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From Padmaavat to Khamoshi: What defines Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s brand of film music?

Many Indian filmmakers, over the years, have given cine-goers artistic masterpieces coupled with a fantastic musical score. Sanjay Leela Bhansali happens to be one of the most important names in that regard — who is as much known for his grand music as for his larger-than-life films. In his garland of cinematic gems, the most recent and most anticipated addition is Padmaavat, starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor.

A still from Padmavati. YouTube

A still from the Padmaavat song ‘Ghoomar’. YouTube screengrab

With two songs from the film’s album — ‘Ghoomar and ‘Ek Dil Ek Jaan‘ — already out, there’s more than enough reason to have a look at Bhansali’s journey from just being a filmmaker to now being a filmmaker-cum-music director.

In a career (as a director) spanning more than two decades, Bhansali has delivered some memorable films ranging from Khamoshi, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (HDDCS), Devdas, Black, Guzaarish, Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram Leela, Bajirao Mastani (arranged in chronological order as per their date of release).

Bhansali’s tryst with music has also evolved — collaborating with music directors to composing music for his own films is a feat that only Bhansali has been able to achieve. While the music of Khamoshi was composed by Jatin-Lalit, HDDCS and Devdas‘s tunes were set by Ismail Darbar. Black was composed by Monty Sharma and following Guzaarish, Bhansali has taken the reins of musical notes in his own hands.

Of all his films, the music of Khamoshi stands out, primarily because of the arrangement. The music directors of the film, Jatin-Lalit were a big name at the time and had already worked in a bevy of big-budget and highly successful films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Khiladi and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander.

Cover of Khamoshi. Facebook

Cover of Khamoshi. Facebook

Following Khamoshi, Bhansali has always worked with newcomers. One common factor between Bhansali’s pre and post-Khamoshi days is Bollywood’s renowned playback singer Kavita Krishnamurthy. Having collaborated with Bhansali in Khamoshi, HDDCS and Devdas, Krishnamurthy observed Bhansali’s musical acumen quite keenly.

Ismail Darbar, Kavita Krishnamurthy and Udit Narayan speak about working with Bhansali

“Bhansali’s mother was a trained dancer and his father was also into films. So he was in an artistic background right from the childhood. He has an inbuilt sense of dance and he has developed his strong sense of music in the process of making his films. He has a very clear vision of what he wants, how he wants to picturise it and what emotions he wants to evoke in the song. I remember, he would be there for all the recordings. He had a say in every matter; he was not one of those directors who would quietly watch and let the song take its own birth. He was involved in every aspect of the song making,” says Krishnamurthy.

Speaking about her experience on working in Bhansali films, Krishnamurthy adds, “In the 40 years that I have spent in the industry, the songs that I have sung for Bhansali (HDDCS and Devdas), in Ismail Darbar’s compositions, rank probably as some of the best ones in my career.”

Still from Nimbooda from the film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (top); Maar Daala from Devdas (bottom). Facebook images

Stills of the song ‘Nimbooda’ from the film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (top); Maar Dala from Devdas (bottom). Facebook images

“I think he and Ismail vibed really well. Be it HDDCS title track, Hamesha Tumko Chaaha’, Nimbooda, Kaahe Chhed Mohe’, ‘Maar Dala’ Ismail had got the pulse of Sanjay. They were so much in-sync when Ismail passed on the instructions to me, they were exactly what Sanjay wanted. They were much more than a director and a music director combo; they were very good friends in the first place.”

Darbar, in fact, feels it is only Bhansali who does justice to his compositions. He explains, “Sanjay is a very good choreographer and he picturises the songs really well. So the kind of music that I make, only a director of Sanjay’s calibre can bring on to the celluloid. He doesn’t even leave a ‘ting’ note of my music — it can only come when you are that passionate about music. How else would you bring that amount of intensity and melody in your films?”

Reminiscing about his early days, while working on HDDCS, Darbar talks about how they complemented each other. “During my struggle days, I would make everyone listen to the title track of the film [HDDCS], which happened to be a song that I really liked. But Sanjay was the first director who asked me to play it again. He said, ‘You have created a wonderful song.’ So both our choices struck and they turned out to be pretty similar. I felt he was the only one who gave my songs the amount of love and respect they deserved. After listening to Tadap Tadap’ around 9 times, he had said, ‘Ismail after this, I know how my film would progress; I know where will the interval be and where will the film end.’

Another singer who has extensively worked with the Bhansali-Darbar collaboration is Udit Narayan. “Directors of Bhansali’s standards are very few. I feel extremely privileged to have worked with him. His sense of music is impeccable. Take any of his films – be it Khamoshi, Devdas or Ram Leela, Bajirao Mastani — every musical piece, background, dialogue… they don’t let your eyes move away from the screen,” says Narayan.

Recalling the recording sessions, Narayan especially mentions how Bhansali would keep an ear on the minutest details in the songs. “There were many instances in recording rooms like that of ‘Jaana Suno Hum Tum Pe Marte Hai’ of Khamoshi, or ‘Woh Chand Jaisi Ladki ( the song never made it to the film) from Devdas that I very well remember. Sanjay ji would always say, ‘I want 100 per cent result from you. So we used to work harder and pay more attention to the songs.”

Revealing a not-very-well-known fact about HDDCS, Narayan says, “The song, Chand Chhupa Badal Mein’, was in the film for the first 10 days. Then one day Sanjay ji said, ‘Some people say that this song doesn’t work’ and eventually he removed it from the film for about 4-5 days. Later, the distributors came up to him and demanded the song to be added back as it was a popular track, which he later did.”

Still from the film Goliyo ki Rasleela: Ram Leela. Facebook image

Still from the film Goliyon ki Rasleela: Ram Leela. Facebook image

Like father, son Aditya Narayan also has a great regard for Bhansali and holds him in high esteem. But, Aditya has seen that aspect of Bhansali which none of the others mentioned above have — the one where Bhansali composes for his own films. Having worked as an assistant director to Bhansali on Ram Leela, Aditya has been part of the whole process — from conceptualising a song to finally recording it.

Elucidating the creative process of Bhansali, as witnessed during the making of Ram Leela, Aditya says, “Since he is also the music director of his film, he knows where exactly to bring in musical elements – like an aalap, taan, or any instrument for that matter. All of this would be pre-decided. He would do all this at the editing table when the film is already shot. He is so sorted with his screenplay, that when we are jamming he is literally creating a scene of his film.”

Bhansali’s affection to Indian classical, folk music

Bhansali is indeed among the few who still holds the baton of Indian music loud and strong. The influence of Indian classical music and folk music on Bhansali is evident through his films’ discography.

Be it the pure semi-classical numbers like Albela Sajan’, ‘Kaahe Chhed Mohe’, ‘Mohe Rang Do Laal’; or the essentially folk-based songs like ‘Dholi Taaro‘, ‘Nimbooda’, ‘Dola Re Dola’,Pinga’, ‘Nagaada Sang Dhol,’ ‘Lahu Muh Lag Gaya’ and much-recent ‘Ghoomar’— music aficionados will abide by the fact that Bhansali’s songs are musically richer (in the most high-brow perspective possible) and at the same time have immense mass appeal. And, that is a feat which is rather difficult to achieve in the mainstream cinema.

Classical bhansali

Clockwise: Stills of the songs ‘Mohe Rang Do Laal’, ‘Dola Re Dola’, ‘Pinga’ and ‘Kaahe Chhed Mohe’. Facebook images

Even the comparatively lighter songs like Aankhon Ki Gusktaakhiyaan’,Jhonka Hawaa Ka’, ‘Bairi Piya‘, ‘Silsila Ye Chaahat Ka‘, ‘Jab Se Tere Naina‘, ‘Yoon Shabnami’, Thode Badmaash‘, ‘Laal Ishq’, ‘Aayat‘, ‘Deewani Mastani— are deeply rooted in Indian music. That is also one of the reasons behind the magnificence he is able to bring into his films. In other words, the grandeur of his film’s music is indeed an extension of his larger-than-life films.

An insider from the Bollywood music industry, on the clause of anonymity, explains Bhansali’s acumen of blending Indian music to mainstream cinema. “More than the composition of the song, what really matters is how the instrumentation is done. Bhansali deliberately makes Indian classical arrangements. Much like SLB’s characters, his films’ music is also very Indian, rooted to Indian folk, set in a classical arrangement. Because he has given you such songs and people have liked it again and again, you can’t remove a ‘Nimbooda’, ‘Dola Re Dola’ or an Udi Udi’ from Bollywood’s musicscape.”

When Bhansali took the risky route and yet succeeded

It isn’t that Bhansali has always stuck to his tried-and-tested formula. While he has given mammoth hits — in terms of cinema and music both — with films like HDDCS, Devdas or a Bajirao Mastani which are true-blue Indian flavoured delights, he has also had his own fair share of experiments.

Films like Black, Guzaarish, or even Khamoshi were based on Anglicised households, English-speaking characters — a demographic sample seldom explored in Indian films, let alone being successful. But Bhansali aced at that too; like his films, the songs from the movies also enjoyed mass popularity. A film like Black with no on-screen songs at all, boasted of a classic like Haa Maine Chhukar Dekha Hai’ that still gives goosebumps to any listener. Khamoshi‘s songs — ‘Aaj Main Upar’, Yeh Dil Sun Raha Hai’, ‘Aankhon Mein Kya’ — encapsulated the spirit of the film and its characters.

AngloBhansali

Stills from (clockwise): Saawariya, Guzaarish, Khamoshi and Black. Facebook images

Guzaarish, being an above-average performer at the box-office met with very positive reviews and critical acclaim. Some of the songs from the film — ‘Udi Udi’, ‘Sau Gram Zindagi Hai‘, ‘Tera Zikr’, ‘Keh Na Sakoon’ — definitely qualify to be among the bests of Bhansali’s music.

Songs from Saawariyathe title track, ‘Mashallah or ‘Pari (a rather less-known song) — also beautifully blended to the film’s canvas. Whatever be the fate of the film, the songs of Saawariya were right at the top of music charts.

And then again, Bhansali does know a thing or two about being on top of music charts.

Published Date: Jan 19, 2018 15:57 PM | Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 15:57 PM


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ASC Awards: Roger Deakins wins top cinematography honour for sci-fi film Blade Runner 2049

Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins has won the top award for a theatrical release at the 32nd annual American Society of Cinematographers Awards, for his fantastic and surreal imagery of Denis Villeneuve’s film Blade Runner 2049, as reported by Variety.

Roger Deakins. Image from Twitter/@TalkFilmSoc

Roger Deakins. Image from Twitter/@TalkFilmSoc

This is the fifth honour for the cinematographer by the prestigious body, including a Lifetime Achievement award in 2011. Deakins has already won the Golden Globe for Blade Runner 2049 this award season, and is the current favourite for an Oscar, an achievement that has eluded the veteran cameraman, known for his work in The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, and The Assassination of Jesse James. Traditionally, in the 32 year long history of ASC Awards, thirteen winners have gone on to win the Oscar as per the same report.

Blade Runner 2049, saw Deakins build on Ridley Scott’s original and influential neo-noir futuristic world. The film was marked with giant, intensely illuminated holograms advertisement interact with the lead actor, and a glitch-ridden virtual Elvis Presley performance in a low-lit abandoned Las Vegas auditorium. The dusty, apocalyptic vision of the Blade Runner universe was deftly crafted by Deakins for the 2017 sequel.

“He has to be Roger Deakins on every shot. He has all the pressure of the world on his shoulders. He’s very, very focused. He doesn’t talk very loud. He doesn’t like to repeat. And his crew…his crew would die for him,” Villeneuve, who has collaborated with Deakins on his two earlier films, Prisoners and Sicario, told Vanity Fair.

ASC Awards also honoured lensman Mart Taniel with the spotlight award for November. The honour focuses on excellence in world cinema. Taniel beat the exquisite Hungarian movie On Body and Soul, which is also up for an Academy Award this year.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:02 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:02 PM

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North India’s angry young men: Snigdha Poonam examines a generation’s anxieties in her new book, Dreamers

Upon reading Dreamers, Snigdha Poonam’s splendid cultural study of a generation’s appetite for ruthless ambitions and change, it’s apparent that India’s young men from the north are driven by a peculiar hunger. They chase fame, fortune, power and lofty dreams just like every other millennial but these small town youth are unlike their city counterparts. It’s an unquenchable anger that sets them apart — anger that their country was spoilt by the Congress, anger that corruption was at its peak, anger over their lost izzat, anger over the lack of jobs… Enough anger to make them want to be famous, important and rich beyond their dreams. And while some of them are lucky enough to realise their dreams, some others are stuck in an illusion forever.

Poonam, who writes for Hindustan Times, travelled to India’s towns and villages in the north, besides her own hometown of Ranchi, to find out what these young Indians wanted. “The idea was to [go to a small town] find out four or five people whose stories stood out and follow them for a year to see how close they get to their dreams. As I progressed with that brief, it became a larger project,” she says. Initially, Poonam chose four people in and around Ranchi, but as she travelled to other places, it became 6-7 people in 3 or 4 locations, to whom she kept going back for anywhere between a year and three years.

Snigdha Poonam

Snigdha Poonam

South India and its millennial population feel like a glaring omission from the book, but Poonam says she chose north India for a reason — that it was “representative of the frustrations of this generation because it does more badly than south India; its level of education and employment is poorer. More logistically, the book was never meant to be a sequel to Butter Chicken in Ludhiana [Pankaj Mishra’s travelogue on small-town India]. I was doing the opposite thing; I wanted to limit the number of people and places,” she says.

Among the people Poonam meets is Pankaj Prasad or ‘The Fixer’, an entrepreneurial young man in southern Jharkhand, who is a small-time lobbyist and liaison — an important link between the  state administration and citizens — or rather a go-to man for villagers ready to pay him for sarkari services. Then there’s the founder of WittyFeed or ‘The Click-Baiter’, a startup that thrives on American obsessions from Kim Kardashian and lip-sync battles to banal listicles on Katy Perry’s weirdest faces. To match success stories, Dreamers also has a chapter on the disputers — the angry young men complaining about the future of this country and turning to various Hindu groups who tend to their anxiety. Like Vikas Thakur, with his funky tattoo and beach sandals, who wants to become a politician because he wanted to stand up for Hindus. Or 19-year-old Arjun Kumar who cannot wait for Valentine’s Day year after year because it’s the only day he can deal with couples the way he wants, with an iron rod.

Poonam also gifts us with a rare chapter on an angry young woman — Richa Singh, who fought the Allahabad University elections and won and moved on to mainstream politics. Just like the south Indians who are absent from this book, women too are very obviously missing. But it wasn’t intentional, says Poonam. “I met young women too who had dreams, but when you talk to young men about their dreams, they’re not just talking about their own dreams but also what they want for their country and what they want from the world.” For many young women dreamers, “it was about changing their own lives and in some sense that itself was a huge leap for them to take and they weren’t going to talk about how India should go back to becoming the glory of world civilisation. A lot of the anxiety about their place in India and India’s place in the world was very manly,” she says.

To round off, Poonam has the strugglers as well — men who dream big, plan elaborate and push hard but still remain at the lowest possible level, men like Mohammad Azhar who dream of becoming Bollywood superstars but instead get exploited.

The underbelly of Dreamers not just gives us a peek into toxic masculinity and anger, but also uncovers the appeal of religion, specifically Hinduism, to these men. What does it offer them in a way of appeasing anger or giving them something to move forward? According to Poonam, it offers them a basic sense of identity, honour, and masculinity. “When I spoke to these young men, they were not speaking about religion per se because I knew more about religion than they did and they didn’t connect with any texts, they didn’t have the most basic understanding of what they were fighting for, starting with cows,” she says. And most of the angry men just ended up being Hindu. “I was looking for anger in general, but what I found was that the minorities — young Muslim and Dalit men — were busier looking ahead in terms of opportunities, whereas the Hindu men were looking at the past, at what they had lost, and wanted to restore the old order. Religion had very little meaning in their lives…”

Book cover for Dreamers

Book cover for Dreamers

Essentially, these men always saw a society that’s constantly conspiring against them and their Hindu heritage. They also saw a leader in Narendra Modi — someone like them who’d made it, from tea vendor to Prime Minister — who promised them the India they wanted, whose politics aligned with theirs and whose rhetoric reeked of Hindu nationalism. Modi would transform their beloved India back to its glorious past, they believed. Poonam says that the growing young population she talked to were political in an ambitious, idealistic way in that that there should be smooth roads, no corruption, and trains running on time. “But there was a general hope in Narendra Modi and a lot of disappointment in how Congress had steered the country since independence. That is very common and a lot of that was borrowed perception,” she says.

Poonam writes that less than 17 percent of India’s graduates are immediately employable and only 2.3 percent of the workforce has undergone formal skills training, which means that the country needs to educate about 100 million young people over the next 10 years, “a task never before undertaken in history”. Yet these young Indians, who have grown up with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and “cultural values of their grandparents”, are creating opportunities for themselves in various fields with the help of the ubiquitous internet. Facebook especially, Poonam says, is a tool through which young people are able to manage how other people see them. “The sense that they can manage their perception is very common among young people even in the villages. Even if you want to have the slightest of part to play in politics — and these are the people who are doing this at the block, tehsil level — Facebook and WhatsApp is where they like to do that and they’re becoming really good and smart at it.”

Perhaps this is how young Indians will change the world, one status at a time.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM


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Jayam Ravi on upcoming space film Tik Tik Tik: ‘It’ll be a milestone in the history of Tamil cinema’

Actor Jayam Ravi, who established his career by starring in Tamil remakes of several popular Telugu films in the beginning of his career, made really interesting choices in the last three-four years which has paid off handsomely.

From playing a boxer in Bhooloham to turning into a zombie in Miruthan, he was last seen on screen playing a tribesman in Vanamagan. As he awaits the release of Tamil cinema’s first space film Tik Tik Tik, in which he plays an escape artist cum astronaut, Ravi opens up in an exclusive chat with Firstpost about the experience of working in the film which is unlike anything he’s done in his career so far.

Jayam Ravi in Tik Tik Tik.

Directed by Shakti Soundar Rajan, the film marks Ravi’s second collaboration with the director after the zombie actioner Miruthan. Recalling how the project materialised, he said: “After the release of Miruthan, Shakti called me one day and said he has two scripts – a big project and a small film. He asked me which one I want to work on. I told myself that I’m anyway not going to be around to do 200-300 films. Even if I do one film, the experience should be equivalent of doing five projects. I conveyed the same thought to Shakti and that’s when he pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik.”

As much as Ravi was excited about the idea of starring in a space film, deep down, he was hesitant. “Initially, I was very hesitant. But I always look at positives over negatives in anything I do in life. When Shakti pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik, I saw many positives. A lot of people didn’t attempt a space film so far is because of the misconception that we can’t shoot in India and the high cost involved. But Shakti and I had faith in our script and we found a VFX studio (Ajax) in Chennai which delivered the kind of output which was beyond our expectations. We gave them some test shots to work upon and they came out really well.”

Despite his faith in Shakti and the script, Ravi said a lot of people couldn’t believe they could pull off a space film. “When I told some well-wishers and friends that I was going to do a space film, nobody believed in me or in the project. They looked down upon the idea itself. The bigger challenge for us was to script a movie like this in the first place. It needed a lot of vision and clarity. I could foresee the result when I read the script but nobody believed in us expect our producer. But I was quite confident because audiences have always supported whenever I attempted something different. Even though the execution was very strenuous, we were thrilled with the output which was beyond our satisfaction. It’ll be a milestone in my career and in Tamil cinema,” Ravi said, heaping praise on his director.

“A project of this scale and vision requires a lot of research work. Even while shooting, Shakti had to look after so many things as this is a script that’s powered by logic. Since it’s about science and space, he had to keep in mind several things when on the sets. We had to make sure that everything looked believable. Shakti was well backed by art director Murthy. They complemented each other so well. This is a film with a lot computer graphics and most scenes were shot on green mat. A lot of planning went into the shooting process. Everything the actors could touch was actually built from scratch. What the actors couldn’t touch which was mostly everything in the background was created with the help of CG.”

Nearly 80 percent of the film was shot in zero gravity condition. A race against time thriller, it’s a story of five astronauts, who go on a mission to stop an oncoming attack of a meteorite. “As most of the shooting took place in zero gravity conditions, we had to be attached to the harness. We’d wear the space suit and then be attached to the harness for long hours. We’d shoot from morning to evening and most of the times we don’t even take a break because taking off the suit and putting it back on was a time-consuming process.”

Having grown up watching space films such as Deep Impact, Armageddon and 2001: A Space Odyssey among others, Ravi hopes that children celebrate Tik Tik Tik as this generation’s space film, which also stars his son, Aarav, in a pivotal role. “I really hope children warm up to this film. When we made Miruthan, it was passed with an A certificate by CBFC, so it was not suitable for children. I’m sure Tik Tik Tik will appeal to children as well,” he said.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM


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From Padmaavat to Khamoshi: What defines Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s brand of film music?

Many Indian filmmakers, over the years, have given cine-goers artistic masterpieces coupled with a fantastic musical score. Sanjay Leela Bhansali happens to be one of the most important names in that regard — who is as much known for his grand music as for his larger-than-life films. In his garland of cinematic gems, the most recent and most anticipated addition is Padmaavat, starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor.

A still from Padmavati. YouTube

A still from the Padmaavat song ‘Ghoomar’. YouTube screengrab

With two songs from the film’s album — ‘Ghoomar and ‘Ek Dil Ek Jaan‘ — already out, there’s more than enough reason to have a look at Bhansali’s journey from just being a filmmaker to now being a filmmaker-cum-music director.

In a career (as a director) spanning more than two decades, Bhansali has delivered some memorable films ranging from Khamoshi, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (HDDCS), Devdas, Black, Guzaarish, Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram Leela, Bajirao Mastani (arranged in chronological order as per their date of release).

Bhansali’s tryst with music has also evolved — collaborating with music directors to composing music for his own films is a feat that only Bhansali has been able to achieve. While the music of Khamoshi was composed by Jatin-Lalit, HDDCS and Devdas‘s tunes were set by Ismail Darbar. Black was composed by Monty Sharma and following Guzaarish, Bhansali has taken the reins of musical notes in his own hands.

Of all his films, the music of Khamoshi stands out, primarily because of the arrangement. The music directors of the film, Jatin-Lalit were a big name at the time and had already worked in a bevy of big-budget and highly successful films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Khiladi and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander.

Cover of Khamoshi. Facebook

Cover of Khamoshi. Facebook

Following Khamoshi, Bhansali has always worked with newcomers. One common factor between Bhansali’s pre and post-Khamoshi days is Bollywood’s renowned playback singer Kavita Krishnamurthy. Having collaborated with Bhansali in Khamoshi, HDDCS and Devdas, Krishnamurthy observed Bhansali’s musical acumen quite keenly.

Ismail Darbar, Kavita Krishnamurthy and Udit Narayan speak about working with Bhansali

“Bhansali’s mother was a trained dancer and his father was also into films. So he was in an artistic background right from the childhood. He has an inbuilt sense of dance and he has developed his strong sense of music in the process of making his films. He has a very clear vision of what he wants, how he wants to picturise it and what emotions he wants to evoke in the song. I remember, he would be there for all the recordings. He had a say in every matter; he was not one of those directors who would quietly watch and let the song take its own birth. He was involved in every aspect of the song making,” says Krishnamurthy.

Speaking about her experience on working in Bhansali films, Krishnamurthy adds, “In the 40 years that I have spent in the industry, the songs that I have sung for Bhansali (HDDCS and Devdas), in Ismail Darbar’s compositions, rank probably as some of the best ones in my career.”

Still from Nimbooda from the film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (top); Maar Daala from Devdas (bottom). Facebook images

Stills of the song ‘Nimbooda’ from the film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (top); Maar Dala from Devdas (bottom). Facebook images

“I think he and Ismail vibed really well. Be it HDDCS title track, Hamesha Tumko Chaaha’, Nimbooda, Kaahe Chhed Mohe’, ‘Maar Dala’ Ismail had got the pulse of Sanjay. They were so much in-sync when Ismail passed on the instructions to me, they were exactly what Sanjay wanted. They were much more than a director and a music director combo; they were very good friends in the first place.”

Darbar, in fact, feels it is only Bhansali who does justice to his compositions. He explains, “Sanjay is a very good choreographer and he picturises the songs really well. So the kind of music that I make, only a director of Sanjay’s calibre can bring on to the celluloid. He doesn’t even leave a ‘ting’ note of my music — it can only come when you are that passionate about music. How else would you bring that amount of intensity and melody in your films?”

Reminiscing about his early days, while working on HDDCS, Darbar talks about how they complemented each other. “During my struggle days, I would make everyone listen to the title track of the film [HDDCS], which happened to be a song that I really liked. But Sanjay was the first director who asked me to play it again. He said, ‘You have created a wonderful song.’ So both our choices struck and they turned out to be pretty similar. I felt he was the only one who gave my songs the amount of love and respect they deserved. After listening to Tadap Tadap’ around 9 times, he had said, ‘Ismail after this, I know how my film would progress; I know where will the interval be and where will the film end.’

Another singer who has extensively worked with the Bhansali-Darbar collaboration is Udit Narayan. “Directors of Bhansali’s standards are very few. I feel extremely privileged to have worked with him. His sense of music is impeccable. Take any of his films – be it Khamoshi, Devdas or Ram Leela, Bajirao Mastani — every musical piece, background, dialogue… they don’t let your eyes move away from the screen,” says Narayan.

Recalling the recording sessions, Narayan especially mentions how Bhansali would keep an ear on the minutest details in the songs. “There were many instances in recording rooms like that of ‘Jaana Suno Hum Tum Pe Marte Hai’ of Khamoshi, or ‘Woh Chand Jaisi Ladki ( the song never made it to the film) from Devdas that I very well remember. Sanjay ji would always say, ‘I want 100 per cent result from you. So we used to work harder and pay more attention to the songs.”

Revealing a not-very-well-known fact about HDDCS, Narayan says, “The song, Chand Chhupa Badal Mein’, was in the film for the first 10 days. Then one day Sanjay ji said, ‘Some people say that this song doesn’t work’ and eventually he removed it from the film for about 4-5 days. Later, the distributors came up to him and demanded the song to be added back as it was a popular track, which he later did.”

Still from the film Goliyo ki Rasleela: Ram Leela. Facebook image

Still from the film Goliyon ki Rasleela: Ram Leela. Facebook image

Like father, son Aditya Narayan also has a great regard for Bhansali and holds him in high esteem. But, Aditya has seen that aspect of Bhansali which none of the others mentioned above have — the one where Bhansali composes for his own films. Having worked as an assistant director to Bhansali on Ram Leela, Aditya has been part of the whole process — from conceptualising a song to finally recording it.

Elucidating the creative process of Bhansali, as witnessed during the making of Ram Leela, Aditya says, “Since he is also the music director of his film, he knows where exactly to bring in musical elements – like an aalap, taan, or any instrument for that matter. All of this would be pre-decided. He would do all this at the editing table when the film is already shot. He is so sorted with his screenplay, that when we are jamming he is literally creating a scene of his film.”

Bhansali’s affection to Indian classical, folk music

Bhansali is indeed among the few who still holds the baton of Indian music loud and strong. The influence of Indian classical music and folk music on Bhansali is evident through his films’ discography.

Be it the pure semi-classical numbers like Albela Sajan’, ‘Kaahe Chhed Mohe’, ‘Mohe Rang Do Laal’; or the essentially folk-based songs like ‘Dholi Taaro‘, ‘Nimbooda’, ‘Dola Re Dola’,Pinga’, ‘Nagaada Sang Dhol,’ ‘Lahu Muh Lag Gaya’ and much-recent ‘Ghoomar’— music aficionados will abide by the fact that Bhansali’s songs are musically richer (in the most high-brow perspective possible) and at the same time have immense mass appeal. And, that is a feat which is rather difficult to achieve in the mainstream cinema.

Classical bhansali

Clockwise: Stills of the songs ‘Mohe Rang Do Laal’, ‘Dola Re Dola’, ‘Pinga’ and ‘Kaahe Chhed Mohe’. Facebook images

Even the comparatively lighter songs like Aankhon Ki Gusktaakhiyaan’,Jhonka Hawaa Ka’, ‘Bairi Piya‘, ‘Silsila Ye Chaahat Ka‘, ‘Jab Se Tere Naina‘, ‘Yoon Shabnami’, Thode Badmaash‘, ‘Laal Ishq’, ‘Aayat‘, ‘Deewani Mastani— are deeply rooted in Indian music. That is also one of the reasons behind the magnificence he is able to bring into his films. In other words, the grandeur of his film’s music is indeed an extension of his larger-than-life films.

An insider from the Bollywood music industry, on the clause of anonymity, explains Bhansali’s acumen of blending Indian music to mainstream cinema. “More than the composition of the song, what really matters is how the instrumentation is done. Bhansali deliberately makes Indian classical arrangements. Much like SLB’s characters, his films’ music is also very Indian, rooted to Indian folk, set in a classical arrangement. Because he has given you such songs and people have liked it again and again, you can’t remove a ‘Nimbooda’, ‘Dola Re Dola’ or an Udi Udi’ from Bollywood’s musicscape.”

When Bhansali took the risky route and yet succeeded

It isn’t that Bhansali has always stuck to his tried-and-tested formula. While he has given mammoth hits — in terms of cinema and music both — with films like HDDCS, Devdas or a Bajirao Mastani which are true-blue Indian flavoured delights, he has also had his own fair share of experiments.

Films like Black, Guzaarish, or even Khamoshi were based on Anglicised households, English-speaking characters — a demographic sample seldom explored in Indian films, let alone being successful. But Bhansali aced at that too; like his films, the songs from the movies also enjoyed mass popularity. A film like Black with no on-screen songs at all, boasted of a classic like Haa Maine Chhukar Dekha Hai’ that still gives goosebumps to any listener. Khamoshi‘s songs — ‘Aaj Main Upar’, Yeh Dil Sun Raha Hai’, ‘Aankhon Mein Kya’ — encapsulated the spirit of the film and its characters.

AngloBhansali

Stills from (clockwise): Saawariya, Guzaarish, Khamoshi and Black. Facebook images

Guzaarish, being an above-average performer at the box-office met with very positive reviews and critical acclaim. Some of the songs from the film — ‘Udi Udi’, ‘Sau Gram Zindagi Hai‘, ‘Tera Zikr’, ‘Keh Na Sakoon’ — definitely qualify to be among the bests of Bhansali’s music.

Songs from Saawariyathe title track, ‘Mashallah or ‘Pari (a rather less-known song) — also beautifully blended to the film’s canvas. Whatever be the fate of the film, the songs of Saawariya were right at the top of music charts.

And then again, Bhansali does know a thing or two about being on top of music charts.

Published Date: Jan 19, 2018 15:57 PM | Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 15:57 PM


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ASC Awards: Roger Deakins wins top cinematography honour for sci-fi film Blade Runner 2049

Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins has won the top award for a theatrical release at the 32nd annual American Society of Cinematographers Awards, for his fantastic and surreal imagery of Denis Villeneuve’s film Blade Runner 2049, as reported by Variety.

Roger Deakins. Image from Twitter/@TalkFilmSoc

Roger Deakins. Image from Twitter/@TalkFilmSoc

This is the fifth honour for the cinematographer by the prestigious body, including a Lifetime Achievement award in 2011. Deakins has already won the Golden Globe for Blade Runner 2049 this award season, and is the current favourite for an Oscar, an achievement that has eluded the veteran cameraman, known for his work in The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, and The Assassination of Jesse James. Traditionally, in the 32 year long history of ASC Awards, thirteen winners have gone on to win the Oscar as per the same report.

Blade Runner 2049, saw Deakins build on Ridley Scott’s original and influential neo-noir futuristic world. The film was marked with giant, intensely illuminated holograms advertisement interact with the lead actor, and a glitch-ridden virtual Elvis Presley performance in a low-lit abandoned Las Vegas auditorium. The dusty, apocalyptic vision of the Blade Runner universe was deftly crafted by Deakins for the 2017 sequel.

“He has to be Roger Deakins on every shot. He has all the pressure of the world on his shoulders. He’s very, very focused. He doesn’t talk very loud. He doesn’t like to repeat. And his crew…his crew would die for him,” Villeneuve, who has collaborated with Deakins on his two earlier films, Prisoners and Sicario, told Vanity Fair.

ASC Awards also honoured lensman Mart Taniel with the spotlight award for November. The honour focuses on excellence in world cinema. Taniel beat the exquisite Hungarian movie On Body and Soul, which is also up for an Academy Award this year.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:02 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:02 PM

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North India’s angry young men: Snigdha Poonam examines a generation’s anxieties in her new book, Dreamers

Upon reading Dreamers, Snigdha Poonam’s splendid cultural study of a generation’s appetite for ruthless ambitions and change, it’s apparent that India’s young men from the north are driven by a peculiar hunger. They chase fame, fortune, power and lofty dreams just like every other millennial but these small town youth are unlike their city counterparts. It’s an unquenchable anger that sets them apart — anger that their country was spoilt by the Congress, anger that corruption was at its peak, anger over their lost izzat, anger over the lack of jobs… Enough anger to make them want to be famous, important and rich beyond their dreams. And while some of them are lucky enough to realise their dreams, some others are stuck in an illusion forever.

Poonam, who writes for Hindustan Times, travelled to India’s towns and villages in the north, besides her own hometown of Ranchi, to find out what these young Indians wanted. “The idea was to [go to a small town] find out four or five people whose stories stood out and follow them for a year to see how close they get to their dreams. As I progressed with that brief, it became a larger project,” she says. Initially, Poonam chose four people in and around Ranchi, but as she travelled to other places, it became 6-7 people in 3 or 4 locations, to whom she kept going back for anywhere between a year and three years.

Snigdha Poonam

Snigdha Poonam

South India and its millennial population feel like a glaring omission from the book, but Poonam says she chose north India for a reason — that it was “representative of the frustrations of this generation because it does more badly than south India; its level of education and employment is poorer. More logistically, the book was never meant to be a sequel to Butter Chicken in Ludhiana [Pankaj Mishra’s travelogue on small-town India]. I was doing the opposite thing; I wanted to limit the number of people and places,” she says.

Among the people Poonam meets is Pankaj Prasad or ‘The Fixer’, an entrepreneurial young man in southern Jharkhand, who is a small-time lobbyist and liaison — an important link between the  state administration and citizens — or rather a go-to man for villagers ready to pay him for sarkari services. Then there’s the founder of WittyFeed or ‘The Click-Baiter’, a startup that thrives on American obsessions from Kim Kardashian and lip-sync battles to banal listicles on Katy Perry’s weirdest faces. To match success stories, Dreamers also has a chapter on the disputers — the angry young men complaining about the future of this country and turning to various Hindu groups who tend to their anxiety. Like Vikas Thakur, with his funky tattoo and beach sandals, who wants to become a politician because he wanted to stand up for Hindus. Or 19-year-old Arjun Kumar who cannot wait for Valentine’s Day year after year because it’s the only day he can deal with couples the way he wants, with an iron rod.

Poonam also gifts us with a rare chapter on an angry young woman — Richa Singh, who fought the Allahabad University elections and won and moved on to mainstream politics. Just like the south Indians who are absent from this book, women too are very obviously missing. But it wasn’t intentional, says Poonam. “I met young women too who had dreams, but when you talk to young men about their dreams, they’re not just talking about their own dreams but also what they want for their country and what they want from the world.” For many young women dreamers, “it was about changing their own lives and in some sense that itself was a huge leap for them to take and they weren’t going to talk about how India should go back to becoming the glory of world civilisation. A lot of the anxiety about their place in India and India’s place in the world was very manly,” she says.

To round off, Poonam has the strugglers as well — men who dream big, plan elaborate and push hard but still remain at the lowest possible level, men like Mohammad Azhar who dream of becoming Bollywood superstars but instead get exploited.

The underbelly of Dreamers not just gives us a peek into toxic masculinity and anger, but also uncovers the appeal of religion, specifically Hinduism, to these men. What does it offer them in a way of appeasing anger or giving them something to move forward? According to Poonam, it offers them a basic sense of identity, honour, and masculinity. “When I spoke to these young men, they were not speaking about religion per se because I knew more about religion than they did and they didn’t connect with any texts, they didn’t have the most basic understanding of what they were fighting for, starting with cows,” she says. And most of the angry men just ended up being Hindu. “I was looking for anger in general, but what I found was that the minorities — young Muslim and Dalit men — were busier looking ahead in terms of opportunities, whereas the Hindu men were looking at the past, at what they had lost, and wanted to restore the old order. Religion had very little meaning in their lives…”

Book cover for Dreamers

Book cover for Dreamers

Essentially, these men always saw a society that’s constantly conspiring against them and their Hindu heritage. They also saw a leader in Narendra Modi — someone like them who’d made it, from tea vendor to Prime Minister — who promised them the India they wanted, whose politics aligned with theirs and whose rhetoric reeked of Hindu nationalism. Modi would transform their beloved India back to its glorious past, they believed. Poonam says that the growing young population she talked to were political in an ambitious, idealistic way in that that there should be smooth roads, no corruption, and trains running on time. “But there was a general hope in Narendra Modi and a lot of disappointment in how Congress had steered the country since independence. That is very common and a lot of that was borrowed perception,” she says.

Poonam writes that less than 17 percent of India’s graduates are immediately employable and only 2.3 percent of the workforce has undergone formal skills training, which means that the country needs to educate about 100 million young people over the next 10 years, “a task never before undertaken in history”. Yet these young Indians, who have grown up with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and “cultural values of their grandparents”, are creating opportunities for themselves in various fields with the help of the ubiquitous internet. Facebook especially, Poonam says, is a tool through which young people are able to manage how other people see them. “The sense that they can manage their perception is very common among young people even in the villages. Even if you want to have the slightest of part to play in politics — and these are the people who are doing this at the block, tehsil level — Facebook and WhatsApp is where they like to do that and they’re becoming really good and smart at it.”

Perhaps this is how young Indians will change the world, one status at a time.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM


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Jayam Ravi on upcoming space film Tik Tik Tik: ‘It’ll be a milestone in the history of Tamil cinema’

Actor Jayam Ravi, who established his career by starring in Tamil remakes of several popular Telugu films in the beginning of his career, made really interesting choices in the last three-four years which has paid off handsomely.

From playing a boxer in Bhooloham to turning into a zombie in Miruthan, he was last seen on screen playing a tribesman in Vanamagan. As he awaits the release of Tamil cinema’s first space film Tik Tik Tik, in which he plays an escape artist cum astronaut, Ravi opens up in an exclusive chat with Firstpost about the experience of working in the film which is unlike anything he’s done in his career so far.

Jayam Ravi in Tik Tik Tik.

Directed by Shakti Soundar Rajan, the film marks Ravi’s second collaboration with the director after the zombie actioner Miruthan. Recalling how the project materialised, he said: “After the release of Miruthan, Shakti called me one day and said he has two scripts – a big project and a small film. He asked me which one I want to work on. I told myself that I’m anyway not going to be around to do 200-300 films. Even if I do one film, the experience should be equivalent of doing five projects. I conveyed the same thought to Shakti and that’s when he pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik.”

As much as Ravi was excited about the idea of starring in a space film, deep down, he was hesitant. “Initially, I was very hesitant. But I always look at positives over negatives in anything I do in life. When Shakti pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik, I saw many positives. A lot of people didn’t attempt a space film so far is because of the misconception that we can’t shoot in India and the high cost involved. But Shakti and I had faith in our script and we found a VFX studio (Ajax) in Chennai which delivered the kind of output which was beyond our expectations. We gave them some test shots to work upon and they came out really well.”

Despite his faith in Shakti and the script, Ravi said a lot of people couldn’t believe they could pull off a space film. “When I told some well-wishers and friends that I was going to do a space film, nobody believed in me or in the project. They looked down upon the idea itself. The bigger challenge for us was to script a movie like this in the first place. It needed a lot of vision and clarity. I could foresee the result when I read the script but nobody believed in us expect our producer. But I was quite confident because audiences have always supported whenever I attempted something different. Even though the execution was very strenuous, we were thrilled with the output which was beyond our satisfaction. It’ll be a milestone in my career and in Tamil cinema,” Ravi said, heaping praise on his director.

“A project of this scale and vision requires a lot of research work. Even while shooting, Shakti had to look after so many things as this is a script that’s powered by logic. Since it’s about science and space, he had to keep in mind several things when on the sets. We had to make sure that everything looked believable. Shakti was well backed by art director Murthy. They complemented each other so well. This is a film with a lot computer graphics and most scenes were shot on green mat. A lot of planning went into the shooting process. Everything the actors could touch was actually built from scratch. What the actors couldn’t touch which was mostly everything in the background was created with the help of CG.”

Nearly 80 percent of the film was shot in zero gravity condition. A race against time thriller, it’s a story of five astronauts, who go on a mission to stop an oncoming attack of a meteorite. “As most of the shooting took place in zero gravity conditions, we had to be attached to the harness. We’d wear the space suit and then be attached to the harness for long hours. We’d shoot from morning to evening and most of the times we don’t even take a break because taking off the suit and putting it back on was a time-consuming process.”

Having grown up watching space films such as Deep Impact, Armageddon and 2001: A Space Odyssey among others, Ravi hopes that children celebrate Tik Tik Tik as this generation’s space film, which also stars his son, Aarav, in a pivotal role. “I really hope children warm up to this film. When we made Miruthan, it was passed with an A certificate by CBFC, so it was not suitable for children. I’m sure Tik Tik Tik will appeal to children as well,” he said.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM


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