While everyone is going crazy cheering for Chak De! India, or ranting against Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag, I watched Jahaji Music directed by Surabhi Sharma—on DVD, and in the comfort of my home.
It is a decision I have not regretted for even a fraction of a second. Bollywood regularly, and unfailingly, churns out its usual quota of formula films, but it is only once in a blue moon that you get to see documentary films on music. And when you do get such a film, there are really no prizes for guessing that it is an independent producer or film-maker who is responsible for putting in the time, effort and skill, and who has diligently scoured and scraped budgets at the altar of film-making.
Produced jointly by scholar Tejaswini Niranjana and independent film-maker Sharma—who is also the director of the film—Jahaji Music is, at first glance, a film about chutney-soca music of the Caribbean which attempts to “weave a story of memory, identity and creativity”, as described in the synopsis.
The motific use of the jahaaj or ship is symbolic of the journey to the Caribbean made by indentured labour from Bihar in the mid-19th century. Over 150 years later, songs such as Hum Hi Chalab Tor Saath, rendered by a descendant, ring true with the characteristic Bhojpuri utterance. And yet, there is much that is different, and much that comes from the new identities and music that emerged as chutney-soca.
Interspersing this complex and detailed narrative is the presence of popular Goan musician Remo Fernandes, who was invited by Niranjana to explore a possible collaboration with Jamaican and Trinidadian musicians. There are, therefore, segments in the film that document Fernandes jamming with musicians in studios and on stage.
For me, these interactions could at best be called starting points which, perhaps, could come to fruition only if and when the collaborators wished to take the experiment further and also found the required support and funds to do so. Because, believe me, there isn’t a single big record label in the Indian music industry today that would have the vision to see the merit of such a collaboration. You’ll find enough of them bidding for albums featuring cricketers chirping along cutely with Indian singers or, better still, Bollywood stars-turned-crooners. But not even the infectious rhythms of chutney-soca could make their deaf ears perk up in interest.
I ask myself, is there anything in the world that might do the trick? Well, I guess if Jahaji Music were ever to hit the multiplexes and theatres, we could expect a deluge of Bollywood tracks lifted from chutney-soca hits, which have probably been influenced by Bollywood music in the first place. On second thought, it would probably be horrible imitations of dance hall queens with their unabashed sensuality that our desi item girls would attempt.
But I guess all of this is wishful thinking—because we’d first have to getJahaji Music screened at theatres. You up to it, SRK? And yes, I do mean Shah Rukh Khan. I mean, now that he has been hailed as the saviour of Indian hockey, surely he can spare a thought for independent film-making.
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org