99 Songs, Jazz,Bach and all that Jaazbaat

99 Songs

Starring Ehan Bhat as Jay,Edilsy Vargas as Sophie

Written & Directed by Vishwesh Krishnamurthy

Rating: ** ½ 

Make no mistake. This is a highly  ambitious  film where the musical phenomenon A  R Rahmanwants  to prove to the world  that music  can conquer hearts,change the world, and reform corrupt politicians. Just how  this Rahman-helmed  love story gets there, is  a mystery. The plot is a befuddling brew  of Mills & Boon , mysticism, and  of course music.

I don’t know if the film has 99 songs. But there is  one after every   5-10  minutes. And the  film is  2 hours and  12 minutes long. So do your math while the film’s hero Jai(a striking  debut by Ehan Bhat) journeys from innocent romance in the  city   to  a jazz-swathed  club called Red Mascara in Shillong  where Lisa Ray behaves like  Ma Rainey with a  not-so-black bottom slithering and   seducing poor Jai away from the love of his life Sophie(Edilsy Vargas). Jai’s  girlfriend Sophie changes her hair and flies off  to  a foreign land  to paint and grieve  .

Sophie, I forgot to tell  you, can’t speak. I soon  figured  out why. She  has a  bossy selfimportantfather(played by Ranjit Barot) who doesn’t let anyone speak. He sneers at poor Jai’s  aspirations to change the world with music and  his  desire to marry his  speechless daughter. Just when  I was trying to figure out all the dramatic conflicts that are  piled  on  to the  plot  like  an over-stuffed burger threatening to  topple over with  all the toppings,a politician, the CM of an unnamed state, no less,   hobbles over to Jai and says, “Tumhare  sangeet mein achchai hai sachchai nahin.” 

Jai  gives the  CM an ok-then  look and  takes off to  Shillong(and  the aforementioned  Ma Rainey  of  thunderland) with his best friend, a real affable bloke named  Polo(Tensing Dalha, well played) whose family resembles Sooraj Barjatya’s  idyllic  household in  a far less plastic  milieu,  with  everyone discussing music. Polo’s dad asks why he is  wearing a Jimi  Hendrix teeshirtwhen he  doesn’t know much about Hendrix’s music.Good question. 

From Hendrix  to  Indi-jazz to a passing reference  to Mohd Rafi to finally some shatriya sangeetat  the end when  Warina Hussain(of Salman  Khan fame) shows  up as  Jay’s mom in a flashback singing in Shreya  Ghosal’s  voice while her husband glowers at her  like Amitabh  Bachchan in  Hrishikesh  Mukherjee’s Abhimaan…. All of this is  accommodated  into a  plot that begs  for breathing space.

Somewhere  in this mind-numbing plot-pourri of music,   spiritualism, psychedelic drugs and racism(Jay’s friend from Shillong gets heckled  in a basketball court)  Jay goes  to  rehab for drugs that he  never  took(somewhat  like those promised  world-changing songs that he  never wrote) where he meets Manisha Koirala  trying hard to look stern and  committed.

At the  end the  Indian flag  also makes its reverent  appearance .And  yes, Jay writes his life-changing song which I am afraid is no  Ae mere watan ke logon  or  Blowin’ in  the  wind. Rahman’s music is  effective in  bits and pieces while the  young male debutant is consistently good even when the script insists on putting him in the most awkward  places.

Visually  well-shot, and  nicely edited  99 Songs is let down by an over-stuffed under-cooked screenplay. A  bit of self-control  would have gone  a long way  in enhancing  the  theme of the power  of  music to change the world. 99 Songs changes nothing.

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