So the Indian edition of MTV Unplugged kicked off yesterday. After the way Coke Studio India started off with high hopes and sort of fizzled out as it progressed, failing to keep up to the hype (though I hear they are doing a much better job at their city-wise minicerts), people were majorly uninterested/guarded about Unplugged I guess. As compared to Coke Studio I saw minimal online buzz about the show, barring the ones by the makers of the show themselves. Anyways, with the name Ranjit Barot at the helm of the affairs, I, for one, was quite looking forward to this one. And after having watched the videos of episode 1 some time back (as usual I missed this show too on TV) I am glad to say my hopes were not misplaced.
Episode 1 featured the man who first invaded our senses with that brilliantly imagined cover of Baba Bulleh Shah’s Bulla Ki Jaana, Rabbi Shergill. And he did start off the show with that very same song, except here it came in Ranjit Barot’s repackaged form. And I loved it! While guest guitarist Sanjeev Thomas provided some interesting improv phrases in the interludes, flautist Ashwin Srinivasan aced the instrumental parley towards the end with his carnatic solos. In fact Ashwin was truly the star of the eve, giving equally impressive performances with his array of flutes in three more songs – one, a lovely interpretation of the traditional Punjabi song called Challa; two, a bluesy take on another popular Punjabi folk piece called Jugni which had Barot himself joining Rabbi on the vocals, and Bilquis, Rabbi’s tribute to four victims of the nation namely Bilquis Bano, Manjunath Shanmugam (an alum of ours, I am proud to say), Satyendra Dubey and Navleen Kumar. The interpretation of the opening lines of Jana Gana Mana on different flutes was truly heart-warming. Apart from these there were three more songs played on the episode. The Unplugged edition of Rabbi’s Tere Bin was totally stolen by the two guys doing the backing vocals (@iPeeKay tells me they featured in the show Music Ka Mahamuqabla) with their classical improvisations – fabulous singing. My fave song of the eve was Heer, the song that was done the proper fusion way – the pulsating percussion, Barot with his konnakol, and Sanjeev with some crazy Arabic-flavored guitaring (though I was surprised to know later that this song was actually on the tragic Heer-Ranjha love story. The performance was anything but melancholic! May be that was the intention, I would not know). And finally there was Ganga, Rabbi’s own Heal The World (Heal India, in this case), that is part of his upcoming album. A very poignant song, perfect for the acoustic interpretation. Nice way to round off the episode.
So like I said at the start, my hopes were not the slightest bit misplaced. If I were to do nitpicking, I would say I didn’t find the chorus (the one that appeared in Bulla) very impressive, and Rabbi wasn’t flawless in his rendition. But otherwise, with his well-chosen in-house ensemble and guest artists Barot looks poised to pull off MTV Unplugged India in style. And with people like Indian Ocean, Rekha Bhardwaj, Shilpa Rao etc. in the list for coming weeks, I don’t see any reason why he won’t.
You can watch the songs in HD below.