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Givin' It A Good Shot

Music video professionals number as many as Indipop artistes. But will quality match quantity?

Givin' It A Good Shot

Pradeep Sarkar had been an advertising professional for about 15 years. One fine day, while at work, he heard pop group Euphoria’s new album Dhoom Pichuk being mixed in the adjacent studio. The songs were catchy, the rhythm foot-tapping. It was enough for Sarkar to find himself visualising a story to go with the tune, one of a woman searching for someone elusive. A quick word with the group’s frontman, Palash Sen, and Sarkar found himself shooting his concept on the ghats of Varanasi. And the music world couldn’t stop raving about the sumptuous video they eventually got to see. Sarkar since then has made a score of music videos, amongst them the zestful Ab ke sawan and the soulful Seekho na for Shubha Mudgal. His most recent creation is Euphoria’s Mai ri. Inventively shot against the backdrop of a train journey, it narrates the tale of lost love and its many memories.

Sarkar continues to earn his bread and butter from the world of advertising. Music video-making is not just a profession or business for him. "It’s a junoon, a madness, an addiction, an indulgence," he says. And many others like him are exploring the visual dimensions of Indipop. The genre that was first popularised by the bespectacled Ken Ghosh and with whom music videos were identified with for a long time.

Today, however, the music video world is teeming with a breed of new professionals who number as many as the pop artistes themselves. In fact, it is virtually turning out to be an industry within the music industry. The list of the big names in business stretches long - Mahesh Mathai, Ravi Udyawar, Anubhav Sinha, Kunal Kohli, Anand Surapur, Sanjay F. Gupta, Radhika Rao, Shamim Desai and, of course, Sarkar. The newest kid on the block is Marlon Roderigues who has the industry abuzz with the remix of a funky folk Marathi number for bmg Crescendo, very homegrown but equally happening.

Videos, over the years, have become a fad and have built their own fan following. The irony is that very few have been aware of the names behind what they saw and appreciated. That facelessness is disappearing now and giving way to recognition. Music channels, for instance, now give credit lines to video directors alongside the artistes and the companies, a clear signal that they have arrived. "We like to honour an art form, appreciate good TV," says Mandar Thakur, head of music and artiste relations at Channel V.

Expectedly, many ad filmmakers are gravitating towards music videos from advertising. It offers a more creative outlet than the commercials, where the primary intent is to sell a product. "Here the brief is not as tight as in an ad, so the filmmakers can experiment and get creative satisfaction," says Thakur. "It’s a creative outburst like painting or music, a form of art," says Sarkar.

It also meets halfway their ambitions of becoming filmmakers. A music video, after all, is a three-minute-long condensed film. It can easily become a stepping stone to a two-hour movie. Last heard Tarsem, the India-born maker of rem’s trendsetting video, Losing My Religion, had been feted for his experimental short film at the much- venerated Sundance filmfest, the mecca of alternate, independent cinema. For Indian music video directors too, that could just be the way to go. "It is very difficult to get into TV and films because the investments are very high, videos are also a cheaper mode to be creative," says TV personality-turned-video filmmaker, Kunal Kohli.

And so each director is trying to develop a characteristic style, interpreting the medium in his own distinct way. Foreign videos are very technique-oriented, they lay importance on execution of the idea. "Abroad you sell a thought, a vibe, we’re yet to evolve to that stage," says Surapur. The thrust in Indian music videos is on storytelling. Polygram Multimedia’s Radhika Rao, a film school graduate from Hyderabad, is perhaps the best amongst these raconteurs, and also the most media shy of the lot. The pint-sized lady has about a dozen videos to her credit. Her Gur naal ishq mitha, starring Malaika Arora, was a simple tale of a girlfriend finding acceptance from the boy’s family. Set against the backdrop of a colourful wedding, it immediately hit the number 1 slot on the music channels. Rao’s best, perhaps, has been Asha Bhonsle’s Parde mein rahne do. Shot in Nepal and starring the current star of TV soaps, Simone Singh, it told the extremely engrossing fairytale of a lonely Rapunzel and her rescue from a lifelong curse by a dashing, handsome young prince. Her latest is Jab samne tum aa jaate ho, starring Ria Sen, a heart-tugging tale of a pair of twins in love with the same guy.

Sarkar’s videos have gloss and class. He tries to make his videos "people-oriented". "I like to play with them, with their emotions and humour," he says. So he goes for numbers which strike a chord, which touch him. He also likes to work in association with the lyricist to translate his views on the screen. "I try to work with visuals in a manner that they make you hear the song, not take you away from it," says he.

Kohli’s take on the other hand has always been soft and romantic. He is best remembered for the folksy Laung gawacha and for the charming, old-worldly boy-meets-girl tale in Milind Ingle’s Chhuimui si tum. As opposed to that, Udayawar, who started off as a graphic designer at Channel V and then moved on to its promos department, experiments with the visual element. "I hear a track, think of the imagery to go hand in hand with it," he says. For him the look has to be fresh and clean. So he went underwater for Silk Route’s Dooba dooba and used some imaginative angles and distinctive colour palette in Distant Voices’ Chandni raatein and Stereo Nation’s Oh Carol.

Anand Surapur is the one with the funny bone. He thrives on humour, be it his spoof on the seventies films in Instant Karma’s Saamne yeh kaun aaya, or the street kitsch in Bombay Vikings’ Kya soorat hai. The idea is to have an international look with an Indian content. Now he has them talking about his take-off on the bhatakti aatma theme of countless Hindi potboilers in the Bally Sagoo remix number, Noorie, which he calls "another way of seeing things, one which is highly incongruous and weird".

Expanse is what Mahesh Mathai captures in his videos. His Dekha hai aise bhi was shot in the sweeping landscape of Arizona, while O Sanam was canned in the awesome desert of Egypt. The most prolific, however, are ex-choreographer Bobby Khan and Anubhav Sinha, formerly an assistant to Pankaj Parashar and director of the popular TV serial, Sea Hawks. Their videos are ones with a thrust on dance and movements. Anubhav holds the record of making 45 videos in the two years he’s been in the profession. His most popular work has been Sonu Nigam’s Tu, starring model Bipasha Basu.

The quirkiest of the lot is Shamin Desai. Formerly the creative head at Channel V, he took to music videos just "to have some fun". He made a pathbreaking video for Colour Blind, starring Laila Rouass, which was inspired from French noir films. His latest is Pal, for KK. It’s a familiar tale of lost love; what sets it apart is its hip shot-taking.

An increase in the number of albums being churned out by the industry and a consequent demand for more creative videos are what have led to this influx of music video directors. With four music channels - mtv, Channel V, etc and Music Asia - crowding the sky and each having 24 hours to fill, the demand for videos expectedly remains ahead of the supply. The record companies are not just making more videos (three to four per album) but also investing more. In the early days the going rate for a video was Rs 2-3 lakh; now it is up to Rs 6-8 lakh with the highest ones going for as much as Rs 20 lakh. They are being shot in 16 or 35 mm instead of betacam, and special effects, foreign locales and slick choreography are all coming in handy.

Music doesn’t just have to sound great but look too. Music videos might ultimately just be a promo for an artiste and his new album. But with a plethora of them doing the rounds, a new video has to make you stop and watch it. It should also have a repeat value to make you turn to it again and again. After all, it is not just a question of selling music but selling it well. Since everyone’s doing a video, how you stand out becomes important. The pressure is to look different in the clutter so that the viewer doesn’t zap you out of the frame. Nor can you rest on the laurels of your previous work, but start afresh each time. "In the clutter of 10,000 videos, the viewer must remember your track," says Udyawar. No wonder, even desi videos are working at funky looks and sporting an attitude these days. "People are getting savvy about visuals, nothing looks tacky," says Surapur. The artistes too are defining their own image and trying to get noticed through their videos. So, Sufi folk singer from Punjab, Hans Raj Hans, underwent a makeover, complete with gelled-back hair, for his visually trendy video for the album, Chorni.

But despite the hectic activity, there are pitfalls aplenty. Contrary to expectations, money is not really the motivating factor for the video directors. Though investments in music videos have gone up they complain it still isn’t enough. "A Hindi film song is shot for as much as Rs 45-70 lakh, so there is a huge discrepancy," says Sarkar. "Competition is tough, expectations high, sometimes we even end up losing money if we want to do something different," says Sinha. According to his assessment, on an average a video maker can’t make more than a lakh or a lakh-and-a-half for a video.

The genre might be gaining ground but has had very few committed takers. They invariably move on. "You can’t be making videos all your life. It’s like every pop singer wants to do playback for films," says Thakur. Sinha has recently embarked on a new serial for Star, called Saher, a tale of three generations of women. In June, he intends launching his first film, a love story. "This is what I came to Mumbai for. I just deviated into music videos but enjoyed it all the same," he says.

So are glory days for music videos over even before they’ve begun? Unlike the West, Indian videos have not been able to get into anything radical, offbeat or avant garde. The videos are largely factory-churned, song ‘n’ dance numbers with pretty girls and often a couple of good-looking models thrown in. "There are far too many shot-in-Switzerland item videos doing the rounds," says Surapur. "There is a stagnation, most videos now end up looking like each other," says Sinha. "It is an interesting art form which is becoming commercially crass. Promoting an artiste can’t be like selling Vim bar," says Desai. All because of the desperate attempt to cater to the mass market sensibility. Music companies too offer rigid guidelines under the assumption that people only want to be entertained. "The music industry is full of philistines who have too many rules and rely on tried-and-tested ideas," says Desai. Result: a rehash of the old Romeo and Juliet theme.

Besides, the music industry itself is in a churn. All that seems to be working is bhangra and gooey romance. "There is no genuine underground pop, just studio-manufactured acts," says Desai. "Where are the good songs?" asks Kohli. Punjabi pop is on the top and how creative can it get? Sarkar, meanwhile, is willing to take the challenge. "I want to make Daler cry," he says. Question is, are there any takers?

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