Debutant director Sriram Raja uses memory and music in a nostalgic way to weave a love story in his Half Songs. Setting his narrative in Mumbai, he focusses on a music store, inspired by the Rhythm House near Kala Ghoda in the city. Some years ago, the music shop pulled its shutters down.
Raja tells me during the ongoing 24th edition of the Kolkata International Film Festival (where his work is competing) that the transition from analog to digital may have been necessary, but was a painful goodbye for some. Like, for instance, the elderly man in the movie who runs a music store stocking vinyl records, but finds that there is little market for these in an age of pen-drives and other forms of digital formats.
And as he about to close his shop, clearing his stocks – selling some records at throwaway prices and giving away some others as gifts – Shweta (Vartika Tiwari) walks in. An intern at an online music magazine, she has been assigned to write about the store, where she meets the old man's nephew, Vivek (Emon Chatterjee), a shy musician who has only been able to compose half songs, his shyness and reticence acting as barriers to complete the lyrics.
Chatterjee is a real life musician and has written some of the five songs in the movie. He has also sung two of them in a work that has some extremely lilting numbers.
(Interestingly, we also saw Rajiv Menon using a real life musician as his protagonist in his Madras Beats, with G V Prakash playing a budding mridangam artist. It screened at the recent Tokyo International Film Festival.)
Both Chatterjee and Tiwari (who is from Delhi's National School of Drama) are absolute naturals, infusing the movie with a rare kind of freshness. And at 87 minutes, Half Songs manages to tell a bitter-sweet tale of one man's pain at having to see his store, full of memories, fade away. Deftly woven into this is the love story of Vivek and Shweta. She is just getting over a bad relationship, and he is struggling to emerge from his cocoon – where he had hidden himself with his notepad of half finished songs And with Shweta's encouragement (can this be love?), he completes the them, the lyrics flowing almost magically. Much like some legendary writers who had had a muse to break their blocks, Vivek finds in Shweta that spark of support. The lyrics begin flowing, and the songs no longer remain half done.
Raja's work has a certain innocence, and his method of telling the story is unusually different. Simple and sweet, Half Songs has little pretence and stays afloat with its mesmeric music and fine performances.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Kolkata International Film Festival)