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Busan: Oscar-Winning Composer A.R. Rahman Sings ‘99 Songs’

A.R. Rahman, Oscar, BAFTA and Grammy-winning composer of “Slumdog Millionaire,” will world premiere “99 Songs,” his debut as screenwriter and producer, at the Busan International Film Festival on Wednesday.

The film, directed by Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy (TV’s “The Dewarists”), will play as part of the festival’s Open Cinema strand. The screening will be preceded by a live piano performance by Rahman where he will bow themes from the film.

“It’s like a fairy tale, where a guy has to write a 100 songs to win the girl, but it’s not that simple,” Rahman told Variety. The peripatetic composer spends a lot of time on planes. That, coupled with his post-Oscars composing phase with Hollywood’s comparatively relaxed schedule, gave him the time to conceive the idea of writing a film about music.

“We have all the social stigmas, musicians are always drunk and dead at the end,” says Rahman. “If you look at most of the iconic movies, they are all losers, like ‘A Star Is Born,’ or they commit suicide. ‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ he gets thrown out by his sister. Why is that stigma, which is reflecting in the movies? Why can’t we make something about a success story? Not just success story, but also the internal war which a creative person faces.”

Despite having worked with most of India’s A-list directing talent, Rahman chose relative newcomer Krishnamoorthy to direct. “I know that if I worked with anybody like that then I’ll be intimidated to tell them any of my ideas. I wanted somebody who’s like a friend, who is also a musician. We found Vishwesh and we shared the same vision.”

It took the duo a year to come up with a draft they were satisfied with. The team then went through an extensive auditioning process with casting director Mukesh Chhabra and finally chose debutant Ehan Bhat and Edilsy Vargas (“Peppermint”) as the leads. Bhat was given piano training at Rahman’s KM Music Conservatory in Chennai, India, and sent to Los Angeles for training from acting and success coach Bernard Hiller.

“To write was the easiest, to produce was difficult,” says Rahman. Canada’s Ideal Entertainment eventually stepped in as co-producer alongside Rahman’s YM Movies. “They were very kicked about the script and the vision,” says Rahman. Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Studios is handling international sales and is looking to release “99 Songs” in the first quarter of 2020, after its festival run.

The composer ceased working in Hollywood because of the long time spent away from his family. He is returning with Hyde Park Entertainment’s Netflix series “Pashmina.” He remains as busy as ever at home in India where upcoming films include “Bigil” and “Dil Bechara,” the Indian remake of “The Fault In Our Stars.” Also in the works is historical epic “Ponniyin Selvan,” the dream project of multi-hyphenate Mani Ratnam who introduced Rahman to the world in 1992 with “Roja.”

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