It took me a bit to get around to writing my second review, but hopefully that gave you more time to watch the movie and join me in appreciating it!
Our hero is a young music student Ehan Bhat in a Masters program who is in love with a young woman Edilsy Vargas, a visual arts student who is mute (?). He meets her very wealthy and powerful father who supports them as a couple but wants Ehan Bhat to join the music branch of his business. Ehan refuses, saying instead he wants to make music. Edilsy’s father suggests that making music, making art in general, is a selfish goal. What can his music contribute to the world, can it change the world? Can he write 100 songs that could change the world? Ehan takes this as a challenge and leaves. He goes off with his friend Tenzin Dalha to Tenzin’s family’s home in Shillong. They are all musicians in a large beautiful home and Ehan’s creativity takes off in this environment, especially in contrast to his childhood with his father who always forbad him from music since music is a drug. He hits a wall eventually, so Tenzin takes him to meet a local jazz singer, Lisa Ray. Lisa Ray trains him on jazz greats and he becomes obsessed with her and the music, beginning to ignore calls from Edilsy. And then at Tenzin’s engagement party, there is a drug raid, and Tenzin hides crystal meth in a teapot, Ehan drinks it by accident, almost kills Lisa Ray in a car accident, and makes national headlines. Edilsy sees the story and her heart is broken. She leaves for Paris where she studies art and makes dark bitter work that is enormously successful. Ehan goes to a rehab center and starts to work through his issues, including his bad relationship with his father. His love for music comes back when he finally meets his maternal grandfather and learns about his mother, who died giving birth to him. His mother came from a classical musical family, his father fell in love with his mother’s voice and walked away from his job and his rich fiancee for her. But as his mother became more famous and successful and his father less successful, his father turned against the music. When she became pregnant, his father refused to let her sing. And after he was born, his father tried to keep him from music and his maternal heritage. With the reunion with his maternal grandfather, he finds the perfect song he has been looking for. He writes and records it in the rehab center, Tenzin takes the recording and drops it off anonymously at a radio show, it goes viral, and eventually the Chief Minister hears it while having a near death experience and it inspires him to reveal a whole list of corrupt officials. So the song does, in fact, Change the World. And Edilsy hears it as well and recognizes it as Ehan and goes to him. It ends with the two of them reunited and his music making her see a new world.
So, there’s two big themes here. First theme, what is the value of music? This is a very good question!!!! When you are looking at a country like India, choosing to study music and make music when there are SO many other things you can do for the world is a selfish choice. This film argues that it depends on the quality of the music. If your music is just good, don’t do it, don’t dedicate your life to it, there are many better things you can do. But if you think you have the ability to make really great music, then work as hard as you can to achieve that goal. I really appreciate the acknowledgement that, first, pursuing art is often a selfish choice and you should try to find another way of spending your life. And second, that the goal of art is to bring goodness, truth, make a better world.
It’s impossible to remove this first theme from AR Rahman having come up with the concept for the film. Knowing that he came from a traditional musical family, knowing that his father died when he was young and he had to work to support the family, I have to think the question of “is music selfish? Should I take opportunities for a more reliable better paying career to support my family? Was my father selfish to leave so little behind for his family?” had been part of his youth. And the lesson that music is there to make the world a better place is something that is clearly AR Rahman’s deep deep belief. All you have to do is look at the list of his best songs and see that they have the same messages of truth, love, peace, acceptance, etc. etc. etc.
The second theme of the film is Magical Artistic Love Connection. This second theme just isn’t as explored as much. It’s not just that Edilsy and Ehan are in love, it’s that their art is intertwined. When Ehan is cut off from his art, Edilsy rises and finds more and more inspiration and success pouring out of her. When Ehan is in his artistic flow, Edilsy is dead in the water. When they are together, when they touch hands, we see spooky flowy yellow sparks between them. There’s the same old normal “love connection” there too, when Ehan begins to drift away towards Lisa Ray, Edilsy can sense it. When Edilsy is almost considering moving on with someone else, Ehan can sense it and runs away from the Rehab.
I like both these themes! For the first one, the idea of “you have to prove your right to be an artist by what your art can do for the world” is very nice, and kind of unique, and a great lesson! If a bunch of untalented artists see this film and go “huh! Maybe it is kind of selfish for me to try to do this when I can’t say I will ever change the world!” that would be GREAT!!!
For the second one, this is just a really great new take on the old “muse-love” idea. It’s not that Edilsy “inspires” him with her wonderful muteness, it is that they complete each other, mutual inspiration. And mutual talent, Edilsy pursues her own studies and success without him and does GREAT. Soooooooooo much better than the stupid usual “you are so beautiful, you inspire me” relationship. And honestly, more logical! Why would a muse inspire you more than having a fellow artist challenging you?
So, 2 good themes, terrible narrative to bring them out. It’s really the story that is the problem. In SO many ways!!!! We have no build to the romance, just told that they are in love and magical. We have no greater family for either of them, just one parent and no one else mentioned EVER? He goes off to write 100 songs to prove himself to her father….why? And then he starts ignoring her? Again, why? And of course the biggest question, why the heck didn’t his maternal grandfather reveal himself earlier, like when his father died?
Not saying I require total logic in a film, that’s a ridiculous standard. But in this case there are so many major leaps required that, kind, we never hit the ground? It just flows along without any anchor points. The themes are there, but they don’t have a punch because there is no weight behind them.
But then, this is AR Rahman’s first film as a producer. So of course it is all about the songs. And if you are floating along in an illogical space, it means the weight comes purely from the songs. While in other films the songs amplify the emotions that are there in the story, in this film the story has no real feeling emotions, just the songs.
I don’t know, what did you think?