Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Plus ca change, plus c'est la mem-sahib

Courtesy of the BBC's iPlayer facility, I'm listening as I blog to last Sunday's BBC Promenade Concert, which was a celebration of Bollywood. The Proms have changed so much since my youth that this no longer seems surprising, but I can remember the huge fuss when the very first popular music Prom happened, which was on 13 August 1970. There were two Proms that night: the first a programme of Bach, the second by The Soft Machine (the Ratledge/Wyatt/Hopper/Dean lineup). The interest the Softs attracted was immense, and the BBC to their credit gave the event huge publicity. I'd never heard of the Soft Machine before that week, but there was no way I was going to miss the broadcast (it went out on TV as well as radio). I considered myself musically fairly hip for a 15-year-old, but I'd had little or no exposure to what we'd now term jazz-fusion, so the concert was a real ear-opener: Britain's premier jazz-rock band at their absolute creative peak, and doing what as far as I could tell was a good gig. I never got to see the Softs live, though Hugh Hopper's next group Isotope played Durham University when I was a student.

Anyway, if someone had told me - or anyone else - back in 1970 that in 39 years there would be a Bollywood Prom, it would have been as hard to comprehend as if they had tried to explain the BBC iPlayer. Serious jazz-rock was one thing, but outright popular music, from films? We wouldn't have been ready for that at the Proms: that was for Radio 2, not Radio 3. In any case, outwith Britain's Asian communities very few people in Britain had even heard of the Indian film industry. In those 39 years not only has the gulf between 'high' and 'low' culture narrowed hugely, but culture has become globalised. Just remember that it was just three years earlier, on 25 June 1967, that the first ever live global satellite hook-up took place. To give an idea of the significance of that, the BBC's contribution was to commission a special song from The Beatles. You may have heard of it.....

OK, enough 60s and 70s nostalgia, back to Bollywood. Here's one of my favourite songs from one of my favourite films, Dil Chahta Hai from 2001. I love the film for many reasons, but one is that the songs all appear in context rather than being totally unrelated to the action. In other words, this song is a disco sequence because in comes in a key early scene in a disco during which one of the film's three couples meet. The films is about three male friends and their very different experiences with romance, and in this song the blokes are strutting their stuff and extolling the pleasure of being young and devil-may-care. To Western eyes it may look rather camp but in India there is no embarrassment about uncomplicated male friendship, even hand-holding. The song was deservedly a huge hit in India. Enjoy it.



And from the same film, here is one of the couples. They were paired off by their parents as suitable partners in an arranged marriage, but both rejected the idea with horror. However, the dynamic of this relationship is that as they get to know each other they do in fact begin to fall in love, and there is then the awkwardness of how you mention to someone who was hugely relieved not to have to marry you that you would, in fact, rather like it if they did. This scene takes place at a point when their feelings for each other are obvious to us but they haven't broached the topic with each other. They go to the pictures to get out of the rain, and this is what they see. It is a virtuoso homage to several decades of Bollywood visual styles: and a great song. Go Bollywood!

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