I feel a little out of my depth writing about a Marathi film, simply because I have not seen many others before ‘Sairat’. The only other Marathi film I remember having bought a ticket and gone to see, is ‘Fandry’, also written and directed by Nagraj Manjule.
But I knew none of this when I set out to see ‘Sairat’, after reading about it in my friend Amita Kanekar’s column. Once I have decided to see a film, I prefer not to read up any more about it, so it does not distort my own opinion and expectation of it.
In retrospect, one could say it is surprising a film like ‘Sairat’ was not made sooner, given the wide prevalence of casteism in our society so long after Independence, despite a Constitution and a judicial system that outlaw it so vehemently. The hacking to death of 22- year old engineering student V. Shankar in broad daylight in Udumalpet Tirupur in Tamil Nadu just a few weeks ago by sickle-wielding goons seemed a chilling re-enactment of the finale in the film. Like Parshya in ‘Sairat’, Shankar had fallen in love with an upper-caste girl following a classroom romance. Young love would seem the most natural thing in the world, but evidently not in India, not when a grotesque, perverse social order is challenged. And that murder, and even the killing of one’s own offspring should be preferred to the imagined stain upon a family ‘name’ or ‘honour’ brought about by an inter-caste union shows how deeply this absurd prejudice is ingrained in our collective psyche, and only underscores how much work still needs to be done to uproot it.
The fact that the goons who murdered Shankar are still at large despite CCTV footage and eye-witnesses, several of who recorded the murder on their mobile phones, is indicative of the permissive malaise in the system that allows the caste system to impudently stay in place.
Will ‘Sairat’ accomplish anything in changing the current status quo? Time will tell. But there should be more films like ‘Sairat’ and ‘Fandry’ rather than the current diet of escapism from mainstream cinema.
I must confess I was so caught up in the story, the fleshing out of the characters, and the ribald comedy unfolding on the screen that the background music remained in the background at first. But the song ‘Yad Lagla’ caught my attention. It sounded, well, different. Then about 40 seconds into the film, the gradual swell of the horns made me realise this was not ‘synthesised sound’, but the real stuff. You could hear a real, and really good, disciplined brass section! And creating a beautifully homogenous sound.
When the singer begins to sing ‘Yad Lagla’, each eight-beat phrase is punctuated by seemingly off-beat rhythms (on the second and seventh beats), but which fit the Marathi lyrics so well. Not only did the composer (or composers as I would learn later) give a lot of thought to this, but increasingly, as the song unfolded, it was clear that the orchestral forces were pretty large, and did not seem to be from here.
Although I have never myself played in Mumbai’s film circuit, the music grapevine keeps me just maybe three or four degrees of separation from what is making news in the Indian film music industry. If so many musicians had been flown into India just for this film score, the grapevine would have been abuzz.
In any case, I wait until the very end at most films to read the closing credits. The music credits show up almost at the end, so it can be a long wait. I made a mental note to read the music credits to ‘Sairat’ carefully, and got back to watching the film.
The musical interlude in ‘Yad Lagla’ (where Akash Thosar’s Parshya runs in slow motion through the path between the plantations) is so well-conceived. There are cross-rhythms, the beautiful hemiola (the intoxicating situation in music where you are shifting between duple and triple meter, somehow having dual citizenship to both!), and then triplets, and then a jugalbandi between first a solo violin and the rest of the strings, gradually joined by woodwinds to bring us right at the doorstep of the next verse. It is reminiscent of really good Baroque writing, with clear melodic lines, and lovely tone colours. What is a Baroque concerto, if not a jugalbandi between solo and ripieno?
The triplets return in the next interlude (the scene at the well), but this time given over to the oboe, while the answer in the flute seems to belong to Rinku Rajguru’s Archana/Archie, a tender love duet between the two woodwinds. The climax, where the singer’s voice swells and soars like the flocks of birds swooping ecstatically in formation as they silhouette themselves against the dusky village sky marries sight and sound so wonderfully.
‘Sairat Zala Ji’ employs the love duet device of flute and oboe, and the hemiola which is so intrinsic to our folk music. Two groups of three beats, or three groups of two? It is an aural illusion, and delightfully so.
Who can resist the upbeat mood of ‘Aatach Baya ka Baavarala’ and even more so, of the turbo-charged ‘Zingat’? The conventional orchestral musicians might take a back seat here, but you can tell everyone’s having a blast as they record the score.
The credits went up too quickly for me to take in details, but I did learn that the music was recorded in Los Angeles, and looking it up on the internet later, that it involved a 66-piece orchestra, with 45 strings, 6 woodwinds, a 13-piece brass section and a harp. The composer credit said simply ‘Ajay-Atul’.
It is to the credit of the brothers Ajay and Atul Gogavale, that they saw the merit in hiring a professional Hollywood orchestra and a famous studio (Sony Pictures, formerly MGM studio, which has recorded Ben Hur, Gone With the Wind, E.T and Schindler’s List), and in so doing, apparently created Indian film history.
Newspaper interviews quote the brothers referring to the inspiration of Tamil films and Ilayaraja. It is new territory for me to explore. But the Baroque references in ‘Yad Lagla’ are unmistakeable, and it works so well in an Indian context.
The brothers Gogavale freely admit at every interview that they are self-made and self-taught, but here’s the irony: had they been conservatoire-trained, they might have produced a score that would have been very different, and perhaps not as pure and innocent as this one.
This is not to discount the advantage of a conservatory education. But they are quite right when they speak of the symphonic sound, which they wanted, and which they amply got from the Hollywood Scoring Orchestra. One can only hope that we take music pedagogy and ensemble playing to such heights that scores like these can be recorded right here, to the same level, and soon.
(An edited version of this article was published on 5 June 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)