• Sat, Jun 22, 2024

An Excellent Documentary About Indian Rock n Roll History

features Aug 23, 03:01pm

"Rockumentary" is a look back at a country that making cutting-edge music long before MP3 players or curated EDM festivals
 Photo Courtesy: ROCKUMENTARY

It’s hardly surprising that India has a rich musical history; a country of our magnitude has pockets of interest for every conceivable type of music the second it is introduced to us. But we have always had this odd notion about Western music; that it’s a modern thing and only in the last couple of decades have people started listening to enough rock or metal or soul that Indian musicians are making fully realized projects in Western genres. Well, knowing our short memories and our love of everything shiny and new, it is not surprising that there is an entire history of rock music in the country that starts from the 1940s. It is also not surprising that a young filmmaker from Delhi is the one telling this story.


‘Rockumentary’ is a detailed look into the bands that started it all; from rock n’ roll bands influenced by Beatlemania to 70s psychedelic that (unbeknownst to us) people around the world run around collecting, this movie has the full gamut. And man, is it a trip. For someone who listens to different kinds of music and has open tastes (I’m looking at you, people who post Spotify playlists on their Instagram), this movie is a trip. There is a lot of information in here and tons of interviews with the artists of the time. Obviously, there are nods to the present and how going the professional route in the genre is no longer financially viable, but it’s still wild to think that so much happened in the last 50-odd years that even rock n’ roll could find enough listeners to create its own little unique niche. Without getting too specific, this movie describes a time when metal started in the late 80s, when hair metal became big and then transitioned into the 90s and morphed into something entirely different, the difficulties of finding instruments in the Northeast back in the 60s and 70s, the rise of Mumbai as a live music city in the 80s (The Police played a massive gig in 1980; something I am very sad I missed) and so much more. You learn that a band called The Savages made India’s first label debut with Polydor (yes, the same Polydor that signed The Beatles and now has Billie Eilish on its roster), that one man named Lou Majaw became the reason for the Northeast coming to the fore as a rock destination, the journey of Uday Benegal from 80s metal to Indus Creed… Bobby Cash’s journey as an Indian country musician… there’s too much more going on in this movie to fit in this article.


It is nice to see that someone (a young music journalist turned filmmaker at that) who is ready to put in the effort to take a look back to a time that no millennial knows about and present a film that educates as much as it entertains. A short interview with him:
It seems like a lot of the inspiration to make this movie came to you in college. What were you listening to at the time that drew to find out all this about Indian rock?
My introduction to Rock music was Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I still remember watching the video of 'You Know You're Right' which really hit me in a strong way. I was completely obsessed with Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. In fact, it was my dream to do a documentary on the Seattle Grunge movement but I ended up making Rockumentary. Apart from that I was also listening to Indian bands who were playing in the Great Indian Rock show curated by Amit Saigal. Some members of the (old) Undying Inc were my friends, and there was another Indian Heavy metal band named Artillery which was from my university, so obviously I was hanging out with them; that was also my introduction to Indian Rock and metal music. 


It’s so incredible to see that so many of these musicians who were doing things on a relatively small scale decades ago are known all over the globe, some of whom even had record deals even at a time when it was so much harder to communicate long distance. Do you think that spirit has sort of disappeared today?
Those were different times and different generation with different obstacles. The older generation had a much harder time picking up a guitar and playing rock music. They definitely are the pioneers of where the concept of having a band began. And those days they were called 'Beat Bands'. I feel in today's time things have improved and there are more options. Technology has paved the way for present day bands in India. One can hire a recognized music producer online and get the job done, as in the case of The Circus. I don't think that the spirit of rock music can ever die in India or anywhere in the world. Its’ just that times are changing and cannot be compared as the circumstances are different. 
It’s true that musicians today have it much easier in almost every way; instruments are easy to find, venues are relatively open to new things and so many more people listen to Western music. Do you think that culture of hard work has changed today due to just how accessible everything is?
Things have definitely become easier. Music can be mixed with simple online tools. But it also requires hard work. The bands presently playing in India and are famous are actually the ones who work and practice hard. Technology has made things easier, but to use it, one still needs brains!  
Online music has been the absolute death of discovery of new (and new old) music, since all playlists are curated by popularity. Gone are the days when you could pick up some compilation from a record store and find a rare gem. Since your movie is going to educate people about the history of older music in our country, how do you think young listeners today can build curiosity for new sounds today?


One thing I realized when I was traveling in Finland was that trends could change quickly. Like in the west, gramophones are back! Most music lovers are buying vinyl and not CDs. And some of these records are really very expensive and a collector’s item. For example I found an Indian band's (Atomic Forest) album named Obsession 77 in Helsinki being sold as a rare collector’s album at a very high price! There are lots of amazing bands that India had produced in the early days like Human Bondage, Velvette Fogg, The Savages etc and if someone can find their music, that’s going to sell as a collector’s item and serious fans will always want to collect such albums even if it’s highly priced. I can see the Gramophones making a comeback in India in years to come and that might change the online music trend!

Rockumentary premieres in New Delhi at Turquoise Cottage 


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