The medley of best original song nominations featured Rahman performing "O Saya" from the middle of the audience, surrounded by dancers and taiko drums. John Legend and the Soweto Gospel Choir took the vocals on Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman's "Down to Earth" from "Wall-E," and Rahman returned to wrap up the performance of "Jai Ho" alongside Legend. Gulzar, who wrote the lyrics for "Jai Ho," also won an Academy Award for the song.
Gabriel, in attendance at the event, previously said he wouldn't perform "Down to Earth" because he felt the timing of the performance would give it short shrift.
Selections from the nominated scores were played by the Academy Awards orchestra and conducted by Michael Giacchino, who was nominated last year for the score to "Ratatouille" and who also does the music for the ABC television show "Lost."
Host Hugh Jackman opened the telecast with a tongue-in-cheek recession-themed song-and-dance tribute to the show's nominated films, including a "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" set made out of lawn chairs and pizza boxes and Anne Hathaway taking a besequined turn as Richard Nixon.
Another performance number of the evening was a Baz Luhrmann-directed tribute to movie musicals, and featured Jackman, Beyonce, "High School Musical's" Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens and "Mamma Mia!'s" Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper doing brief takes on everything from "Singin' in the Rain" to "Grease" to Luhrmann's own "Moulin Rouge."
Queen Latifah sang "I'll Be Seeing You" as part of the traditional montage in tribute to those in the movie industry who died in 2008.
The 81st annual Academy Awards were held at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles.
A.R. Rahman Interview
Billboard's Oscar Music Section