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Anjuly Mathai
Anjuly Mathai


Shall they sing?


La La Land brings back the enchantment in love

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. They get together. But will they end up together? This is the heart of every love story ever made, from Casablanca to Gone with the Wind. Damien Chazelle’s musical La La Land, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, is no different. More than the film, it is the wrapping in which it comes that is exceptional. The film is about opulent jazz bars and sparkling gowns, of palm trees silhouetted against star-spangled nights, of Los Angeles, the La La Land constructed of the hope of millions.

Sebastian (Seb) is a jazz pianist without work. To make ends meet, he plays what he considers demeaning carols at restaurants and undignified pop music at parties. Mia is a wannabe actor and waitress. The first time Mia meets Seb, she is the only one who is awestruck by his sheer musical prowess. When she goes to speak to him, he brushes her off. Later, after she takes revenge on him by making him play a trashy number at a pool party, they hit it off. But when Seb joins a band that takes him touring to far-flung places, cracks appear in their relationship. After a failed attempt at writing and performing a play, Mia decides to go back to her hometown. But when Seb hears of an audition that she is called for, he drives down to her hometown to take her to it.

Seb and Mia live in a dreamland, a world constructed entirely in the future. She wants to be a famous actor and he wants to start his own jazz bar. In the backdrop of dewy nights filled with hope, they sing a soulful song called City of Stars. It is this sense of living within a fairytale that gives the film its magic. Yet, the passions that bring them together and the conflicts that drive them apart are the humdrum drivel of our day-to-day lives. When should love be sacrificed at the altar of your career? Does love really conquer all? They decide to part ways. Years later, when they meet at the jazz bar that Seb had always dreamt of opening, they think of an alternate future for themselves. The picture in their heads is once again readjusted to make way for unfulfilled dreams.

When he plays the City of Stars for her, the viewer is taken back to that scene after Mia first hears Seb play. Instead of brushing her off, this time, in their make-believe land of ‘what if’, Seb kisses her. The film doesn’t sign off on the dot-dot-dot of a different possibility, but instead brings us back to the reality in which Mia is married to another man. But for one striking moment, one hangs suspended between ‘what was’ and ‘what could have been’, not sure which is which. And in that, ultimately, lies the charm of the film: the reversal of reality that transforms truth into fiction and fantasy into fact.

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