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It is a balance between my creative and commercial sides: AR Rahman on turning producer with 99 Songs

The Oscar-winning composer has written and produced the film, 99 Songs, directed by Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy.

Shriram Iyengar

AR Rahman's foray into writing and production is set to come to fruition with the release of 99 Songs. The film, directed by Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy, features Ehan Bhat and Edilsy Vargas in the lead roles. Produced by Rahman's home production, YM Movies, and Ideal Entertainment, the film had its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in 2019.

At a song launch in Mumbai, Rahman spoke of the impulse to write the story of 99 Songs. "It was like a fairy tale," the man known as the Mozart of Madras said. "The idea for the film came to me on a flight, on the way to LA [Los Angeles]: why don't we write a story like a fairy tale where a guy has to compose 100 songs to win the girl? [Then] I thought 100 is a big number. So we made it 99 (laughs)."

The composer said Indian cinema mostly has the hero fighting villains and battling obstacles to get his true love. Rahman said he wanted to try the same with music.

Addressing journalists at the event, he said, "As a composer, I feel like sometimes you get a song that comes easily, and sometimes you can't even get an idea. It is torturous. Every creative person goes through it. The biggest and the smallest. The work needed is not just physical. It is spiritual, mental, psychological. I wanted that pain to be understood by everyone."

The film, starring Ehan Bhat and Edilsy Vargas, saw the lead actor spend a year training at Rahman's KM Conservatory in Chennai to become a pianist.

Speaking of the training, Bhat said, "This is the best educational and learning process anyone can have in their lifetime. His [AR Rahman's] quest for learning is incredible. He is always trying to learn more, push boundaries, it is phenomenal. I went to KM Conservatory in Chennai and trained for a year. It was an enjoyable process to transform [myself] from an actor to a musician. He wanted that authenticity to be there."

Bhat was picked from over 1,000 actors who auditioned for the role.

Director Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy, a musician himself, said it would have been 'criminal' if they had faked the musical performance on screen. "Let's not make any mistake, it is AR Rahman getting into movies, you can't fake the music! That would be a cardinal error!" he said.

Speaking of Krishnamoorthy, Rahman said, "I was looking for a director and someone recommended him [Krishnamoorthy], and he was just as crazy as me (laughs). All the classic stuff is his stuff, all the masala [spice] is mine."

99 Songs will also see Rahman become one of the first Indian artists to adopt Dolby Atmos sound for the film music. Speaking of the technology, Ashim Mathur, senior regional director of Dolby Laboratories, said, "We are very honoured to have you [Rahman] as the first artist in India to have Dolby Atmos music for 99 Songs. I think this is going to be the first of many. We are very honoured, and it can't get better and bigger than this."