Documentary channel

A director sets out to learn the saxophone and finds a doughty tribe of horn players in Mumbai

In the documentary ‘The Sax and the City’, Praveen Kumar profiles saxophonists who are struggling to be heard above the din.

As Praveen Kumar tells it, the Films Division documentary The Sax in the City is the result of “a childhood fantasy come true”. The director of the National Film Award-winning documentary on Madhubani artists, Naina Jogin and the 2011 feature Jo Dooba So Par began researching on the instrument after he started hunting for music teachers. The result is a film about saxophonists in Mumbai from various social strata, including Rhys Sebastian D’souza, Shyam Raaj, Raj Singh Sodha, Carl Celements and Luke Poswaity. Kumar open the film with scenes from the play Jazz, which features D’souza and Denzil Smith on the history of the musical form in Mumbai, and goes on to profile various performers. Some of them play in Hindi films, unheralded in the background, and others at clubs and functions.

Even though there seems to be a shortage of practitioners, Kumar unearths players in the slums of Mumbai and middle-class apartments, all of whom have a deep relationship with their instrument and the unique sound it creates. Excerpts from an interview with Kumar.

Why the saxophone?
Like a fairytale one fine day, my childhood fantasy came true – a saxophone arrived at my door. It was overwhelming to see this utterly complex instrument before me, about which I had no idea. I did not even know how to hold it.

YouTube was a little help, I could get some screechy sounds out of it. However, my eyes turned red from excessive and forceful blowing. I needed a teacher. The search for a music teacher brought a new world of music and musicians into my life. The complex engineering of the saxophone and the cityscape seem to have some organic connection. I found the saxophone in very different quarters playing different genres of music, mingling with the fragile life of human beings in different reposes.

Play
‘The Sax and the City’.

Was the film always meant to be about the saxophone rather than any similar instrument?
Yes, to the extent that the framework was laid out within the experience of my learning the saxophone. The sound of the horn has probably no equal, maybe the trumpet, but they traverse different alleys. I did consider how and why I should or should not include the other brass and wind section instruments and eventually I stuck to as close as possible to one instrument – the one I knew the best.

The Sax in the City brings together several saxophonists living in the bustling mega city of Mumbai. There are very few. Coming from varied backgrounds, together they weave an impression of a musician’s elusive life. I guess this aspect makes the film universal and about all musicians who inhabit the quiet backstage of music production.

What is it about this particular instrument that piqued your interest?
Initially it was a very romantic idea about holding the instrument, and the moment I would hold it, some very sensuous tune would come out like the genie and spread all over. Very childish. But there was a quality of sound that fascinated me, and it was located in the saxophone. I have no specific exposure to talk about any Western instrument, but of all of them, the sax impressed me most.

I gathered it is also a very new instrument just over a hundred years old. It evolved as a bridge between the flute and the trumpet, courtesy Adolf Sax, from whom it draws its name. All this made me want to know how it got introduced it into the Indian film music scenario. I stood facing a huge and a very rich legacy of the cross-cultural history of music in modern India. I have been part of a fascinating journey and it has happened at the behest of the saxophone. My film could not have been centred on any other instrument.

Raj Singh Sodha.
Raj Singh Sodha.

How challenging was it to track down the musicians? And what does their condition say about how we regard an instrument that we hear in the background but do not stop to identify or appreciate?
Tracking musicians was agonising to start with. I knew a few composers, but they had rarely employed live saxophonists, so the process took very long. I soon figured that there were not many. The keyboard has dealt a body blow to these instruments. Even after getting the right numbers, it was difficult to meet up or connect, often they were out of station.

Also, they were not sure what the purpose of my endeavour was. My wanting to learn the sax sounded unconvincing, it’s something you do when you are young and not when you are 50.

So I got tossed around for a while before I met Luke Poswaity in Bandra at his one-room shared tenement. He was one of the very fine musicians who could play the sax, the oboe, the clarinet and the flute at very proficient levels. He died in extreme penury and left behind a tenor sax and a flute. He never saw the film he helped me make. I learnt there are many really fine musicians who are unable to make ends meet.

Commercial music production has become a technical exposition. It is common experience to have forgotten the songs in the films these days. One could strongly argue that the soul is missing from the commercial music of the day.

Obviously, there is a correlation between Luke’s poverty and the poverty in commercial music. In general, we need to care more about and for the artists.

The musicians are not captioned in the film but are identified only at the end.
Interviews and talking heads in a documentary are always tagged with the name of the person. It makes narrative noise for me, much like the video/audio hiss. It alludes to recognition and identity or to some real-life character. I wanted the story to unfold without any strong identities to enable a smoother interflow between different individuals playing/developing the same character/narrative.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Hans Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.