It is not easy tailing Indian Ocean. In the cooler months when the music season peaks, the four-man rock band rarely gets to stay in the same city two days running. But writer Jaideep Varma hung on like a typical Teflon-skinned groupie for six months.
He followed the group around wherever the day took them—in the rehearsal room, at a concert, on the road, and at home. With him went a cameraman, a sound recordist and an assistant director.
Varma ended up with 195 hours of footage on the group’s life on stage and behind it. He is now hard at work at Cartwheel, his advertising firm that produced the film, pruning the footage to a more compact two and a half hours. When the film, Leaving Home, shot at a cost of Rs35 lakh, is released later this year, it will have everything a Hindi film could ask for: lots of drama and, more importantly, many songs—100 minutes of it to be precise.
“What charged me was telling the story of these four very different, but singularly determined regular middle-class individuals, who sacrificed a lot to stay true to their music. Even after making it on their terms, they retain a fierce collective integrity,” he says.
Two years ago, Varma would have been laughed out of the box office for planning a quixotic venture. It took him five years to work up the nerve to kick-start the project, with a script in hand. But the film world is becoming more tolerant of experiments and audiences seem ready for local versions of Buena Vista Social Club, Last Waltz, Crossing the Bridge—screen classics that document the musical journey of artistes. And the band has one big Bollywood hit to itself in the recent months, Bande h from Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday.
Indian Ocean itself was a reluctant star. Bass guitarist and vocalist Rahul Ram says he felt sceptical about the film’s format. “I could understand bringing out a DVD featuring us at concert, but a feature-length film? I didn’t see how it could work, but he was confident he could pull it off,” says Ram.
Varma’s association with the band goes back to the release of their milestone album Kandisa (this, incidentally, is also their most popular number, which audiences sing along without a clue as to what the lyrics mean). He had been impressed with the novelty of the band’s sounds and reviewed it for a music column.
It is difficult to put a name to Indian Ocean’s music since it seamlessly fuses folk, rock and classical elements, and is totally inimitable. “You can make cover versions of just about every singer and band, but Indian Ocean is tough to imitate,” he says.
The film’s journey also brings out the story of the individuals who make the group. What Varma recalls most from the shooting were the creative moments of the musicians. In their rehearsal room in Delhi’s Karol Bagh, the four, strongly individualistic artistes, would argue, jam and fight over ideas (sometimes viciously, as the camera documents) but the moment the music started, the differences would be resolved. “Almost magically,” says Varma.
Another great camera moment came when well past midnight, the troupe was packing up to leave. Halfway through saying their goodnights, Kalim plays a random riff on the guitar. Chakravorty picks up the teasing line and works up music around it. And before they were halfway to the door, there was a great song in the making.
Sixteen years ago, when the group set out to make music, it was not easy to make a mark with original sounds. Two of the band members, Susmit Sen and Asheem Chakravarty, left salaried jobs to nurture a full-time band. In early years, this meant doing odd musical jobs to keep afloat. It is not easy to keep individual egos at bay in creative groups as the talented Silk Route found to its dismay. But the Indian Ocean foursome have managed to find a balance between individual interests and the group’s agenda.
The shooting was scheduled over three trying sessions. The story is told through a series of comprehensive interviews with the band members, their family members and friends, besides their peers and admirers in different fields.
“It was a trial. We were being shot through horrible summer months and we kept saying ‘Bahut ho gaya’. But he wanted to trail us at concerts to see how cities and audiences influence musicians. We liked what we saw at the end. More power to him if he thinks he can sell us at multiplexes,” says Ram.
Susmit Sen’s guitar sound is the first recognizable thing about Indian Ocean: distinctive and notes-based (as opposed to chord-based). He is quite opinionated, determined and very focused about the kind of music he feels the band should do. Personal passions include ornithology, food, and football.
Asheem Chakravarty’s lived-in vocals and instinctive rhythm structures as a percussionist are unique. He has a remarkable sense of the ridiculous—his tangential take on things and lightness of touch make him endearing.
Rahul Ram’s uninhibited voice and bass-playing style is full of life. He is erudite, argumentative, fun-loving and has a highly non-materialistic outlook on life.
Amit Kilamhas an innovative Indian drumming style. He is practical, business-minded and tech-savvy. He is a keen observer of things human and otherwise, and with many interests like travelling, driving, wildlife, movies and photography.
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