Director: Sarthak Dasgupta
Cast: Manav Kaul, Amrita Bagchi, Neena Gupta, Divya Dutta, Niharika Lyra Dutt
The 18th century English poet, Percy Bysshe Shelly, once wrote that “our sweetest songs are those that tell us of saddest thought”. And sweetest are those films that tell us of saddest stories. We always remember Romeo and Juliet, not so much, for example, A Midsummer Night's Dream or Macbeth. And one-movie- old Sarthak Dasgupta’s Music Teacher, a Netflix original, will remain etched in my memory, and that of many others for its charming narrative style used to tell a simple story of a music teacher and his love for the hills that have sung a thousands songs.
The teacher, Beni Madhav Singh, had made Shimla his home -- the lofty Himalayas and deep valleys, the gurgling streams and the innocent pleasures of rustic romance inspiring him to have a song on his lips as he walks along the winding roads or rides his motorbike or just stops to stare at a deep ravine with just memories for company.
Madhav – played with remarkable feeling by Manav Kaul – lives with his recently widowed mother (Neena Gupta) and a young unmarried sister, Urmi (Niharika Lyra Dutt), in Shimla, which in Dasgupta’s canvas still looks dreamy, untouched by roguish commercialism and land sharks out to exploit every inch of forest.
Back from Mumbai, Madhav – who loves old Hindi songs and has been singing them in small clubs and functions hoping to be a playback singer someday – tutors aspiring singers. One of them is Jyotsna Ray, a perky young Bengali girl, essayed by Amrita Bagchi. She is radiant, loves to sing and begins to love Madhav even more, much to the chagrin of her stern mother, who has a poor opinion of young men, educated at that, giving music lessons.
Madhav is fond of Jyotsna, but is unsure about committing to her. He pushes her to compete at a local singing competition session that eventually leads her to Bombay, where she becomes a renowned playback singer. An angry Jyotsana, hopelessly in love with her teacher, refuses to answer his letters for eight years – a period when Madhav begins to realise his deep feelings for the girl, but gets into a relationship with a lonely wife, Geeta (Divya Dutta), whose husband has deserted her.
Music Teacher, tightly written by Dasgupta to run just 100 minutes, has been brilliantly photographed by Kaushik Mondal, who captures the ethereal beauty of the Himalayan ranges to add to the poignancy of the plot. And there are some lilting numbers, including a couple of melodious songs from Ghar and Manzil. There are some fine pieces of performance by Kaul, Gupta, Dutta and Bagchi – who are natural and easy with nothing put on.
In the ultimate analysis, Music Teacher is an honest attempt to tell us a simple, sweet, story of love and longing, hope and disappointment. Incredible as it may sound, Dasgupta had the script with him for 17 years. He found no takers in a world where gloss and theatrics, often exaggerated, violent and vulgar, sold. Not the kind of cinema that men like Dasgupta believed in – till, of course, the gates opened for him with the arrival of streaming giants like Netflix, who are keen on discoveries. Dasgupta may well be one.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic, who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)