Netflix's The Music Teacher fails to take advantage of its strengths

By COLE DOUGLASS | April 25, 2019

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BOLLYWOOD HUNGAMA/CC BY-S.A 3.0 Divya Datta starred in Netflix's The Music Teacher in the role of Geeta.

If, like me, you go into Netflix’s The Music Teacher without any prior knowledge of the film, its narrative and tone will likely surprise you. Although the preview images and narrative summary paint the film as a romantic comedy, the narrative is actually much more dramatic and contemplative in its exploration of isolation and regret. Unfortunately, although the film’s thematic structure is interesting, the overall execution is lacking, and its flaws make it difficult to find the strengths.

The Music Teacher is the story of Beni (Manav Kaul), the titular instructor who passes his days taking care of his family and singing in restaurants after a failed attempt to become a professional singer in Mumbai. When he learns that one of his former students, now a famous performer, will be performing in their hometown for the first time since she left his care, Beni is forced to confront both his past relationship with said protégé Jyotsna Ray (Amrita Bagchi) and his inability to escape from his home and pursue his dreams.  

The narrative consistently jumps around Beni’s personal timeline, slowly revealing both his emotional stagnation and the past events that brought him to that state. In the present, he prepares for Jyotsna’s return while beginning a new relationship with one of his neighbors; in the past, we see how he met his former student and how their relationship eventually fell apart. Some of the scenes work really well and do an excellent job of conveying the characters’ desires and struggles. The first scenes between Jyotsna and Beni, for example, do a particularly fine job of establishing the characters and their chemistry with one another, while their final interaction at the end of the film is a heartbreaking echo of the conversations that they once had.  

However, the film’s narrative is much more heavily weighted toward the flashbacks, which causes it to feel unbalanced and poorly paced. Ultimately not much happens in the present timeline, and the scenes that do occur there do not have the same intensity as those in the past. By the halfway point, it felt like the scenes in the present were only there to kill time between flashbacks, and the narrative momentum ground to a halt every time the film left Beni’s reflections on the past. 

The imbalance also affects the pacing of the characters’ development — not all of the growth that Beni undergoes feels entirely earned because so much time is spent setting up his position at the beginning of the film. As a result, the film’s ending — which centers heavily around Beni’s emotional growth — feels abrupt and hollow, and I found myself questioning whether or not he had really changed for the better.

The weak narrative also results in underwhelming and uninteresting characters, which is somewhat disappointing considering how well the film introduces its players. For instance, I really enjoyed Beni’s characterization in the first few scenes of the film: He is surrounded by stagnation, and there is a real hollowness to his aspirations to greatness. 

However, as I just mentioned, the character’s growth feels rushed and underdeveloped. Likewise the relationship between Beni and Jyotsna works very well in their first few scenes together: The two have a lot of light-hearted chemistry with one another, and I looked forward to seeing how their relationship would progress. However, much of that progression happens via a quick montage, and it was difficult to get a handle on their interactions for the rest of the film.

That being said, I really enjoyed watching Beni’s relationship with Geeta (Divya Dutta), the aforementioned neighbor, unfold. Most of that enjoyment came from Dutta’s performance; her portrayal of the character’s determination and sorrow gave the character much-needed depth, and Geeta was the only character who I was truly invested in as a result. She also serves as a fascinating foil to Beni, as they both attempted to leave their hometown and find success in the city, only to be forced to return by a change in fortunes. However, while Beni wallows in his misery, Geeta attempts to make the best of her situation and is unwilling to resign herself to despair. As a result, the two have a complicated relationship, which is only amplified by the fact that they have even more chemistry than Beni and Jyotsna. Overall Geeta was my favorite part of the entire film, and I wish that she could have played an even larger role within the narrative.

Aesthetically speaking, The Music Teacher looks fairly nice. The repeated focus on nature drives home the sense of isolation that pervades the film, while the frequent establishing shots of the town emphasize the presence of society and the influence that it has on Beni’s actions. The filmmakers also clearly enjoyed constructing scenes that structurally and thematically echoed previous ones, and the contrast between the pairs was always compelling. The movie also features a handful of songs, and the performances are all perfectly serviceable, although I assume that they would be more compelling if one did not have to rely on subtitles to understand the lyrics.

Ultimately The Music Teacher fails to build on its strengths. Although there are some interesting character interactions at first, the film is unable to turn those initial beats into a compelling narrative, and there isn’t much of a reason to stick around to the film’s end.

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