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A.R. Rahman Debuts As Film Producer with ‘99 Songs’

‘The world was changing and the distance between producing a movie and being a composer shortened,’ says the Grammy and Oscar-winner who has also written the story and composed music for the film

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Jessica Xalxo Feb 20, 2020

A.R. Rahman confesses that the process of answering to himself was rather scary. Photo: Rohit Gupta

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In the last few months, if there’s one thing A.R. Rahman hasn’t experienced, that is a lull. From collaborating with Irish rock legends U2  last December to mentoring budding artists for the nationwide talent hunt Nexa Music and announcing his North America tour earlier this year, the Grammy and Oscar award-winning composer’s creative projects have been diverse and plenty.

Today, Rahman launched the music for 99 Songs, a film that marks his debut as a producer. The celebrated composer has also written the story for the film and directed the music. Ask him how the transition to producing films came about and he says, “The world was changing and the distance between producing a movie and being a composer shortened because of me being in Hollywood, involved in Broadway. I also feel there’s another part of the world, a part of life that needs to be told, and in a way I see it, a part of society, a part of the musical sensibilities.” With this film, Rahman sees a chance to do something different. “We may succeed or not, but at least we’re trying,” he says. 

The poster for ’99 Songs.’

99 Songs is directed by Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy (Mumbai hardcore band Scribe’s frontman) who has previously helmed MTV’s The Dewarists and Bring On the Night. The musical drama follows the journey of budding singer-songwriter Jay (Ehan Bhat) whose trysts with love — music and his girlfriend Sophie (Edilsey Vargas) — alter his life completely. The trailer which dropped yesterday gave a glimpse into the world of a struggling Jay who grapples with fame and foes as he ascends the ladder of artistry. “We saw over 500 entries and auditioned 200 people. Once we picked our leads, we sent them for training,” says Rahman about the casting process. Both Bhat and Vargas underwent musical training for a year at Rahman’s school in Chennai, the KM Music Conservatory, while Bhat also took classes under Los Angeles-based acting coach Bernard Hiller. The musical drama also stars Indian Ocean’s Rahul Ram, music director Ranjit Barot, actors Manisha Koirala, Lisa Ray and more in supporting roles. 

Working in conjunction with Krishnamoorthy allowed Rahman to push the ante when it came to experimentation and as there were no studio directives to follow, he could retire the expectation of a formula. Rahman confesses that the process of answering to himself was rather scary. “You are constantly wondering whether this music will fly or not. Whether… Even if it sounds great for the character, is it good as its own? So that question makes you work harder,” he says. But for the composer, sound is never static and a track is not done until it’s undergone an evolution. “If I can go back to a song again and again, if I can live with it and not get bored, then it’s a good song. And if it’s not, I keep changing it till I like it. Every little inch, every little effort you put in can change how it sounds,” he says. 

Backed by Rahman’s production company YM Movies, 99 Songs is presented by Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Studios. Set to release in the summer, the film will play in three languages  — Hindi, Tamil and Telugu — with the full tracklist for the soundtrack to be revealed soon.

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