Utpal Borpujari

March 22, 2009

Gulaal: A strong political movie

By Utpal Borpujari

Gulaal by Anurag Kashyap, who is riding high on the success of his directorial venture Dev.D, had been in the making for eight years. Till its release on March 13, the film suffered a number of financial setbacks, including the death of financial Jhamu Sugandh, which explains the intermittent delay. But that has not impacted this poweful political drama set in a fictional town in Rajasthan, where a local Rajput leader is plotting an armed struggle to carve out an independent Rajputana.

In a sense, Gulaal is a much bigger political comment, on the many insurgencies, the rise of regionalism and communalism, and the forced retreat of voices of reason facing aggressive vigilantism in many parts of the country. At the same time, it is also a heartfelt cry about the futility of all pursuits of power, as signified by theatre director-actor Piyush Mishra’s evocative poetry used in the film.

The film is hard-hitting but has a satiristic undertone that come to the fore quite often, for example, through liquor that goes by such interesting names as “Democracy Beer”,  “Constitution Whiskey”, “Put-in Vodka” or other hard drinks named Capitalism, Colonial and so on. The film sure packs a punch, through its hard-hitting story and uniformly-brilliant acting by its cast, comprising Kay Kay Menon, newcomers Raja Chaudhary and Ayesha Mohan, Deepak Dobriyal, Aditya Srivastava, Piyush Mishra, Abhimanyu Singh and the rest of the ensemble cast.

Kashyap developed the story for Gulaal inspired by Sahir Ludhianvi’s classic poem “Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye To Kya Hai” from Guru Dutt’s Pyasa, and he did it when he was in a particularly angry mood, with his debut feature Paanch stuck with the censors (this film is finally expected to see the light of the day towards mid this year). It is not surprising, therefore, that Gulaal is a strong, angry critique of the political system of the country based on caste, regional identities and power play rather than any thought of serving the society.

Kashyap explains, “Gulaal is a political film. It’s on student politics vis-a-vis national politics, the structure of democracy that we have made over the years. I had started making this film in anger, though since 2001, when I launched this film, I have become much quieter.” Kashyap, who burst onto the Hindi film industry as the screenplay writer of Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya, had reasons to be angry. He had been dubbed as the most unlucky director, with his Paanch stuck with the Censor Board for long and the release of Black Friday, based on the 1993 Mumbai blasts, stalled by the courts till the relevant legal cases were over. His another planned venture, Allwyn Kallicharan starring Anil Kapoor, never took off, compounding his woes, even as he went on to write screenplays and dialogues – some good, some mediocre and some bad – for other filmmakers. The release of Black Friday seemed to have broken the jinxed tag attached to him, but then he made No Smoking which fared miserably on both critical and commercial fronts. He redeemed himself to some extent by directing the animation Hanuman Returns and finally tasted success after all these years when his recent film Dev.D hit it off astonishingly with both critics and lay viewers, making it a Box Office success. Gulaal, he hopes, will take him to another level of creativity.

 

“Gulaal is very difficult to explain. It is a completely contemporary, though set in a fictional town. The film is a metaphorical protest against all those who are segregating people on the basis of language, religion, caste, etc. It’s a film that has got songs that are like Gadar’s street poetry. We’ve even done mujra that makes a strong political comment about the state of affairs in world politics. It’s a very strong political movie,” says the director who is riding the success of Dev.D. The political consciousness, he says, comes through his reading of seven newspapers every morning. “That is where I pick up real-life references for my stories, like I have done in ‘Gulal’ too, referring to the Bijapur medical college ragging incident in 2001 in Karnataka,” he says. “The newspaper reports lead to many issues swirling in my head. I don’t know how it will come out and when,” he says, adding in jest, “Right now, it is the Pink Chaddhi campaign against Ram Sene in Karnataka that is spinning in my head.”

 

While he admits that No Smoking was a film that was not understood by anybody, he says that like Dev.D, Gulaal too is an accessible film. “I had to make people understand what No Smoking was through blogs, but in Dev.D and Gulaal, you don’t have to break your head, though I tend to do the stories in my own way, like I did in Dev.D where I developed the background of Chandramukhi’s character. I have major problems otherwise with Devdas the novel, which uses both Paro and Chandramukhi as mere appendages to take the story forward,” he says.

 

Next, he is planning a big-budget sci-fi film based based on the popular Indian comic book character Doga, who is a dog-faced superhero from the Raj Comics stable. To be produced by Sony International, it will have special effects never before seen in India, he claims. “We have bought the rights for the character and I am now writing the script. There will be such high quality special effects that I will myself have to do a three-month course on the subject before I start the film,” he says, revealing that Kunal Kapoor will play the superhero. Also on the thought process is a “plain, simple” comedy. A man of action, this Kashyap surely is.

 

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 22-03-2009)

 

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The world is just beginning to discover the richness of Indian film music: Lavezzoli

Peter Lavezzoli is a man of many talents. An author, professional drummer and singer, US-based Lavezzoli is also a professional narrator for the US Library of Congress and has recorded a number of audio books for the blind. An honours graduate in religious studies specialising in Chinese Buddhist history, he spends his winter in India, studying the tabla and dhrupad singing, as well as writing about Hindustani classical music. Bhairavi — The Global Impact of Indian Music (Harper Collins) is the product of his labour of love, a compendium that chronicles the global journey of Indian classical music. Lavezzoli speaks to Utpal Borpujari of Deccan Herald about his book:

Your book is silent on Carnatic music and concentrates only on Hindustani classical music. Is there any particular reason?This is not entirely correct. There are selective instances where Carnatic music is mentioned, with specific musicians, most notably the two violinist brothers, L Shankar and L Subramaniam, both of whom achieved widespread recognition in the West from their collaborations with jazz artists. But every book must keep within its scope, and my book primarily deals with Hindustani musicians, because the truth is that it was mainly North Indian musicians who were most responsible for promoting Indian classical music around the world — notably Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Alla Rakha, and Ustad Zakir Hussain.Since 1955, when Ali Akbar Khan released the first LP record of Indian classical music, what are the important phases that Indian music has gone through vis-à-vis the outside world?

The period between 1965 and 1968 is by far the most important, especially the year 1967. This was when Indian classical music entered the mainstream popular culture in the West in several ways described in detail in the book. 1971 is another important year for the ‘concert for Bangladesh,’ and the mid-1970s in general are also crucial in terms of the connection between Indian classical musicians and jazz artistes in the fusion realm, with Shakti and other related groups. Then, there is the more recent collaboration between Indian classical musicians and electronic artistes and producers.

 

 

Do you think Indian classical music has in any way been able to impact popular culture at large in the West in the last 50 years?Without question, the greatest impact of Indian classical music on the rest of the world, especially in the West, was in its ability to expose millions of people to Indian spiritual traditions such as yoga, meditation, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism. These traditions moved from the elite consciousness down into the popular consciousness of people on the street, because the sounds and moods of Indian music gave people a glimpse into India’s vast spiritual heritage. This is not surprising, because music has always been a universal language that breaks down cultural barriers. Today, yoga and meditation are mainstream in the West because Indian music touched millions of people in the 1960s and 70s.How do you see the emerging phenomenon of popular Indian music getting more audiences in the West, especially in the shape of A R Rahman and post ‘Slumdog Millionaire’?

I see Indian film music gaining the same kind of mainstream exposure in the West today — through artistes like Rahman — as Ravi Shankar did in the 1960s. People around the world are just beginning to discover the richness of Indian cinema and film music. The future looks bright in this realm.
Do you think Indian classical music could get its initial popularity in the West only because the Beatles became fans of Pandit Ravi Shankar?

There is no way to know what could have happened otherwise, but history tells us that the Beatles — who were the most popular music group in the world — exposed millions of people around the globe to Indian classical music, because of George Harrison’s relationship with Ravi Shankar, and also because of the Beatles travelling to India in 1968 to study meditation. Had this not happened, it is always possible to speculate that someone else would have made that connection. More accurately, Pt Ravi Shankar made this possible because he took it upon himself to become India’s foremost musical ambassador to the rest of the world.
When and how did you plan to write this book?

Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York, I wanted to remind people of how Indian classical music brought the spiritual heritage of India to mainstream consciousness in the West, and I also wanted to discuss the unique nature of Hindu-Muslim unity that has existed in Hindustani music for centuries. With terrorism and religious fundamentalism on the rise today, I feel that any message of unity and peace is worth delivering. I proceeded from that basis, contacting musicians for interviews, and doing my own historic research. It was a four-year voyage of discovery and discipline to bring this book to completion.

 

 

 

 

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 21-03-2009)

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