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Rockumentary: The Evolution Of Indian Rock- Hot or Cold?


Film: Rockumentary: The Evolution Of Indian Rock
Director: Abhimanyu Kukreja
Genre: Rock music history
Rating: 7/ 10

One might have seen crowds singing along to Indus Creed’s Pretty Child or Gary Lawyer’s Nights On Fire. There are those too who have headbanged to the metal band Millennium or rocked to Parikrama or the Indian Ocean.

Though all these bands bloomed in the 1990s, the Indian rock story dates back to the late 1960s. Groups like the Mustangs, Great Society, the Jets, Savages, and Combustibles warmed the live circuit then. 

If Park Street, Kolkata, was the hub earlier, the Simla Beat Contest in Mumbai in the early 1970s gave a fresh fillip.

All these stories have been captured in fair detail by filmmaker Abhimanyu Kukreja in Rockumentary: The Evolution Of Indian Rock. It is now screening at select PVR venues since March 5.

The film covers scenes from people playing with “beat groups” out of passion to roles of music television channels in the ’90s accurately. It also illustrates the increasing emphasis on regional language Rock over the past decade.

For those looking for an overview of Indian rock, this is a very good document. Some of those who’ve been involved with music may feel something is missing. For instance, one might feel there should have been admissible referencing of singers like Ajit Singh and Biddu. Since they were big on the live scene in the early 1970s. Or of later bands like High, Shiva, Pentagram, or Parvaaz. Maybe they got chopped while editing.

The film is an hour and 20 minutes long. However, an additional 15 minutes would have been just perfect, with the right songs thrown in.


What About Rockumentary?

Nonetheless, Rockumentary has many highs. Kukreja uses a narrative style, describing his own journey of seven years to complete the film.

Hence, he covers his visits to The Beatles ashram in Rishikesh (the song Across The Universe plays in the backdrop) and Shillong to check the music scene and takes shots of the Mumbai Rang Bhavan gate after it was closed, blending these with concert footage received from different sources.

The interviews flow very well.  With the Jazz great Louiz Banks, and Shillong star Lou Majaw. They talk of the early Kolkata nightlife. With Mumbai vocalists Nandu Bhende, and Madhukar Chandradas about the Mumbai scenario. And also, their experience of performing in Alyque Padamsee’s version of the Rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. With Delhi singer Susmit Bose, and Mumbai-based Gary Lawyer. They talk of the resistance they faced. With Indus Creed’s Uday Benegal, the conversation is very blunt. It’s on how the preference for commercial music and Indipop by TV channels impeded the progress of Rock.

In hindsight, voices of industry-specific personalities would have provided a more rounded perspective. While VJ Luke Kenny gets fair footage, bytes from Jules Fuller (Channel V), Danny McGill (MTV VJ), or someone from the labels or event organisers was necessary.

Also, the role of magazines viz., Junior Statesman, and RSJ is portrayed quite well. One understands the popularity of the Independence Rock Festival organised by Farhad Wadia.


What Else?

Some interesting anecdotes, such as popular band, Police’s Mumbai show (1980), the one where the audience was expecting a police band. Another, the formation of Rock Machine (later named Indus Creed) or the last one, Shillong’s Blues band Soulmate talking about their interaction with guitar great Carlos Santana. These did add some variety to the script.

Sadly, Usha Uthup’s appearance is too short. She generally has many stories to tell the audience.

Any goof-ups? We spotted two glaring ones.

One person connected the Simla Beat Contest to the city Shimla, when Simla was actually a cigarette brand. Also, in the sub-titles, they described legendary film music director C Ramachandra as Sri Ramachandra. The research team should have got that right inevitably. Although it’s not a mistake, a popular Indian rock song should have accompanied the end credits.

In a larger perspective, of course, this is a commendable effort. For Kukreja, it has obviously been a labour of love. His structuring of the film is just right. The regular doses of trivia add to the effect.

Journalist Sidharth Bhatia puts together a similar anthology on the evolution of Indian rock, especially from the early period, in his book ‘India Psychedelic: The Story Of Rocking Generation’. Those watching Rockumentary can possibly read that too. The Indian rock story is fascinating in its own way, and this film tells you quite a bit of what you needed to know to rock on.

Narendra Kusnur

Author: Narendra Kusnur

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