Feb 26, 2009

A Red Reading Room

"No weapons", he said.
I believed him.
I was a fool.

"We're gentlemen", he said.
I agreed.
He wasn't one.
(Don't believe that doctor.)

"By the ledge".
"Doesn't the spray make it slippery?".
He smiled and shook his head.

There I was, defenceless, staring into a Smith and Wesson.
"Jump", said Sherlock Holmes to me.

Feb 25, 2009

RMIM Puraskaar 2008 - the results

The soundtrack of Rock On emerged as the top Hindi film album of 2008 after a painstaking process of selection for the RMIM Puraskaar 2008. Academy Award winner (yay!) A.R.Rahman won Best Composer, while Javed Akhtar won Best Lyricist. The awards are a labour of love by Vinay Jain, who was kind enough to invite me to participate in the process as part of the jury (not that I have great music appreciation skills, but I am an enthusiastic listener :-)). I and 11 others spent about a month listening to the 70-plus shortlisted songs (see note on nomination process here), rating them on their individual components of music, lyrics, and singing, as well as the song as a whole.

Though lengthy, this was a highly enjoyable task and resulted in many fascinating questions on what I look for in a film song, and what kind of subliminal biases and preferences were in operation.

Vinay took our individual scores and comments, and compiled a list of winners in various categories. The results can be viewed here (the Hindi version here). The complete list of songs also contains comments made by various jury members. You'll spot that we were a varied bunch - mixed feelings were articulated and that is true of all listeners like us.

My picks for some of the categories were different, so even though these results show what the collective scores say, there is room for dissent. But I definitely agree with the decision not to award the Satish Kalra Sammaan to any 2008 film album. It was a relatively weak year for Hindi film music, despite its few bright spots. (In comparison, 2009 is already off to a smashing start with Dev.D and Delhi 6, with Vishal and others waiting in the wings).

Before I move on to reveal my personal picks, I would like to remind readers of that one of the principal aims of the puraskaar is "to have a review of the year's music and document it for posterity." (read this post for the whole premise). So, if you would like to record your opinions and disagreements, do send feedback to Vinay [giitaayan at gmail dot com] or leave a comment. Would love to hear them. The complete set of scoresheets is not available (I myself haven't seen any of the others) and is left to the discretion of the jury individual members to make available. I'd be happy to send my scores and comments to anyone who wants to have a dekko at them. Vinay's announcement on RMIM covers a few such details.

My own pick for top album was Jodhaa Akbar, which was a very tough choice to make out of my four candidates: Jodhaa Akbar, Jaane Tu..., Rock On!!, and Aamir. My summarised comments on these :

Aamir: had superb lyrics and very good music, especially for a debutant film music composer. It also had depth, with its lyrics forming a partnership with the music that was greater the sum of their parts. I thought it fell short on breadth, that's all.

Rock On!!: interesting concept, nice texture, loved the female solos; the lyrics and the singing (though acceptable for the film's concept) were where it went down a notch. Especially as in comparison to the others. I didn't give it the benefit of a 'rock' album, choosing to apply more conventional hindi film music parameters.

Jaane Tu...: like the film, the album went in familiar territory but managed to come out fresh. Full of pastel colours. But inherently, it didn't have the same depth for me. Perhaps it wasn't meant to.

Jodhaa Akbar: perhaps not everyone's choice of top album. IMHO, there was a lot of inventiveness in this particular album, especially in taking a period piece and applying modern touches to it - which needed some guts. As a result, this album sounds different from other Rahman 'period' soundtracks. The lyrics were competent, the arrangements superb, the melodies dulcet, and embellished the movie well.

Obviously, this is just a point of view. The exercise also illuminated the fact that despite what we hear on FM stations, a lot of decent Hindi film music gets made in one year, and sometimes there are quite a few minor gems that never get the attention they deserve. If a selection like this enables one to broaden one's mind just a touch, it'll have achieved some of its aims.
Previous results: 2006 and 2007
With thanks to friends who responded to a straw poll on Best Album

Feb 18, 2009

He's always on a tangent

The adventures of English in India have always been exciting to observe. Yet another reminder was served up today when a colleague received a rather innocuous email:
Dear [so-and-so],
Please find the attachment of resume. He is my cosine brother. He is in a software Eng.
One could not help but laugh (Harish had tears streaming down his face).

On reflection, this spelling makes a lot of phonetic sense. Initially, I thought this was a case of "when spell-checkers go wild". But thanks to the wisdom of "English is a very funny language" (a.k.a अंग्रेजी बड़ी अवैज्ञानिक भाषा है), I can see why there would be quite a few Indians making that mistake (as this Google search shows).

Thanks to Niranjan for inspiring the headline

Feb 17, 2009

Caliban's Sunrise

In Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, that whiskered pill Percy Gorringe recites a poem about a man who, while watching the sun go down, comments:
"I say,
Doesn't that sunset remind you
Of a slice
Of underdone roast beef?"

Caliban at Sunset
I'm sure if Stilton Cheesewright, 'soulless clod' extraordinaire and muse for the poem, was to see this image of the morning sky from a few months ago, it would doubtlessly remind him of some scrambled eggs.

Feb 16, 2009

Tube Tales

In 1999, the London Magazine Time Out invited its readers to provide ideas for stories based on real life experiences in an around the metro's famous Tube. Eventually, this turned into Tube Tales (official link) - 9 little tales on the underground rail.

Most of the stories are brilliant, both in narration and content. Those rocking coffins have inspired a variety of minor sagas, differing in flavour and treatment. That famous names appear on-screen and behind the camera only enhances the appeal.

To choose from, there's the squirmingly funny H0rny (potentially uncomfortable if you have XY chromosomes!), the musically eloquent Bone (directed by Ewan McGrrreggorr), or the very clever Mr. Cool (Kelly Macdonald as the object of his attention) that opens the compilation. There are comic and dramatic twists, unexpected losses, the supernatural, and the poignant (like Jude Law's A Bird in the Hand). Add to them the pulsating background score.

Highly recommended (warning: NSFW at times). My viewing was courtesy the local British Library, but some of the segments may be available at online video shares.

Feb 15, 2009

The music of Delhi 6, mere yaar

Hardly a month into 2009 and there have been two outstanding Hindi film soundtracks already. While Dev.D burst into the room and grabbed us by the scruff of our necks, A.R.Rahman's latest, Delhi 6, fluttered in through the window with a fragrant breeze. Here's why.

A credits page to weep for
The album's credits has a power-packed batting order: Mohit Chauhan opens with a bang. Javed Ali & Kailash Kher at one down. The music director snatching a dreamy song in the middle. And then all the cameos: the uber-talented Rekha Bhardwaj. A blast from the past in the voice of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Amitabh Bachchan rounding things off. There's even Rajat Dholakia in the background as well.

Unusual, unpredictable, and largely unmatchable.

Dove, oh dear
It takes but a few seconds into masak kali to know this one is up there in Rahman's all time best, which is an astonishing feat even for the man himself. A splendidly onomatopoeic avian paean (take a bow, Mr. Joshi), Mohit Chauhan and the now-trademark accordion (played by Rahman) vie for top honours here. If ever there was a modern song made for Kishore Kumar (something Salil also observed), it was this one. Adding to nostalgia is the old device of the violin-backed lead-ins. I always wish I could find an instrumental dissection of songs - this one in particular.

The best explanation as to the meaning of the term masak kali came from Vibhendu: masak is a term for the roof (a.k.a the chajjaa). Thus, the eponymous pigeon is literally the the bud/darling of the terrace.

Another Rahman trademark is that of the Sufi song. So remarkable has he been in this genre, that a Rahman sufi/qawwali/devotional top 10 is merited. arziyaa.n would comfortably fit into the top echelons of such a list. Many of the others showered praise; this qawwali pleads for succour. Prasoon Joshi's notes for this song in the inlay (a nice touch that) say it was almost a year before he finished writing the lyrics for this tune. With phrases such as marammat muqaddar ki kar do, the time spent was well worth it.

Like khwaaja mere khwaaja, these songs are all about 'feeling'. The singers nail it. The ending with the Bulleh Shah kaafi mora piyaa ghar aaya is neatly placed.

Electric guitars and the rhesus factor
The title song is as far removed from the previous two as one can get. The French lyrics and drawn out female vocals, the electronic modulations, the clever hooks in lyrics and music - very snazzy. kala bandar is interesting: one is prone to dismiss it on a superficial level: we are quite conditioned by the mindless use of rap in Hindi albums. But the lyrics, loaded with some kind of political metaphor, deflect that simple interpretation. This song comes closest to the "the journey within" sub-title of the film. This causes some disorientation in our story expectations: along with the 'ramleela' scenes and the film sub-species of the returning NRI, are we in for a revisitation of the Swades territory?

Continuous delight
dil giraa dafatan taught me a new Urdu word (dafatan means 'suddenly', my dictionary informs). Ash King sings, croons, touches the falsetto ceilings, returns and dwells. The string section breaks out in a lush Celtic melody. There is no full takeoff - the singers soar and swoop. I wrapped my head round this to make sense. Many have spoken of how Rahman and Vishal subvert the traditional grammar of Hindi film music. This song is part recital, not full-blooded Bollywood song. As was rehna tu

The obvious faults in Rahman's Hindi diction are always overshadowed by the sheer sincerity in his singing. That he turns rehanaa tuu into rainaa tuu hardly matters when there are so many interesting elements dotting the canvas. Such as the guitar riff in the background, or the way the singing begins in the middle of the beat cycle, or the lyrics themselves (liked the imagery of people right-hand-in-right-hand).

My big complaint of the album was the lack of an instrumental track. But the 2 minute piece at the end of this song assuages this. Rahman's interest in The Continuum has been noted on this blog earlier and he chose a spectacular way to introduce it to Hindi film music. From what I know, the continuum is after all just an electronic synthesizer whose resulting instrumental feel can be controlled - say, strings or woodwind or others. Here, he goes in for an ethereal flute-theremine sound, playing it with great élan over 2 minutes in a Carnatic classical vein. Goosepimply stuff.

Special appearances
I've yet to get over the disappointment of finding out that Rekha Bhardwaj did not have any Rahman originals to sing. She features in two traditional songs ('supervised' by Dholakia): a smartly mixed folk song gendaa phool (intriguingly, a 'courtesy' credit to Raghuvir Yadav) and a bhajan. A similar effort is Shreya Ghoshal 'jamming' (as the inlay notes put it) with the voice Bade Gulam Ali Khan - a very interesting concept. Wonder what shape it takes on screen.

There's just 50 seconds of Amitabh Bachchan reciting a short ghazal called Noor, but that was enough to make me smile in contentedly. In 17 years, A.R.Rahman has never composed music for an Amitabh Bachchan film (discounting such narrations as in Lagaan or Jodhaa Akbar), and this guest appearance (in film and voice) is the first.

And so...
Delhi 6 is easily a career highlight for the composer and the lyricist. The album is not just figuratively heavy, but literally so, with an actual mirror on the front side! An 'in-your-face' rendering of the introspection referred to in the movie sub-title. A satisfying musical effort that awaits a similar outcome on-screen this Friday.

Feb 9, 2009

'Blood Brothers' - a little film by Vishal Bhardwaj

Blood Brothers is one of four films made for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as part of the AIDS Jaago project on the subject of AIDS awareness. Directed by that unheralded master, Vishal Bhardwaj, this short film of less than 20 minutes is a marvelous piece of drama. Featuring a top cast of Siddharth, Pavan Malhotra, Ayesha Takia, and the peerless Pankaj Kapur (with whom Vishal seems to have a special 'setting' - such is the charm of his cameo), the film has some excellent story-writing.

Without ever tresspassing on 'preach'-ery, the film works both as a piece of socially relevant material as well as pure story-telling. If all this wasn't enough, perhaps you may be interested in the facts that the film was shot by Guillermo Navarro (Pan's Labyrinth among others) and is based (partly) on a story idea by screenwriter Matthew Robbins.

The film can be viewed online. While you are at it, have a look at the others in this pack of four (Mira Nair, Farhan Akhtar and Santosh Sivan completing the quadruple).

Feb 8, 2009


Choices are infuriating. Hard to tell if they were right. Can't tell what success rate one has at making various choices. Especially those that are hard to explain or have no precedents. Those made from a flash of intuitive reasoning (or so one imagines) and not just a random popping of neurons.

No what-if projections either, of what things would have been like if a different path of the fork had been chosen.

So at the end of it all, how do you know if you're falling or still on your feet?

Feb 5, 2009

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2009

The Kala Ghoda Association Arts Festival is currently in progress. A detailed list of activities (as sent out by the Literature Curating team (many of them from Caferati)) can be found below. There are (English/Hindi/Marathi) workshops (for children and adults), writing contests, performances, and also a Lit quiz by our friends from the Bombay Quiz Club.

Here you go:

We have a bunch of writing-related workshops and participatory events for children and adults at Kala Ghoda this year. For more information and information on how to register, please follow the links below.

A series of fun, interactive sessions for children of different ages A Mystery for MindNuts

What If? An introduction to the World of Speculative Fiction (All children's events are in English.)

Some stuff for people who may be of voting age but who still want to learn and have fun doing so.

Translating Marathi Poetry (in Marathi and English)
Writing Fiction (in English)
Creative Writing (in Marathi)
Art Criticism (in Marathi)
Freelance Journalism (in English)

Also on the cards:

- A workshop in Hindi, an introduction to the art and craft of writing for TV serials. As soon as we have the details, we'll post it to the Kala Ghoda Gazette. You'll find the announcement filed under Workshops & Seminars. - A Literature Quiz. If this works out, there will be a short preliminary round, open to all, where you will have to answer a questionnaire. The winners of that round will go through to the live quiz. We'll post this to the Gazette too, if it works out, under Contests. Speaking of contests, if you subscribe to the Caferati Contests newsletter, you already know about this, but just in case.. Our very popular contests for writers are now open to entries. The deadline for submissions is the end of the 8th February, 2008. Here are the links for more details: Poetry Slam