99 Songs Review (SPOILERS): Why Do Lovers Never Just TALK to Each Other?

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!

Whole plot:

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.

Preview: AR Rahman's Musical 99 Songs plus the incredible intriguing  Trailer | BollySpice.com – The latest movies, interviews in Bollywood

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.

This song makes me laugh when it should make me cry

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?

6 thoughts on “99 Songs Review (SPOILERS): Why Do Lovers Never Just TALK to Each Other?

  1. I really love the songs and want to support Rahman by watching this movie…but I am hesitant…is it just another Rockstar/Tamasha about a “tortured artist”…is this movie more watchable than those?

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  2. What I think: this isn’t a movie exactly, it’s more like an extended music video. I wrote in another comment that it’s like The Wall if The Wall were a love story, but that was when he was about to jump off the cliff. Since the ending is happy and the message about art and the world so much more redemptive, it’s not The Wall, but it does more resemble some of the multimedia album experiments going in than it does a traditional film. Here’s an example, Juanes’s recent album/love story/adventure quest:

    Same idea – a series of songs organized loosely around a concept, strung into a story told through film.

    There’s so little dialogue, I think if you put it all together it wouldn’t be more than 12 pages. The women mostly don’t talk, and when they do it’s only about music – the doctor telling him music is powerful beyond thoughts and words, the last magic left in the world (lovely line, odd messenger), the jazz singer schooling him in chord progressions (maybe the most extended dialogue exchange in the film, certainly the most sustained interaction with a female character). The men mostly get in his way, including himself. If I’m being generous and squinting hard, I can almost read them as projections of different facets of his own psyche preventing him from becoming the artist he’s meant to be – the fame-hungry ego, greedy businessman, fun-loving troublemaker, tyrannical envy.

    (I was having fun towards the end ticking off tropes in my head, even though there’s so little writing that they’re more like visual gestures at tropes – the magical child, the dead mother descending from heaven, the lover’s quest, the false lover conveniently killed off, the long lost relative with the key to his past, etc.)

    It’s pretty and the songs are good, of course. The world-changing song moment is a little much but the song itself is haunting and lovely. I started off mad at the movie (I mean, give the poor girl a voice and a few paltry lines at least!) but it was worth finishing. Two hours isn’t much to ask of us. And Tenzing has a beautiful smile.

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    • A Visual Album Experiment is a very nice way to describe it I think. It’s certainly not a traditional Hindi movie! I feel like I need to warn people about that. Yes, Hindi films use songs. But not like this! This is a WHOLE different use of songs thingy!!!!

      I like the idea of all the men being expressions of his psyche! I’ll do you one better: the whole story is a pull between male and female forces, the female forces draw him into an intense losing himself in music experience, while the male forces draw him towards The World. He finally achieves balance when he learns how to give himself over to the female force of music and then send it out into the male world. Look at our heroine. Her voicelessness could also be read as having no interest in going outside of her internal self. Her work is about her emotions, her feelings, her struggles, she does not care what is happening around her. Our hero, on the other hand, is all about how his work is percieved, how the world considers him.

      To add on to the male-female stuff, they are both children of single fathers. But while the heroine was given blind support and love (as all children have a right to receive), her father fulfilling the traditional “mother” role of love and support along with the “father” role of protection and push, our hero very much felt the loss of the “mother” in his life, the blind love and support, and was always seeking it from external forces. Oooo! And that’s why he kept being drawn to older female figures! The Lisa Ray Jazz Singer was the mother in music he always missed, and the Manisha Koirala Psychiatrist was the blind support loving wise mother he needed. Once he had his vision of his Real mother, and sort of found her again, he was healed.

      On Thu, Jun 3, 2021 at 11:17 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I definitely think you’re onto something with the mothers. Which also has the practical effect of giving substantive parts to skilled older actresses, win-win. Also, he couldn’t truly connect with Sophia until after he’d learned about his mother. Their reunion was less about completing the quest than about him connecting with his mother’s legacy, the true artistry that’s about bringing magic and beauty into the world.

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        • Yes, especially the Lisa Ray character. There’s no reason she has to be THAT much older. Older woman, sure, but Mom’s Age Older Woman is a bit reaching.

          On Fri, Jun 4, 2021 at 7:12 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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