Two of Indian cinema's landmarks revolving
around the peasant that I can immediately think of are Do Bhiga
Zameen and Naya Daur .
haven't been too many peasant-centred films
lately. Let's first salute Aamir Khan for his courage in
making such a film in these times of Hum Aap Ke Hai
Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai.
It takes some artistic
conviction to make a celluloid saga about a peasant struggle. The
famous Kannada writer U R Anantha Murthy describes the present as a "Vysya
age". This, he says, is when business is the ultimate value that
common people aspire to, when businessmen are venerated over scholars,
musicians and statesmen. If Kamala Hasan's Hey
Ram, which documented Gandhiji's moral plea against Hindu-Muslim hatred,
failed miserably, while Suraj Barjatya's Hum Aap Ke
Hain Kaun, which was a reverential take on a business
family, succeeded so resoundingly, we might well be in the
middle of such an age.
The freedom struggle pushed a feudal
India towards at least thinking of,
if not actually
implementing, land reforms.
New land laws tried to help the peasants against exploitative landlords. Some states succeeded better than the others. Several groups continue to struggle for peasant rights: the Naxalite movement began basically as a peasant uprising against feudal tyranny.
Lagaan, Aamir Khan's home production, is
slated for a June release. It is
directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar. Rumours of differences between Aamir and Ashutosh, and of the re-shooting of 40% of this 19th-century period film, have made the rounds.
Shot in Bhuj, which now lies in ruins thanks to
the Republic Day 2001 earthquake, Lagaan features
the peasants of Bhuj playing their ancestors. The shooting unit was so touched by their grace and helpfulness that it made a Rs 25 lakh contribution to quake relief, adopted a village and pledged year-long support.
A R Rahman's music for this
film at certain points reaches for the simplicity of another age;
there is the ektara, a lone voice, the dafli and the
banjo, and some European-sounding waltz music. But even after
hearing the album several times, I had the feeling that the music
was very present day, with very little period feel. One is not
arguing stubbornly for "authenticity", but only looking for musical clues to a bygone
era, for a shade of musical sepia that one wants to absorb
and appreciate. We are, after all, sated with the digitally
enhanced, blinding splashes of today's music. (The classy
album jacket for Lagaan
in sepia tones though).
One reason I didn't find the colour of that period could be that
ultimately the orchestra is very familiarly Rahmanesque, and
the voices don't have the raw, rough beauty of, say, an old 78
rpm recording. We get to hear the same Udit Narayan, Alka
Yagnik, Sukhwindara Singh, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle.
Ilaiyaraja used D K Pattammal's voice for Vaishnava janato
at one point in Hey Ram, evoking another age through that
grand old lady's style. Don't know why Rahman
doesn't go in for unusual timbres in Hindi, as he does quite daringly
in Tamil. Remember the amazing unorthodox voices in songs like
Pete rap and Chukubuku chukubuku
and the fresh timbres in Taj Mahal?
dichotomy seems to be at work: films like Lagaan go all the
way in recreating the language, locales and costumes of the period
(Bhanu Athaya, who won an Oscar for her costumes in Richard
Attenborough's Gandhi, is the costume designer for
Lagaan too), but don't mind music that doesn't
really belong in those days. Shyam Benegal argued that he
wanted present-day music for his pre-Independence-days film
On to the tunes.
G hanan ghanan has
been on the television channels, and will probably emerge the
"chartbuster". As in other songs, Javed Akhtar uses the
Brajbhasha dialect, and the words echo traditional rain songs
that have entered the Hindustani classical repertoire. Javed spoke
somewhere about the difficulty of using a regional dialect
and getting across to a larger audience.
Raga Pilu, used frequently in thumris, is the major influence
here, and Rahman makes lines of uneven
length, a signature in many of his songs. There are varied rhythm tones adding to the simple
tune. Udit Narayan, who has been Aamir Khan's voice since the Qayamat Se
Qayamat Tak days, sings well.
Shankar Mahadevan and Alka Yagnik weave their voices with his. The deep
tones of the drums anticipate the thunderclouds and
welcome for the monsoon.
Mitwa highlights a dafli beat initially and for
the stanza banks entirely on a bass guitar and a subdued ghatam.
Sukhwinder Singh's voice is the
mendicant tone. Alka Yagnik's voice seems thicker than
usual. And there's Ustad Sultan Khan's sarangi
that plays some interludes. On the whole a rather undistinguished song.
Radha kaise na jale
swings in the style of the dandia song, and has a nicely oldwordly
tune, with a strong Gujarati flavour. Asha Bhonsle's voice
remains as light and effortless as ever. Pandit Vishwamohan Bhatt's
mohan veena plays some very ordinary phrases. There's a bit of raga
Bhim Palas here and there.
The theme Once upon a time in India
, with its harmonic patterns
of Western classical music, stands out
for its gradually built-up movement and good, acoustic tones. Anuradha Sriram's voice gives way to a huge chorus. Voices in the Wilderness, Mumbai, and the Methodist Church Choir, Chennai, add their textural richness and make this the best track on the tape. They were probably recorded separately and integrated later (music editing by H Sridhar).
O rey Chori is a love
song by Udit Narayan, Alka Yagnik and Vasundhara Das. The interludes
are in the Western classical style, and Vasundhara Das sings in
English. It's an Englishwoman's solo expression of being in love (unrequited perhaps?) while presumably the hero and heroine sing a duet.
Chale chalo by A R Rahman and Srinivas
would be the Saathi haath badhana of this film. 'Come what
may, we won't give up' is the sentiment it
proclaims. Shrinivas and Rahman sing together and also by
turns, and a female chorus joins in now and then. It's a song
of solidarity in a now-folksy, now-Westernised staccato spray of notes
that echo raga Jog (somewhat like
raga Naatai in Karnatak music). The orchestra takes
interesting turns, with the cello coming in at one point, and a sarangi playing somewhere in the background at another. The manjira (the small palm-sized cymbals used with bhajan singing) makes an appearance too. The song becomes faster towards the end and concludes on hand clapping and a banjo passage.
Waltz for a romance is well composed and has
the flow of the famous waltz Blue Danube. Warm cello and violins fill in, while the key
flute soars in and out.
O paalanhaare by
Lata Mangeshkar and Udit Narayan is a prayer where the peasants
express surrender to god, and Rahman uses the same orchestra he has
used in previous prayers: a beat emphasised by the tinkle
of a triangle, low violins, an occasional tabla.
Bombay and Pukar come to mind. The song has a
soft, movement and the tune brings out a mature Rahman,
but Lata's rendering fails him.
Aamir Khan spent three months just on the
climax of this four and a half hour film. But should he
worry because no pre-Independence film has done well? Kamal
Hasan's Hey Ram and Deepa Mehta's Earth 1947 (also starring
Aamir Khan) were box-office failures.
Khan describes producing Lagaan as a "highly
rewarding experience" which taught him a lot about "filmmaking,
dealing with people and coping with crises".
"Lagaan was a very demanding film. Almost every
scene required 50 actors," he says. Filmed entirely in one schedule
and using sync-dubbing (they keep the voices recorded at the
shooting, and do away with dubbing of voices in the studio),
this spectacle introduces Gracy Singh as the heroine opposite
S Suchitra Lata
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