A bunch of 20-somethings leave their comfortable jobs to pursue their passion in life—music. After nearly a decade of intense struggle, they become the country’s first commercially viable independent music band. They tour the world, and find success.
For a documentary, it almost sounds too “filmi”. But there’s more to music band Indian Ocean, argues director Jaideep Varma, than meets the eye. Leaving Home: The Life and Music of Indian Ocean, India’s first music documentary to release on the big screen, is Varma’s tribute to the four people—Asheem Chakravarty, Amit Kilam, Susmit Sen and Rahul Ram—who defined “contemporary Indian music”.
Varma has dabbled in several professions—advertising, music criticism, fiction writing and film-making. His first brush with Indian Ocean’s music was in 2000 when he reviewed their album Kandisa for the Gentleman magazine. He became a fan of their music. “When I got to know them as people I was fascinated by the stories they had to tell,” he says.
Fusion: Indian Ocean were also the subject of a 2008 film Beware Dogs, directed by Spandan Banerjee. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
In 2006, Varma, along with an assistant and a cameraman, started filming the band. He followed them for six weeks and shot everything they did and said. “They had been giving interviews for a while, so they had a practised manner in which they spoke in front the camera. I realized that if I had to get something interesting out of them I would have to wait for them to let their guard down,” he says. By the end of the shoot, he had 197 hours of footage.
Not surprisingly, it is the late Chakravarty, the band’s vocalist and percussionist and also the most outspoken member, who pours his heart out. The film starts and ends with him, and derives many of its solemn and light-hearted moments from him. The film intersperses individual interviews and banter with live concert footage, and watching Chakravarty perform brilliant renditions of rarer songs Desert Rain and Boll Weevil is deeply moving. In one sequence, Chakravarty talks to the camera with his mother sitting next to him. He talks about the bitterness he felt when his family never came to see him perform (“not even once”), while guitarist Sen’s family came for every single show. In the background, his mother’s face contorts with guilt.
For Varma, the film’s best moment is the one showing the reunion of Chakravarty and Sen with a former band member, Indrajit Dutta. Dutta was the band’s bass guitarist till 1991. He gave up music to support his family and lost touch with the band. Varma tracked him down and convinced him to be a part of the film.
The scene shows Dutta playing Sen’s guitar and regretting giving up music. “He intended to play for 10 minutes but went on for about 2 hours,” says Varma. The scene’s coda, where Dutta and Chakravarty sing a Bengali song with a refrain that translates as “why are you not near me?” is an evocative one. Dutta died in an accident in November and Chakravarty in December, of cardiac arrest.
“I was lucky that I shot the film when Asheem was alive but it’s sad that he never got to see the final film. Asheem was the most enthusiastic about the film, on a level that suggested that he felt that it was important that his life’s work be captured. This was not the attitude of the other three,” says Varma.
The film released in 10 theatres in seven cities on Friday but Varma remains sceptical of its success. “There is too much inertia in our times and we’re used to getting everything by a click so people may not make the effort to go see the film,” he says.
He’s not sure they’ll recover costs. The film cost went up from Rs12 lakh to over Rs50 lakh due to various reasons such as delays in shooting schedules and shooting with high-definition cameras. Varma’s next project is, therefore, a more financially sound one. “I’m thinking of robbing a bank.”
Leaving Home released in select theatres on Friday. For screening details, visit the official site at www.leavinghomethefilm.com--