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Review

Old man and the see

Gajagamini is M F Husain's surreal tribute to his muse Madhuri, and to the Indian woman, but don't expect anything musically daring



Gajagamini
HMV
Rs 55

M F Husain saw Madhuri Dixit in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. Her back shows through a purple sari and a blouse (whose revealing cut was destined to become a cult fashion statement), and she turns to look a catapult-armed Salman Khan in a scene now considered a classic freeze in Indian popular cinema. Husain was hooked, and announced to the world that he was in love with her, and that her "body language is out of the world". For your information, he also likes Manisha and Kajol.

The 80-year-old celebrity painter describes Madhuri as the epitome of Indian womanhood -- "sensuous without being vulgar". He painted a series on her, and before her, on Mother Teresa. Husain's is a very public art: he chooses widely worshipped icons, which could include deities like Ganesha and Hanuman, or famous women like Madhuri and Mother Teresa, to create paintings that revel in a childlike playfulness. Of course the cynics will say picking public icons makes good business sense, and it's also true that not many of us can seriously admit to being in "love" with film actresses without being told that we're cuckoo (A young man in Andhra Pradesh was arrested because he claimed he was married to Priyanka Gandhi!). But all said and done, you must grant this to Husain: he didn't set out to make another Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. He used celebrity names to attempt a surrealistic film that Bhupen Hazarika calls "24 canvases a second". Husain's film may have found money from producers more easily than an "art film" with unknown actors, but he still had great difficulty releasing it.

Gajagamini means one who has the gait of an elephant. This is a classical Indian description for a woman who walks with langorous dignity. Sounds quaint, and maybe even abnormal and comic, in an age of anorexia nervosa, and Miss Worlds chattering about their calories and work-outs. Husain borrows not just the title but also characters from the past; the film is a virtual journey in history with Kalidasa (Mohan Aghashe) and Leonarda da Vinci (Naseeruddin Shah) co-existing with Madhuri, who plays several roles and moves through time.

The music of Gajagamini comes from another big name: Bhupen Hazarika. Which means the film brings together three living legends -- Husain, Madhuri and Bhupen Hazarika. And do three legends a great album make?

Gajagamini, tu hai man mohini is sung by Bhupen Hazarika. The poem describes the several roles of woman -- lover, goddess, nature.

This tune, and the next, Meri payal bole (Kavita Krishnamurthy), seem unable to escape from Bhupen Hazarika's favourite raga Bhoop inflexions that Hindi audiences first heard in Dil goom goom kare. The orchestra moves from drums to violins and swarmandal, and even the tabla, mridangam and pakhawaj exchanges and a bagpipe passage fail to give it much character.

Hamara hansa gaya videsh, again by Kavita Krishnamurthy, has a folksy feel, and might have sounded better if a less thin voice had sung it.

Suman Devgan sings two shlokas from Kalidasa. It's in raga Yaman, and it's in the tired teledocumentary style of singing.

Do saidyon ke sangam brings in another star from the commercial circuit, Udit Narayan. It opens with the sound of a camera clicking, but the instrumental bits and the interludes are composed so mechanically you might mistake this for a number from some undistinguished, late Dev Anand film. It has a guitar strumming away prominently.

Deepak raag is sung competently by Shankar Mahadevan, and sounds like a basic lakshan geet in jhap taal. It is accompanied by a pakhawaj and some distant buzzing sounds.

Protest march, with its violin ensemble runs, high-pitched chorus and frantic rhythm on various south and north Indian drums, sounds like something out of a V Shantaram movie. It is an instrumental piece, with a voice doing the main melody parts and the violins running helter skelter continuously.

Yeh gathri taaj ki tarah is a conventional song by Hindi film song standards, and features a violin ensemble backing up almost the entire song. Sung by Kavita, it also goes off into bhajan mode once in a while. The flute and rhythm make it sound like something from Laxmikanth Pyarelal, and the Arabian-style violin phrases add a tiny surprise element.

If you come to this album looking for something daringly different, you'll find little to rave about. The orchestra arrangement and the sounds are what you've heard over and over again. Husain promises two sequels to Gajagamini, and who knows he may offer something musically more innovative in them.

Vidyaranya H K


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