This is the story of “Bandra’s Beethoven”. That label, used by a glib manager (played by Mohan Kapoor) to hard-sell the hero of Neerav Ghosh’s Soundtrack, is bereft of irony or humour. It is meant to be sycophantic, glowing, earnest, ‘soul-soup’ inspirational—largely what the entire movie also is.
Raunak Kaul (Rajeev Khandelwal) is a master turntablist who spins at a nightclub in what is implied as Bandra, the hip Mumbai suburb. One day he goes deaf. Does he plunge deeper into his cocaine-and-whiskey path towards perdition and hell? Or does he crawl back up to life and music? There’s that tantalizing promise—the promise of a man’s redemption after he has hit the abyss with drugs, bad decisions, being in love with the wrong person, and a sudden physical disability.
Director Neerav Ghosh mentions in the credits that the film is inspired by the motion picture It’s All Gone Pete Tong. But in fact, it is more than just an inspiration. Soundtrack has scenes which are exact replicas of the 2004 British production, written and directed by Michael Dowse. The true story of the original, that of a DJ at an Ibiza nightclub—somewhat of a legend in the Ibiza club scene then—and the sudden end of his raucous lifestyle, is not stuff of great tragedy. In Dowse’s movie, Wilde has no nuances, and is unintentionally comic in the way his life spirals down. British actor Paul Kaye adds to the part—a skinny man with a stupid laugh, corroded by drugs, who finally cleans up. There is a comic intensity to Frankie’s tragedy which makes the character bearable, although the film in its itself is quite charmless.
The writing of the Hindi remake adapts quite awkwardly to the Mumbai context. This is not really a decadent ‘Charlie’ and ‘charas’ land. The director and cinematographer (Anshuman Mahaley) depends on neon hues, jagged camera angles and the music to create the drug-induced madness. The actor does not have to do a lot. The only nuance in Raunak, really, is his hallucinatory relationship with an unthreatening clown who goads him on to inebriation (in the original, it was a grizzly bear-like beast with dried cocaine stuck to its nose). There is also his past—a childhood without a father and the only child of a helpless mother, a trite Bollywood tool in this context.
The attempt to localize is of course intentional, and it is ultimately not the film’s undoing. The attempt to make Raunak’s story sentimental and inspirational, and to strip the character’s of all his foolishness and dumbness—even when he is wasted silly, Khandelwal lends Raunak a sense of importance and seriousness—is. It is a put-off, for this DJ is no tragic hero.
Raunak, a man of firm build and groomed hair, is the anti-thesis of a man swallowed by self-destructive madness. His physicality belies the rot inside. Khandelwal has performed with gusto and he makes some scenes extremely potent, but overall, he is sorely mismatched to this character. Soha Ali Khan plays a deaf girl who rescues Raunak from oblivion. She too, like Khandelwal, is inconsistent. In some scenes the character is strikingly original, and in some completely banal. Mohan Kapoor as the greedy, soulless manager, is the most convincing character here.
Soundtrack is a downer, but for a few powerful scenes—all of which are exact replicas from the movie it’s inspired from.
I will confess I am at a disadvantage here because I have watched It’s All Gone Pete Tong twice, quite by accident. And comparisons with the mediocre original is unavoidable. When it’s a remake or an “inspiration”, the task of making it better or to adapt it truthfully to its context is up for scrutiny. And I judge the film largely on those terms.
The star of Soundtrack is its music. Lyricists (Kailash Kher, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Karsh Kale, Vishal Vaid, among others), music directors (Midival Punditz, Karsh Kale, Papon, Kailash Kher, Laxmilant Kudalkar) lift the trajectory of this self-aggrandizing hero by a few notches. The film is visually accomplished, if albeit too plastic at times, but the music and the cinematography momentarily achieves what neither the lead actors nor the writing can achieve.
Soundtrack released in theatres on Friday