Music

Roy Dipankar’s documentary 'Extreme Nation' looks at underground metal in the Indian subcontinent

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Chennai filmmaker's latest work explores the metal community in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka: the voices, the language and the defiance

"So I start a revolution from my bed"

UK band Oasis’ 1996 hit Don’t Look Back in Anger is a far cry from the ear-splitting drum solos and growls that define metal music. However, it is this line from the song that comes to my mind at the recent screening of Extreme Nation at InKo Centre, Adyar Club Gate Road.

This documentary by Chennai-based filmmaker Roy Dipankar captures the voices of the underground metal community across the Indian subcontinent: Dhaka, Lahore, Kohima, Colombo, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Chennai. The movie travelled to India after screenings at Jecheon International Music and Film Festival 2019, South Korea, and Wacken Open Air in Germany — considered to be one of the world’s biggest metal festivals.

Five minutes into the screening, one thing becomes clear. There are some who become metalheads, obsessed with techniques of songwriting. This is not a movie about them. This is about the rest who aim to be disruptors, and find channels to rile against the status quo. Political resistance runs as a strong undercurrent in Extreme Nation.

The opening sequence is a symphony of dholaks, cymbals and ululation — the madness of a pujo at a Kalibari set in Dhaka. As this music continues in the background, the visuals flip over to the literal and metaphorical underground, where runs the same vein of chaos, but in a mosh pit. This is to address the meaning of ‘underground’. “Most occult places of worship in Hinduism, especially if it is a goddess like Chinnamasta, Kamakhya or Kali, are set underground. It symbolises the womb of the earth,” says Roy.

The 81-minute feature glimpses into the metal community in jump cuts — from an interview with an endearingly bemused father in Dhaka, wondering why his son would get into metal music despite being steeped in Bengali Classical, we move on to a band in Kohima, talking about the challenges of performing occult music in a heavily Christian state. One scene follows the band Multinational Corporations in Lahore, and a blink later, we meet Colombo’s Konflict in a room flooded with red lights, jamming to music protesting the ruling government. MNC’s short bursts of aggressive punk take on Taliban, the idea of democracy, and the power held by Pakistan’s Army. Meanwhile, Dhaka’s Nafarmaan leans towards Norwegian black metal, but talks about the importance of upholding Bengali culture in the face of the pervasion by Hindi and Bollywood.

Roy Dipankar’s documentary 'Extreme Nation' looks at underground metal in the Indian subcontinent

“Our subcontinent offers such rich ethnography, that I wanted to map it through my documentary,” says Roy. “ Most bands initially take off from a Western band they like, but as they find their own sound, they find ways to talk about their local issues. If you listen to the Sri Lankan bands’ songs, you can hear the folk influences. Some bands also sample recordings from old and iconic TV serials’ and movies,” he says.

There isn’t a single narrative in the film, nor a single theme — other than flowing long hair, and dropping curses like hotcakes. But there is a thread of dissonance. If one musician from Mumbai talks about finding God, another from Dhaka talks about giving up religion for good. This is Roy’s attempt to break stereotypes: “I wanted to show that the metal community is diverse, that there is no single ruling idea,” he says.

Brush with danger

Roy Dipankar’s documentary 'Extreme Nation' looks at underground metal in the Indian subcontinent

In the five years he spent travelling the sub-continent, Roy got to know his interviewees well, spending time with them in the areas they grew up in. A guitarist who has worked with record labels like Universal Music and EarthSync India, Roy was steeped in metal and so, familiar with the bands’ work beforehand.

However, in many places, owing to the bands’ ‘anti-nationalist’ music, bringing them out from the underground meant making them vulnerable to extremist groups. The faces of the musicians from Colombo, who spoke against militant Buddhists, are blurred out, and their voices modified to protect their identity. “The family of the person I interviewed in Lahore worked for the Army. So that meant he was in a position of power and under surveillance at the same time,” he says. The singer dropped out of the interview after getting constant calls from an unknown number, and requested that his footage be taken out of the cloud.

However, within the music community, not many agree that these musicians are truly disruptive. Journalist Anurag Tagat, interviewed in the film, comments on how most of them come from a privileged background without having experienced real struggles, or personal reasons to revolt — rebels without causes. Roy remains neutral, but confesses that it is this idealism that draws him. Moreover, “if you have to channel your aggression some way, I would rather it be in mosh pits.”

The movie will be next screened at the Fireball festival, Guwahati, on January 12.

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 10:01:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/voices-from-the-underground-metal-community-in-the-indian-subcontinent/article30107585.ece

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