MINISTRY OF SOUND

Sound Check,a documentary on indie music commissioned by the Ministry of External Affairs,is set to release this month

Written by Somya Lakhani | Published: July 2, 2012 3:38 am

Sound Check,a documentary on indie music commissioned by the Ministry of External Affairs,is set to release this month

About a year ago,documentary filmmaker Neela Venkatraman went to a Delhi pub where indie rocker Raghu Dixit was performing his sets. Dixit’s forte is high-energy Kannada tracks,and Venkatraman was understandably sceptic about the response he would get from the North Indian audience. She was in for a surprise. “In the heartland,here was a man singing in Kannada and the crowd was singing along,” she says,“this wouldn’t have been the scene a few years ago.”

This visit was a part of a research that she had begun in 2011 for a film on the indie music scene in India. None other than the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had commissioned it for the government’s Public Diplomacy Initiative. Titled Sound Check,the film was released online a few days ago and will be launched officially in a month. Even the indie bands featured in the film were surprised. “We were like — are you serious?” says John Thomas,36,member of a Kochi-based band,Motherjane. He adds,“The fact that there is government approval means indie music is here to stay.”

The 48-minute-long film features bands and artistes such as The Raghu Dixit Project,Indian Ocean,Swarathma,Agam,Motherjane,Yodhakaa and La Pongal,East India Company,Ravi Iyer,Dhruv Ghanekar and Rewben Mashawnga. “The concept is to show the change in the indie music scene in the last few years,as well as highlight the fact that many bands are tapping into their Indian roots,” says the 37-year-old director,adding firmly that indie music is “not fusion,mind you”.

“The bands are creating their own sound using their own languages and indigenous instruments alongside drums and guitars. Their music,however,has an international appeal,” she adds. Yodakhaa,for instance,uses Sanskrit shlokas while Advaita experiments with the sarangi and Ravi Iyer produces Raag Durga with the guitar. Sound Check manages to capture this variety in the genre.

Over 10 months,Venkatraman travelled to Mumbai,Pune,Guwhati,Sona Pani,Coorg,Bengaluru and Delhi. “It was supposed to be a 26-minute-long film but there was no way I could have done justice to it in that little time. I added my own funds and stopped myself at 48 minutes,” she says.

There is no narrator in the film,no voice-over guiding the audience through the points that the musicians are making in the film. The artistes are the guide here — they take the viewers from one spot to another — from a discussion on languages to instruments to the pride one feels now in local languages to deconstructing folk music.

“I am not proficient in music,then why should I pretend? The musicians here take the story forward,” says Venkatraman. From rehearsal jams to live gigs,the film is full of intelligent and witty observations about the indie scene. One just wishes Venkatraman had included more bands,artistes and genres. “I have a lot of footage and so many ideas are brimming. Maybe I will make another part?” she concludes.

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