Rockumentary: Becoming of Indian Rock, a 24-minute documentary that explores the state of rock music in India.
Abhimanyu Kukreja, who began his career as an entertainment journalist, felt that there was a lack of space for rock. Since nobody made an effort to document the development of rock music, Abhimanyu took it upon himself to direct the film in 2008, which is followed up with a forthcoming second part Rockumentary: Evolution of Indian Rock.
Between 2007 and 2012, Kukreja did extensive research on the Indian rock music scene, traveling throughout the country to carry out interviews with musicians and to record their music.
Tunes for the ages
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Rockumentary: Evolution of Indian Rock is presented through a series of interviews with established musicians, who have been the nucleus in the evolution of rock post-Independence and till the late ‘90s. Abhimanyu hoped to highlight the circumstances that helped rock and roll emerged as a pop-culture phenomenon among the Indian youth.
The documentary courses through the uncharted territories of the birth and growth of India’s rock scene, tracing its evolution from the Anglo-led jazz and blues bands in the clubs of British-era Calcutta in the ’30s, to the influence of Elvis Presley on rock ‘n’ roll in India and the world, the psychedelic rock scene of the ’70s in Bombay, the role the entry of TV channels, and the plethora of different forms of rock mushrooming in India today.
It begins in an unexpectedly meta way, with Kukreja telling the audience how he had once set out to tell this story as a 24-minute segment for a TV station.
In the rockumentary, he meets and speaks with a variety of musicians, from the “godfather of Indian jazz”, Louis Banks (whose father George Banks was a trumpeter in the Calcutta club scene in the ’40s) to the psychedelic Bombay rockers Atomic Forest, Savage Encounter, Velvette Fogg and several hitherto-unknown others, Lou Majaw of The Great Society, Gary Lawyer (of Nights on Fire fame), The Mustangs, a Chennai rock band, Bengaluru-based Millenium (India’s first heavy metal band), Parikrama, Peter Cat Recording Co., Malayalam rock band Avial and many more.
It also has artists commenting and discussing the progress of Indian rock, and what the current music scene, dominated by Hindi and regional language bands, speaks of and owes its reality to.
The documentary intersperses Kukreja’s own journey and the process of discovery of the history of Indian rock, with actual footage of old bands, clubs, performance venues, music videos and interviews with bands that had been active back in the day.
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In addition to being immensely informative, Rockumentary is also full of delightfully unexpected bits and comments from people outside, but connected to, the music fraternity, like when he speaks to a street food vendor outside the iconic Rang Bhavan to ask him about its heyday, to which the vendor responds recounting how college students would be lining up in droves outside the venue.
Rockumentary is comprehensive, enjoyable and while upbeat and cheery, somehow still heavy with nostalgia, even for viewers who may not have even been alive in the eras he discusses. It also features a variety of icons in India’s rock music scene, including some unexpected ones who have contributed to its evolution and status in their own unique way, like VJ Luke Kenny of the erstwhile late-night rock music show The Luke Kenny Show, and Imtiaz Ali, whose movie Rockstar brought English rock music a little closer to the masses, in addition to the many iconic musicians it interviews and pays homage to. It’s particularly enjoyable for its introspection and interviews of Indian musicians from the ’60s and ’70s, and worth a watch for anyone with even a passing interest in rock music, anywhere in the world.