Cinema

‘Par Ek Din’ Lays Bare the Insecurities and Anxieties of Young India

Par Ek Din is about drowning the clutter of city life, being indifferent to indifference, and making something of your own – something that, irrespective of the audience’s might, is uncompromised, true, and original.

Jaideep Varma’s newest documentary Par Ek Din was released on June 21, World Music Day.

Jaideep Varma’s newest documentary Par Ek Din was released on June 21, World Music Day.

At some point in an Andheri West house party, the guitar comes out. There’s smoke in the air, alcohol in the kitchen, mattresses on the floor and a guitarist surrounded by listeners. The night is young and heady, and so are its companions. Most guitarists at such parties have a story to tell. Besides playing the guitar, they could be singers, songwriters, composers (or all of them). But there’s a reason you haven’t heard of them: they’re still trying to get heard. They are, in the lexicon of Andheri West, “strugglers”: the suburb’s ubiquitous noun, its uncomfortable cliché.

Jaideep Varma’s latest documentary, Par Ek Din, fixes its gaze on one such group. Revolving around a progressive post rock band, CityHaze (also the name of their debut album), Par Ek Din chronicles the journey of five twenty-somethings making music, and the struggle of getting it heard as CityHaze’s home, Mumbai, is already overcrowded with people, buildings, filmmakers, writers, bands, the haves, the have-nots. Par Ek Din is about drowning that clutter, being indifferent to indifference, and making something of your own – something that, irrespective of the audience’s might, is uncompromised, true, and original.

Every band’s got a story to tell. So does CityHaze. Comprising of five members – Mallar, Samyak, Soham, Abhigyan and Debatra – CityHaze began as an Indian Ocean’s cover band, inspired by the documentary Leaving Home: The Life and Music of Indian Ocean (which was, coincidentally, directed by Varma). After their B-school, Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (in Pune), got over, where they had first met each other, they went separate ways, finally regrouping more than a year ago to give music a shot. Primarily centered on two band members, Mallar and Samyak, Par Ek Din shows, and at times tells us, what makes CityHaze unique. So, for instance, even if Mallar and Samyak tried, they couldn’t be more different. Mallar, who grew up in Calcutta, is a big city boy. He speaks in clear sentences. He cracks one-liners and remains deadpan. His musical influences are western. Samyak, on the other hand, is from “proper UP (Uttar Pradesh)”. His “s”, at times, has a tinge of “sh”. He uses “ki”, “toh”, and “like” a lot; he also swears a lot (such as: “ki this shit is toh fucked”, “it’s fuckall ki”, “in the sense ki”). Samyak’s musical sensibilities are Indian. (He admires Lucky Ali.) Mallar’s on the guitar; Samyak’s behind the mic and also writes.

The first one-third of Par Ek Din introduces CityHaze’s members, shows them recording in a studio (for the first time), and details their contribution to the band. Besides, here, and elsewhere in the film, we hear a voiceover, by Varma and Harshad Nalawade (the documentary’s cinematographer and co-editor), commenting on the band and its music, providing vital narrative information. This device, which ran the risk of being self-indulgent and ponderous, could have easily backfired, but, for the most part, it doesn’t, because Varma and Nalawade are self-aware and funny, incisive even.

Par Ek Din skillfully documents the lives of CityHaze’s members. We find out that, except Abhigyan, all four of them are WWE fans; that Samyak’s recently taken a liking to western music, playing songs of Van Morrison, Wilco, Neil Young; that their songs explore, among other things, the tyranny of a metropolis – suffocating its people, making them isolated, forcing them to sell out. Around the halfway mark, though, you do get slightly testy, as if wondering, “So what?” Because the film, till then, is a straightforward account of the band, which is fine, but it slowly begins to repeat itself. We know the band members’ relationship with music, but not what they want from it; more importantly, we don’t know what they want from life, from each other: Do they hold day jobs? To what extent will CityHaze push them? Will they give up and succumb – do they even care about it? How do they view fellow band members?

These doubts, however, are soon assuaged when the film’s third act – easily its most powerful and heartfelt segment – kicks in. And it’s so because, here, the film steps out in the real world. The air of Andheri West (where CityHaze’s members live) – especially its more popular pockets, Yari Road, 7 Bungalows, and Lokhandwala – is so rife with ambition and delusion, hope and cynicism, doubt and desperation, that you can almost touch and pluck it – something beating with the intensity of a life-form. The suburb’s strivers have been told, countless times, that fortunes change overnight; that they’ll ‘make it’ if they persist for long; that their hard work won’t go waste. The truth, however, is different. But what are great cities without great lies?

At one point in the film, Samyak, Soham, and Abhigyan are wondering about their future. Soham says that, in these times of standalone songs, no one cares about an album; Abhigyan believes their music will always be “niche”and then Soham adds, “I think we were joking about it. But we’ll have to create, like, one or two super catchy tracks.” All through this, Samyak is silent, stroking his beard, looking out in the distance.

And then the film cuts to the next scene: Samyak strumming a guitar, singing a CityHaze original (“Par Ek Din”), as if his answer lies in songs, not in sentences:

Yun Toh Mere Paas/Pareshaniyon Ka Samandar Hai (I’ve a sea of problems)

Par Ek Din/Lehron Pe Chadh Ke Kinare Pe Utrunga Main (But one day, I’ll climb the tides and reach the shore).”

In this brief segment, Samyak’s alone in his flat’s bedroom. He’s sitting on a bed; his back faces a sliding-glass door. Its curtains are drawn to the side, and beyond it you can see the vastness of night, and the glow of a lamp post. This image – of a young man, pursuing his calling with a singular obsession, likening his struggle to tides and shores, talking to anyone who cares to listen – was oddly moving, and felt familiar, because it reminded me of someone else: my first flatmate in Mumbai (Yari Road).

I had quit my job as an engineer and moved to Mumbai, in the summer of 2013, to pursue a career in writing. My flatmate had moved to Mumbai nearly a decade ago to become an actor. A few TV serials had happened, but nothing major. Moreover, my flatmate didn’t care about TV; he wanted to be a star. Days would pass, but nothing would happen. Everyday, he’d sit in a nearby café – from 11 am to 1 in the night, hoping to chat up a casting director, writer, or filmmaker – but nothing would happen. He once changed the orientation of his bed, because better Vastu Shashtra meant better acting offers. Nothing happened. He was slowly losing his mind, but he was helpless and unaware. He was also getting increasingly delusional, insecure and paranoid. He once told me, “Tanul-ji, today no one knows about us. But, take my word, one day when we’d ‘make it’, the same people would come running to us.” That was the first time the gravity of ‘make it’ hit me, and it filled me with absolute dread (but I soon cast it aside, thinking, no one really ‘makes it’ in journalism). But, time and again, he’d recite a couplet (I don’t remember its words lyrics) about on-lookers watching a sailor drown, feeling sorry for him, but not knowing that he was actually tearing the waves and making his way towards the shore.

Samyak and CityHaze’s other members are, thankfully, not like him (they’re smart, talented, pragmatic), and yet, they’re part of the same world, which elicits an inevitable question: “Will they make it?” It’s a question that defines the strivers of Andheri: aspiring filmmakers, screenwriters, cinematographers, musicians – you name it. It’s a question that’s too big to address, too important to ignore. An entire life – its joys, sorrows, and heartbreaks – summed up in four words: “Will you make it?” And that is the most abiding triumph of Par Ek Din, especially its last 30 minutes, that it lays bare the insecurities and anxieties of young Indians, showing the stark difference between following your calling and making a living. It doesn’t romanticise the former, doesn’t vilify the latter.

There’s also a curious intersection of two ‘Indias’ throughout the film. Varma, who used to write music columns for the Gentleman magazine in the ’90s, belongs to a different era. The boys of CityHaze, on the other hand, have just begun. They aren’t naïve or idealist in any way, but they’ve not been tested enough. But, more vitally, Par Ek Din will perhaps, in months to come, share a strange equation with CityHaze. At one point, the documentary tells us that “during 2015-2016, the band made an EP” and put it up for download online, but “despite having more than 500 people on their Facebook page, less than 20 people downloaded it.” Will Par Ek Din make people shed that indifference? Difficult to say. The film went online last week, and has since garnered only 3,000 views. Will Par Ek Din suffer the same hitherto fate of its subject: promising but neglected? You hope not – both for the band and for the documentary.

Having said that, Par Ek Din is not without its flaws. The documentary would have been more immersive and organic, had Varma spent more time with its subjects. In absence of assiduous reporting, he and Nalawade have to explain some narrative asides, which should have ideally come from CityHaze’s members. Moreover, the cause of potential rift in the band – Mallar wanting to have the final word and others’ hesitancy to contradict him – comes much later in the film, and is only explored through a couple of scenes.

It’s difficult to say whether CityHaze will ever ‘make it’. Out of the five members, only two – Samyak and Mallar – are pursuing music full-time; the rest have either day-jobs or their own ventures. But there’s something wonderful and beautiful, not to say intriguing, about a story in transition. And so, in an earlier scene, when Samyak, still alone in his room (unheard, unwatched), continues singing, you can’t help but get behind him – his lines a quiet statement, yours a quiet wish:

Andheron Me, Main Lamp Post Jaisa Jalta Rahta Hun Raaton Me/Jis Gali, Ho Jis Gali Me, Jis Gali Me Main Jalta Wahan Koi Aata Nahin (I’m like a lamp post that keeps burning in the dark on an isolated street)

Par Ek Din/Galiyon Me Mele Laga Ke Dikha Dunga Main (But one day, there’ll be a carnival on this street).”