LICH rating: (4 / 5)
Writer-director Sarthak Dasgupta creates a delicate ode back to the time when thoughtful, humane-focused directors such as Gulzar and Hrishikesh Mukherjee nuanced the screen with relationships and the emotions that power them. Music Teacher, a lovely, dimple of a Netflix movie settles you in the verdant surroundings of Shimla and Manali, where the drone-covered lush greenery and the flow of the waterfall could be hiding a wistful sigh or a swallowed sob. I wanted to go up there right away and lose myself in the world that Dasgupta’s created. But would Beni Madhav Singh (Manav Kaul the highlight of the movie, his diffident and defiant act alternately shadow boxing and waltzing in his body language and expressions) allow me? For Beni’s a reticent, perfection-seeking music teacher who’s nursing a past with ex-student Jyotsna Ray (Amrita Bagchi, beautifully impish and heartbreaking by turn) who’s a superstar in the world of Mumbai’s playback, and now visiting Shimla for a performance after 8 years. This sets off Beni’s mother, Madhavi (Neena Gupta, in a superb act, donning her motherly affection to perfection—her act’s so good, she’ll remind you of your mom—irritating and right, the former because of the latter; and later getting a red-nosed emotional act that’s so meltingly natural) to an outpouring of tirade against Jyotsna; in Beni, it sets off tuning his transistor radio at night that leads to the Rahul Dev Burman classic, Phir Wahi Raat Hai, that in turn gets him singing his version (Papon honored to do the honors) that doesn’t get you all riled up. For this and the other RD classic that’s sung onscreen is what it is—Dasgupta’s tribute to Rahul Dev and Gulzar, no appropriation intended. Hypnotized by Beni’s heart wrenching rendition—Pancham’s tune wafts above the chilly night scenery and then becomes a seductive angst-filled explosive—neighbor Geeta (a marvelously moving Divya Dutta) is drawn to him. She has her own life’s troubling stories wrapped around her, but she also teases out his past across endearing scenes. She’s sensual because she puts a lid on her desires that threaten to consume her anytime soon, but it’s her unshed tears and swallowed screams that seemingly become the rain and thunder in the valley.
As Jyotsna’s arrival nears and collides with Beni’s sister Urmi’s marriage (her name a hark back to both Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gulzar, played with sparkling spontaneity by Niharika Lyra Dutt)—a date manipulated by the forever running away from his feelings Beni—the director unfolds what transpired between Beni and Jyotsna, using Kaushik Mondal‘s Ruskin Bondesque cinematography, Rochak Kohli‘s lilting compositions, and Andrew T. Mackay‘s thoughtful background score. The wait reveals layers of feelings unsaid and explicit, of regret and angst, driving Beni to lash out against family and friend. But the wait is a pain that is exquisite and ethereal. Director Dasgupta makes you care for Beni and Jyotsna—you want them to happy, much as you would your favorite couple friends. My heart was in my mouth, my own wait making me hope that things would work out for them. But as Rahul Dev Burman, had he been around, would probably have told me (had we met), it is sometimes the unexpected dissonant note that adds beauty to the composition of life. It is also what adds delicate poignancy to the composition of Music Teacher.
LICH ratings chart
(1 / 5): Don’t bother
(2 / 5): Not too great
(3 / 5): Worth a watch
(4 / 5): Very good
(5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW
Music Teacher is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s smoking, drinking, kissing, and a sensual scene.
Director Sarthak Dasgupta Running Time 1h 41min
Writer Sarthak Dasgupta
Stars Manav Kaul, Divya Dutta, Neena Gupta, Amrita Bagchi, Niharika Lyra Dutt
Genres Drama, Romance