Beware Dogs (2008)
Directed by Spandan Banerjee
FilmKaravan/Overdose DVD, NTSC all region
CFBC rating: V/U
©2008 Overdose Films Pvt. Ltd.
When I began the Just One Story… series, my intent was clearly to document live storytelling as it happens. I had no intent to do a "polished" or "stylized" series of videos — all I wanted was to capture a series of moments when art is created, however "small" it might seem to the larger world.
Had I been aware of it sooner, I could have taken my inspiration from Spandan Banerjee's delightful forty–five minute featurette Beware Dogs, made in 2007 at an aging mansion in the Karol Bagh section of Delhi, India — a space that has served as the "workshop" for the musical group known as Indian Ocean.
Thankfully, FilmKaravan obtained the North American rights to Mr. Banerjee's little film and released it recently on a limited–run DVD. And, with some stylistic differences aside, it seems like we're both interested in capturing "moments."
Mr. Banerjee and his camera team got the green light to visit with and record the band — Susmit Sen, Rahul Ram, Amit Kilam, and the late Asheem Chakravarty — as they were working on music that would be used by Arindam Mitra for his film Shoonya. At the time, the band had very little to work with — no footage or script, just vague ideas supplied by the producers. The title itself means "nothingness," and as Mr. Chakravarty observes, how do you work with that as a cue?
Despite this limitation — or, perhaps, because of it — we witness the four musicians gradually piecing together the words and music to the song that they hope will satisfy Mr. Mitra and his team as their own movie gets made.
And the way the members of Indian Ocean make music is itself remarkable: they actually rehearse and create together, in a space that allows for anything and everything to happen, when any one of the four can step in and make his contribution to a tune. It's an organic approach that they take to the level of art, never releasing a song until it is "ripened," as they put it.
The beauty of Beware Dogs (and the forty–five minutes of extra deleted scenes) is that Mr. Banerjee never intrudes or gets in the way of the band's brainstorming, but merely records it as it happens. Except for some stylistic touches (post-production effects or overlaid stills and live concert footage), he keeps the proceedings as natural possible. Quite simply, we are free to witness the "brewing" of music as it happens, as free from interference as is possible. It's something I try to do with Just One Story…, and it's a pleasure to see this in a film made far from where I live.
My one concern comes directly after the Central Board of Film Certification rating card is displayed: we suddenly hear someone (one of the band members?) giving driving directions to the old mansion in Karol Bagh. (The cover art shows a large statue of Hanuman, a nearby landmark, and the film's title is a reference to the two words on a metal plate attached to the gate of the manor.) While the band as a whole may have had no qualms about the driving directions being on the soundtrack, who else might take this as a breach of their rights to privacy?
That aside, I can strongly recommend Beware Dogs not only as a welcome look into the creative process of making music, but also certainly in how we as video–makers can document that process. Of course, fans of Indian Ocean will want this disc, too — especially as a souvenir of the band's celebrated line–up since Mr. Chakravarty's passing away in 2009 — but even those new to the band (as featured in Anusha Rivzi's black comedy Peepli [Live]) are encouraged to check this one out.
I also encourage newbies to hit Amazon.com for Jaideep Varma's feature Leaving Home — The Life & Music of Indian Ocean (Cartwheel/EMI India, NTSC all region, CFBC rated V/U), a rich feature–length documentary that not only offers more of their rich sound in the raw, but also allows the band members to tell their own story in their own voices and words. It's a rich enough feast at 1 hour 55 minutes plus almost a full hour of extras&hellip but one of those extras is a prevue for an even longer cut of the film (more than four hours), promised for Christmas Day. Talk about giving the fans a big present!
And let's not forget about Peepli [Live] (CFBC rated A), due out on DVD from UTV shortly — and just in time for gift giving.
[UPDATE 2010.10.14: Amazon.com has notified me that my copy of Peepli [Live] won't ship until at least… December 6th. Fine, I'm a patient man.
Meanwhile, FilmKaravan must really love my review — they've cross–posted it verbatim!]
[UPDATE 2010.12.30: That longer cut of Leaving Home has arrived.]