Banarasiya bana rasiya


Source: Something To Sing About 


Rockstar: The Music and the Movie

‘Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.’ – is a one-line, reductive message one can construe from Imtiaz Ali’s latest movie Rockstar. But as I mull over this well-crafted, brilliantly edited movie with an astounding soundtrack (and background score), I realize that this is one of those movies can’t be defined in terms of such meager measures. Like in real life, the joyful and romantic moments pass by in a jiffy, while the sad ones hover around indeterminately. The way the story unfolds in the first half – by the means of snippets, interspersed with flashbacks, and even news clippings – also underscores this point. The masterful craftsmanship by the director Imtiaz Ali is superbly complemented by A R Rahman’s music in this angst-ridden journey of a Rockstar. The story-telling relies and weighs heavily on silent moments, unspoken words, and anguished fury, and often resort to the pulsating soundtrack to express the lead character’s musings, agony and dilemma.

When I first heard that Mohit Chauhan had voiced 9 out of 14 songs in this album, I was skeptical if he would be able to pull it off. But as I heard ‘Phir Se Ud Chala’ (few months ago when the album released), the choice of Chauhan started to make sense. He hails from the mountainous regions of Himachal Pradesh and has mastered the local pahadi folk music style. His reverie-inducing, dreamy, almost careless rendition is exactly what this song needed. The song has a very effervescent quality. Nothing repeats itself, but there’s an underlying order in apparent randomness. The beginning chorus reminded me of the ‘Sone ka pitara’ line from the ‘Jahan Piya’ [Pardes] – which is probably influenced by a traditional wedding song in Northern India.

Imtiaz Ali effectively utilizes most of the 14 tracks. The only song that doesn’t get materialized fully on screen is ‘Tum Ko’ (the Kavita Krishnamurthy version). Harshdeep Kaur’s playful ‘Kateya Karoon’ plays in the background and conveys Heer’s adolescent and naughty ambitions well. I kept thinking that ‘Kun Fayakun’ was somewhat redundant – if not forced into the script. It doesn’t really add anything to the story. (Except for the fact that Shammi Kapoor notices him at the dargah, but that could have happened anywhere.) The whole spiritual awakening was an unnecessary detour that was irrelevant to Jordon’s transformation into an artist. The actual transformation was triggered by his broken heart and lost love; the Sufi spiritualism seemed out of place in Jordan’s life given his character.

‘Jo Bhi Mein’ is so melodious and instantly catchy that it’s hard to believe that Irshad Kamil wrote the lyrics of this song first and ARR developed the tune afterwards. I just loved the guitar work (by Kabuli and Shon Pinto) complimenting the simple tune, and Kamil’s commendable poetry. This song is picturized during the early phases of Jordon’s musical journey – before the real artist is born. Hence the undemanding/easy tune makes sense. On the other hand, the anthem-like, guitar-laden, stunning ‘Sadda Haq’ comes much later as he matures as a musician. The contrast in Ranbir’s expressions between these two songs is enough for one to realize how much hard work he has put in to portray this character. The way Ranbir has performed this song, the tensed nerves on his neck, fuming mouth shouting into the microphone, moody head swings, and angry eyes full of chutzpah make you believe that you are looking at a true Rockstar who really knows the game. Notice how he hastily shakes his fingers several times before starting to play guitar. These small yet careful touches by Ali and Ranbir make this movie a treat to watch.

‘Sheher Mein’ was such a perfectly psychedelic pastiche (ARR doing Nadeem Shravan!) that I was a bit disappointed that it was reduced to few lines in the movie. All the interjections (‘Tum sun nahi rahe ho yaar’ etc.) were retained though, and serve well as comic relief. This is a fun song, something ARR has rarely done before. Other amusing song in this album is ‘Hava Hava’ with a complicated structure where ARR takes some inspirations from gypsy rhythm and sound. Chauhan does Masakkali again, and his voice suits this song well. I especially liked the lyrics, a Raja-Rani anecdote that also reflects (in parts) Heer’s dilemma as she trudges along her unhappy marriage.

Before watching the movie, I felt that the fireworks of acoustic and electric guitar riffs and heavy drum beats (by Shivmani) in ‘Naadaan Parindey’ tried a little too hard to take this song to a climactic height that it wasn’t really meant for. I felt that the extraneous orgy of sounds in this song was borderline dissonant at times. But this song was metamorphosed very successfully on screen – again, kudos to Ali and Ranbir. This is the only song that breaks the one-singer rule as some of Ranbir’s lines were rendered by ARR. In spite of ARR’s presence in the elevated mukhda, I think the song really gets life when Mohit enters with ‘Kaate chahe kitna…’ and ‘Kaga re kaga re…’ lines.

Surprisingly for a love story, there are no duets in this movie. And ‘Tum Ho’ is the only song that Jordon actually sings to Heer. (All other songs are either in the background, or are performed by Jordon to some general audience.) And I thought this was a wonderful way to end this movie – it shows snippets from the times they spend together. Not only we see Jordan sing for and to the object of his inspiration, but we are also reminded yet again how short-lived their romance was; how little time they actually spent together. (A side note: Their adolescent love affair started as a gimmick which involved list-making of things that are social taboo. Eventually, as their relationship matured, they end up breaking one of the biggest social customs – their illicit love affair carries on in complete disregard of the institution of marriage. How ironic!)

Finally, the cinematic pinnacle of the movie for me was the picturization of ‘Aur Ho’. Not only did ARR put Chauhan’s singing ranges on anvil (and Chauhan scored triumphantly), but Ali’s direction, Anil Mehta’s cinematography, Kamil’s lyrics, and the display of emotions/dilemma by the lead actors also attain an artistic high in this song. Some of the best lines in the album come from this song – like ‘Tujhe pehli baar mein milta hoon, har dafa’ and ‘Mein hasrat me ek uljhi dor hua…’. And what can I say about the way this song ends – that unruly kiss at the end of a passionate performance! Loved it! Imtiaz Ali, take a bow.

[Picture Courtesy: The official movie site of Rockstar]

A R Rahman or R D Burman?

I had some engaging discussions with friends recently about who the greatest Indian music composer is. For the most part, the debates revolved around two legends: A R Rahman and R D Burman. (Due to our limited knowledge of Tamil music industry, we kept Illayaraja out of consideration.)

I won’t get into why I think A R Rahman is the greatest, but behind the discussions about the aspects of music (melody, genre, innovation, etc.) I felt that there lies some cognitive biases that affect how we compare the present with the past.

While comparing a contemporary artist — or a piece of art — with a historical one, I think there’s a hidden yet perceptible hesitation to grant more eminence to a contemporary artist than to a veteran. I propose several theories that might explain why:

(1) The veteran artists are often widely respected and revered by our generation as well as our elders that any comparison that do not favor the senior artists is perceived as disrespectful.

(2) Cultural pessimism. Every generation believes that people are not up to the standards of their parents and grandparents. Be it the music industry, or movie industry, cultural values, or the overall state of society, we think that things are getting worse. This pessimism (that our culture is in decline) is one of the reasons why many of us can’t accept that a contemporary music composer (such as A R Rahman) can be better than someone like R D Burman.

(3) We tend to compare the ‘current’ with the ‘best from the past’ — and as a result, the current (music) seems to pale in comparison. Today’s listeners have enjoyed (and endured, if you’re not a fan) pretty much everything that A R Rahman has created. But when it comes to old songs, we are familiar with only those that stood the test of time. Comparing all of the current songs with the best of the past  is unfair — which conveniently overlooks mediocre numbers from the past to affirm that old is gold.

Surely a bulk load of junk was created in the 60’s and the 70’s as well, we just don’t remember those very well. Today’s junk is more accessible — and hence, intrusive and annoying — than yesterday’s.

(4) The diversity of contemporary music industry implies that much trash will be produced. Those suboptimal, low-quality songs should be kept in perspective and we should consider them as a luxury that only a more progressive, innovative and diverse music industry can afford.

All these arguments, in and of themselves, are not enough to conclude that the contemporary music is superior. All I am saying is these cognitive biases tend to impale our ability to make a fair comparison. I am sure there are biases that work in the opposite direction as well. Can you think of any?

Gandhi’s Rendezvous with Movies

I thought Ram Rajya (1943) was the first and only movie that Gandhi had ever seen. So I was quite surprised when I found out that it was not the only movie that he had watched. Moreover, it appears that it was not even his first one!

According to this website he watched Ram Rajya in 1945:

‘Ram Rajya’ was shown to Mahatma Gandhi in 1945, when he was convalescing at Juhu. His secretary, Smt. Sushila Nayar, had given Vijay Bhatt only 40 minutes for “Bapu” to see the film. But the movie so engrossed him, that Mahatma Gandhi saw it for over 90 minutes, uninterrupted. Since it was a ‘moun’ [silence] day for him, he gave Bhatt a pat on the back at the end, to show his appreciation.

Ram Rajya, by the way, was a very successful film which ran for 100 weeks in a theatre in Bombay. The director and producer of the movie, Vijay Bhatt, went on to make another classic in 1952: Baiju Bawra.

In Gandhi: The Man, His People and the Empire Rajmohan Gandhi writes about the other movie that Gandhi had seen [Chapter 14: Rejected, Page 497]:

Twenty years earlier, released from Yerawada jail after an attack of appendicitis, Gandhi – a son of Porbandar – had gone to convalesce by the sea at Juhu in North Bombay. In May 1944 he turned once more to the Juhu beach, where he was again entertained by the Morarji family. On 21 May he was persuaded to watch Mission to Moscow, a Hollywood movie made to popularize America’s alliance with the Soviet Union, possibly the first talkie he had ever seen. It did not attract him to Stalin or Communism. [Emphasis is mine.]

So there. Michael Curtiz’s Mission to Moscow (1943) was the first movie that the Mahatma had watched. And that makes Ram Rajya the first Indian movie to have been seen by Gandhi.

[Hat Tip: At the Edge]

No One Talks Like That

In an old post on Sulekha, Abbas Tyrewala (the director of Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na) mulls over the frustrations of a contemporary scriptwriter who tries to make dialogues written in Hindi work (i.e. sound genuine). The subtitle of his article reads:

“In which a frustrated scriptwriter attempts to explore and expose the myth of Hindi as a spoken language, in a pathetic display of the defensive instinct towards his stilted film scripts.”

Tyrewala argues that dialogues in shuddh Hindi hardly sound like ‘people talking’. They appear rather stilted and false. (Remember when Dharmendra got on Om Prakash’s nerves by his insistence on using shuddh Hindi in Chupke Chupke?) The logical and empirical conclusion, according to the talented writer-director-lyricist, is that “no one talks like that” in real life.

His assertion, that except for a small quanta of our society (Allahabad?) very few people actually use shuddh Hindi in day-to-day conversations, is kind of obvious, or at least hard to refute. (I don’t claim to have sufficient knowledge on this subject though. According to 2001 Census of India 422,048,642 people claimed Hindi as their mother tongue, but we don’t know how many of them use dialects as opposed to shuddh Hindi.) But I found his comments about the synthetic and scientific nature of Hindi particularly interesting:

Hindi is a language of twentieth century scholastic expression that enjoyed a promotional thrust in the post-independence era — a synthetic language has never been adopted by a people. At least not for significant length of time.

As a result, it has no traces of the idiom, the colour, the richness that stems from a familiar misuse and abuse of words and phrases. It lacks the poignant clusters of words, which in their literal relation to each other mean absolutely nothing, or perhaps something quite in contrast to their understood implications, which may be profound or incisive or just plain silly. These elements are rendered almost impossible by the very scientific nature of the language — it is so fixed and harsh in its pronunciation that there is no question of play, pun and misinterpretation. A certain syllable is that syllable only: unflinching in its dull fixedness, invulnerable to the seductions of creative interpretation.

A lot of this probably applies to Sanskrit – which, even in the Vedic age, was almost solely used in academic discourse and poetic reveries. Prakrit was the language that was commonly spoken – it was also referred to as the “kitchen language”. The etymology of “Sanskrit” {perfected, artificial} is based upon an implicit comparison with “Prakrit” {primordial, natural}, the language actually spoken. (Source: W Doniger, The Hindus: An Alternate History) And since Hindi derives much of its form and vocabulary from Sanskrit, some of this rigidity seem to have organically flown into Hindi as well. Hindi, in its pure form, does seem to be afraid of borrowing words from other languages (Urdu, Persian, Tamil, English etc.) and hence lacks the organic rawness and casualness that comes from such natural confluence.

Tyrewala’s frustrations as a scriptwriter-who-writes-in-Hindi-but-thinks-in-English might have more to do with his own knowledge of Hindi language (or lack thereof) and his personal preferences or biases, but his remarks about the rigidity of languages are spot on, and applicable to any language that takes itself too seriously.

Related Posts: A Barren Grammatical Exercise, Like an Ever-flowing River


P. S. Abbas Tyrewala seems to have found a good balancing solution by writing his first movie Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na mostly in Hinglish. That is how most people in Indian metros talk. Interestingly, he didn’t just insert English words into Hindi dialogues, but also translated English idioms into Hindi — for example: “Aur uske muh mein thi chandi ki chamchi.” (Born with a silver spoon in his mouth.) Nice!

Road, Movie

I am a fan of actor Abhay Deol, who has consistently delivered fantastic cinema in last 5 years. In a very short time period, his name quickly became synonymous with quality cinema, powerful scripts and understated yet commendable performance. All of his first five movies were directed by debutant directors — Socha Na Tha, Ahista Ahista, Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd., Ek Chalis Ki Last Local, and Manorama Six Feet Under. He definitely has a knack for choosing the right scripts and talented directors. His last two movies – Dev D and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! – were solid testaments of his acting skills. (It’s ironic how he is the master of one particular quality that both of his cousin brothers, Sunny and Bobby Deol, completely lack – subtlety!)

His next release is going to be Road, Movie directed by Dev Benegal. It’s being premiered at the Toronto Film Festival today as I write this!

The sneak-peek (below) looks very promising — beautiful cinematography, and haunting background music — can’t wait to see this one!

Zindagi Ek Safar

The day before yesterday (August 4th) was the 80th birth anniversary of the great playback singer Kishore Kumar. Below is a two-hours long documentary Zindagi Ek Safar narrated by Ameen Sayani (in 10 parts).

Jai Ho!

Being an ardent fan of his music, it was an enthralling experience for me to see A R Rahman accept his Academy Awards in the Best Song and Best Original Score categories. (I was even more out-of-control than Anil Kapoor!) Many congratulations to him, Gulzar (who shared the Oscar for his song Jai Ho, but was not present at the ceremony), and also to the entire cast and crew members of Slumdog Millionaire for a spectacular victory.

Bollywood is a widely recognized “brand” in the West, but Slumdog Millionaire will be remembered as the movie that made Bollywood a household name in the United States. And as Vir Sanghvi mentioned on his blog, any conversation about World Music will be incomplete now without mentioning A R Rahman. 

Meanwhile, India remains divided in its reactions towards SM. There are those who scorned at its “negative” depiction of India. And there are those who, in spite of the fact that the movie is produced by two American studios and directed by a British man, are celebrating its victory as one of their own.

In my opinion, the movie is fantastic and quite entertaining, but over-rated. (For the record, I am neither disappointed nor offended by the portrayal of India in this movie. I don’t think that it is any director’s responsibility to show the complete picture of a society.)  But I am happy for the movie’s success and especially for the global recognition that it has brought to A R Rahman, Bollywood, and Indian movie industries.

Since the dawn of multiplex cinema in the last decade (in India), we’ve seen Bollywood slowly starting to grow out of the singing-and-dancing, good-guy-bad-guy format and becoming more experimental and creative with its craft. And then… here comes Hollywood, embracing the feel-good, rags-to-riches, escapist nature of cinema that we’ve just started to shed off. Will the global success of SM create a reprisal of escapism in Bollywood movies or will the mingling of talents beween the two biggest movie industries in the world accelerate the growth of meaningful and artistic cinema in India? Well, I guess both can happen simultaneously, as Bollywood and India are big enough that they “dwarf even the sky”! (Danny Boyle’s quote from his acceptance speech last night.)

P.S. This article suggests that there’s an inverse correlation between global GDP and the mood of cinema (“as the wealth and prosperity ballooned, cinema became darker”) and tries to explain why a feel-good movie like Slumdog Millionaire won in this year’s Oscar race.

The Second Chance (Ghajini movie review)

“If life gives me a second chance…”

“…I would do the same mistakes again.” is what A. R. Murugadoss, who directs the Hindi remake of the “original” Ghajini in Tamil, is likely tell you.

“Well yes, accurately and vigorously, may be. After all, they worked the first time around!”


Yes, there are no twin antagonists here – in Tamil version they merely existed so that the cinematographer can play some cool tricks during the fighting sequences. Yes, in spite of her immensely limited acting skills, Jiah Khan does look more convincing in her role as compared to the actress who played this role in Tamil version. Yes, arr’s background score is relatively easy on ears. (I loved the alaap in the final scene, right after Sanjay kills Ghajini and basks in his 15-minute glory of the satisfaction from revenge.) Yes, the final scene when the second antara of  ‘Kaise Mujhe’ plays in the background (a beautiful melody by arr that pours like honey* see footnote), elevates it to a level that the Tamil version was never able to reach. And yes, Aamir’s acting is superb. Mostly. But not quite enough to make the cut.

The reason why I did not like Ghajini is threefold:

  1. I saw the Tamil “original” and did not like it mostly because of the way story was executed. The exaggerated expressions of the protagonist (along with the ear-deafening background score) and loop-holes in the script were real downers. But I saw a lot of potential in the content. When Aamir signed-up to do a remake, I was hoping that this man realized that potential, and will better the script. Keeping his perfectionist personality in mind, I was hoping he would do his due diligence in researching the anterograde amnesia syndrome and also help to better capture the precarious condition of Sanjay’s character. There were many opportunities that could have been easily reached. Murugadoss completely failed to explore or even capture the depths of Sanjay’s sentiments. Instead, he gave us a character that shrieked like an animal, who goes from a state of utter confusion and helplessness to bursting rage in rocket speed. Foaming at the mouth and all.
  2. There are probably many things that Bollywood can learn from Tamil cinema. But the exaggerated fight sequences (with necks bending at 180 degrees), few speedy-snappy zoom-in zoom-out camera shots followed by a slow-mo shot of the Hero walking towards the camera, utter disregard to characterizing of the antagonist (he merely exists so that the Hero can beat him up in the final scene), addressing every other man as “sir” (as Sunita does), referring to your boyfriend as a “lover” (as Kalpana does) are not one of them. 
  3. I am a big fan of the movie Memento (Christopher Nolan, in general). The greatness of Memento (ah, the sheer genious of the script and screenplay) and mediocrity of Ghajini is so wide and deep that it makes all the flaws of Ghajini even more perceptive. Granted, the additional layer of Lenny’s (Sanjay’s counterpart in Memento) motivation which is revealed in the end with a pull-the-rug-from-under-your-feet twist, and the chronological order of the screenplay put Memento in a totally different genre than that of Ghajini. But after all, Ghajini is inspired, quite heavily, by Memento – so a comparison is unavoidable.

Sanjay’s character is shown to be suffering from anterograde amnesia. We’re informed by the doctor that he lost all of his memory (except some fuzzy recollection of what happened during that unfortunate incident). First, this is inaccurate description of anterograde amnesia. The patient actually retains all of his memory before the incident and looses the ability to store any new memory after the incident. And second, this actually weakens the core subject of the movie – revenge. If Sanjay doesn’t remember anything else about his previous life (how he fell in love, his time spent with Kalpana, the awesome-ness of Kalpana’s character etc.), then I think the degree of Sanjay’s aggression and extreme desire for vengeance falls somewhat short of justification.

The emotional precariousness of Sanjay’s character is left unexplored, as I’ve mentioned earlier. Even in the movie Memento, with half running time than that of Ghajini, the lead character is given few dialogues that gives us an idea of his resolution (for wanting to take a revenge that he’s not going to remember after 15 minutes) and the pains of loosing one’s ability to sense/track time (his wound becomes “fresh” every 15 minutes):

  • “My wife deserves her vengeance. Doesn’t make any difference whether I know about it. Just because there are things I don’t remember doesn’t make my actions meaningless. The world doesn’t disappear when you close your eye, does it?”
  • “I lie here, not knowing how long I’ve been alone. So how can I heal? How am I supposed to heal if I can’t feel… time?”

Also, it was another failure of the director that the final fight sequence (although much better than the twin-dragon-in-girl’s-hostel fight sequence in the Tamil version) was not able to generate an adrenalin rush that a movie like Ghulam, for instance, was able to.

I am more disappointed by Aamir than anyone else though. First Fanaa and now Ghajini. I am not sure if I am going to retain my enthusiasm for the release of Aamir’s next movie now.

Previous movie reviews: Aamir, No Smoking, Satya. 

* Footnote: I still can’t help but notice every time I hear Benny Dayal (mis)pronounce Jheel as Jeel. The exact same word that he mispronounced in ‘Aawaz Hoon Main’ from Yuvvraaj! I guess there’s someone else (apart from Murugadoss) who doesn’t appreciate the value of second chance, huh!

The Sanjay Dutt Verdict

Sanjay Dutt is sentenced for 6 years for buying and possessing ammunition from an associate of Mumbai Underworld don Dawood Ibrahim – this was allegedly linked with the main consignment that was used in the tragic 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts.

I personally think that this punishment is a little too harsh.

The minimum sentence for possessing illegal weapon is 5 years. And he already spent about a year and a half in jail after he was convicted several years ago. He has been on bail for many years now, and his conduct while on bail was impeccable without any violations. The imprisonment term could have been less than 6 years.

Sometimes, while trying to avoid being discriminatory against one group or person, one might end up discriminating against the other. The judge might just have ended up giving harsher punishment in order to send the correct message to junta that everyone is treated equal by the law.

However, many people tend to believe that Sanjay Dutt should have received even harsher punishment (or that he deserved 6 years in jail) based on a wrong assumption about his involvement with 93 blasts.

He was already acquitted of terrorism charges (under TADA) last November – because there was no material that proved his connection with the blasts. I am sure our justice department would have done their best to make sure he got punished if he was involved.

This time, Sajnjay Dutt was convicted, found guilty and got punished for illegal possession of weapons (which were never used, by the way) under Arms Act. He’s not a terrorist, and he’s not associated with any terrorism act (which, I think lot of people has difficulty understanding.)

From Times of India: [After giving out the sentence, Judge P D] Kode, however, said the crimes committed by Dutt and his friends [] were not “anti-social, ghastly, inhuman, immoral or pre-planned” and did not cause any harm to the general public.

Those words from revered judge should be kept in mind before we try to evaluate this verdict.

I am not at all suggesting that they should have let him go clean, I am not saying that he is innocent, I am not sympathizing with him due to his troubled past and popularity; I am just questioning the quantum of this punishment. Let’s wait and see what SC has to say.

Having said that, considering the way justice is being meted out recently, we Indians should really feel proud of our judiciary system. Whether people agree with the verdict or not, their faith in the criminal justice system is slowly and steadily being restored for sure. Kudos to our judiciary system!

PS. Thinking about his previous Phoenix-like come-backs after a bunch of nightmarish events in his life (mother died of Cancer, drugs addiction, wife died of tumor, custody battle for her daughter, alleged involvement with Mumbai bomb-blasts, underworld connections, divorce with his second wife and so on…) I am sure Sanjay Dutt will come back vigorously after this setback too.

On a lighter note, consider the following song in the context of Sanjay Dutt’s continuous struggle in his real life:

Ek kahani, khatam to dooji… shuroo ho gayee maamu!

How ironic!

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