Movie Review: Leaving Home

April 02, 2010
Kaushik Chatterji

Reviewing this is going to be a very arduous task. For starters, how does one slot Indian Ocean, the band that is the subject of this feature-length production? And what do you call this feature-length production? A rockumentary, is it? How is that possible? The band cannot be confined to rock or for that matter any one genre - indeed, as Nandita Das says at the beginning, there's jazz, classical, Sufism, shlokas and even Bengali music. So then what, a bio-pic? A concert film? Let's just stop bothering about what it can or should be called.

Indian Ocean was an unheard quantity until, as the late Asheem Chakravarty (percussions, vocals) puts it, "some firangs wrote good things about us." Like their name (provided by co-founder guitarist Susmit Sen's father) suggests, they are ekdum desi - and this in spite them playing instruments that are associated with the goras - and so are their struggles. Don't go in for this one expecting a healthy dose of sex and drugs 'coz the nearest references to rock 'n roll debauchery that these elderly musicians make are about cigarettes and the desire to pataofy the solitary female member back in the short span of time when she was a part of the band.

The nearest one of these guys came to a stereotypical rock 'n roll existence was when Rahul Ram (bass, vocals) came back after studying Environmental Toxicology at Cornell, got involved in the Narmada Bachao Andolan, got promptly jailed along with the other adivasis and thence came up with Ma Rewa. No, music here is not a viable option since being blessed with and having faith in one's talent is barely enough to guarantee a steady stream of a substantial amount of money which could possibly act as an alternative to the security of a regular job and with it, a routine family life. As almost every non-filmi musician (including three former members of this band) will tell you, the risk is almost never worth the returns - after all, satisfaction se pet nahi chalta hai.

Of course, this is about that rare fairytale actually happening. The "film" starts off with a bunch of testimonials from Prannoy Roy and Anurag Kashyap among others, and ends with clips from some of their famous concerts guest starring Shubha Mudgal, Rabbi and Kailash Kher. In between, it is neatly divided into segments, each of which is named after one of their famous songs. What follows each time is the story of how the song came into being and, in case it is strongly associated with one of them, also the story of the concerned band member in the words of their family as well as the other three - interspersed are bits about other key people and their contributions, like drummer Amit Kilam's mother who wrote Kashmiri lyrics for one of their songs, Kaun.

Each segment ends with an in-concert performance of the song at either their Karol Bagh pad (home, we are told, to such cultural icons like Faiz Ahmad Faiz) or the Garden of Five Senses. A lot of the content is presented in text form, much like a presentation. That and the fact that it did not delve deep into the lives of the people are the only potential downers - in fact, there is a good chance that ardent followers might already be in the know of most of what's presented here. So, even though the inclusion of complete songs rendered live was immensely enjoyable, it might have been a better idea to cut down there, present the stories in live action rather than text format and use the footage in a separate concert film, while keeping this one a true-blue bio-pic.

Then again, the very concept of making a feature-length film on an Indian musical act and releasing it all over the country (albeit in a very limited fashion) is almost if not quite as radical as a bunch of people from mostly middle class backgrounds coming together in mid-80s India, making music that was neither filmi nor xeroxes of their classic rock idols, pursuing that dream even after having left their college years long behind them and actually making it big.

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