Muscat: Music composer AR Rahman’s time with producers such as JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg made him realise that his idea to develop his recently released film 99 Songs was a good one.
The legendary composer lived in Los Angeles for about six years, after he won two Academy Awards in 2009 for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, the latter of which was shared with Indian lyricist Gulzar, for Jai Ho in Slumdog Millionaire.
“Post-Oscars, I lived in LA for almost five or six years from 2009 to 2015,” recalled Rahman, in an exclusive interview with Evita Lewis of TFM, the radio channel of Times of Oman. “The life I lived here (in India) was very closed – from the studio to the airport – but when I lived there, I had more time to do other things.
“Because I am an Academy member, I could go to any party, and meet (Steven) Spielberg, or JJ Abrams, or the writer of Game of Thrones, and I had access to a lot of things: screenwriting workshops, meeting the world’s best cameramen, the world’s best editor – that opened my mind,” he added.
Rahman had another song (O…Saya with British producer MIA, also created for Slumdog Millionaire) nominated for the 2009 Academy Awards, and received two more nominations for his work in 127 Hours in the 2011 edition of the event.
Among the many lessons he learned during his time in the United States was one that motivated him to make 99 Songs, a story about a young musician finding himself.
“I can do a new thing and nobody will judge me. It will be the worth of the idea – not who is doing it,” Rahman realised.
“‘Why, as a composer, do you want to write?’ – no questions like that came to me. That freedom led me to learn many things, and then, the story idea developed, and we took the story as a case study.”
“I knew I didn’t want to direct, because that would take away from my musical side, and this requires a thousand different things: acting, production, continuity, so many other things,” he said.
Rahman ultimately settled on Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy as his director, after he was recommended to the music maestro by a friend.
The two, he says, are ‘a match made in heaven’. 99 Songs serves as a debut for both men, in the form of Rahman’s writing, and Vishwesh’s foray into film direction.
On his collaborations with Vishwesh, Rahman said, “He came to LA, we would go out, check out movies, and it started from there. We were looking for an actor who was willing to be coached in music, so that we’re also giving something back to the industry. We sent him for a month to Hollywood so that he could get training on things like understated acting, and we began filming from there.”
99 Songs is now screening in theatres in Oman. The film stars newcomers Ehan Bhat and Edilsy Vargas in lead roles, with a star cast featuring Aditya Seal, previously seen in Student of the Year 2 and Indoo Ki Jawani, veteran actress Manisha Koirala (Dil Se, Company, and 1942: A Love Story), and Canadian-Indian actress and model Lisa Ray (Psych, The World Unseen, and Cooking with Stella).