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Lagaan: Aamir Khan's dream movie

 

 

 

 

 

 


A R Rahman's music 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 .

 

 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Aamir Khan with debutant Gracy Singh

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review

It's today's music. Period!

  
If you are sated by the digitally enhanced and blinding splashes of modern-day music, and are looking for some musical sepia, Lagaan may not be the album for you

Lagaan
Rs 55
Sony Music

Two of Indian cinema's landmarks revolving around the peasant that I can immediately think of are Do Bhiga Zameen and Naya Daur .

There 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 Kaun and 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 is done 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?

A strange 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 Zubeidaa. 

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. Sukhwindara Singh, Shankar Mahadevan and Alka Yagnik weave their voices with his. The deep tones of the drums anticipate the thunderclouds and paint a 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.

Aamir 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 Aamir Khan.

S Suchitra Lata

 

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