Boarding the Flyte of music!

Music for the average Indian is synonymous with “film” music – be it Bollywood or regional movies. The young urban Indian probably identifies additionally with the Western genres of music. So all in all, a “Chhamak Chhallo”, a “Saada Haq” or a Lady Gaga anthem would probably be what constitutes a typical playlist for most of us. There is definitely no dearth of finding these songs and with the internet, Bluetooth and what have you, right on our finger tips.

But for someone whose musical tastes are “different”, to the extent of being called “weird” or obscure by others around, finding my choice of music has been an onerous experience. Some songs for me have been an association from the audio cassette days, and when the tape recorder went defunct with audio CDs and later mp3s replacing them, I missed quite a few gems from my digital music treasure trove. I never really fancied the idea of converting those cassette tracks into digital format primarily out of laziness and also due to the lack of clarity that it would bring.

To give you a drift of what I kind of music I am talking about consider these – this awesome Raga Hamsadhwani based track titled “Celebration” from the album “Music for the Soul”; this gem is composed by the genius Vishwa Mohan Bhatt with vocals by Sadhna Sargam enough to leave you in a state of ecstasy or another one from the little known movie “Meera”; this Miyan ki Malhar based “Badar Dekh Dari” rendered brilliantly by Vani Jairam. Though I do not understand the intricacies of Hindustani Classical Music, yet I have been drawn to it through such songs – call them semi-classical, light classical or simply raga based compositions.

Along the years, I did try to search for some such tracks on the internet, but with very little success. When Apple launched iTunes and along with it the Music Store, I was in the US at that time. I was definitely excited when I browsed through the vast repertoire of Indian Classical music on iTunes Store. Yet paying 50 rupees for one song was prohibitive to my Indian mind. Later when I reached India, and decided to buy some tracks that I couldn’t get out of my mind, I realized that they were not available for India. I always thought why such a collection couldn’t be made available to us.

I remember saregama launched a venture called hamaracd.com few years ago but it was restricted to their erstwhile HMV label and current offerings. Music Today label, the premier music label for Indian classical and related genres, has had a half-baked online presence over the years. Their habit of repackaging the same tracks under different albums didn’t appeal to me. Furthermore, their cost effective mp3s collections vanished from the market after making a brief appearance. So all in all, there was barely a place to satiate my musical appetite.

My prayers were answered by Flipkart.com, when they launched the Indian music store – Flyte last week. I was more excited than a kid, who had been handed his long-yearned toy, as I browsed through their catalogue and immediately found the pieces that I had been wanting to get my ears on for years. So in a flash, not only did I end up buying the above two tracks, but a lot many more such.

Like all things Flipkart, Flyte is a very well-thought offering. They really have managed to bring together a huge (read HUGE) range of Indian music ranging across music labels,  replete with Album Artwork and song information in the best possible sound quality (most mp3s available in 320kbps quality). There is also the freedom of buying a single song when you don’t want to opt for the whole album. The pricing is decent (though I wish the one/two minute tracks were cheaper), the tracks DRM-free and one can synch it up on multiple devices. So the songs I buy and download can go on my laptop, iPod and phone like any normal mp3. They also offer a download manager that can track and pause-resume large downloads.

I, like all users of Flipkart, have always been impressed with their packaging and crisp delivery turnaround. But with Flyte, I am full-blown fan of Flipkart. With this long due venture, they have done a great service to music lovers like me, who now won’t have to run from pillar to post for listening to those rare gems of Indian music, and have a legal and cost-effective option available. I also hope this brings down the piracy that is so rampant in Indian music.

A big thumps up to Flyte!

March 4, 2012 at 1:31 pm 2 comments

Jessica Loaded!

Our movies have always been a reflection of our society and times. But it is rare for a filmmaker to tread the path of bringing a real life incident verbatim on to celluloid. It is fraught with risk of lacking enough punch and turning into a documentary or being over-dramatized by twisting facts beyond recognition, both of which are likely to shatter its box-office hopes.

I’m not a huge fan of the massive publicity campaign these days, where few weeks before a film’s release, the stars descend on all possible TV shows, even making inroads into our daily saas-bahu sagas. This is exactly what the team of “No One Killed Jessica” was at in the last month. The hype was enormous but except for the talented Rani and underrated Vidya as lead actors, there didn’t seem to be enough to get me excited about the film; even the director was unheard of and most likely one more of our exponentially-growing crop of debutant directors. With these thoughts running in my head, I had barely any expectations from the film as I walked into the hall.

But director Raj Kumar Gupta proved me enormously wrong. He not only had a good story to tell, he also ensured that everything from the screenplay to the performances to the music and editing fell right into place to make it a riveting experience for the audience.

Thanks to media’s coverage over the years, Jessica’s tragedy has become a sort of urban legend in the new millennium India, which put a huge responsibility on the filmmaker to ensure that he didn’t make a mockery of the subject. The initial disclaimer before the start of the film sets the tone and the beginning credits set against images of Delhi on a newspaper with the boisterous “Dilli” track playing in the background indicate that an ingenious presentation lies ahead.

NOKJ is a conscious attempt at realism. The story is the central character and there is no place for redundant romantic inclinations for the lead characters. In fact, while one lead character cries hoarse at not having a boyfriend; the other has no time for them (though the random romp on bed in between work is not ruled out!) This has ensured an uncluttered screenplay with the focus strongly on the subject. Even the songs are more of background scores, which don’t hinder the pace of the narrative and match the feel of the film.

The performances are top notch. Rani as the new age journalist, who is unabashed in her language and mannerism, and will fight to the T for justice, is impeccable in her character. Her aggression as Meira is the hallmark of the film and will be remembered as one of her finest performances. So goes for Vidya as well. As the anguished sister Sabrina, she delivers the finer nuances of her character with a rare sensitivity. She is fragile and unyielding at the same time. And she brings out the contrast of her character alongside Jessica’s and Meira’s very effectively. She almost wins my vote for the better performance, even though her character is restrained and subtle. Even the rest of the cast has been carefully chosen and lend a real look to the story. A special mention for the Page 3 restaurateur, who with her “I’m not sure” alibi, encapsulates the escapist mentality of the urban elite.
The dialogues are also straight from the urban lingo. Some lines ring true and strike a chord. Though, I was a little taken aback at hearing the non-“beeped” invectives being liberally mouthed by the characters. I’m not sure if this “creative freedom” was really required this far to lend authenticity to the characters.

It would have been easy for such a grim topic to turn into a melancholic tale of justice denied. But again the director, through the use of flashbacks and parallel narrative, efficiently takes the viewer on crests and troughs of his story. No patch is too dull and indeed, many scenes, especially the sting operations, are peppered with satire and humour and make you laugh without being slapstick.

NOKJ gives a strong social message on the lines of RDB and LRMB, and calls for an awakening of today’s generation to stand up against the wrongs of our political class and judiciary. I’m not sure if such films can radically change the face of society but they are surely required for each of us to sit up and take notice of the times we are living in.

January 9, 2011 at 6:10 pm Leave a comment

Political Potpourri at its Bollywood Best!

Raajneeti largely lives up to its hype – which in itself is an achievement for Prakash Jha as the movie has constantly been under scanner for one reason or the other in the last year and had generated tremendous interest among the audience. It is no surprise that the film is heavily inspired by the Mahabharat – the supreme Indian epic, and Godfather, besides drawing influences from Indian politics, in particular, the Gandhi family.

As a complete package, it succeeds by keeping the viewer engrossed for its length; there are enough twists and turns to keep you from getting bored through the near 3 hours of its running. However, be warned that you need to have a certain proclivity for electoral politics and bloodshed.

I won’t delve much on the story, but one needs to pay attention to the first half an hour of the movie, as we are introduced to the entire ensemble of characters in the start itself. The rest of the movie is all about how they try to outplay each other in a power struggle to win the state elections and chief-ministership. The premise might appear straightforward but Jha has painted it on a large canvas, with a strong screenplay and tight editing. Given the limited time, he manages to pack in a lot in terms of story, action and sub-plots, but doesn’t make it look overcrowded. As it turns out, the highlight of his movie is the characterizations and the interplay among them.

Each character in the story is etched carefully, and the actors play their parts exceedingly well. It is easy to see the untamed aggression of Bhim in Arjun Rampal, just as we can make out the characters of Karna and Duryodhana in Ajay Devgn and Manoj Bajpai respectively. Even Nana Patekar’s Brij resembles the calm and always composed Krishna from the Mahabharat, even though the character shown here is ruthless and conniving. In fact, Jha has made a conscious attempt to highlight the greys in each of the characters, rather than show it as a battle between the right and the wrong. Even the initially positive character of Ranbir (a superb act as the perplexed Arjun of the epic) ends up corrupted as he gets sucked into the murky world of politics. Jha has thankfully not tried to show the political arena as the war of Dharma (righteousness), and kept it real by showing politics as a means to achieve the end, whatever it takes. In fact, there is even a 3 dialogue “Gita gyan” by Nana Patekar where he very clearly gives this message.

What however could have been better is the excessive, and almost needless, violence. Jha actually went overboard in trying to convey that bloodshed is hand-in-glove with politics. VIP cars blasting at the drop of a hat, chief ministerial candidates wielding the gun to settle personal scores and half the characters being assassinated by the end of a state election is not really what Indian Raajneeti is all about? It could have been kept suggestive rather than having every one blatantly kill everyone else.

Katrina’s character in the movie was a little unrealistic and, in my opinion, another actress would have done better justice to the role. Perhaps she would have been more suited as Ranbir’s foreigner girlfriend. Music is not central to such a story; the classical fusion numbers, however, were very enjoyable and mellifluous and will stay in my iPod playlist for a while.

All in all, Raajneeti almost blends all the right ingredients for a Bollywood potboiler, and is a racy (if you discount the end), entertaining drama. Definitely (maybe, more than) a one-time watch!

June 13, 2010 at 8:48 am 2 comments

Delhi 6: A Motley Microcosm

“Delhi 6” tries to realize a lot of things as a film – and even though it succeeds mostly, this, in itself, turns out to be its nemesis. Rakeysh Om Mehra brings alive the eclectic and rich sights, aroma and flavours of Chandni Chowk through its characters and music. But for anyone who has yet not been touched by the diversity of “Purani Dilli” (Old Delhi), the movie might be little overwhelming.

As a story, it is the oft-repeated tale of an NRI boy coming to India and falling in love with the country and the country’s girl, but the script elevates the film to another level. Though, some sub-plots in the film tend to feel awkward at times, Mehra largely manages to imbue his story with the perfect hues that turn the chaos of Old Delhi into a visual splendour. As a director, he adds subtle touches of brilliance to seemingly ordinary proceedings, some of which would make you laugh, but some which you would just miss – as the scene in which the local politico barges in the middle of a Ramleela. Someone who has not attended the night shows of the local Ramleela is most likely to miss the satire behind the episode. In another scene towards the end, children throw the monkey mask onto the burning effigy of Ravan. It is an understated moment but symbolically, it says a lot. Mehra has these, and many such snippets, strewn throughout the movie, for which one needs to watch the movie carefully and be able to appreciate the localized influences.

The movie’s narrative relies heavily on the characterizations and the director must thank his entire cast for ably supporting him. Each of the characters lends authenticity to their part and though it is difficult to say who was the best, Divya Dutta gets my vote for her small yet powerful role as the fiery Jalebi. Deepak Dobriyal as Mamdu shows a great potential (I happened to like him in Shaurya as well) as he metamorphosed from a happy-go-lucky neighbourhood guy to a distraught fanatic. Watching Atul Kulkarni as the simpleton Gobar, it was hard to believe that he was the bellicose Laxman Pandey of RDB; truly a versatile actor! Vijay Raaz as the vile policeman makes you loathe him, which is proof enough of his superb performance. Waheeda Rehman has perfected the role of the affectionate grandma, and she seemed to be having a lot of fun along with the affable Supriya Pathak and co. Rishi Kapoor played his part with aplomb, as did veterans Prem Chopra and Om Puri. (It seems that I am just left with the pigeon Masakali and Pavan Duggal to say a good word about, so I shall move on… 🙂

Despite the huge ensemble of supporting actors, the lead pair manages to deliver impressive performances as well. Sonam has a stereotypical role which didn’t give her much scope to showcase her potential but she proves her acting prowess in many frames, particularly the “Masakali” track. Abhishek Bachchan, who has met with some criticism for faking an accent, doesn’t really deserve the brickbats. He brings out the initial apprehension of accepting India quite naturally; watch him as he dances with the woman folk in the “Genda Phool” track, cute.

A. R. Rahman’s score in “Delhi 6” is notches above his Oscar winner, “Slumdog Millionaire”. The film’s music evokes so many emotions so much so that it becomes a character in itself. The “Arziyan” qawalli leaves you spellbound as the camera panoramically sweeps across the expanse of Jama Masjid – it is one of those moments that stir your heart. The divine invocation of Goddess Durga in the Aarti “Tumre Bhawan Mein” is soft and pious and is used to great effect in the film. Enough has already been said about “Genda Phool” and “Masakali” which are ruling the charts because of their musical merit. Being an ardent advocate of including more classical music in films, I must thank Rahman and Rakeysh Mehra for reviving the magical vocals of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan in the “Gujari Todi – Bhor Bhayi”; Shreya Ghosal does an outstanding job of rendering it as well.

Hand in glove with the music is the awe-inspiring camera work. The surreal song “Dil Gira Dafatan” is remarkable in its concept. In this masterpiece, the music and cinematography complement each other so well that it is hard to blink your eyes as you watch bylanes of Chandni Chowk mingle effortlessly with the streets of New York. The Ramleela sequences have been conceived and shot very well; and they have been juxtaposed effectively with the events running throughout the story.

The Black Monkey (“Kala Bandar”) urban myth finds prominence in the plot, but ideally I would have like the story treated differently. The film tackles communalism in a clichéd fashion, as is evident in the hasty and somewhat half-baked ending. But I’m ready to forego all that for the vivid portrayal of Old Delhi that “Delhi 6” leaves on my senses.

“Delhi 6” is a thought provoking film, which might not appeal as much on first viewing. In fact, it is tempting to write off the film as boring and preachy. But as you think about it, and there will be moments which will keep coming back to you even after you have left the theatre, it grows on you. I am already in a mood to go and watch it a second time.

February 24, 2009 at 12:18 pm 1 comment

Hollywood Bollywood – Slumdog Millionaire

It is the season of over-hype waves and things working by riding on them. An undeserving “Ghajini” becomes an all-time hit and now we have Danny Boyle’s saga of amchi Mumbai, “Slumdog Millionaire”, sweep awards all across the globe. Though the narrative of a slum-dwelling chaiwalla, Jamal Malik, holds your attention, haven’t we all seen better?

Boyle seems to have drawn his inspiration from Bollywood, which over the years has brought the poverty-stricken reality of Bombay/Mumbai on the screen through the likes of a “Salaam Bombay” or a “Satya”. The movie is a tell-tale of all that is wrong with India, only this time it is an outsider who brings to us the plight of slum dwellers, communal riots, the beggar mafia, the fleecing of foreign tourists, the prostitute business, the underworld, the abusive police alongside an eternal love and longing – all in Bollywood eshtyle!

I don’t understand the criticism that is being heaped on the movie about it depicting our country in a negative light. Boyle has presented what our filmmakers have been doing for decades. The film captures the darker shades of Mumbai but hasn’t everyone from RGV to Madhur Bhandarkar done it before. I would honour the director’s prerogative to not sugarcoat his subject, even if it means stringing in cliché after cliché.

Some of us have gone ahead and challenged the film for projecting India as a “Third World dirty underbelly developing nation”. In fact, I believe it is quite the opposite. Alongside all that is shown as wrong, there is an undercurrent of hope that flows throughout the film. The film manifests the much-talked about “spirit of Mumbai” through the resilience of the protagonist. The ability of the characters to survive against all odds, come what may, forms the fabric of the screenplay.

The premise of how a slum dweller knows the answers to all the questions in KBC (Who wants to be a Millionaire?) and goes on to win the show makes an interesting story. And it is in the answers that the story of Jamal’s life unfolds. Even though the film is in no way extraordinary, what is surprising is how Boyle churns out a potboiler that has Bollywood written all over it. In our typical “filmy” fashion, Jamal goes about finding his childhood sweetheart and expressing his love for her. I can’t believe a foreign director can see India this way! As an Indian, fed on a staple diet of Hindi cinema, this one barely seemed any different.

That the western audience has accepted the film in a big way and that critics are lauding it with awards is more to the credit of the marketing team behind the film. The publicists deserve every bit of praise for being able to package the film in a way no India-themed movie (no not even “Lagaan”, and I was too young to notice what stir “Salaam Bombay” created in its time) has ever been done before. I do hope it goes on to win the Academy Awards, at least for Rahman’s work (even though in the same breath, I should add that the musical genius has far better works that have gone unnoticed). 

And at a time when (borrowing a dialogue from the film) “India is at the centre of the world”, this is good news for Indian cinema. Going by the response “Slumdog Millionaire” has received, “the song and dance factory”, which Bollywood is commonly seen as by the world, can come up with crisper ideas and market them well to the world. Perhaps, a western audience is becoming willing to hear an Indian story, the Indian way!

January 19, 2009 at 6:51 pm 3 comments

THAT was Ghajini???

Ghajini only goes on to show what hype can do for a movie.

The movie may well be on its way to become one of the biggest grosser in Bollywood. But at best, it matches up to an above-average Sunny Deol flick. Had the movie not featured Aamir Khan it would not have been nowhere close to what it is now.

Bollywood has had a history where many a venture has sunk despite hype but what worked for Ghajini was a sustained and immaculately planned publicity campaign. That it was Aamir’s sole movie in the whole year, and was coming a whole year after his poignant Taare Zameen Par, already had the nation in good anticipation. This combined with the publicity given to Aamir’s (over-hyped) physique and supposed eight-pack took the hype to newer altitudes. The marketing team also made sure the bulked-up Aamir was visible in malls and public places. Days before the release, one could see the once-considered reticent Aamir giving interviews on every possible show on every possible channel. Newspapers and websites were flooded with Aamir’s 13 month rigorous training to get his look. Also, to engage a larger segment of the audience, romantic promos augmented the initial action-oriented posters.

The end result of it all had to be a bumper opening for Ghajini. Needless to say, all this wouldn’t have worked so well for another actor; but Aamir’s hysteria is unparalleled and his fan following spans all sections of gender, class and religion. The loose ends of Shahrukh’s “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” also proved beneficial for this film and the “thinking” audience thronged the halls to see if Aamir had fared better. For the rest, who weren’t really the star’s fans, they went anyways to see what all the hype was all about!

So how did I find it?

The film is loud and the background score louder. This morning I concurred with my colleague who told me that he left the hall with a heavy head after watching this film. Even the overall music, barring a song or two, is forgettable and below-average by Rahman’s standards. Majority of the songs stand out of the story and merely extend the length of the film.

If action happens to be your genre of choice, you will enjoy the punches and villains being banged on walls and windows. If not, then you’d be sitting at the wrong place for those parts of the movie. What however holds your attention is the narrative; the director manages to engage you through the entire film. When the gore goes heavy, a romantic flashback alters the tone and pace of the movie. In this regard, the editing is slick and crisp. So even if the film could put some of you to sleep, it won’t give you the opportunity to yawn!

In terms of performances, Asin wows with her refreshing act. She lights up the screen and (due apologies to Aamir’s fans) steals the thunder from right under the actor’s nose. It’s a pity she didn’t get her due with the superstar taking most of the credit. You wait for her to come on screen; be it simple acts of helping people around her or faking up her romance with the business tycoon – she portrays the character of affable Kalpana with élan. In fact, it is the flashback sequences in which she appears, that were most enjoyable.

It is surprising that Aamir, known for choosing his films very selectively, opted for this South Indian remake. Even though his character is central to the film, he doesn’t have too many dialogues. As a guy suffering from short term memory loss, he shows his frustration to a degree but doesn’t have much else to do than beat up anyone and everyone coming in his way. Perhaps, the director could have focused more on the confusion and tribulations he faced due to his problem. As the business tycoon in flashbacks, his witty act makes you laugh. But in one of the scenes when giving interviews to international media, he didn’t sound convincing as a magnate. All in all, his performance was satisfactory in the context of the film. He didn’t break any new ground with this, as some people claim. As for achieving the macho look, I don’t think with the support available these days it is such a Herculean task for an actor known for his sincerity and perfectionism.

As the bad guy Ghajini, Pradeep Rawat disappointed; he tried hard to mouth Haryanvi dialogues but was neither effective nor convincing. Perhaps, the movie would have been elevated to another level had the villainy act been more polished.

The cinematography by Ravi K. Chandran was par excellence. And be it the exotic locales of the Guzarish song or dark shots of the climax sequence, he has shot them all brilliantly. The action sequences have a South Indian influence even though some of them are executed well.

Ghajini, as a one time watch, was entertaining even for someone like me not particularly into action movies or Aamir Khan. But the cult status to which it has been elevated is definitely not justified. It is a clearly over-hyped and has garnered undue credit than what it is worth. I’m sure people had higher expectations from Aamir but for fear of being sounding different, no one wants to admit that.

January 8, 2009 at 2:37 pm 5 comments

India Divided

“India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters…” so went the pledge we took in school. But years later, I don’t see these thoughts resonating in our people.

In recessionary times like these, rumours and speculation are no longer confined to the corridors of IT companies; these half-truths become published as news on mainstream websites. It’s a pity that without adequate authentication or getting their facts right, panic and hysteria is being created.

This piece of news was as quickly circulated in our organization as it was published by rediff. But what is sadder is how our countrymen responded to it.

Now when I read a piece of news or an article, I generally browse through the comments section to know what other people like me feel about it. It helps to get a better and often varied perspective to the issue at hand.

A masala news as this was bound to get a lot of comments considering IT guys have ready access to the internet. I scrolled below to read the comments and was shocked to read how people had reacted to the posting. As if accusing Narayanmurthy and Azim Premji for recession wasn’t enough, the responses to the comments were no longer even in the context of the article; they had taken their own life.

People who negated the news met with brickbats and were asked for their employee id. Even though some of these comments were comic (increasing lines of code to fake productivity), others were downright abusive. As I moved to the next page of comments, the topic veered to religious conversions, Brahmins, Mayawati, Dalits, Devegowda and everything unrelated to the article.

It is heart-aching to see people in India condemn their fellow citizens at the slightest pretext. We often talk of racism against Indians, whereas in reality we ourselves need to set our act right first. By dividing India on the basis of caste, religion, state, region, we are doing more harm to us than a slowing economy or job layoffs can do.

January 6, 2009 at 3:30 pm 1 comment

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