“The Playback Singer” tells the story of an aimless, would-be, jungle-gym architect who finds his existence disrupted – and his marriage upended – when his prickly, Indian, B-movie playback singer father-in-law comes to visit and overstays his welcome.
As the movie opens, we are introduced to Ray and Priya (Ross Partridge and Navi Rawat), a married couple who live in Van Nuys, California. Priya is an immigration attorney while Ray is a struggling jungle gym architect who has only one job to do but just cannot find the inspiration he needs in order to complete the job. One morning, Priya informs Ray that her father Ashok (Piyush Mishra), an Indian, B-movie playback singer whom she has not seen for over 18 years, is coming to California as part of an Indian singing tour and invites himself to stay with them.
However, when the threesome arrive at the concert destination, they quickly find out that the whole tour was just a scam and that Ashok has been swindled out of thousands of dollars. Priya invites her father to stay a little longer while she works on his case and it’s at this point that their whole world begins to crumble. Ashok is downright rude, impolite, scathing and constantly insults both Priya and Ray to the point that in one scene, Priya breaks down and cries. I know this is only a movie but it is trying to represent some solace of real life and if it were me and I was meeting my father in-law for the first time, naturally, for my wife’s sake, I would give him some leeway but when it comes to making her cry, he’d be on the first plane back to New Delhi.
For the first half of the movie, nothing Ray and Priya do pleases Ashok and then in one scene, when Ray is being criticized for his working skills by an employer, Ashok immediately rushes to his defense and the movie suddenly switches gears. Ray and Ashok immediately hit it off and become buddies and the tension that he brought into their lives early on, slowly dissipates but then when Priya announces that she is pregnant, obviously not something they had planned, Ray’s dispassionate and disinterested attitude sends her packing to stay with a girlfriend until he gets his act together. The story, on the whole, is about getting older and realizing what’s important in your life.
Ashok is a man who has always done whatever he wanted whenever he wanted and as the man of the house, nobody could tell him different. Having been married many times but with only one child, Priya, part of the decision to stay with her and Ray obviously came out of necessity as his supposed tour was to take place there but as the film plays out, it becomes abundantly clear that, reflecting back on his life, and listening to Priya talk about him, or lack of him being around for her, that he wasn’t a good father and desperately wants to make amends before it’s too late. While it may be customary in India for the man of the house to order the women around, from making tea and dinner to pretty much anything else they desire, that attitude doesn’t fly here in America.
I love stories like this, dramas that deal with human emotions, redemption and forgiveness but the first half of the movie seems to be completely unrelated to the second half. While we see Ray obviously holding himself back at the way Priya is being treated by Ashok, again, at Priya’s request, in reality, I don’t know of any man who would allow it to go on for as long as it does here. I know I wouldn’t. Then Ashok comes to Ray’s defense when he is being ridiculed but his actions come out of nowhere and are totally unbelievable. It’s not like the two men liked each other from the get-go, if that were the case, I would have completely bought the scenario but it just doesn’t work here. And the plot about Ashok being scammed out of thousands of dollars which is made an integral part of the first half of the movie, pretty much vanishes and is never made mention of again.
The movie is filled with plotholes big enough to fit a jumbo through and as the last act materializes, Ray realizes what is most important in his life, Priya and his soon-to-be child. And Ashok realizes what is most important in his life, Priya and Ray and his soon-to-be grandchild. Ashok tells Priya that her baby needs a father and is, in essence, apologizing for his absence in her life as her father. While the ending of the movie is stereotypical of stories like this but plays out convincingly because of its very capable cast, unfortunately, the first half of the movie felt like a completely different story altogether and because of it, the end result is a muddled affair.
In select theaters November 14th and on VOD, DVD and iTunes November 18th
For more info about James visit his website at www.irishfilmcritic.com