There was pressure in coming out with his maiden production "99 Songs" during the pandemic but music maestro A R Rahman says he decided to go ahead with the theatrical release as he believes it's a cinematic experience meant for the big screen.

The musical drama is set to release on April 16 in three languages- Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu. It will open pan-India, except in Maharashtra where the government announced a weekend lockdown to curb the growing numbers of COVID-19 cases.

"There is pressure. This is not a formulaic film. Come with low expectations and high hopes but come to theatres with all safety precautions," Rahman told PTI in a Zoom interview from Chennai.

The 54-year-old composer, who gave the interview a week before Maharashtra announced the lockdown, said people need to see the film on the big screen.

"There is fear... Everyone is wondering 'how the hell is he releasing the film now, is he crazy?' But I think the movie has to come out, people need to see it on the big screen. It is a cinematic experience," Rahman said.

The musician firmly believes that a film's box office success will have a ripple effect on the entertainment sector, which has been hit badly due to the pandemic.

"This is the time people should encourage filmmakers and producers because one film's success is the entire industry's success. There are so many people losing hope, crying, thinking about the future. We are proud to have the courage to release it, hoping that people come wearing masks, stay safe and enjoy the film," he said.

Directed by Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy, "99 Songs" is co-written and produced by Rahman. He has also composed the film's soundtrack. The film stars debutants Ehan Bhat and Edilsy Vargas in lead roles.

The film’s journey

The journey of the film began in 2010 when the composer decided to produce a movie. He came up with three rough story ideas and pitched them to his friends for feedback. All of them had their hearts set on one idea which eventually became "99 Songs".

"The core idea is like a fairytale. What if a guy has to write 100 songs to win over a girl?" Rahman said.

A major Bollywood studio initially came on board to back the film but the deal fell through. He eventually found a co-producer in Ideal Entertainment who gave him complete freedom.

"We had a corporate production but I felt I would need more freedom to make the film. A panel of 12 people coming in and asking questions constantly was daunting. We quietly went off-grid from there and found Ideal Entertainment, who believed in the vision. Their excitement was empowering," Rahman said.

Once the film had enough financial backing, the composer started scouting for a director who could bring to life his vision. He zeroed in on Krishnamoorthy, who had directed MTV's musical show, "The Dewarist", which Rahman "absolutely loved".

Rahman, one of the most regarded musicians in India and abroad for his compositions in films such as "Roja", "Rangeela", "Delhi 6", "Rockstar" and "Slumdog Millionaire" to name just a few, said though he was juggling production and scoring music, there was never a thought to turn director for "99 Songs".

"I was clear that I wouldn't direct. I was inexperienced in direction. I am not a person who goes in front of people and directs, I am an introvert.

"I did direct a virtual reality experience which is coming out this year as an installation because it required only 18 days of shooting and four years of post-production. That I did, also because it wasn't with Indian crew, so the inhibition was not there." "99 Songs" is billed as a story about the self-discovery of a struggling singer, who wants to be a successful music composer.


Rahman said the team was conscious to not turn the movie into merely a musical as they felt that the audience had increasingly become "restless" and wouldn't have the patience to sit through it without being distracted.

"We had to find a way, decide what the emotional core of the film will be. It could not be just a musical. Because who's going to sit through a musical in these days when everyone is so restless and wants to know what's happening on Twitter.

"We had to make it a rollercoaster ride, so that we pin them down, hoping they don't check their phone," he added.

Presented by Jio Studios, the film also stars Lisa Ray, Manisha Koirala, Aditya Seal, composer-drummer Ranjit Barot, and Indian Ocean's Rahul Ram in supporting roles.