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A documentary explores the metal sub-culture of the Indian subcontinent

Extreme Nation explores the musicians’ lives as rockers, and their relationship with a shared violent past, a tense present and evolving power conflicts in a volatile region.

art and culture Updated: Feb 03, 2018 20:53 IST
Dipanjan Sinha
Roy Dipankar spent four years researching for and shooting Extreme Nation, raising part of the funds via crowdfunding website Wishberry.
Roy Dipankar spent four years researching for and shooting Extreme Nation, raising part of the funds via crowdfunding website Wishberry.

“In a world where the pious reign… and given what they do, I would rather be a blasphemer,” says Anton Dhar, metal musician from Bangladesh.

In Pakistan, inspired by leftist poet Habib Jalib, Hassan Amin sings, ‘Pakistan ka matllab kya, main nahin janta main nahin manta (What is the meaning of Pakistan; I don’t know, I don’t believe’)’.

Genocide Shrines from Sri Lanka begins their song, ShivaTandavaViolence with a clip from the speech by Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, after it was first tested.

If you’ve never heard of them, that’s because they’re subversive, underground and / or faceless. Which is why documentary filmmaker Roy Dipankar has sought them out for his new film, Extreme Nation, on the subculture of radical, underground heavy metal in the Indian subcontinent.

“All these musicians have seen war or some form of conflict and that informs how they feel and express themselves,” Dipankar says. These are not musicians likely to be invited to festivals, wooed by sponsors or offered mainstream venues.

The film explores not just their lives as rockers, but their relationship with a shared violent past, and a tense present of geopolitical strife and evolving power conflicts in a volatile subcontinent.

Anton Dhar (above) of Bangladesh, Hassan Amin from Pakistan and Genocide Shrines from Sri Lanka are among the featured musicians.

Dipankar has spent four years researching for and shooting Extreme Nation, having raised part of the funds, over Rs 5 lakh, via crowdfunding website Wishberry.

It’s a very different project from his first documentary, Nafir, about Sufi music. “Metal music has fascinated me since I was a student in late-1990s Mumbai,” he says. “I used to attend Death Fest, trade audio cassettes with other fans across cities and even countries, get word-of-mouth news about events.”

The trigger for the film, he says, was attending the Trendslaughter festival in Bengaluru in 2013. “By this point, I was tired of the corruption of metal music in India, the dilution of the intent of rock music by the mid-2000s. It was going mainstream and losing its identity,” he says. “At Trendslaughter, I realised there were still a lot of genuine metal musicians in the subcontinent, and I felt it was important to make this film now as the politics of the subcontinent is allowing less and less to be said.”

Chaturanga, who is part of Genocide Shrines, says band members never put their faces on promotional material, fearing threats over their views, which include an opposition to organised religion in a deeply religious country, and region.

“Our music comes from the fact that we have been subjected, and have witnessed first-hand, immense levels of corruption starting from politically influenced religious acts to the more average evangelism spread by the selected elite,” Chaturanga says.

What’s interesting about the bands is that they also share ethnic connections that separate them from the rest of the world, says Sandesh Shenoy, who heads Indian extreme metal record label Cyclopean Eye Productions and features in the documentary.

“There are references to Ram and Ravan, mysticism, and influences of Carnatic and Hindustani music here,” he says. “This documentary could put the story of this music in front of a world that barely knows about it. Even bands from Hong Kong and Malaysia are recognised in Europe, the US and Canada, but bands from the subcontinent still aren’t.”