99 Songs star Ehan Bhat says AR Rahman gave him advice on ‘how to stay away from vices’ of Bollywood
In an interview with Hindustan Times, debutant Ehan Bhat talked about how he landed the lead role in 99 Songs, learning piano for a year for the film and his relationship with AR Rahman.
Ehan Bhat, who is making his debut with AR Rahman’s maiden production 99 Songs, was chosen out of the 750 people who auditioned for the role. Talking about the ‘organic’ process through which he landed the film, he said that he got a call months after his audition, informing him that he was shortlisted.
However, Ehan was in for a surprise. “But when I reached there, I was not shortlisted. To my surprise, they told me, ‘You are doing the film.’ I had so many emotions all at once. They said that I should call my parents and I thought, ‘Mazaak nahi kar rahe, asli mein hai (this is not a joke).’ That is how I got the film,” he said.
Before Ehan began shooting, he learnt how to play the piano for a year, to look convincing on screen. He plays a musician whose dreams are frowned upon by the father of the woman he loves. “See, it is AR Rahman’s first film and is based on music. You can’t just take any actor and say, ‘Okay, this is the shooting schedule and you need to be on set.’ It needs a lot of preparation and since you are portraying a musician, you need to be familiar with the instruments that you are going to play in the film,” he said.
“You don’t want a musician to say, ‘hey, that actor pulled the wrong chord’ or ‘that is not authentic’ or ‘he could have done a better job’. Him, being a perfectionist, it was his idea to put me in his college in Chennai to learn piano. I trained every day for a period of one year,” he added.
Ehan, who comes from a family of doctors and engineers, said that he was an ‘outlaw’ to pursue acting as a career. “In the beginning, I lied to my parents and told them that so-and-so director is calling me, they want me and have faith in me, so let me go. My parents thought I was crazy. ‘It is a whole world out there, why would our son get the opportunity to become an actor?’ But you have to believe in yourself, no one is going to do it for you. It was all me. I believed in my vision,” he said.
After coming to Mumbai, Ehan got a taste of the struggle an aspiring actor goes through. “It was a struggle for food, I had to struggle to pay rent, I have had nights where I had to eat Maggi for dinner. I had to look at price tags for everything during that period, which was a long time. But never did it occur to me that main yahaan se jaunga toh khali haath jaunga (I will return empty-handed). I was always determined ki kuch karke hi jaunga (that I will achieve something). My willpower made me stay here and focus on the right things,” he said.
Ehan talked about how his mentor, AR Rahman, who has also co-written 99 Songs, has lived with the film for a decade. “He has been there and he was involved in everything, from casting to singers, direction to dialogues, and everything. It is like his baby.”
Talking about their relationship, Ehan said, “It could easily have been a producer and actor’s relationship but with him, it was pretty different. If he had a brother, he would treat him the same way he treated me. It has gone beyond 99 Songs.”
“Every time I would meet him in these four years, he would never compliment my acting or say anything about my character or 99 Songs. The only thing we would talk about is how to be a good human, how to be an inspiration, how to stay away from the vices of the entertainment industry and work hard. I learnt all this from him and even after the film is over, I have a role model for life,” he added.
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Ehan elaborated about what he meant when he said that AR Rahman gave him advice on tackling the ‘vices’ of Bollywood. “They say some people can’t handle success. Maybe he was predicting that if I become famous in life, I might fall for the vices. If you have fame following you, you sometimes forget your roots and where you came from, and you indulge in activities that no longer serve you in your craft. Maybe he meant to say that I should stay focussed and grounded,” he said.
99 Songs releases in theatres on Friday, amid a surge in Covid-19 cases. However, Ehan is more relieved than sceptical about the release of the film. He explained, “I should be worried but somehow I am not. It is a long-delayed project because of Covid and things before it. Till the time it is not out, it is not good for my mental health. There is not a day when I don’t think about this film - kya hoga, kab release hogi, pasand aayegi ya nahi aayegi (what will happen, when will it release, whether people will like it or not). Till the time the audience does not decide the fate of it, I am not able to let go of it.”
“Whatever it is, I just want it to release. I might sound selfish here, but I just want it out because it has been a long wait. It has been two years now and it is my first film. I just pray day in and day out for it to come out. Finally, it is coming out and that is the only thing that matters to me,” he added.