The Playback Singer (2013)
The under-the-radar factor:
The movie represents a first theatrical feature effort for director Suju Vijayan (you get to know more about her in this audio interview). "...financed by individual investors as well as sweat equity", this independent production relied on a Kickstarter campaign to see it through post-production and a launch onto the film festival circuit.
Anyone familiar with this blog knows it tends to take a backward look at films that have already been in release. I have, however, agreed to look at recently completed indie efforts just now trying to find those first eyeballs.
A lot of people spill their guts and work 23 hour days in efforts to have feature films made. I admire that but also realize many of those Indiegogo/Kickstarter projects will never see the light of day and, regrettably, in some cases, shouldn't. It's often difficult to separate the enthusiastic film fan who fancies themselves a filmmaker from those who have a real chance to deliver. I'm not trying to throw cold water on those campaigns that are out there - I'm just referring to the law of averages. Most of those completed, well meaning efforts will, for various reasons, just not "bring it".
The Playback Singer does bring it. The film has started to make some award noise on the fest circuit and deservedly so.
Things are shaky enough for Ray (Ross Partridge, resembling a younger, fitter Matthew Perry) and his wife Priya (Navi Rawat of Numb3rs fame). He quit his job as a teacher and is allegedly getting his act together to design and build backyard jungle gyms around Van Nuys. She brings in the cash they have through grueling work as an immigration lawyer. Just as the monetary tensions mount in their marriage, she receives news that her long estranged father Ashok (Piyush Mishra) is arriving from India, supposedly for a concert tour. And dad arrives with expectations and attitudes that bring out the unease in his daughter and the cheekiness in her hubby.
It turns out the decaying playback singer of Bollywood movies shares Ray's traits of being less than responsible to those who have been around him. The two men immediately display a competitive nature between them but the wind leaves Ashok's sails when it turns out the concert tour has not only been a scam but one that he invested in himself. Although the singer has been a deadbeat excuse of a father (having gone through five wives and eleven engagements), Priya convinces him to stay while she seeks legal options for the recovery of his funds. That leaves plenty of time to see if Ashok can drink as much wine as Ray smokes weed, while they take turns picking on each other's character defects. Things change when Ashok accompanies Ray to one of his potential work assignments and judges how directionless his son-in-law really is. Further complications develop with Ashok's health and some game-changing news regarding an expanded family life awaiting Priya and Ray.
The Playback Singer doesn't attempt to punch above its weight class and that's good. Being a straightforward and simple tale is a major strength. There is a refreshing honest balance to the elements in the film. It's funny enough without going overboard. It's sentimental without being sappy. It examines cultural differences with a critical but respectful eye. The two male leads show the right amount of antagonism and support for each other. No character is an angel but none are loathsome. Some films try to go larger than life and others micro-analyze what is before them. The Playback Singer feels like the same size as life in an earnest way.
The story is hardly original and in some ways Rawat's character is left hanging as the movie centers on the story of male angst and self-loathing. But the pacing feels natural and the production values are solid in a film that proceeds as lyrically as the songs Ashok sings every day in his daughter's garden. The Playback Singer isn't just a feel-good flick...it's a "make good" story of people learning to accept the other person for who they are and at the same time realizing it's ultimately better not to excuse themselves.
I say this film tastes - SWEET.