Friday, July 30, 2010

I Love Desi 4: Loosies

The fourth and final segment of the India 2010 retrospective, Loosies, covers the miscellaneous left-overs. The section could also be called Love Is In The Air because most of the numbers have a romantic undercurrent. But "Chalo Re Doli Uthao Kahar" is hardly a lovers' ballad, and these are not all stand-out anthems. Rather, they're just some fun ones to cap the series. Enjoy, and goodbye July!

"Accident Ho Gaya" (from Coolie)

Without noticing, I picked up a bunch of soundtracks for films starring longtime megastar Amitabh Bachchan. The actor doesn't really have a Western equivalent in terms of ubiquity and longevity. Put it this way: the man is on everything from insurance ad billboards to award-winning films.

Coolie became famous even before its release because of a serious on-set accident that Bachchan suffered. That said, the writing team of Laxmikant-Anand turn out a fairly neat soundtrack. There are some pretty cool accordion and electric guitar leads on "Lambuji Lambuji," but "Accident Ho Gaya" gets the pick for capturing the over-the-top qualities of Bollywood: receiving flower wreaths from birds, dancing atop train cars, rolling around in a street filled with limes... the usual.

Admittedly the other half of the disc is melodramatic, but there are enough acoustic guitar accompaniments to lend an accessible feel.

As an aside, in late April Bachchan announced on his blog that he had contracted a form of Hepatitis from a blood transfusion required after the aforementioned accident. If anything is more surprising than this revelation, it's the fact that the guy has been blogging almost everyday since April 2008. He's 67 and stays on his grizzly!

"Chalo Re Doli Uthao Kahar" (from Jaani Dushman)

The incomparable Mohammed Rafi on this somber joint from the climax to the horror thriller Jaani Dushman. His rather sincere take seems a bit ridiculous in the context of a film where a Walgreen's Wolfman kills brides-to-be, but also brings a welcome sense of levity to Reena Roy's final parade as a single woman. Will she be axed? Or will the good guys save her? Watch and find out!

"Kya Gazab Karte Ho Jee" (from Love Story)

Two tales of teen lust from two different composers. The first is another R.D. Burman joint: a lightly syncopated guitar and a coy Asha Bhosle are about as close you'll get to doo wop in Bollywood. But the pairing is appropriately youthful and seductive--a perfect match for Aruna Irani seducing the virginal Kumar Gaurav rocking the MJ jacket

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I Love Desi 3: Go, Go!

Continuing the India 2010 retrospective is part 3, Go, Go! Not just go-go, but the thrill that makes you shout those words emphatically and repeatedly. Bollywood is filled with these moments, particularly in its cabaret numbers and action sequences. Here are a few that I came up on:

"Piya Tu Ab To Aja" (from Caravan)

The story of a woman on the run who joins a caravan. You know the music has to be good! Musically, this was my favorite find. End-to-end burners on this R.D. Burman score from 1971. The slinky and mysterious "Piya Tu Ab To Aja" is a load of fun. The slow burn intro makes way for an Afro-Cuban breakdown and Asha Bhosle yodeling "Hi-De-Ho!!" Or at least that's what I hear. It's a gradual burner with fun twists and turns to get you cha-cha-cha-ing or twisting in a drunken frenzy. No wonder by the end of the number Helen is ripping off her clothes. The Bollywood icon kills it with her Tammy Faye eyes and Liza-like hustle.

"Darogaji Chori Ho Gai" (from Gautam Govinda)

One of the three joints G&G picked up, and I had exceptionally high hopes for this one simply b/c it has G's name in the title. And Laxmikant Pyarelal did the score. The music is good, but hardly exceptional. So, I went with the old reliable: the romance joint. Asha Bhosle voices for Moushmi Chatterjee, as the Bengali actress' character lays her mack down on male lead Shashi "Inspector Gautam" Kapoor.

"Yeh Dil Na Hota Bechara" (from Jewel Thief)

S.D. Burman's Jewel Thief was the second find and fares much better. Overall the songs are cheeky and fun, a good match for the slickly-shot film (lots of great single-take tracking shots, particularly during the "Raat Akeli Hai" number)

The sequence itself is an amusing if dated meeting of past and present (convertible v. cows), East and West (uh, convertible v. cows). But the music is a pleasant ditty with Kishore Kumar showing off some yodeling in the intro.

"Disco Station" (from Hathkadi) (off some MP3 CD)

In the '50s there were songs with a train motif. In the '60s and '70s there were meta songs about specific "in" dances, e.g. "Do the ____" And in 1982 you could count on a Hindi film to re-imagine these stock tropes as a Frankenstein-stiff bustler like "Disco Station." Peep the borderline "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" string breakdown @ 2:20.

The number runs long for my tastes, but then again this was meant to be a dance number. And the spectacle of lovers disembarking from a soul train as little people guide them to their markers helps move the number along.

"Cabaret Dance Music" (from Dharmatma)

The Feroz Khan film is another mega-hit from 1975 and the entire soundtrack is a beast. The Kalyanji-Anadji team stretch out on a set that includes everything from ferocious Pathani drumming to conventional romantic numbers like "Kya Khoob Lagti Ho" to the epic "Title Music," which Jaylib fans should be familiar with. The slinky, voodoo-inspired cabaret scene gets featured here as it's a primo slice of action-sequence muzack.

"Ae Meri Awaz Ke Dosto" (from Aamne Samne)

It's A Man's Man's Man's World strings, a drum machine electro beat and Moroder synths all within the first minute. This isn't the only R.D. Burman cut to do so, but shit if you're in your 40s and still adopting new technology to keep your music current.

"Duniya Men" (from Apna Desh)

How do you explain this latin-tinged garage go-go explosion? Just as such. Unsurprisingly, the Sun City Girls covered this. Peep the tracking shot @ 3:04. If only Russ Meyers had a bigger budget and worked in India. Oh, and the proto-Austin Powers album cover?

"Gambler In Danger" (from Gambler)

The third and best of G&G's finds. Gautam's cousin Taij smiled when she saw this, which was a quick tip of the film's relative popularity. Another all-around solid set from S.D. Burman on this 1971 film. But g-d if the interstitial music isn't more interesting. Ranging from spaghetti ("Gambler's Dilemma") to lounge ("Gambler Faces Another Problem") to this all-out action sequence burner.

Next up is the fourth and final part, Loosies...

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Love Desi 2: The Other

I'm continuing the review of India 2010 with part 2, The Other. In other words, Bollywood's incorporation and exploration of other music styles and ethnicities. A quick reminder: this is simply based off the tunes I picked up and hardly a comprehensive look.

"O Diwano Dil Sambhalo" (from The Great Gambler).

Asha Bhosle & R.D. Burman. That's like Snoop & Dre, India & MAW; a winning combo. The soundtrack restores the song's highlight--a brooding opening that that sounds like Morricone shouting, "Attenzione!" I know, this bit is clipped from the film. But plenty to enjoy once the Tijuana Brass breaks out.

"Na Mangun Sona Chandi" (from Bobby)

Laxmikant Pyarelal's soundtrack to this early teen rom-com affair appropriately pairs a swinging "Volare" beat with Tijuana Brass. Didn't know they shot this scene in Epcot Center. Anyway, turns out there's more of this Italian folk-inspired music...

"Chahe Koi Khush Ho" (from Taxi Driver)

The great thing about Hindi music television is there is an abundance of playback singer video shows. Problem is they don't credit any of the singers or the film sources. So, I haven't been able to track down any of the moments that I enjoyed the most. Nevertheless, I tried to find some older soundtracks and came across this S.D. Burman effort from 1954. Much of the music and film feels quaint in an almost Merry Melodies way. And then there's this cut, which seems to further support the idea of some Italo-Indo link. With a delightfully skipping rhythm similar to "Funiculi, Funicula", no surprise it's a gaggle of guys chummily singing as they try to drive a busted jalopy down the road.

"Denewala Jabhi Deta (from Funtoosh)

This S.D. Burman track is not necessarily the best from Funtoosh, but is notable for its roll call of ethnic stereotypes: Chinese, Russians, Hawaiians and gay Black pirates all get some. Hardly shocking, but more fascinating for why these particular groups were chosen.

Next up will be part 3, Go, Go!

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

I Love Desi 1: Big Themes

Went to India back in March. Oddly, it was a finance guy that summed it up: "Was it everything from depths-of-poverty crazy to mind-blowingly awesome?"


It is the sort of experience that is so all-encompassing that it makes no sense to speak of it in any general terms. Categories like food, politics, art, etc. need to be broken down to specifics. The taste of melting mutton and berries over a healthy bed of rice under a cool ceiling fan. The daily passing of electronic billboards that encourage unity to "vanquish terror." The feel of a slumgirl's dried, calloused hand as she grabbed my arm to get my attention. The luxury of wading in a country club swimming pool. The un-calculating smile of a driver at the end of a long day of sitting in the heat for hours and going through hell on the highway. The calculating smile of a driver at the end of 24 hours of constant swindling. The ecstasy of downing clean, pure water after a day of wandering. Etc., etc.

You'd think I would focus on the music, but I suppose I did in ways I hadn't planned: feeling the rhythm of rush hour traffic (both on the sidewalks and the streets); hearing the frequent din of religion; and of course seeing the flashy signifier of any metropolis: videos/television. I didn't take to the conventional ways of consuming music until the last few days when I realized, "Yikes, I haven't taken to the conventional ways of consuming music." A couple trips to Rhythm House, some peeks at the tellie and liberal use of Continental's direct movie system were about it. Hell, G&G dug at Chor Bazaar for me!

All to say, I owe G&G and y'all some love. Today's blend is a mix of tracks that I picked up and G&G picked up for me. The songs are all Hindi film songs from the '50s to the '80s. Being music from the past, all of it feels completely separate from the trip--like some lost appendix. That said, the music has a universal willingness to break boundaries--a sense of freedom we saw everywhere we went. Maybe that's why I gravitated towards the songs that freely incorporate other cultural elements; remind me again why it took so long for Western artists to mine South Asian music? Yet at the same time there is a quaintness that locks these songs in another time--similar to how the trip has been shelved away in my memory.

This post ran long, so I'll split it into four parts over the coming days: Big Themes; The Other; Go, Go!; and Loosies. The first section contains some of the "big" numbers that came into the collection:

"Mehbooba Mehbooba" (from Sholay)
"Hum Tumhe Chante Hain" (from Qurbani)

Sholay and Qurbani represent major commercial benchmarks in Bollywood history. The former is the highest-grossing film in Indian cinematic history and ran in one Mumbai theater for over 5 years. The film's theme music alone summarizes the film's mass appeal: a short, simple fusion of memorable playback melodies and '60s latin-'pop rhythms. Qurbani is an '80s hit that most everyone saw back in the day. But the soundtracks are pretty distinct.

R.D. Burman applied his typically eclectic touch to Sholay. I picked "Mehbooba Mehbooba" for the appearance of the composer on the vocals. He stepped behind the mic on occasion, but this one seems to capture the idiosyncratic qualities of his voice. The track itself is an interesting take on Cypriot folk music, which you could easily overlook given the camp value of the accompanying dance sequence.

Kalyanji-Anandji lend the Bondish Qurbani a classy touch (particularly the qawwali-inflected title cut). Many remember the unabashed pop flotsam "Aap Jaisa Koi," especially with its "Rock Me Baby" knock-off drum machine. But "Hum Tuhme Chahte Hain" is the standout with its faux celeste breakdown.

"Pretty Woman" (from Kal Ho Na Ho)

S.R. Khan being in the headlines was no surprise. The actor has been an institution for years now. While we were there, most of the press was about My Name Is Khan and his meeting with Akon for the upcoming film Ra One. That said, this joint from 2003 got some burn on the hotel tellie and reminded me of SRK's long-standing America-philia. Why this guy hasn't conquered the States yet is beyond me--this number screams I Love Apple Pie And NASCAR, Too!!

Next up will be part 2, The Other...

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