27 Nov 2012

Goodbye, Ghazal? Part II

The ghazal is of the individual and the heart. I love to summarize it as, "Truth-in-Verse". It is bound to be personal. Sadness makes a constant appearance, so does pathos, the pain of love, nostalgia...feelings we are habitual in not expressing. Love songs in this music genre are not trumpeted bang-boom declarations. 

In many of these songs, the subject of the song in unaware of the poet's affections. The songs are an unerring reflection of life, an ode to its majestic often overlooked beauty to life's mysteries. That is why the numerous mentions of female beauty, longing, stars, sky, trees, breeze, the moon, and other nature's elements are never redundant in the ghazal. Truth echoes over generations.   

The 'Get Over It' Culture 
Since it reflects raw emotions, ghazals have inevitably told tales of woe, regret, sadness, and torment. In these times of showcasing a perpetual public face of happiness, wealth and materialism, the ghazal finds no breathing space.

In the urban age of cell phone addiction, social networking, and reduced attention spans, repressed emotions still sprout. Ghazal yet has the potential to regain and renew its audience in the present scenario. But the ghazal singer's pedestal lies empty.There are a whole lot of talented female and male singers rendering cover versions and tributes. But no ghazal artist is featured in popular media voicing any original material, as of yet.

In the Hindi film soundtrack world, rejection has found its catharsis in vengeance, alcohol, party dances and abuse. Note the two acidic songs of Ram Sampath's remarkable soundtrack for Delhi Belly (2011) - especially Bhaag D.K. Bose and Jaa Chudail. To lament is no longer convention, to give vent to anger is more of a bend nowadays. The norm now is to scream, binge on alcohol, have a violent catharsis and forget.

True to Life 
Before the curtains drop on these passage of words, let me recall a scene from the 1957 Guru Dutt classic Pyaasa. On a happy occasion, even as fellow poets recite congratulatory verses, the protagonist weaves his own tiredness and disillusion in couplets of despair. Midway through his dark narration, a man at the gathering urges the poet to recite something happier. In response, the poet expresses in Sahir Ludhianvi's mercurial verse: 

hum ghamzada hai, 
laaye kahan se khushi ke geet?...
denghe wahi jo payenge 
es zindagi se hum...  

(I am woe-begone
from where do I bring songs of happiness?... 
I will only give that which 
I receive from life...)

For this staunch and rebel outlook of baring the heart, the ghazal doesn't go by market conventions and social trends. It is for a braver, somber world, of a lost time and era.

Unless a trailblazer dares to reinvent the ghazal, this emperor of a song genre will be relegated to the mind museums of ghazal lovers. As Gulzar wrote for Singh's sparkling album Marasim - waqt rehta nahi kahin tikk kar, eski aadat bhi aadmi si hai. Time doesn't pause anywhere, a habit so like a man's.

Goodbye, Ghazal? Part I

Goodbye, Ghazal? Part I

With the passing away of Jagjit Singh (October 2011) and Mehdi Hassan (June 2012) and no torchbearer in sight for this sensitive music form, the ghazal looks all set to glide into musical history. The poetry may yet survive, there is no financial compulsion or consequential audience that deters a poet to write. They will always write.

Popular Hindi film music no longer endorses this music form. It's been eons since a ghazal was part of a film soundtrack. Moreover, it was painfully evident at the 2012 GIMA tribute to Jagjit Singh, titled Yaadon Ka Safar, that few singers could convincingly render cover versions of Singh's ghazals in a live stage setting.

Ghazal and Atmospherics 

The ghazal is for quiet reflection, thus even the love songs have a haze of melancholy.It needs as much intent attention as listening to a Ravi Shankar sitar sequence. The ghazal is an evening rest, a quiet couch, and there lies its singularity.

The magic is in the way the words unfold in the vocals, the lingering, leisurely music that creates the atmosphere. No popular thump of percussion here, for the couplets add enough punch that any other additional emphasis in instrumentation would surely kill the composition.

The song featured below, Hai Lau Zindagi gained fame when it played as a title for Nalini Singh's 90's news series Hello Zindagi. Gulzar has penned the lyrics.

Ghazal's Golden Decade
The 1980's was a golden period for ghazals, and if you revisit the records of this period, you are bound to hear the singer explaining the meaning of certain Urdu words, or requesting the listener's attentiveness to the subsequent para.

Sensing the audience's mood, artists like Jagjit Singh used anecdotes and jokes midway, and then seamlessly cut back to the song. Note Anup Jalota's baritone commentary in his classic Chand Angdaeyaan Le Raha Hai... (Roughly translated as - The moon is stretching its arms...).

Of Simpler Times
Jagjit Singh almost single-handedly brought a modern sensibility to the ghazal. His approach never tarnished the ghazal's core spirit.  Singh was wisely measured yet flexible enough in the use of the guitar, piano and other light accompaniments.

The words are a ghazal's adornment, hence anything gimmicky will only stall proceedings. No remix or other cosmetics will suit its richness and purity. If such changes are induced, it will then no longer be called - ghazal. There lies its luminance, yet there dwell the shadows of its impending obscurity.

26 Nov 2012

RGV's The Attacks Of 26/11: The first seven minutes

Film director Ram Gopal Varma is at it again, his upcoming movie is again based on real-life incidents, and this time it is on the 26/11 Terrorist attacks that rocked Mumbai on this very day, four years ago. Though no release date has been announced, Eros has put up the first seven minutes of the movie on YouTube.    

24 Nov 2012

Movie Review: Life of Pi (3D): Good, watchable cinema

There are always elements in a well-written novel or short story that will differ in each reading, the perspective on the tale keeps altering in accordance to the reader's age, such that re-reading can be equivalent to making love to a new person each time. At least in saying so, that is. On the other hand, a film in invariably etching out exact scenes in audiovisual storytelling, limits our interpretation. The joy of revisiting a classic movie is of reprise, much like a song’s charm, we don’t mind listening to it again and again.

As our tale begins, Piscine Patel is the younger adolescent second son of a Tamilian zoo owner and his wife growing up in picturesque Pondicherry of the 1970’s. The legend of how Piscine turns to Pi is well-adapted from the book here. Pi’s idyllic life is thwarted, as in trying times, his father decides that the family would move to Canada, sell the zoo animals there and start life afresh. As the zoo creatures and Pi’s family travel in a freight ship, a storm causes the ship to capsize. Pi makes it to a lifeboat by sheer fate, but he is not the lone survivor. He ends up sharing boat space, again by incidence, with a Royal Bengal Tiger, a Hyena, a Zebra and an Orangutan. Drifting aimlessly in the Pacific, with no other human being in sight, and the hungry company aboard, Pi’s fight for survival has just began...

Riveting, humorous, fearful, and arresting in its lifeboat journey parts, charmingly magical in its opening Pondicherry bits and meandering in all the god talk and flashback medium, Life of Pi has moments that 3D enhances. The background score is fitting if not overwhelming, and Suraj Sharma as Pi makes it work, as do the animal special effects. Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Adil Hussain give good performances in their brief parts. Finally, Life of Pi works in its excellent interpretation of what seemed ‘unfilmable’ on paper. It is in the animal-human face off that the circle of life message gets through, rather than the god talk, which spoils it a bit for putting in too many words and put-on emotions in the narrative. But finally, in totality, Life of Pi has enough cinematic merit and visual magic to be watched on the big screen - totally recommended!  

4 Nov 2012

Movie Review: Skyfall: Mr. Bond, Where the hell have you been?

Finally, Daniel Craig gets a Bond movie we would like to return to. Though the plot and sketches of the antagonist and protagonist are clearly inspired from the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy (Especially The Dark Knight), Skyfall is an entertaining film that holds our attention, almost all of the time.

Somebody has stolen the hard drive containing the identities of undercover government agents. The agents who have infiltrated various terrorist groups are now been discovered and executed one by one. Under immense political pressure and criticism, M (Judi Dench, apt) assigns Bond to recover the drive, only to bring up remnants of M’s past decisions. Still, Bond stays by M, even as the devious villain blows up the M16 London Headquarters, leaving a trail of bodies.

Right Mood 
Director Sam Mendes gives us atmosphere, scintillating visuals, and smooth, racy storytelling. Bond (Daniel Craig, Efficient as usual) is depicted as tired, ageing, and yet giving his best. He has lost none of his charm for women though or his straight-faced wit, a consistent (previously waning) factor in the Craig/Bond films. For once, there are no complexities; it is clear what the villain (A brilliant take by Javier Bardem) is after - Thank god, for once it is not world domination.

By atmosphere we mean the sounds and visuals we have craved for since Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan left the scene – gentle smooth roar of the Aston Martin, plunk of ice in the martini, seductive guile and certainly not a Bond looking to marry. Q (Ben Whishaw) and Eve (Naomie Harris) make for light, catchy character sketches. Ralph Fiennes is wasted in his role, despite what finally transpires. The Scotland finale, despite the Batman/Bruce Wayne likeness (Batman Begins) is great if not overwhelming.

After the disappointments that Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008) were, Skyfall is engaging if not totally original cinema. But one thing can be said for certain, it has a Bond we used to love.

Stand outs
James Bond falling off a train top. Two outlined men fighting each other. The villain descends from an elevator. Neon lighted Shanghai and dragons by lantern light.A helicopter approaches an old house with a rock song blaring, and Bond quips, "He always has to make an entrance."    

Javier Bardem as Silva

Craig sets out on another chase

Berenice Marlohe stars as the alluring, tragic Severine
Naomie Harris as Eve, the other Bond girl