Some of you film buffs may already have heard of Beware Dogs directed by Spandan Banerjee, but not too many would have had the opportunity to watch this 45-minute film from India to be screened at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam, or IFFR, in February.
Close-up: Beware Dogs travels to Rotterdam in February.
Don’t be misled by the title. It has nothing to do with dogs. Quite the contrary. It’s a film about the music of Indian Ocean, one of India’s best loved bands. Shot on the mini DV format with a single camera, the film’s location is a dilapidated bungalow at Khajoor Lane in the crowded Karol Bagh area of New Delhi, where Asheem Chakravarthy, Susmit Sen, Rahul Ram and Amit Kilam (known collectively as Indian Ocean) meet and rehearse. And this isn’t a designer-dilapidated studio, mind you. This is a truly, unabashedly dilapidated place; scotch-taped to upright position with grit and determination and music that the band has been making for years now, much to the delight of its ever growing fan following.
As you enter the gates, you notice the address—16/330, Khajoor Lane—on one side and a beat-up, rusty signboard that carries the warning “Beware Dogs” on the other side. Whether this warning is meant to frighten off trespassers or is a warning to dogs to stay off the property is a problem the film won’t solve for you.
Instead, a large chunk of the film (in fact, almost 30 minutes) focuses squarely on the band working on two of its compositions—Bhor from the album Jhini and a new composition that was originally meant for the film Shunya, but finally did not make it to the soundtrack. The 13-minute rendition of Bhor itself is way above the three and four-minute track duration that has become the norm in this era of music videos.
Fortunately for everyone, no one is in a hurry here. Not the musicians, not the director of the film, not the director of photography. What’s more, everyone is relaxed, not posing and posturing, and quite disarmingly unselfconscious. Even the sound, which the director informed me was mixed by drummer Amit Kilam, has a natural, live feel to it without the hissing, spitting, crackling sibilance that is so common on over-produced tracks one hears so often.
When the musicians speak in the film, it is not to put forth tall claims, but to reconstruct and articulate the process through which they arrive at a composition. The challenges they face, the influences of folk music that are typical of their work, the arguments and disagreements that are bound to crop up in a creative collaboration are all here, but are never overstated. The film, thankfully, lets the musicians be the people they are, without powdering and pancaking them beyond recognition.
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org