need to keep some mystery to keep the excitement going."
Laughingly, he adds, one thing he definitely won't be doing is dancing.
"I don't dance. You wouldn't want to see me dance. The fans would all ask for their money back."