Tag Archives: Amrita Bagchi

Movie Review: Music Teacher (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Music Teacher on Netflix

Music Teacher is a melancholy exploration of the consequences of blowing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Beni (Manav Kaul) is a middle-aged vocal instructor and part-time lounge singer in Shimla, where he lives with his mother Madhavi (Neena Gupta) and younger sister Urmi (Niharika Lyra Dutt). He dreamed of being a playback singer for the movies, but his father’s death called him back from Mumbai years ago, before he could land any film gigs.

Adding salt to Beni’s still-open wound is the success of one of his former students, Jyotsna (Amrita Bagchi), who herself is now a popular playback singer. Beni must confront his jealousy and anger toward her when Jyotsna returns to Shimla for a concert after eight years in Bollywood.

But is the story Beni’s been telling himself about Jyotsna’s fame and their falling out true, or does he view the past through a lens that paints her as the villain (corroborated by his mother’s hostility toward her)? He reexamines the narrative as he tells it to his new neighbor, Geeta (Divya Dutta), a lonely wife who’s been ditched by her husband and banished to Shimla to care for her ailing father-in-law.

The present and past timelines in Music Teacher are differentiated by the color of Beni’s sideburns: black in the past, grey in the present. It’s subtle and easy to miss at first. Beni himself was more upbeat when he first meet Jyotsna, as opposed to the terse curmudgeon he’s become since she left. Their relationship was about more than music, but both had different dreams for the future.

Beni’s challenge is to realize how his own actions led him to his present unhappy state, and then either chart a new course or find a way to accept things the way they are. He’s spent his whole life waiting for his big break, thinking it could only come in the form of a show business career. He never considered that loving Jyotsna could be a life-changing opportunity in its own right.

Kaul plays Beni as more sad than angry, although the sense of having been wronged is what keeps him in stasis. Kaul convincingly portrays Beni as a decent guy who blew his big chance and never learned how to cope with it.

Bagchi is touching as Jyotsna, both in flashbacks as a young woman desperate for love and in an impactful present-day sequence in which she hints that the lessons she’s learned have been hard won.

While Jyotsna embodies all of Beni’s opportunities lost, Dutta’s Geeta represents the idea of accepting life’s hardships and finding pleasure where one can. Were Beni further along in his emotional journey, maybe he and Geeta could be happy together, damaged but at least not alone.

Though Music Teacher‘s story focuses on Beni’s growth, there’s an interesting theme about the lack of control women have over their own lives. Geeta is the most obvious example, fulfilling the edicts of a husband who lives in a distant city and no longer loves her. But Beni himself has undue influence over the lives of the women in his family. He selects a groom for his sister Urmi, and while we can assume that he wouldn’t make her marry against her will, he clearly has veto power when it comes to groom choice. Beni’s insistence forces Jyotsna to make a choice she doesn’t want to, and the repercussions destroy their relationship.

The men in Music Teacher don’t deserve the power they have. Geeta’s husband — who doesn’t even appear onscreen — is a bad guy for ditching her and offloading the care of his sick father onto her. Beni is guilty of myopic self-interest and a tragic lack of foresight, and loneliness is the consequence. Music Teacher is a big improvement over writer-director Sarthak Dasgupta’s first film, 2007’s The Great Indian Butterfly. There’s a lot to relate to and appreciate about this cautionary tale.

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Movie Review: Phobia (2016)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

Anxiety is a difficult disorder to explain to people who don’t have it. While everyone experiences mild anxiety from time to time — be it a fear of heights or speaking in front of a group of strangers — it’s nowhere near the kind of crippling fear that can accompany serious anxiety attacks, a panic that can make an otherwise ordinary task seem terrifying.

Phobia comes as close to accurately depicting a panic attack as any film I’ve seen. It’s so effective that I’d caution those with a history of anxiety problems make sure you’re in a good mental state before you watch it. I thought about bailing a couple of times, it was that intense.

Radhika Apte stars in Phobia as Mehak, a single artist living in the city. She leaves an exhibition of her work early after feeling some bad vibes, falling asleep in the taxi on the way home. She awakes to find the cab driver molesting her behind some abandoned buildings.

Even though she escapes the attack, Mehak develops agoraphobia. Fearful of the outside world, Mehak hides in her apartment for months. Concerned by Mehak’s lack of improvement, her friend Shaan (Roshin Joy) and her sister Anu (Nivedita Bhattacharya) conspire to drug Mehak and move her to a new apartment, hoping that the change of scenery will fix everything.

Their actions exemplify one of the biggest challenges for anxiety sufferers: not being believed, or the fear of not being believed. By definition, phobias are irrational overreactions to perceived threats. My mother’s fear of snakes was so extreme that even a picture of a snake provoked the same terror as if one was actually slithering toward her.

Yet Anu and Shaan treat Mehak as though her fear can be diffused with logic. Shaan refuses to take out the garbage, hoping that leaving it will motivate Mehak to leave the apartment and walk down the hall to the trash bin. He doesn’t understand that the twenty-foot-long hallway might as well be twenty miles, as far as Mehak is concerned.

Mehak’s tortured attempt make it to the bin is Phobia‘s shining moment. Mehak breathes rapidly, her shirt soaked in sweat. She ties a makeshift rope of sheets to a shelf and then around her waist, as though she’s climbing out of the window and not stepping out into the hallway. If she falls, she’s afraid she won’t be able to retreat to safety. The whole sequence captures the overwhelming nature of a panic attack. Mehak’s terror is depicted perfectly by Apte, who is absolutely tremendous in the film.

Mehak’s condition only gets worse in the new apartment when she starts hallucinating sounds and images of a bloodied woman whom she assumes is “Jiya,” the previous tenant who suddenly went missing, leaving all of her belongings behind. Mehak is simultaneously too scared to go out and too scared to stay in. Shaan’s answer is set up security cameras in the house, as if Mehak’s haunted psyche can be soothed by proof.

The apartment itself looks like an upscale haunted house. There are mirrors everywhere and lonely paintings that take on a sinister air in the dark. The living room is separated from a hallway by a backless shelving system made up of niches ripe for peeping through. One of the bedrooms is full of artfully strewn about furniture.

Yet director Pawan Kripalani doesn’t deploy the horror tropes in his arsenal in the expected ways. He routinely directs the audiences gaze through mirrors and security cameras and the peephole in the door, but the anticipated jump scares never arrives. Phobia — which Kripalani wrote as well — isn’t about momentary thrills, but the persistence of Mehak’s fears.

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