Din mein jage, raat mein dare, hum baadal khojte phire. Vocalist Samyak Singh croons this line in Chhote sheher, a song by Mumbai-based five-piece band, City Haze. A pleasant-sounding ditty combining a simple melody with lyrical grace, soft drumbeats and an acoustic guitar, the engaging piece sounds embedded in clarity and freshness. A part of their debut EP, it has been downloaded not more than 20 times. Sochna ho toh cheekhte hain, Cheekhna ho toh sochte hain, Door kahin door, chal chalein… Singh follows with Mallar Sen on lead guitars, Soham Sarkhel on the keys, Abhigyan Arora on rhythm guitars and Debatra Ghosh on drums in Nadiya, another track from the same EP. The piece soars as filmmaker Jaideep Varma announces their existence in his new documentary Par Ek Din, named after a piece by the band.
For every musician who finds the pinnacle in the form of money and fame, there is a plethora of talented musicians who are trying to sustain themselves. Par Ek Din is a commentary on five of them and also symbolic of the rest of them. “Everybody tells stories about successful people and romanticises their struggling days. I thought we would tell the story about a band’s struggling days and romanticise their future,” says Varma in the opening voiceover in the film that takes us through the struggles of a band until they land their first live performance.
But much before Varma knew the band members, they knew him through his National Award-winning 2010 film Leaving Home — the Life and Music of Indian Ocean. In the film, Indian Ocean’s chiseled fusion rock and their trajectory inspired the five boys to create Shoonya, an Indian Ocean cover band. “But like cover bands have a short life, this one too died a natural death,” says Varma. A few months later, Soham went on to work with Varma’s company Impact Index and many years later told him about Shoonya. Varma asked him to continue his passion for music and said that he’d cover for him on Mondays if he needed to jam. “As his boss, I also wanted to know what he was upto. So I decided to meet the rest of the band and was fairly impressed by their music,” says Varma, who first met them in September 2015. He soon volunteered to make a film on them.
Even before he began, Varma knew the stark difference between Leaving Home — the Life and Music of Indian Ocean and Par Ek Din. The former chronicled the life and times of one of India’s more popular bands that had in every sense of the word, made it, while Par Ek Din looks at the struggles of a band grappling with making it in the cut-throat industry. They jam in a small Mumbai apartment, live together, deal with the pressure to get a regular job and try and create original music rather than what they are expected to — “two hooks in 30 seconds”.
“The contrast was there, yes. But, I really liked their music a lot. If the music hadn’t turned me on, there was no way I would have done this film,” says Varma. What also worked for him was the rooted sense of melody and Mallar’s way of treating it. “The singer-songwriter bit hasn’t happened consistently in our country. In City Haze’s 11 songs, I couldn’t find a single filler. Even senior artistes do that,” says Varma.
The filmmaker started by making a short film on the band but stretched it to an 89-minute feature. “I shot for two days and then realised I didn’t want to cut their songs. I liked them even more than I thought I did. It also wasn’t boring,” says Varma. He shot the entire film in four days.
The band, however, was quite apprehensive, wondering if people who don’t have time to listen to a four-minute song by them, would really watch an 89-minute film. “I told them that considering the four-minute song hasn’t worked, let’s see if this film does. Now their story, their music, their principles and struggles can be a calling card for them,”
What Varma also found interesting about the band, apart from Samyak’s gloomy-yet-witty lyrics, was the band’s classic influences and their old-world value systems in terms of making and presenting music. Their influences range from names whose presence in one sentence sounds interestingly odd — Motherjane, Guns N’ Roses, Madan Mohan, Kishori Amonkar, Led Zepplin, Gulam Ali and Lucky Ali among others.
At a time when even the most-feted artistes are releasing singles, City Haze isn’t interested. Mallar says, “An album points to a particular time in a band’s life. It is significant. I don’t understand singles.” Varma adds, “They also aren’t compromising musically to find success. At their age, it’s a very hearty thought to hear.”
He isn’t sure of the trajectory of the band’s career and knows that they may come up with a completely insipid album or project after this. “I like what they have done and the fact that they aren’t particularly kicked about their music. There is hunger for more despite nothing going right,” says Varma.