A.R. Rahman bucks the Bollywood trend with his Ramadan release
The Oscar and Grammy-winning maestro turns producer and co-writer with 99 Songs.
Bollywood has been cashing in on the festive season bumper release bonanza, cutting across religious occasions such as Eid-ul-Fitr, Diwali and Christmas since the turn of the new millennium, much to the delight of the ringing cash registers, as producers have been laughing all the way to banks.
However, there appears to be a discernible shift in that trend. Oscar and Grammy Award-winning composer and debutant filmmaker A.R. Rahman appears to consciously buck the trend.
He planned to release his debut movie, 99 Songs, as a producer and co-writer during the holy month of Ramadan, which began in the UAE on April 13, and a day after in the Indian subcontinent.
Ramadan symbolises a sombre occasion, and cinemas are expected to record fewer footfalls during this time. Rahman’s film released on Thursday in the UAE.
“For a new filmmaker, like me and (director) Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy, you will never be given the space to promote your movie. You have to battle it out with nearly 300 movies that are trying to release on favourable dates. There are big production houses and people who have the money and power (to get their movie released on particular dates). That’s what happened to us for a year. So, when we got this (Ramadan) date, we decided to go ahead and embrace it,” Rahman told City Times during a virtual interview from his native Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
He explained that even though the odds were against him, he was prepared to take the risk and release 99 Songs as he had a different vision for his maiden film.
“We’re aware that everything would be against us, there’s the lockdown and fasting during Ramadan when most people won’t go to theatres to watch movies. But for us, the most important thing was for people to know the hard work that we’ve put into the film. We want the audience to discover the movie, whether they watch it in theatres or on an OTT platform; it’s vital for us to put out all that information and our vision,” he added.
99 Songs is a romantic musical that charts a passionate love story, which is powered by a musical quest. The film follows the journey of an aspiring musician Jay (played by debutant Ehan Bhat) who discovers his signature voice and calling during the course of the cinematic odyssey. Rahman said the story bore no resemblance to his experiences as a musician. Thematically, the film sought to give the audience an insight into the music world.
“My main interest in writing 99 Songs was to delve deeper into music. I wanted to explore the subject and bring it into visual context as an art form,” the celebrated composer said.
The ‘Mozart of Madras’ as Rahman was referred to when he burst onto the scene as a prodigal talent, has made his foray into films with his production company YM Movies.
What’s next for him? Will he also be looking to make movies in other genres?
“Surely, if I’m inspired enough to make an action or romantic movie. Why not? I will make them. However, there are great filmmakers who are already making movies in these genres. I mainly want to focus on making movies on subjects that are often overlooked, stories that need to be told. I want to take our tradition further by enhancing and glorifying it in a cinematic form. This is the intention and vision behind my movie company,” Rahman added.
The maestro is the consummate musical doyen. He is known to be constantly experimenting and breaching the boundaries of art when it comes to composing music. And filmmaking, too, is the outcome of his yearning for change, which has been the constant X-factor in his stellar career.
“If I have an idea and I don’t get an opportunity to express that, then people will only know a portion of what I’m capable of doing. This (filmmaking) is a self-exploratory journey for me to create something beautiful and meaningful,” he signed off.
99 Songs stars Ehan Bhat, Edilsy Vargas, Aditya Seal, Lisa Ray and Manisha Koirala.
The soundtrack of 99 Songs, available in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, and the album features singers such as Arijit Singh, Shreya Ghoshal and Alka Yagnik, Armaan Malik, Shashwat Singh, among others.