Wednesday, January 14, 2015


One thing that always mystifies us is the interplay of the triumvirate of Film, Sound, and Music- which is largely a technical matter. We were trying to figure out how and why Sound becomes Music (posts like Remembering Nobody and Discord over Harmony) and found Cinema becoming an inextricable part of the study, presumably because the auditory and visual senses are lasting companions in man’s aesthetic journey.

To elaborate, while reviewing various posts in the blog IK we were startled to discover a thread running in such a manner that the whole blog takes the form of the Ariadne’s Thread. This, in formal Logic, is an algorithm for solving a problem with multiple routes of proceeding, wherein the records created at each stage allow for backtracking and adopting an alternative route towards the solution…the starting point could be Charanjit Singh’s experimentation with the Roland TB 303 which led to a revolution in dance music…it could start with our discussion on chhand (*) where we probed Pta. Kishoritai’s theories regarding chhand-swara kinship…or we could start with Satyajit Ray’s skepticism about the capability of Indian Music to support emotional content in Cinema..or the phenomenon of Playback Singing in Indian Cinema vs Hollywood…or we could tee off with Ritwik Ghatak’s experimentation with cinematic sound…it’s a richh topic germane to an endless series of exciting intellectual eddies..

Since the issues are related rather loosely, we shall write this as a series of short posts, to spare readers and the writer of information overload.

It transpires that good old Schrodinger’s Cat is our hamsafar on this terrain too. In our post Universe and Three Blind Men, we talked about quantum mechanics and how the state or position of a fundamental particle changes in the very process of measuring or assessing the same. The same thing happened in the evolution of Cinema. To the world’s surprise, in the process of experimenting with sounds and music, seeking enrichment of the Movie, all the three underwent unexpected and revolutionary changes, leaving them unrecognizable from what they initially were…

Our first silent movie, Raja Harishchandra was released in 1913, and it took 18 years for cinema to spout words, which happened in
the shape of Alam Ara of Ardeshir Irani ('all talking, singing, dancing'). In between, the silent movie being screened would be accompanied by an impromptu background sound created by a small band of musicians sitting in the orchestral pit, equipped with maybe a harmonium, a tabla, cymbals and at times served by a good singer who’d be prepared with traditional bandishein like Raghupati Raghav (Gulzar writing in Encyclopedia of Hindi Cinema). Cinema pioneer Edison always saw ‘sound and vision as a pair’ (American musicologist   Myrna J Layton in her doctoral thesis “Illusion and Reality..Playback Music …”, quoting Altman) …It is said that when Edison released his silent movie Martha, he made some very sage observations in the flyer, instructing the user to procure a church quartette ‘to remain behind the scenes and sing the parts and produce a very fine entertainment, besides giving a local interest to the same by utilizing a local talent’ (ibid)

Cine enthusiast Ashish Rajyadhyaksha once wrote on the views of two eminent Indian personalities who had reservations about Indian Music taking over as the ‘sound’ of any cinema. Pt. B.R Deodhar (Kumar Gandharva’s guru) believed, and AR explains “ long as we could not produce, say, the rumble of thunder through our music, we could never produce useful sound..” Likewise Satyajit Ray rued absence of an Indian Musical tradition that could illustrate as background score, the length and breadth of audience emotion. An obvious illustration from Western Classical is the Beethoven’s 5th symphony, the 4 dramatic initial notes of which formed the life and soul of the background score in so many WW2 movies, that the symphony itself came to be known, by and by, as the Victory Symphony.
If that piece does not give the listener goose-bumps, nothing will…There is no equivalent misaal in Indian Music is what’s meant by Ray and Deodhar.  But  we shall see as we go along, the best Indian directors work their way around, creating all to the better, musical paradigms that would render deadly emotional support to poignant cinema situations. For instance in Ray’s Jalsaghar, the death of Biswambhar Ray in the final scene is accompanied, very effectively so, merely by the anguished neigh from his beloved horse Toofan. Similarly, the auditory background in Sita’s suicide scene in Ghatak’s Subarnarekha is an indeterminate sound, but very telling.


 * (छंद)

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