99 Songs Movie Short Review
99 Songs is a 2021 Indian multi-lingual musical romance film directed by Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy, and co-written and produced by A. R. Rahman, who thus makes his debut in both roles, apart from composing the original score and songs
AR Rahman’s Film Is A Visual And Musical Treat.
A whole lot of music, one terrific song, and a busload of cliches about tortured artists mark AR Rahman’s debut production. 99 Songs, based on a story by Rahman and a screenplay by director Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy, revolves around a musician who goes through a trial by fire before emerging pure and shiny. The title refers to the pursuit of that one tune that will stop the globe from spinning, reunite estranged lovers and bring about social revolution.
Jai (Ehan Bhat) is a talented singer-songwriter in love with the speech-impaired Sophie (Edilsy Vargas). Sophie’s Mafiosi-like father (Ranjit Barot) separates the happy couple, arguing that there is no money in a musical career. He’s clearly never heard of AR Rahman.
The businessman throws Jai a challenge: compose a song that will change the world. A creative funk sends Jai to Shillong, where his college buddy and drummer Polo (Tenzin Dalha) lives with his gargantuan clan. Jai also meets Sheela (Lisa Ray), described as the “jazz queen of Shillong”. Slinking about in silks and satins and often spotted with a glass of whiskey, Sheela improves Jai’s ability to read music and restores some of his confidence.
Since the movie believes in no sex, no drugs and very little rock ‘n’ roll, Sheela serves as little more than an instrument to get to the next step of the screenplay. A betrayal and an accident land Jai in an institution, far away from music and Sophie.
Flashbacks reveal Jai’s childhood and his music-hating father (Diwakar Pundir). After a tortuous reckoning, Jai finally bangs out the one track that brings about the promised social revolution as well as lifts the soundtrack: O Aashiqa, sung by Shashwat Singh and written by Navneet Virk.
Look past the occasionally overworked lyrics and 99 Songs takes you by surprise. Ehan Bhat’s impassioned performance, as the lost soul seeking solace in his music, complements Rahman and Krishnamoorthy’s vision. On the flipside, in her own life story, Sophia is a woman without agency. She’s the delicate girl who finds expression in her art, but she’s also the victim who can’t fight back.
Rahul Ram, Lisa Ray, and Manisha Koirala play characters who nudge along Jay’s story. Krishnamoorthy’s sweeping and fantastical visualization is supported by the cinematography (Tanay Satam and James Cowley) and production design (Aparna Raina) and Rahman’s songs are sung by Sashwat Singh as Jay’s singing voice.
This is Rahman unfettered by studios and someone else’s vision. It’s a collaborative creation that thoughtfully embraces the theatrical musical genre.