My last blog was a celebration of all things bright and beautiful in an English summer full of sport, with Wimbledon and World Cup cricket taking pride of place. Something else happened on that brief and hectic holiday that went almost unnoticed. An English friend of mine and his good lady wife took me to see Danny Boyle’s latest hit film, Yesterday. Most film buffs in India will know Boyle as the Oscar winning director of the hugely successful Slumdog Millionaire. I was so enraptured by this new release, Yesterday, that I felt I should share my thoughts on it. As I need hardly tell you, the movie title is taken from one of The Beatles’ most successful ballads. According to The Guinness Book of World Records, Paul McCartney’s Yesterday has been covered by over 3000 artists, including Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin! The Beatles could have lived happily ever after on the royalties of that one song alone.
This is not intended to be a film review, but if that’s the way it turns out, let the chips fall where they may. First off, it would help in your appreciation of the film if you happen to be a fan of the music of the Fab Four from Liverpool, even if you’re not a full-on Beatlemaniac. I don’t think there are too many people out there, even from today’s generation, who are completely oblivious to the songs of The Beatles. There are even a couple of Hindi film songs that ripped off their hits set to vernacular lyrics and Mohammed Rafi’s voice! As for me, I grew up with The Beatles and if you wake me up at the dead of night and asked me to sing Hey Jude backwards, I can do it. Scout’s honour. The band was an integral part of the warp and woof of my upbringing. So I was dying to see the film. With a little help from my friends.
So when my English friends asked me if I would like to go and see the film, in which the music of The Beatles plays an integral part, I did not need a second invitation. Before actually seeing the film, I had no idea about the storyline. I therefore erroneously assumed it was another biopic of great pop icons, a recent trend that has seen Freddie Mercury of Queen and Elton John being featured in films that were warmly received. Having no foreknowledge of the film was a blessing, as Yesterday turned out to be a delightful surprise in so many different ways. Like the original eponymous song.
Firstly and mercifully, it was not a biopic of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Instead it was about a struggling pop singer, Jack, played with great conviction by newcomer Himesh Patel, whose character happens to be a fan of The Beatles. The story takes off vertically when Jack gets hit by a bus and the world turns topsy turvy. On regaining consciousness, he is the only one on earth who can recall The Beatles and their brilliant songs. While everything else remains the same, The Beatles have been completely erased from the collective memory of earthlings. Even a Google search for The Beatles turns up ‘beetles’ and the insect kingdom.
As to why young Jack is a person of Indian origin is never explained. His parents, played by the celebrated comic duo Meera Syal and Sanjiv Bhaskar, are like any other English couple. Jack could very easily have been a white English boy, but choosing an Asian youth was a touch of genius and inexplicably adds to our enjoyment of the movie. There are two other people in the film who remember The Beatles after the accident, but I won’t spoil it for you.
To cut to the chase, Jack goes through many vicissitudes, sings Beatles hits everywhere and becomes an instant star in England and across the Atlantic in the United States. The songs are believed by everyone, including record producing companies, to be original compositions of Jack’s. His strenuous efforts to persuade his friends otherwise fall on deaf ears. Jack thus becomes a reluctant superstar with a guilty conscience. How the film’s narrative goes on to unravel is something I would prefer you to discover for yourself. I may have already given away too much.
Other highlights in Yesterday include a cameo by today’s mega pop star Ed Sheeran as himself and his being awestruck by the fresh and revolutionary music of this unheard of singer who sings unheard of Beatles songs. An American producer even suggests to Jack that he loves the demo tape of Hey Jude, but strongly feels the song has a much better chance of searing the pop charts if renamed Hey Dude!
With Danny Boyle at the helm, you can expect a tight script laced with typical English humour and excellent acting from the stellar cast. Jack’s love interest is played convincingly by Lily James who will be remembered by those of you who’ve seen the wonderful Downton Abbey series on cable. The cast do a great job on the whole, but it is newcomer Himesh Patel who announces himself with a subtly understated performance. The fact that he is not portrayed as a token Indian with all its attendant clichés, makes the character truly genuine. A terrific debut.
Above all, the music of The Beatles strings the entire film together. So many hit numbers we all know and love. Every time a song came up in the film, it had the audience tapping their feet and singing sotto voce, along with the soundtrack. A few voices were out of key but no one seemed to mind.
One last word. We went to see the film at the Olympic Studios in Barnes in south west London. Before this building was reconverted to a cinema hall, it was a recording studio and some of the greatest rock stars had recorded here including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. The corridors of the theatre were full of framed pictures of stars of yesteryear who had plied their trade at this venerable establishment. An appropriately redolent venue to watch Yesterday, bolstered by its magnificent 3D Dolby Atmos sound system. All in all, if Yesterday comes round to your part of town, don’t miss it. Particularly if you are a Beatles fan. Like The Beatles, the film is funny and irreverent in a nice way. Like this ditty at the end of the Abbey Road album.
Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl,
But she doesn’t have a lot to say
Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl
But she changes from day to day
I want to tell her
that I love her a lot
But I gotta get a bellyful of wine
Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl
Someday I’m going to make her mine, oh yeah,
Someday I’m going to make her mine.
That’s if for now. Hello Goodbye.