It was in the summer of ’89 that I first saw I wanna hold your hand (1978), a film invoking the Beatles of the 60s and 70s, directed by Robert Zemeckis and co-produced by Steven Spielberg. The movie exuded the life in the time of The Beatles. Beatle mania was a word literally coined to describe the absolute hysteria their songs evoked, and idolisation by their fans cutting across geographical borders. John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were not just super stars, they were pan-generational icons whose every word in every lyric evoked a sense of religiosity, quite unlike any other band or artist.
1985 was also a time when The Beatles were being pushed aside from people’s memory and was replaced by Pink Floyd, Def Leppard, Duran Duran, Eurethymics and others. For me, I wanna hold your hand was like being transported back in time and immersing myself in their music. The movie inspired me to follow The Beatles like never before. The rest as they say is history.
So when Yesterday was set for release in July 2019, the excitement was palpable. By now, their music was relegated to the die hard fans that still miraculously inhabited different parts of the globe. In my mind there has never been a more opportune time for a Beatles revival. Lyrics these days are getting banal, music redundant, and frankly with little soul. The world needed to be reminded once more of the pure magic of Hey Jude, the absolute longing in Yesterday or the healing words of Let it Be. The Beatles didn’t just sing. They revolutionized our lives.
Yesterday directed by Danny Boyle and screenplay by Richard Curtis explores this very existential question—Imagine if the Beatles never existed? Imagine hearing them for the first time? Would we still love them as we did then? Or are we as a generation, so used to the complex over-stimulation of our musical senses, no longer appreciate the subtle, jaunty tunes that the Beatles gave us?
Yesterday is an adorable romcom meets metaphysics meets musical, that’s endearing from the word go. Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer-lyricist in small town England whose dream of fame and fortune are soon fading to the reality of constant rejections, despite his best friend Ellie’s (Lilly James) unconditional faith in him. Life gives Jack a second chance after a freak bus accident and a cosmic electrical storm that busts Earth’s space time continuum. After few minutes of black out, things are back to normal except that the existence of The Beatles, Coca Cola and Cigarettes are wiped out from the memory of mankind! Only 3 people in the world have any remembrance of it and Jack is one of them.
He wakes up to the reality of this when he sings Yesterday to his teary-eyed friends, who have no recollection of the song whatsoever. Jack sees the opportunity in this and starts performing The Beatles’ songs. He becomes an overnight sensation and at an accidental, jovial meeting with Ed Sheeran, Sheeran concedes Jack’s genius saying, “You are Mozart, man. I am definitely Salieri.” Sheeran’s agent played by Kate McKinnon hilariously, unapologetically, agrees to represent Jack. His journey from abject obscurity to fame, thanks to the Beatles, forms the crux of the movie.
Yesterday has its flaws. It tries to thematically connect some of the greatest songs ever written with the romantic life of the protagonist. The romance part of it could have just taken a back seat instead of looking so clichéd. But the comical moments and the splendid music more than make up for it. Patel’s amazingly pristine voice (despite his clueless expression in most parts), crooning to Let it Be or I saw her standing there captures us in rapt attention. The genius of Boyle however was in using the songs as a narrative to move the story forward.
When the lights came on, I could see a number of smiling older faces, all teary-eyed—Yesterday does that to you. It takes you to a place of perpetual nostalgia. You want to stay there, stuck as if you were, in time. In the end, inexplicably, there is a feeling of melancholy, though you cannot quite understand why. Perhaps it was Hey Jude playing in the background, or perhaps it was simply a sense of deja vu, hoping to relive a past that will never be. The movie stays with you long after you have left the hall, in the faith that The Beatles’ legacy will live on for a few decades more.