Two cultural forces roughly reflect India’s zeitgeist — music and films. France-based writer-filmmaker Vijay Singh enlists the support of both in telling the story of the changing, post-1947 India. Problem is, it’s too ambitious an approach to fit into an hour-long documentary — made even more troublesome by the fact that it’s a rambling journey down the length of India.
Over six weeks in early 2010, Singh travelled by road and by train from Delhi via Rajasthan to Bangalore, with a long stop at Mumbai. Along the way he talked to well-known people such as historian Romila Thapar, Star TV boss Uday Shankar, and Infosys chairman Narayana Murthy, as well as common people such as Anjali, a housemaid in Mumbai who lives in Dharavi, and Teertha, a wannabe starlet.
The selection seems rather random. But Singh, 58, who calls himself “the longest-scholarship-holding student never to have finished a PhD”, is influenced by the ‘history of mentalities’ he studied at the Paris School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences. He aims to connect the big picture with everyman’s emotions. And his lightning rod is music, mostly culled from Hindi films.
The songs come rarer than you would expect — beginning in Raj Kapoor territory and ending with ‘Kajra re’. And the sense of a journey is hobbled by too much footage to fit in. What’s undeniable despite these shortcomings is that Singh’s idea is one of the freshest in a long line of attempts to ‘capture’ India.
India by Song will be screened today at the Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, at 7.30 pm. Entry is free.