MUSIC RULES IN ’99 SONGS’, BUT THE SCREENPLAY NOT SO MUCH

Rating: 3/5
Director Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy and producer-writer-composer A R Rahman create a romantic-musical world with earnestness, but fall short in the execution part

It’s an A R Rahman musical. The story is conveyed majorly through songs. Although they aren’t that memorable, they suit the narrative for sure with both the tunes and the lyrics. It’s also interesting how 99 Songs creates its songs, not just for ears but for a lasting impact for your eyes. The songs are to be seen, with exquisitely skilled editing at place. It’s a decent story for sure, but you still miss that effect that a love story of such a nature should create. The unnecessary political angle in the end just to prove a point, ruins things for you.

Watch the trailer here:

PLOT

Jay (Ehan Bhat) is a budding musician, who’s trained himself all his life to breathe music. Sophia Singhania (Edilsy Vargas) is a fashion artist, painter and dancer. Head over heels in love with each other, their life is seemingly perfect, when Sophia’s father (played by Ranjit Barot), who sees music only as a commodity puts a condition before Jay. Jay has to compose 100 marvellous songs to be able to win Sophia.

STORY/SCREENPLAY/GENERAL

The story is by the music maestro A R Rahman, the screenplay for which has been penned by Krishnamoorthy. It’s a decent story in place, simple with many layers unfolding as you go on. There are elements thrown in nicely that make this a wholesome affair and not just limit it to either the love story or the music pieces. The back story of the leading man or a person who always appears at his concerts, the shrewdly protective father who puts conditions, the setting of Shillong, the angle of drugs form crucial points in the course of the story.

Much early in the film, you are informed that this is about music and its power. But it transcends to tell you the toxicity associated with it, infusing that with that of other vices in youth. The surrealism associated with the drug abuse or the love itself as a drug to a person has been shown effectively, using stylised cinematography by means of glorifying lights and colours.

99songs, hindi, film, review, 2021
A promotional clip from the film (image source: filmfare.com)

What doesn’t work in favour of the film as a whole is the same stylisation of the events. It happens many a times that an emotional scene is let down by over usage of VFX and an eternal world created for cinematic purposes. Yes, the intent is good, but doesn’t translate into the justified reception. The trails of lights passing through one’s body or the entire building cracking up, or the man jumping into a pool of trance only to observe a feminine figure lending him a power- all have the profound cinematic pull, but that can be understood for a deeper psychological effect and the actual connect is lost while doing so.

In a film where the songs carry the narrative forward, just for them to suit the intention isn’t enough. It would have been magic had the songs made an impression. They don’t. The tunes are soulful, but not the ones that you can humm all along. A song starts, you feel upbeat and enjoy it. But the moment it ends, you won’t be able to recall it. The graph of the film is undoubtedly satisfactory but when you say Ek Gaana Duniya Badal Sakta Hai as the focus line of the story, there should have been a more sincere effort to justify it rather than putting a political track that serves no purpose in the main one.

PERFORMANCE

Ehan Bhat has an appealing screen presence. He not only acts well but also makes the character his own. He becomes the budding musician and a person in love. His personality, expressions and body language are all on point. Seems a promising debut for sure.

Edilsy Vargas plays a mute girl, so you won’t know how her dialogue delivery is. She looks extremely ravishing all through the film and does a fine job with her expressions. You like her appearances on screen wherein you also wished she was there for a more time. May be a spin off for her side of the story should be thought of. It would be interesting to see her in that.

99songs, review, film, hindi, 2021
Ehan Bhat and A R Rahman during film promotions (image source: indianexpress.com)

Tenzin Dalha as Polo is effectively impressive. His presence lends support to the main actors and depth in the narrative that keeps the flow smooth. Ranjit Barot has shown that he can also act. His staunch persona suits the role and his association with Rahman has now gotten distinct.

Manisha Koirala has a special appearance and she does okay. Raghu Ram also has few moments to him and he takes complete advantage of those showcasing his acting skills. Lisa Ray looks divine and she also performs fine in her limited screen time.

Warina Hussain in a guest appearance is fine. She looks charming.

OTHER TECHNICALITIES

A R Rahman’s music is indeed the catalyst to the film. The narrative brims of the songs, present all throughout as the soul. Only thing, they could be a little more rooted in terms of melody and recall value. The background score is powerful and complements the tones and moods of the scenes.

Cinematography by Tanay Satam and James Cowley is to take special note of. Since most of the film works on the cinematic rendition of the practical situations, creative liberties with the camera have led to make the film vibrant and very different from the ones of this genre. Also the exotic production design by Aparna Raina lends the film its very approach. The visual definition of the film is through the glossy production design aided by the use of VFX in major portion of the film.

Editing by Akshay Mehta and Shreyas Beltangdy is fast and crisp. So much happens in fractions of seconds that your eyes need that quick programming. It’s a very difficult task yes, but the emotional quotient falls back. The editing makes the film a glorious piece to look and study, but then the simpler notions could have resulted into better connect.

It’s not a bad film by any means. Only thing, could have been better. The screen presence of the new comers works well. The layers and visual richness attracts. But the overall impact has remained a little damp.

Rochak Saxena

Rochak Saxena a Mass Media Teacher, former journalist at DNA and an ardent lover of Hindi films - literally. The blog derives its name from the popular term ‘Willing Suspension of Disbelief’, most commonly used in the world of literature and cinema. Meaning to immerse yourself in an unreal world (where you know what you see on screen is fake) with a self-proclaimed/declared belief/wish to consider it real, the willing world becomes magical. It’s the same magic every Friday that drives Rochak to share things in the perspective that it needs to be observed with. Every film is different. And the difference needs to be cherished.

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