Mozart of Madras and Oscar winner AR Rahman have turned into a storyteller and producer with the film, 99 Songs. Directed by debutant director Vishvesh Krishnamurthy, the film was Ehan Bhat’s first film as a hero. The musical drama also stars Edilsey, Tenzin Dalha, Lisa Ray, Manisha Koirala, Rahul Ram and Ranjit Barot.
Prior to the film’s release, Ehan Bhat and Telugu lyricist Rakendu Mouli shared information about the film with AR Rahman. Here are the excerpts.
What inspired you to write the story of 99 songs?
AR Rahman: When I went to London for Bombay Dreams, its music producer asked me, ‘Rahman, do you have a story?’ Then I said, ‘I am just a musician, why should I write a story.’ Then I started thinking, stories, music and life are all connected. We look at stories of music, people and experiences. After the Oscars, I became a member of the academy, and I attended many workshops related to cinema. My introduction to filmmakers like JJ Abrams and others, my journey with them, the whole process changed my thought process about cinema. Now I am looking at music from the point of view of filmmakers and storytellers. Artistically, I am going into the depths of things now.
How has been your journey as a storyteller, now from a producer to a music composer?
AR Rahman: Becoming a producer is very gambling (laughs). Even after being careful, filmmaking experiences will scare you. In our case, we did our best, and finally, we got a cut from which we are feeling happy. I hope people like it too. All three versions of the film have been refined over the past year and a half to make them perfect.
How was your experience working with AR Rahman?
Ehan Bhat: I grew up listening to Rahman’s music and I am a big fan of him. When I received a call to audition, I could barely contain my excitement. After a short hiatus, I received a call saying that I was selected as the Chief. I was so emotional because it was like a dream come true. My relationship with Rahman goes beyond the producer-actor relationship. He cares for me, he guides me.
It was Rahman’s idea that I would send KM Music Conservatory, which is in Chennai, to learn piano. I learned piano for a year. Because he wanted the authenticity of the character to remain there. He treated me like his brother.
99 song title Why?
AR Rahman: After watching the film you will come to know about the reason behind the title.
Is 99 songs a fictional story, or did it draw inspiration from true events?
AR Rahman: The film is inspired by real-life stories and experiences of other composers. I still don’t have the credibility for music and music as a profession. We have touched on many layers amusingly.
I have great admiration for the director K Vishwanath for his screenplay work with music. I think there should be musical stories explaining the social status of the musicians, and the whole struggle going on behind the scenes.
How were there so many singers for a musical film like 99 Songs?
AR Rahman: Casting singers are like actors for a film. For example, we did 25 versions of the song Sai Baba in the film. We go through a very difficult process for music.
99 Songs is slated for release in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi on 16 April.