99 Songs Review: AR Rahman's Film Is Jazz, Bach And All That Jaazbaat

Visually well-shot, and nicely edited 99 Songs is let down by an over-stuffed under-cooked screenplay.

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99 Songs Review: AR Rahman's Film Is Jazz, Bach And All That Jaazbaat

Make no mistake. This is a highly ambitious film where the musical phenomenon A  R Rahman wants 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 self-important father (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 Bachchan 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 tee-shirt when 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 Kshatriya sangeet at 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.

In 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.

Written & Directed by Vishwesh Krishnamurthy, 99 Songs gets 2 and a half stars! 

Image Source: Instagram/arrahman, youtube/jiostudios, imdb