Well-Developed Characters Make The Playback Singer Enjoyable
The Playback Singer
Review by Daniel Rester
The Playback Singer is a warm and enjoyable little film from first-time writer-director Suju Vijayan. The story concerns three central characters: Ray (Ross Partridge), Priya (Navi Rawat), and Ashok (Piyush Mishra). The first two are a mid-thirties couple living in Southern California, with Ray as an aimless jungle gym architect and Priya as a hard-working lawyer. The latter, Ashok, is Priya’s estranged father.
Ashok stays with Priya and Ray when he visits California in hopes of doing a live music show. The elderly man works as a playback singer (a person who pre-records singing for movie use) in India, but he soon finds that his “big concert” in California may just be a scam. While Priya attempts to help Ashok with the situation, the two of them and Ray face their various issues while learning more about each other.
Singer could have easily been too sappy or too fluffy, but Vijayan and the actors find a nice safety ground in exploring the characters in believable ways. This is a small film with an unexceptional story. However, the characters are very well developed and the acting is terrific by the three leads. The director explores elements of failure, fatherhood, respect, and immigration without being obnoxious in her touch. And kudos to the actors for making the characters flawed and funny with their dialogue delivery and facial expressions; all three characters feel real throughout, even when the film becomes more obvious towards its finish. Partridge is especially good in presenting Ray as the “loveable loser” who specializes in being droll.
The visual aesthetic is hit and miss, with some camerawork coming across as flat while some makes it through as fluid and pleasing to the eyes. The music by Jacob Yoffee employs Indian-inspired tunes that are wonderful to listen to and often put emphasis on stringed instruments. For working on a shoestring budget, Vijayan and her technical team have put together a film that looks and sounds professional while never taking the emphasis off of the characters. Granted Singer is no landmark in form or beauty, but it definitely shows that Vijayan certainly has talent and promise.
Her greatest talent lies in drawing relatable and interesting characters, though some of the individual scenes they navigate through feel false and repetitive from time to time. The ending wraps up a little too nicely as well, and I wish I learned a bit more about playback singers by the finish, too. Still, the film is entertaining and delivers enough of the time for me to be able to recommend it. Mishra has been working as an actor for many years, but Singer marks his first venture into American cinema. I hope he returns, and I hope to see more films from Vijayan as a writer-director as well.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B).
MPAA Rating: N/A.
Runtime: 1 hour and 30 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: November 14th, 2014 (limited); also available on VOD, iTunes, and more.