Utpal Borpujari

April 11, 2010

Leaving Home: Sailing on the Indian Ocean

By Utpal Borpujari

Acclaimed Kurdish-Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi last year made a film called No One Knows About Persian Cats. Premiered at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section, the docu-fiction is a fantastic treatise on the underground music scene in Tehran, where probably hundreds of passionate music groups practice all kinds of music, all away from the prying eyes of the government’s moral policing against particularly Western music. With a wafer thin plot of a young couple in love’s efforts to get out of Iran so that they can practice music the way they want, the film is a fantastic documentation of some great musical styles practised by the eclectic bands.

Jaideep Varma’s Leaving Home: : The Life and Music of Indian Ocean is nothing like Ghobadi’s film in its scale and scope, but both have one thing in common – they elevate your soul, powerfully showcasing how believers in cultural practices will go to all possible lengths to do what they love to do, against all odds. Ghobadi’s film is highly political, unlike Varma’s focus on the very personal journey of Indian Ocean, one of India’s most popular and creative bands. But “Leaving Home” scores for this very reason – for being able to go beyond the label of a “rockumentary” and recreate the images of the blood, sweat and much more shed by the band members to reach an iconic status.

And yes, it has also entered the documentary hall of fame in India, for being the first Indian film of this genre to get a multi-city commercial release, after the earlier single city releases of Anand Patwardhan’s War and Peace in Mumbai and Supriyo Sen’s Way Back Home in Kolkata.

Be it Bandeh from Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday, Jhini that was used in Anwar Jamal’s National Award-winning Swaraaj – the Little Republic and many other gems, the 115-minute film is full of music, be it in the form of recordings of live performances, or of jamming and practice sessions at the 100-year-old house in Delhi’s Karol Bagh that has been the layer of the group comprising Susmit Sen, Rahul Ram, Amit Kilam and the late Asheem Chakravarty. In fact, the music part of the film is what will drag any uninitiated viewer into the subject, that traces the band’s history and evolution in ways that are sometimes fun and sometimes melancholic. Two aspects of the film particularly make it really melancholic for anyone who loves Indian Ocean’s music – the fact that the multi-talented Asheem Chakravarty, who would play the tabla and sing simultaneously, is there (he passed away towards the end of 2009) as part of the whole journey, and also the part in which former band member bass guitarist Indrajit Dutta regrets his choosing a “safer” career than music (two other band members, drummer Shaleen Sharma and bass guitarist Anirban Roy too have parted ways in the initial years).

Varma, who has made a feature film called Hulla in 2008, lends dignity to the subject by not resorting to sentimentality, and lets the band’s story roll by itself with all its intrinsic dramatic elements. And the mercurial Rahul Ram, the serene Susmit Sen, the eternally optimistic Asheem Chakravarty and the energetic Kilam create provide ample amounts of that to keep the story moving forward towards an end which does not really end with the film’s screening, as the music stays on in your mind. There might have been a niche, limited audience that has seen the film in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad and Jaipur where it has been released in the first phase – and that is likely to be picture in all other places where it gets releases – but one thing is almost sure, and that is that once the film gets released in home video, it will be an immediate bestseller, just as most of Indian Ocean’s albums have been. According to Varma, the mixed response to the film has got to do to a great extent on the problem of awareness about such films. “It was always fighting the odds anyway – the inertia of these times is the toughest thing to break,” he says philosophically, as he is looking forward to the second phase of release in more cities.

Varma is quite aware about the realities of the documentary scenario in India to call the commercial release of his film as an aberration. “I don’t see this as a sign of great change yet. Unless people go and see the film in reasonable numbers, it will not change anything. In fact, it will vindicate conventional ways of thinking,” he says, obliquely referring to the widespread notion that documentaries have no viewership in India. He is also quite realistic enough to say that “Leaving Home” was picked for theatrical release because it does not have a controversial subject but is filled with “accessible and vibrant” music. “Half the film is just that. The other half is a vibrant narrative about a larger than life theme – holding on to one’s integrity. Together, they make it a very accessible and non-esoteric film. So, it feels less like a docu and more like a narrative film,” he says.

But going beyond all that, for Varma, memories of the making of the film will be something that he will hold on to for times to come. “The most poignant of them was the first minute of recording, when, deciding to do the interviews chronologically, I asked Asheem about his childhood. He was instantly in tears. The very first minute. It set the tone for how much he was willing to put himself out for the film. It was very moving and inspiring for me and my team,” he says. That is what actually is the film all about – as you walk out of the theatre, you have a zing in your feet and a lump in your throat. After all, the film, like the band itself, is purely an affair of the heart.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 11-04-2010)


February 2, 2010

‘My book is a personal rebellion against the system’

Madhav Mathur’s day job is of a banker with a leading bank in Singapore. But once he is out of his office, he turns into something else. A of the city-state, Mathur turns into a writer, or a filmmaker, or a painter, as his mood suits him, outside his office timings. “Life is strange but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Without outlets for expression and creating new things I would probably not survive for long,” is what he says explaining his other avatars. Mathur’s debut novel, The Diary of an Unreasonable Man (Penguin) was recently released to enthusiastic response. Mathur speaks with Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari on his book, which has its protagonists (“anarchists” as they are called) rebelling against the system in an innovative way:

Where does the genesis of the book lie?

The book is my personal rebellion against the ‘system’. The things that my anarchists try to address are very real and prevalent today. The ways that they choose are crazy and born out of my imagination. I wanted to provide a different kind of protest, one that originated in a very real sense of cynicism and anger but was novel in its form. To quote a Ben Harper lyric: “What good is a man that doesn’t take a stand? What good is a cynic with no better plan?”  

Is protagonist Pranav Kumar an alter ego of yours?

Pranav is a stronger, more courageous and more unreasonable version of me, yes. He does things that I wish I could. He acts on his convictions in a manner that is larger than life. 

Do you think that going by the way many things work in our country, we actually need something as radical as The Anarchists?

I do believe that something this radical is needed to make people take note and think. All the experiences that my anarchists create are meant to trigger a personal introspection. I hope I have succeeded in doing that to some extent. We’re all too jaded and over-exposed to conventional protests and means. I am sure we will see bigger, sicker and more meaningful forms of protests in the future. It is all born out of necessity and helplessness. I did not let that negativity take the form of violence, on purpose. Violence loses you your credibility and leaves you in the ranks of common criminals. If you have something important to say, don’t drench it in the blood of others. Be outrageous, speak your mind, but stay relevant. 

Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap has picked up the rights of the book for a film. How did this happen?

I am a huge fan of Anurag’s work. After watching “Black Friday” and “No Smoking” I approached him through his blog in the website PassionForCinema.com. He liked my ideas and a short film that I had made for an online film competition. We started talking and soon I was asked to come and see him in Mumbai. He read the entire manuscript in the car on the way to Pune and told me that he wanted to make this into a film. It was surreal, lucky and is still sinking in.  The film project will hopefully kick off soon. I will be working with him to write the screenplay. 

Has the film linkage helped in the book’s visibility?

It definitely has. There has been a lot of extra media interest because the film deal is already locked. A lot more people, who would have otherwise not cared about another English language book by an Indian author, have got interested. It’s good. 

What is your philosophy as a writer?

I think my work is representative of the person that I am. If there is a philosophy that I prophesize, it shows up in my work. As far as writing itself is concerned, I write for myself. I try to stay true to what I want to say and be interesting to myself. The moment you start writing for other people, you end up going down a dangerous path. You should be your only compass, really. 

As a young banker who is a filmmaker, writer and painter, how do you manage your time to indulge in all these passions?

Honestly, it has taken time to find a rhythm or a routine that works for me. I think I have finally managed to find some comfort in the way I do things. I gave up on sleep and other things long ago, so that helped a lot. In the end, if you love something, you find the time, resources and energy for it. I love to write, make films and paint. I am happiest when I do these things. Everything else falls into place. 

You have also made a film. Tell us something on your filmmaker’s persona?

With my independent film production company, Bad Alliteration Films in Singapore, I have made about eight short films and one feature length film. The feature film titled “The Insomniac” is an experimental fast paced romp through sleep deprivation and pain, fuelled by music and madness. It is about a struggling writer dealing with the challenge of covering events that are alien to him, like war and rebellion. He is shown to be a pathetic failure who slowly realises his smallness and ineptitude. It released in Singapore and was very well received. Each film of mine has been a great learning experience. I am currently working on a new project too.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 31-01-2010)


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