Music maestro AR Rahman is set to make his debut as a film producer and co-writer with musical drama 99 Songs.
At the trailer launch of the film, the Oscar-winning composer and director Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy spoke about how they cast their lead Ehan Bhat. Rahman revealed that Vishwesh had originally found three Pakistani actors for the role but he was apprehensive that casting anyone from the neighbouring country might cause problem for the project.
"We were looking for a hero who could sing, act and who was charming. So, we were scanning everything and our friend (director) goes to Pakistan and he picks up three guys from Pakistan and I said, 'Why can't you 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? I'm so glad... then we went back to audition again."
The director, however, clarified that they were primarily looking for musicians to play the lead in the film and it was a pure coincidence that all three original actors were happened to be from Pakistan.
"Usually what happens is even when you go to a store, you first check the quality of the product. Later you see where it's 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 only pick actors from Pakistan, they just happened to be from there. But at the end of it, I think Ehan more than made up for all of our initial choices. I have to say that he really grew into his role," said Vishwesh.
Following the Uri attack in 2016, the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association banned all Pakistani actors and technicians from working in India. While several films featuring popular Pakistani celebrities were cancelled, many found themselves amidst huge controversy, especially Karan Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil which featured Fawad Khan as part of the primary cast.
Similar sentiments came to the fore after the February 14 attack on a military convoy in J&K. Following the incident, the All Indian Cine Workers Association announced a blanket ban on Pakistani artistes in India. Music label T-Series unlisted songs by Pakistani musicians from its portals, including the Atif Aslam single Baarishein. Actor Ajay Devgn, whose film Total Dhamaal was on pace for release, announced that the comedy would not open in Pakistan. A reverse action of sorts was taken by Pakistan following the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir.
Meanwhile, 99 Songs also features Edilsy Varghese, Tenzin Dalha, Lisa Ray, Manisha Koirala, drummer Ranjit Barot and Indian Ocean's Rahul Ram in supporting roles. 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 while dealing with his rising fame.