Monday, May 30, 2005

Mad About Movies: Bombay

I wrote the following article for a series about movies. It was never sent! I am reproducing the same here:

The beauty of ManiRatnam’s trilogy of ‘Roja’, ’Bombay’ and ‘Dil Se..’ is the timelessness of these films. Unless until this country solves the Kashmir, Ayodhya and Assam issues, the three films (in the respective order) will continue to remain pertinent to every Indian, not only as a movie-goer (or just for the sake of cinematic appreciation) but also as a citizen who cares and has an opinion about these issues.

I watched ‘Bombay’ released way back in 1993 only recently but I don’t regret. I was a kid then and definitely could not understand the ‘whys’, appreciate ‘whats’ or identify ‘whos’ of the matter.

Arwind Swami plays a tough younger son of a middle class family, who is never on even terms with his father (like most of us!) and when I say tough I don’t mean a muscle flexing macho, because you need guts to be the son of a village head-priest and court a Muslim girl in a village divided on communal lines. Manisha Koirala plays daughter of a brick kiln owner, wears burqa, walks fast with head down and braves rain and wind to meet her love crooning ‘Tu hi re..’.

Nasser plays father of the hero and head-priest of the afore-mentioned village. So when the couple finds that their love won’t find a way to the heart of their families (specially fathers!), they find way to, where else but, BOMBAY!

After hilarious initial hiccups the couple is on cloud nine with their twin sons and the film cruises calmly as the two grandpas (who come to visit their grandsons a visit) engage in skirmishes while trying to convert the children to their religion.

But now the ‘monumental’ twist comes as Babri Mosque is demolished and Bombay burns. For the first time we come to know that the hero is a reporter with The Indian Express as he interviews the Hindu and Muslim leaders (played by Teenu Anand and Aakash Khanna who have been made to look and act like Bal Thakrey and a Muslim leader, whose name I don’t know. Simply scintillating performances!)

But the peace in his own life is burnt to ashes as his own house is put on fire, killing both his father and father-in-law and worse, his kids go missing!) The agony and trauma of the parents who have lost their kids in city torn by riots, the helplessness of the innocents and most of all the destruction of joy and laughter, make this film a really heart wrenching story. But if you thought that this was the pinnacle you are in for a surprise!

The film is outstanding in every aspect of filmmaking. A R Rahman was terrific in the second movie of his career. His tunes cheerful and rendering hope in first half are in stark contrast to the haunting and somber ones in the second half, shape the mood of the film and give certain halo to every frame! Cinematography (Santosh Siwan got a National Prize for this one also!) is amazing, especially the scnes of riot and its aftermaths have been shot wonderfully.

I don’t want to reveal the climax. Not because I want you to watch the movie (of course I want to!) but because I don’t have words for it. The only thing that I can tell is that want to ask every fanatic the same question that hero asks in the film “You are a Hindu. You are a Muslim. You fight. Why do I lose my family, my home and my children?”

The film gave no answer. Actually nobody can!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Indian Pop: Missing Oorja (Energy)

I can still remember the wonderful plastic audio cassette cover with a really refreshing and miles-away from run-of-the-mill inlay cards prevalent those days. About 10 years have passed but I can still recall the vibrant energy filled in that music album named ‘Oorja’ (meaning ‘energy’ in Hindi) (Meanwhile the inlay card I was talking about was an interesting pot-pourri of cool and bright colors and hence very-very eye catching!).
It was actually a compilation of songs by various artists and had a variety of songs having only two things in common, firstly voices were all mint fresh and secondly, the music was breaking the barriers set by film music. (This was all before A R Rahman had erupted on the scene, you see!)

Now I am no authority on music or Indian Pop so I can’t say if this was really the first movement towards now multi-million bucks private album industry or not! (Perhaps Gurdas Maan or Parvati Khan or Malkeet Singh had cut their albums earlier, can’t say for sure but I believe that these were not consolidated efforts as these guys were more in stage shows and functions.)

I was not in buying cassettes till Rahman came on the scene, so my interaction with private albums was only through the albums my brother bought and he compensated for my non-contribution! Magnasound was the leading name (perhaps the only name at that time!) which gave chance to many newcomers who wanted to croon and made stars out of them.

Alisha Chinoy, a well known name after ‘Baby Doll’ got meteoritic rise with ‘Made in India’. Anamica (‘Kahin karta hoga’), Shaan and Sagarika (‘Lovology’), Sanjay Raina (‘Hangama’), Baba Sahgal (‘Thanda thanda pani’) and scores others got an album and fame against their names. (Actually there was a joke doing the rounds that anybody who could be a bathroom-singer could become pop-singer!)

Daler Menhdi got a huge huge opening in the music arena with consecutive successes starting with ‘Bolo tara rara’ and following with other hits. Actually it was his success which started the Punjabi Pop revolution and virtually abducted the Indian Pop.

After every Rajinder, Harinder and Gurinder (now Tom, Dick and Harry don’t become Punjabi Poppers) was singing ‘Balle-balle’ from TV channels and FM stations, Punjabi Pop had started getting on your nerves! But you will have to give it at least the credit for being original. The tunes were mostly different though lyrics were almost never understandable and music nearly similar (after all they all had to experiment with authenticity!)

During all this hullabaloo of Punjabi Pop, there was another stream of private albums flowing pretty quietly. This was Remixed Music. I believe Sony Music were the first to start the trend with immensely successful and highly sophisticated ‘Dance Masti’ sung by Shaan. HMV came up with ‘Dance Mix’ series which was a new concept in Indian Music Industry at the time since the voices were of the original singers and extra music was added. The songs they had used were from the recent films and I remember that I had got a couple of them recorded.

A new band called Bombay Vikings appeared with a terrific video and even terrific concept of planting new English lyrics on old Hindi numbers with jazzed up music. ‘Kya soorat hai’ and other hits insured that Vikings had conquered Indians as well!

What had actually started as a trickle soon became a pour! ‘Jalwa’ from Times Music launched DJ Akbar Sami in upper space, (I mention this because I was fooled by Times Group’s policy of mixing advertorial and editorial space!) and soon other music companies too started patronizing DJs making stars out of them.

The aftermath is that, what debuted as a sidekick to the hero has now reduced the hero to not even sidekick, but a mere passer-by. Now on the pop charts 18 out of top 20 tracks are remixed versions of olden day classics. Every song has got some unfathomable English crap thrown in with some sound effects and digital wizardry which makes every song sound like other.

Now my point is this: should we consider Remixed Music as a part of Pop? In the years that I have witnessed there have been various genres but all had one similarity between glaring differences; they were original efforts. The musicians and lyricists did something that they called their own (even if it was dubbed crap by everybody else!). But in the case of remixes all the DJ and his team (I don’t know if he needs a team actually) have to do is what I mentioned earlier (add “some unfathomable English crap thrown in with some sound effects and digital wizardry”). No I am not deprecating his efforts, he has to churn up something new working in the constraints (preset lyrics and tune) and use the technology creatively and imaginatively to sound different from others doing the same. I can accept Remixing as an art on its own but as a stream of Pop? Sorry, no!

There is no original pop music emanating from India anymore. With everybody remixing the existing, nothing new is actually coming to shelves of music stores! Even the music videos are terribly similar showing … well we all know what! And same is on the cassette inlay cards!

That’s why I am missing Oorja even after ten years!