Thursday, July 29, 2010

Leaving Home, With Indian Ocean

                “Eliminate the major cities – Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, and Bangalore and take the concert to say.... REC Warangal; No Indian band will last on the stage, except for Indian Ocean.”

 – Shantanu Moitra.

                These words might sound very exaggerated, but when you submit yourself to the music of these four people, who as a unit call themselves Indian Ocean, you’ll find yourself voluntarily nodding like a kid who has just been given a lesson on gravity. I had seen them live for the first time in 2006, when they performed in Delhi University. A friend told me, "Fool, you haven't heard of the song Kandisa?" I realize now how ignorant I was back then. They blew my mind. The documentary “Leaving Home – The Life and Music of Indian Ocean” by Jaideep Varma, is a trip every self-respecting Indian Ocean fan needs to take. It’s not a sneak peek into the lives of the band members, it’s an encyclopaedia. Jaideep, whose work I’ve previously seen in a low budget dark comedy called “Hulla” and whose book about the Bombay Local Trains called “Local” has for a long time been on my need-to-read list, spent a lot of time with the band, and the effort clearly shows. On second thought, spending time with Indian Ocean – who wouldn’t want to do that?

                I would not waste time praising the music of Indian Ocean over here – it’s just not necessary. But equal praise is due to the way this documentary was made, giving the fan everything he wants, without alienating the new comer. The entire feature has been divided into segments named after songs of the band, and together they cover the entire story. The story of how Sushmit Sen (guitars) first formed the band with Asheem Chakravarty (Tabla, Vocals) back in the mid eighties, and how they performed professionally for the first time in Roorkee sets off the pace for the next decade in the film. One of the factors that make this film even better is, unlike most other documentaries, it lets go of narration by the film-maker or some famous star. Because everything is being narrated by the band members themselves, you feel that they are talking directly to you.

                The cameos in the film by ex-band mates, some living, some unfortunately not, make it even more interesting - as you get to meet people who you otherwise would have never known about. One such person who deserves mention is the Late Indrajit Dutta, a PWD architect who quit as a bassist from the band for a government job. His regret of leaving the band is as hidden as my love for music and food. But then again, after Indrajit quit the band, they found Rahul Ram(bass, vocals), whose stage presence and off-stage activities with contemporary social causes have sort of defined what Indian Ocean has become today. A clip showing him flawlessly sing an Adivasi song in that tone, makes you wonder if this guy is actually for real. Real he is, and so are his experiences with Adivasis and the Narmada movement, stories of which, including dancing and singing in a police lock up, are nicely narrated by the charismatic bearded man himself.

                Early nineties saw the band go through a number of line-up changes, including the departure of the original drummer Shaleen Sharma, and him getting replaced by the current regular Amit Kilam(drums, percussions, vocals), who was in his early twenties when he joined the band. A Kashmiri Pandit who knew his calling was music since a very early age, caught the eye of Sushmit when a band called Gravy Train, where Amit was the drummer, performed after Indian Ocean at a college fest. His roots show in the music he plays, especially in the song “Kaun”, where he sings the Kashmiri parts of the song, whose words were penned by his mother. In fact the film goes into a lot of details, trying to show how most of the popular Indian Ocean songs took shape. It’s almost like watching an extended episode of VH1 Storytellers, but it’s better in the sense that it does away with all the jazzy stage restrictions, and the stupid manipulated audience.

                The anecdotes in the film range from anything about Rahul’s chemistry professor friend who sang “Kandisa” when drunk, to a scene where Rahul shows his annoyance at a neighbour in their Karol Bagh home, who thinks that Indian Ocean shoots porn movies in the house. My favourite though is the one about twenty odd VHP activists attempting to disrupt a peace concert in Baroda post Godhra Riots, and ending up dancing like groupies on having listened to the kind of music Indian Ocean plays.

                Honestly, this review does not do justice to the film. Go ahead and watch it.

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