Music Teacher movie review: Netflix's film on love and longing could've done with a better soundtrack
The inclusion of rehashed songs like 'Fir Wahi Raat' and 'Rimjhim Gire Sawan' dilute the original voice of Music Teacher.
If there is a more pertinent question than "What's life without music?", it is "What's a musical without great music?". Sarthak Dasgupta's Netflix film Music Teacher never claims to be a musical and is more into the romantic space. But for a film with that title, that explores the relationship between a music teacher and his student, the music is rather underwhelming.
Music Teacher revolves around Bini (Manav Kaul), a music teacher compelled to return from Mumbai to his hometown of Shimla after his father's death. However, he ties all his hopes to his student Jyotsana (Amrita Bagchi), whose primary motivation to learn music is her love for Bini. When the teacher persuades the student to accept an offer to work in Mumbai, the latter leaves but also severs all ties with him, leaving him heartbroken. This makes Bini bitter over the years before he learns that she has now become a huge singing sensation and will soon return to Shimla for a concert.
While the film deals with themes like the lure of stardom and the inherent power of love to rise above ambition (through the profession of singing), Rochak Kohli's music is too tepid to stir anything within. While a couple of gems like Neeti Mohan and Papon's 'Ik Mod', and Jubin Nautiyal's 'Sambhaal Rakhiyan' do shine, the inclusion of rehashed songs like 'Phir Wahi Raat' (from Manik Chatterjee and Gulzar's 1978 romantic drama Ghar) and 'Rimjhim Gire Sawan' (from Basu Chatterjee's 1979 film Manzil) only reflects the lazy composer in Kohli. The rejigged 'Phir Wahi Raat' has both sparks and context but does not sound as fresh as his recent earworm, the rehashed version of 'Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga'.
The lyrics of these songs by Adheesh Varma and Gurpreet Saini, however, take the narrative forward. They are ably supported by Gaurav Sharma's dialogue, which is aesthetically adequate with a few memorable lines like, "Tumhara itnezar kitna sundar hai" (It is so beautiful to long for you). Sarthak's screenplay and direction use tools like non-linear narrative to lend the film a sense of foreboding. Anupama Chabukswar uses her editing skills wisely but could have done a tighter job.
Kaushik Mondal presents some stunning shots of the Himalayas. Additionally, his camera oscillates from close-up shots to long shots, in tune with the non-linear narrative. Udai Prakash Singh's production design mostly relies on the houses of local dwellers and also slides in a literal 'product placement' of Saregama Carvaan in Jyotsana's house. Shruti Wadetiwar's costume design is on point. A special mention for the costumes of Madhavi (Neena Gupta); she wears simple outfits in local style, flaunting the collars of her shirt, probably implying that after the death of her husband, she is 'the man of the house'. She also covers those collars and full-sleeves shirts with a shawl in scenes where she is supposed to channel her motherly vulnerability.
Neena is a pleasure to watch as she brings emotional heft to her scenes with Kaul. In the titular role, Kaul is sincere but also repetitive in scenes where he is supposed to be confused or conflicted. Also, he is unable to pitch perfectly the two songs that he lip-syncs. Bagchi, however, achieves that with more ease. Kudos to casting director Shivam Gupta for she is a rare find who fits the bill entirely. She displays her range by bringing conviction to both a young girl with a perennial spring in her step and a broken singing star with bruises from her past. There is also the ever-so-reliable Divya Dutta, owning another solid supporting role like her track is a film of its own.
In a telling scene, her character Geeta tells Bini that the mountains are so isolating that whatever you vent out loud comes back to haunt you. My experience of watching this film was similar to the journey of that echo. When I entered this world of mountains that Music Teacher transported me to, I came back unaffected. An original, memorable melody could have helped the story to stay with me. What I took away from it, unfortunately, were just a few moments.
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'To hold this little one in my arms is the most surreal feeling ever.' wrote Neeti Mohan on Instagram.