Hot Gas

Music,Musings et al

Month: October, 2012

Talaash (Ram Sampath)

Muskaaein Jhooti Hai reminded me of Shantanu Moitra’s Kaisi Paheli Zindagani with its seductive jazzy appeal. Suman Sridhar does a fabulous job; her girl-woman voice is a fresh change from Sunidhi’s, who any other MD would have preferred. Jee Le Zara, by a small margin, is a cut above the rest; it is easy on the ears and Vishal holds forth fabulously. The remix isn’t too bad either. Jiya Lage Na is fashionable in the way it overlays a semi-classical style over a modern orchestration template. Ravindra Upadhyay is, again, a counter-intuitive choice over Sukhwinder Singh and acquits himself well. Ram Sampath closes out the album with two numbers sung by himself – the portentous Hona Hai Kya which gets the techno sound just right and the hopeful Laakh Duniya Kahe.

All the songs have simplistic yet melodious tunes which can be a good thing and a bad thing; I wonder if this simplicity  will mean that these songs will get assimilated faster and fade out faster as is happening with every listen. Yet I like how this soundtrack retains a thematic consistency, throughout, even while sticking to the one romantic song-one sad song formula. Every song is tinged with a sense of alienation and melancholy and that counts for something. A solid album.

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The Inner Self Awakens (Agam)

I am ashamed I didn’t discover Agam earlier but, damn, are they good! I have been listening to their debut album The Inner Self Awakens over the past one week and it is just scintillating to see Carnatic influences come together so well in a progressive rock format. I love the entire album but three pieces really stood out – Dhanashree Tillana, Boat Song and Malhar Jam. The Tillana is a fabulous effort at reinventing something that is already ingrained in our minds; instead of the tabla (which is also there in the interludes), the drums and guitar provide the contrapuntal and it is really something to see an electric guitar scale an alaap so majestically. The rendition by Harish Sivaramakrishnan is crisp and doesn’t lose much nuance despite the sprightly pacing. Harish’s vocals, again, stand out in Boat Song; the grand elaborate solos in the two interludes are breath taking, not just for their beauty but also, for their audacity and the substitution for vocalising is a terrific idea. Malhar Jam is more conventional but, like comfort food, pleasant in its nuanced, mesmeric repetition. Swans of Saraswati is more layered in terms of orchestration although it is more pastiche than an organic whole of a song in the way the interludes seem to float around indifferently. Brahma’s Dance spruces up the invocation nicely and also introduces the elusive violin into the mix.

When Rudra channels its Shiva’s angst through the guitar, in its obviousness lies the puzzling question – Why did it take so long for bands to figure out something so obvious? So much of traditional music is waiting to be produced in this fashion and rock, contrary to expectation, can play the perfect counterfoil. I already can’t wait for Agam’s next album.       

Help the band by buying original music here. It might seem expensive but it is worth every penny – http://www.oklisten.com/album/the_inner_self_awakens

Barfi (Anurag Basu)

barfi-03

Basu, man, take a bow. You deserve it. This is hands down the best Hindi movie of the year. 

Where do I start now? This is such a gorgeous piece of filmmaking that I want to give it a hug. Can you hug a movie? I just did. The greatest thing about this movie, and there are many great things, is the exploitation of the cinematic medium for what it is and stands for. Many directors forget that they have the advantage of a visual medium where they can just show things and emotions; that there is no need to tell. This is what the director and screen writer do here. With the conceit of two disabled protagonists, Basu had his task cut out while making a two and half hour movie but it is also a necessity. And he passes it with flying colours. This is the one of the most visual of films where just the camera narrates.

Another great thing is the central dilemma in the film and how beautifully Basu realises it – the conflict between practical love and pure love. It is one of those universal ideas that screenwriters never tire from, but Barfi is an intelligent and original exploration of it. Basu encapsulates this idea in the form of Shruti (Ileana) and the recurring motif of love & regret seemingly provides the answer. It is also as life affirming and uplifting as a movie about disabled people can be, in times where Bhansali has made a business of milking tears with depressive pieces like Black and Guzaarish. This is not about the triumph of the disabled; this is not about them overcoming their disabilities. It is about them transcending all that – the disability is an immediate presence but also an afterthought – and managing to lead a graceful, normal existence and spreading more love than we can imagine. The irony is supposedly on us; for listening to the head in the matters of the heart and complicating things while Barfi and Jhilmil are blissfully unaware of such choices but lead a happy, glorious existence. That you never think of these two as being less capable than we are is a wonderful quality of this film. Basu also demonstrates this in the umpteen instances where these two communicate (also captured in Neelesh Mishra’s exquisite lines “nazar ki siyahi se likhenge tujhe hazaar chittiyaan, khamosh jhidkiyaan”); through mirrors, through lights, by throwing shoes, through fireflies – practically everything else apart from the physical act of talking becomes a mode of communication.

This movie is also an example of how a movie can create its own mood; take the instance of Barfi’s mother dying during child birth. A director can turn this into a veritable tearjerker. Basu, instead, glosses over it in the cheery Ala Barfi song with some of the most astonishing black humour seen on screen (Radio On Hua, Amma Off Hui, Toota Har Sapna). How a potential fifteen minutes sequence gets condensed into three lines! Then there is the use of troubadours as a narrative element after Life in a Metro; here too they seem to stand witness to this story at important junctures, as if they were chronicling it. There are infinite, little flourishes that add up and make Barfi memorable.

Barfi! Bollywood Movie HD Wallpapers

The performances are uniformly outstanding. Ranbir is the heart and soul of the film; what a great performance this is – purely physical and expressive. He doesn’t talk and he doesn’t need to if he can convey emotion and feeling so well. In his role as Barfi he traverses the entire gamut of emotions and never, for once, falters. Priyanka (Jhilmil) trumps everything she has done so far as an autistic girl; she is impressively restrained. Also extra marks for research on autism. Ileana, for me, was a revelation. As a woman torn between two men she is graceful and sensitive. She is also the most beautiful woman I have seen on screen and her presence lights up every frame. The importance of Shruti to the narrative cannot be overemphasised; although Barfi is the overarching presence in the film it is Shruti that lends emotional heft and credence to the film. In a crucial moment, she has to decide whether she wants Barfi for herself or let go of him, so he can go back to Jhilmil. Basu’s presentation of this conflict is almost oppressive for us, the audience, and Ileana’s reactions in those scenes confirm her talent as an actress. Saurabh Shukla, as the local policeman, balances over the top comedy with bursts of poignancy. Perfect. I am tempted to add Darjeeling and the toy train as the other protagonists; they are that important. This is a movie that reminded me of the charm of small towns again and the places I grew up in. I wonder why Basu set it in Darjeeling because, strangely, it only feels natural that something like this should happen there.

I already love the music by Pritam. It is magnificent and enhances the movie, richly, along with the quirkily dramatic background score.  

Barfi is the most magical thing I have seen on screen.      

PS: Yes, you are right. It has about five minutes of copied scenes.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan (AR Rahman)

Challa is zingy and mint fresh; Rabbi is good and a perfect choice for the song (although I don’t see how his vocals suit SRK). Also the guitar-drums combo is a complete winner. The pathos of Saans is conveyed more in Gulzar saab’s lyrics than in Rahman’s tune which has a curiously time worn 90s sound. Ishq Shava brings the soundtrack back on track; simple tune with a catchy hook which Rahman builds to a trance like effect. Heer is completely Gulzar saab’s song, the poignant meshing of Heer’s story with Mirza Sahebaan to depict the protagonist’s emotional state; Harshdeep sonorous vocals give the song great depth while Rahman is content with composing a simple, folksy tune. Jiya Re is the best song of the soundtrack, easily; Rahman comes up with a terrific tune and the orchestration with the prominent guitar and violin sound is lovely. Neeti Mohan’s singing is spunky and effortless while Gulzar saab’s lyrics capture the joie de vivre of a free spirit to perfection (I especially love the chhote chhote lamhon ko, titili jaise pakdo to, haathon mein rang reh jaata hai, pankhon se jab chhodo to..lines). This is great song. Rahman constructs Jab Tak Hai Jaan like a contemplative, background piece with alaap interludes fusing into each other. Otherwise its a song in the Chopra mould in terms of structure and orchestration. The Ishq Dance instrumental and Poem are passable.

The Chopra-Rahman-Gulzar collaboration does not reach up to the fantastical expectations I had but, again, I should have known; Rahman appears to be at his inventive best when he is freed from Bollywood’ish genre considerations (Read – with directors like Rakesh Mehra, Mani Rathnam, Gautham Menon and Imtiaz Ali). Here he appears to be reigned in by the Chopra tag and does his best within those confines. Gulzar saab has his magical touch intact, not more visibly than, in songs like Challa and Heer where he is at his philosophical best and Jiya Re. Still, a good soundtrack with songs that will last.  

Narcopolis (Jeet Thayil)

“….my knees dissolved in the anhydride rush that disconnects neurons from nerve endings, obliterates bone and tissue, and removes anxiety by removing all possibility of pain. I thought: If pain is the thing shared by all living creatures then I’m no longer human or animal or vegetal; I am unplugged from the tick of metabolism; I am mineral.”

Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis is a haze of a book where illusion and delusion wash over reality, sometimes the former consuming the latter and sometimes the latter subsuming the former, to evoke the sort of nihilistic profoundness that so many writers seek to achieve. Thayil writes in short phantasmagorical dreamscapes giving the narrative a fleeting, ephemeral quality and brings the subterranean nooks and crannies of the city to the forefront, the Shuklaji Street with its decadent opium dens and prostitute houses. This is obviously not a complete picture of the city; it is in fact about the overlooked parts of the city; the parts only few know about, most want to ignore and some want to forget.

However, around a 100 pages in, I was slightly concerned whether the book was merely a stylistic exercise, a look-how-coolly-I-will-depict-the-state-of-being-drugged sort of a book; the prose version of Kashyap’s kinetic visuals of Dev D tripping in the eponymous movie. But the author slowly builds up human relationships, fragile and subtle ones, that are as much there as they are not, but definite bonds between these addicts and suppliers (who are again addicts themselves) and those around. We start empathising with them; their problems become our own and their dilemmas our own. Towards the end of the book, the prose also acquires a elegiac quality as it quietly laments the loss of cultures swept aside by the tides of civilisation and the loss of people to nasha; these people who had festered in their hallucinations and lived by their primal instincts in their small, little world in the megapolis; a bubble like world oblivious to outside influence – except when a riot happens – and the oblivion in itself. As a pimp observes during one of the umpteen opium fuelled conversations, this book is about people who “got fucked and fucked up.By the end, each one of the addicts is dead, many for the choices they make and consumed by the vicissitudes of the life they lead, except for a couple, in the inexorable sweep of time. This book is also a lot about memory in an unassuming way, a theme it keeps playing on repeatedly, be it in the troubled dreams of the characters or their troubled pasts. All this draws us in. Some of them leap out and it hurts when characters, we develop an affinity to, pass away. When people die, their memories come alive. Narcopolis rises above its material and is a dazzling, haunting read.