Rahman Jokes About Not Casting Pakistani Actors in ‘99 Songs’

Music maestro AR Rahman makes his debut as a film producer and co-writer with musical drama 99 Songs. In an media interaction, the Oscar-winning composer and director Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy spoke about how they found their lead Ehan Bhat. Rahman revealed that they had originally zeroed in on three Pakistani actors for the role but joked that he was apprehensive that casting anyone from across the border might land the film in trouble.

He said,

"“We were looking for a hero who can sing, and who’s charming, who can act. So we were scanning everything and our friend goes to Pakistan and he picks up three guys from Pakistan and I said, ‘Why? You can’t find any boy in India who can sing?’ He said, ‘No sir, this guy can sing and he plays very well.’ I said what if something happens? This was before all the trouble happened. I said this is my first movie, don’t make problems for me. The exact same thing happened no?”" - AR Rahman, Music Composer

The director clarified that they were primarily looking for musicians to play the lead in the film and happened to find actors from Pakistan who fit the bill. But later, they went with newcomer Ehan Bhatt. “Usually what happens is even when you go to a store, you first check the quality of the product. Later you see where its been manufactured – Made in Indonesia, Made in China, Made in India… What we were looking for was a musician and the ones that seemed to have a Hindi diction and could play instruments just happened to not be from India. But it’s not like we made a decision to exclusively only pick actors from Pakistan, they just happened to be from there. But at the end of it, I think Ehan [Bhatt] more than made up for all of our initial choices. I have to say that he really grew into his role,” said Vishwesh.

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The hiring of Pakistani actors has been a contentious subject for Bollywood. In 2016, there was a clamour to ban screenings of films featuring Pakistani actors post the attacks near the line of control at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir. After pressure from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), director Karan Johar, whose film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil featured Pakistani star Fawad Khan, released a statement saying he wouldn’t engage with talent from Pakistan in the future. Similar sentiments came to the fore after the Pulwama terror attack on 14 February last year. Following the incident, the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) cautioned filmmakers against working with Pakistani talent or releasing their films in Pakistan.

99 Songs stars Ehan Bhat, Edilsy Varghese and Tenzin Dalha. The film, which had its premiere at the 24th Busan International Film Festival, follows the journey of a man who must learn to balance his love for music and his love for his girlfriend. The film also features Lisa Ray, Manisha Koirala, drummer Ranjit Barot and Indian Ocean’s Rahul Ram in supporting roles.

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