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Tribal instinct

The hippie counterculture’s first rock musical has its first show in India, writes Amitava Sanyal.

music Updated: Apr 24, 2010 00:10 IST
Amitava Sanyal
Amitava Sanyal
Hindustan Times

There are those who love or are tolerant of the hippies, and those who cross the road at the slightest hint of their presence. Hair, the American rock musical that’s debuting in Delhi this weekend, places itself unapologetically on this psychosomatic divide.

The musical, based on the politically-charged lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, opened in New York in 1967. It tells about ‘the tribe’ that engages with the anti-Vietnam protests of the time and the free love embraced by the flower power generation. “The tribe always does things together. It has a life of its own, it’s a character,” says Samara Currimbhoy, who plays the posh-bred Sheila, a girl who loves one member of the tribe and is loved by another.

So though most critics tossed it off as snipped hair when the play was launched, Hair got the zeitgeist of the 1960s by the short and curly and went on to inspire a generation.

“It can be said to be an inspiration for Jesus Christ Superstar, (the musical) which came in 1973,” says Antoine Redon, 33, producer of the Indian edition who in his college days in France took part in productions of both Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. Redon, who sports a shock of long hair, says he has lived with the dream of staging his own Hair for 13 years, ever since his wife Capucine Henry gave him a CD of the songs after a trip to India. “It’s basically anti-conflict, and speaks of love and freedom. Even if we have become more clever and more free, all these concerns are as relevant today.”

The vision of Rudradeep Chakrabarti, stage director who also happens to have worn his curly locks long from his days at Kolkata’s Scottish Church College, is suffused with the play’s parallels: “The hippie movement draws from our nomadic gypsy culture, their free love and ecstasy are not far from the Sufis’ or the Vaishnavites’, the nudity they embrace (which will not be staged) is nothing compared to the Naga sadhus at Kumbh.” But though Radon and company were ready with an Indian adaptation this January, they learnt later that they had to stick to the original lyrics. Some other dots will still be joined with sitar and nakara drums punctuating the rock and soul music, and with chhau whirls energising the dance.

Stefan Kaye, co-director of music for the Delhi production who has recently started growing his hair, places the play in a different light: “The best thing is that it’s amoral — it’s not pro-hippie or pro-conservatives. It just shows the contrast between the two.”

All that may be a bit too dated to subvert. But is it going to offend, say, a middle-aged Mr X from Alaknanda? Rajiv Khati, who plays the closet gay Woof, says, “Well, I put my hand in my pants while singing ‘masturbation’... So I hope Mr X doesn’t turn up.”

First Published: Apr 24, 2010 00:09 IST