Director: Jaideep Verma
Everything on big screen needn’t be a film. This ain’t a review either. Leaving Home documents a phenomenon rare to popular Indian performing arts; certainly rare to Indian music.
The construct of a live band in this country is entirely a western derivative. Most college kids start out strumming Smells Like Teen Spirit, put on airs and accents of a Curt Cobain, and eventually attain nirvana in the boardrooms of some corporate firm or the other. The band remains in fading memory a post-teenaged fad. Audiences merely expect cover versions of popular ‘70s rock from their live college groups. The karaoke is complete. So is the fakery. Popular music is Bollywood alone. There are no exceptions.
Or, wait a minute: There is Indian Ocean. And they’ve been around for 24 years; as a quartet, unchanged for 15 years.
There is a quiet bungalow in Delhi’s Karol Bagh (once home to Faiz Ahmed Faiz), where the group still meets, jams, plays the fool, and eventually comes up with music that, to my mind, is ‘genreless’. The group, as this film points out, is also “leaderless”. No player has a defined role, or a limiting instrument. Amit Kilam, the youngest in the group, filled in once as drummer for Gravy Train (a popular Delhi college band of the ‘90s). This is where Susmit Sen saw him. He’s been Indian Ocean’s drummer since. Amit is a guitarist otherwise.
Anybody who’s been to an Indian college will recall Amit knocking everything down with his drumbeat -- from the curtains in the corner, to the stage floor – and it’d still be music.
Between Susmit, the acoustic guitarist, and Asheem Chakroborty, the band percussionist, the doggedness and serious-minded determination to survive on music alone are supreme. Rahul Ram, an environmental toxicologist from Cornell, throws in the madness in equal measure.
The four couldn’t be from more different, though largely meager backgrounds. None are the finest exponents of their chosen instruments. Yet, as a group, as they put it, they turn into an animal of its own. The oeuvre is merely to be sampled.
The film is chapterised into Indian Ocean’s most famous tracks: Kabir’s Jhini, Maa Rewa (a popular folk song from the Narmada region), Kaun, Desert Rain…. It starts out with Village Damsel, an instrumental piece people of my vintage may remember from a crummy tape of a self-titled album. This is how we chanced upon Indian Ocean first. Despite the success of the first, their second album was still self-released. It’s certainly the track and album Kandisa - 'Praise to the lord' in Aramaic - a language Jesus spoke in, that truly "changed the band's fortunes forever". Bandeh (from Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday) should’ve brought them movie fame.
There is something prescient about how Bollywood, and music labels in general, continued to ignore Indian Ocean over the years. Marketers aren’t quite blessed with a creative spirit. And it should’ve been that way. The honesty of their art survives hence.
Asheem is but no more. Indian Ocean won’t be the same. This film thankfully remains.