Jaideep Varma’s latest documentary is an immersive one-of-a-kind look into the struggles of musicians who are genuinely in it for the love of their craft but unable to make it big owing to externalities, writes Rohini Kejriwal
Going beyond the independent music scene where one would place these five talented musicians, Jaideep Varma’s Par Ek Din is as much a story about youth, Mumbai, dreams, and thereafter disillusionment, all of which go hand in hand. There’s a rare proximity and intimacy with the band members who are shot in their personal space. This is because of Harshad Nalawade, who shot and co-edited the film, he lives with CityHaze (the band) and is a friend. The choice of a running commentary from Nalawade and Varma makes for a richer perspective on the necessity to make a film such as this in today’s context, giving it an entirely new depth that was not as apparent in Varma’s previous films—Leaving Home-the Life & Music of Indian Ocean or Baavra Mann, his documentary on Sudhir Mishra.
Samyak Singh, the band’s front-man, says that while the band was slightly skeptical about being documented initially, their friendship and conversations with Varma over time eased them into it. “Of course there were inhibitions as to how we would sound when we play live and how this Bwould look considering we are a bunch of not-so-camera-friendly people with a lot of good things to say. But Jaideep sorted those out in the process. The movie was shot in 4 days but we spent almost an year discussing music, getting to know each other and discussing the idea and relevance of doing this. He doesn’t bring the aura of a genius into the room when you meet him, so it all worked out fine,” Singh says, adding that from the band’s perspective, there wasn’t too much going on, so the project was an exciting avenue to explore. “We got to step into the studio because of the movie. Eventually, we ended up working a lot on our live set because of it.”
Varma notes that the film was shot over 4 days, spread over 5 months. “It was 2 days in November 2016, 1 in February 2017 and 1 in March 2017. It was meant to be a short film but became something bigger because I didn’t feel like cutting their songs,” he says.
Asked why he chose CityHaze as his subject and this point of time to make Par Ek Din, Varma explains that he loved the band’s demos when he heard them for the first time and found it to be fresher than most music coming out of the alternative space in India. “It’s more rooted (which is not just a function of language) and yet has that timeless rock feel that is universal without being self-conscious, which is very important. The only band doing this today is Parvaaz, which is why I consider them the best band in India at the moment. Indian Ocean are retreading old material for the most part now. No one else has excited me recently since Lucky Ali and Rabbi Shergill at that scale. Oorali is interesting in small doses. But everyone else seems to be doing mimicry music, by my understanding. Samyak is that singer-songwriter I wrote about 15 years ago who was just missing from the Indian scene,” declares Varma.
He admits that CityHaze’s story isn’t different from any other struggling band. “But when the music is of such a high quality, that story becomes that much more compelling. Which is why I think that people who don’t care about CityHaze’s music won’t have much to like in the film.”
Is the band as interested in revealing their ‘story’ as getting their music out there? Singh shares that all 5 members—Mallar Sen, Samyak Singh, Soham Sarkhel, Abhigyan Arora and Debatra Ghosh, have extremely different reasons for being in the band. “Some of us look at it as a space with a scope for musical experimentation as it’s Hindi and not a lot of work has been done in that area; others are into it thematically, and are content and melody-driven; some also just see it as a refreshing exercise to take a break from whatever else we are doing. Everyone has a solid reason to get inside one room and create music or work on a new track. As long as this happens, no one is bothered about the rest,” he says.
But (why) is there an an underlying tone of disillusionment with what writing music could/should be for a band but somehow isn’t? Singh reflects that this observation is probably reflective of the space in which CityHaze makes music. “Right now, the music doesn’t come from a very happy place. Nayak once told us: ‘Your art is like the diary of your times’. I guess that reflects in the themes. I am certain that if tomorrow, we start feeling a little less vulnerable and settle down in life, that will reflect in the music too.” Singh adds that there has never been one specific dream for the band, which comprises of five cynical people. “We are more focused on keeping it together, practicing, generating more albums, and getting our sound right. We are practical enough to know that we’ll have to sort out our individual finances as CityHaze is not something we can depend on to fix us in the real world,” he elaborates.
On his own understanding of the band’s vision, Varma adds, “Harshad actually says it in the film- “they know what a privilege it is to pursue one’s calling”. They’re happy making this music because they are very consciously expressing themselves fully and liking the output as well, which is the biggest high life has to offer.”
It’s unfortunate to see anybody with passion, a story to tell, and craftsmanship, to not have the perfect outlet. So considering the band’s chemistry and the shared love for music at its core, why haven’t things fallen into place? “I suppose we do not have the communication skills to make our case. We’re only a band that knows how to make music. Knowing whom to send the music to or how to put ourselves out there doesn’t come naturally to us. Maybe we should find a manager…We aren’t really smart when it comes to planning and promoting or taking wise decisions,” admits Singh.
Still, is there an “intended audience”? “The intended audience are the people who want to listen and give their time to a fairly serious Hindi band with a good body of work. We’re an orthodox band in our functioning – we go into a sort of hibernation mode when working on songs and we come out and share them when we think they are ready,” he says, adding that while there are enough people who are honestly trying to make good music across languages, the independent scene hasn’t been inclusive when it comes to Hindi music. “You are expected to play either folk, do a bunch of love songs, rework old songs with new beats or some other shit like that. It should be a cause for worry!”
Varma offers his two bits, stating that in his opinion, “the independent Indian music scene is Neanderthal – it is unevolved from a cultural context and overly derivative. So, there is no defined audience. People outside the indie music scene, who find it as phoney as I do, will like CityHaze’s music more – and those numbers are far, far bigger. Just reaching them is the hard part.”
So has this documentary and putting the band on the map had gigs lining up and people responding to their music in a certain way? “Not a lot of people have seen the documentary and nothing is really lining up yet. But there is a set of people who saw the film and really liked the music and would like to listen to more from us, who find the music extremely refreshing. This wasn’t the case when we ourselves just tried to go out give them our music through SoundCloud and YouTube. So the movie has helped in that way. It’s been an important platform for us and has documented some really nice moments as a band. Plus, it’s been done by a person who genuinely thinks the music is important. We can’t really ask for more.
Watch the documentary below.