How does a band consisting of, as one member Amit says, "not the best of either guitarist, vocal, drummer or tabla player", become India`s greatest band surviving and thriving over two decades? Yes Rolling Stones have done it in the west, but they have done it with sex, drugs, money and rock-n-roll. Nothing remotely close for these middle-class family men with children.
The answer to this question can be found in the film "Leaving Home". Indeed, the answer to how India, with a similar problem, survived its six decades, might also lie in this documentary about the quintessential Indian band Indian Ocean.
How a motley group of middle-class Indians, without formal training in music, got together, jammed and created music that is different from anything anyone has heard in the world before, and stood solid like a monolith despite the disappointments when hundreds of other bands came together and crumbled all around them - the documentary answers most of these and other questions, about life, music, survival and India.
From the cacophony of jarring noises that is Delhi, Jaideep Varma`s film moves to a dilapidated bungalow in Karol Bagh - home to once the soulful Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, perhaps his spirit still guides the band - and slowly into the scintillating music of Indian Ocean. A brilliant opening sequence that signifies that even in the cacophony of our country a rich musical tradition can, and does, thrive. You just have to look for it.
But make no mistakes, this is not a documentary about some music band. It is instead a monument to middle class struggles, aspirations, failures and successes. Thus, while we have the surviving three member of the band (Asheem, the soul and voice of Indian Ocean died in December 2009), there are at least 15 other members who have come and left the band, unable to marry their passion for music and their middle-class aspiration for security and safety of a job.
By not restricting itself to only the current members, and instead taking into account the stories of those that joined the band and left, frustrated with the struggles of making soulful music in the country, the film becomes a tome of talents that could have been, but were lost to the need for survival, not just in music, but all the arts.
After all any art - music, movies, literature, painting, sculpture - needs either patronage, good luck, talent or a lot of grit to survive. Thankfully, Indian Ocean had a lot of the last two. And so does this film.
And it is indeed their grit and talent that Jaideep documents with painstaking precision. Had it not been for the grit of Susmit, or the composing talent of Asheem, or the mad cap genius of Rahul, who even spent 10 days in jail for activism with tribals.
The editing of the film, a process of selecting two hours from 180 hours of footage, is spot on, with quick inter-cuts maintaining the pace and rhythm throughout. The picture, sourced from various places is grainy. But the sound is crystal clear and it becomes a film to be watched on the big screen, just for the acoustics. There is no external voiceover, just some lines that fill in the blanks in the band`s history. And this writing is also minimalist, witty and simple.
"Leaving Home" is just like the band whose story it tells, grounded and yet free, unlike the many famous international bands that float free in space without roots, use big words but mean nothing, touch nothing. This inspiring, scintillating and in parts hilarious tale will touch and move many hearts and minds.
Lovers of Indian Ocean`s music will experience intense exhilarations. Those that have not heard their music will be touched by the magic of movie and music fused together in perfect unison in this documentary as also by the hopes and despairs of people who are just like the rest of us.
India`s greatest music band deserves this great film, and Indian audiences deserve the greatness of seeing it in theatres.