MTV Unplugged India – Episode 3 (Indian Ocean): Review

MTV Unplugged Episode No. 3. Indian Ocean. Probably the episode I was most looking forward to after Rekha Bhardwaj’s (which, by the way, is next week). In the first two episodes of the show the artists began with the song that made their career, incidentally also their respective debut songs. Indian Ocean, on the other hand, kicked off with a song that might not essentially be called their most impactful song, but to me that song quite fits into the series of the previous openers, as it was with Kandisa indeed that I truly took notice of the band called Indian Ocean. I still remember the funda of the Aramaic prayer lines coming up in some quiz and the resultant intrigue drawing me to the band. But we digress. So the show opener this time was Kandisa. The tempo was slightly increased which took some sheen off the original, and due to which there were areas the singing seemed labored, but otherwise nicely executed. And in the vocal solo in between (raag desh-based, I felt), as on multiple occasions later in the show, one felt the absence of Asheem Chakravarthy. Himanshu Joshi is a good singer no doubt, at times he seems to come off even as classically more sound than Asheem, but his voice lacks the presence that his predecessor’s had. That apart, he does a neat job. Ranjit Barot joined the band on drums in the ode to Narmada, Ma Rewa. As it did in the original, the song charmed me more for the instruments than for the vocals, more so here with some interesting duels involving that quaint little instrument Amit Kilam played called the gabgubi.

Since Indian Ocean’s general repertoire is comprised of acoustic-based music I wasn’t expecting much of a difference in their Unplugged adaptation of most tracks. One of the tracks where there was some difference expected was Bandeh, where Sushmit had played the electric guitar in the latter half. And it was indeed lovely to hear the frenetic strumming of classical notes on the acoustic in place of the distortion sound. That said, the headiness in the crescendo of the original had a great part owed to the majestic sound of the electric in the background – a fact that I realised when I heard the song here sans that element. In Shunya too (from their last album 16/330 Khajoor Road) there had apparently been a use of electric guitar which was given an acoustic makeover here. I hadn’t heard this song before Unplugged, and I must say I found it sort of repetitive; there was a definite heard before-ness to it. The band included new elements in the arrangement like the sax and clarinet (I didn’t know Rahul and Amit played these!), but otherwise there wasn’t anything particularly new about it. Nam Mya Ho was played next as a tribute to Asheem, it was apparently his fave. Songs based on chants always have that ethereal feel good-ness about them, ditto here, the added folk features accentuating that beauty. And finally there was the song from Indian Ocean’s debut album (which also reappeared in Desert Rain), Melancholic Ecstasy – the only instrumental piece of the night. To differentiate the track from the original version, the band brought it in the multi instrumentalist Tapas Roy on saz. And in Sushmit’s words, this was the true improv performance as they hadn’t practised it beforehand with Tapas. And he pulled it off quite well, following Sushmit’s phrases ably enough. And it is really heartening to see the man getting more spotlight of late, he really deserves it.

A show that pretty much matched my expectations. Neat execution of a good lineup of songs (though I would have preferred Khajuraho or Jhini in place of Shunya).  I will say this again though, I missed Asheem. In any case, thanks to MTV Unplugged we have properly shot HD videos for at least six of Indian Ocean’s songs. Watch the songs below. MTV had uploaded the videos even before the show was done. Quite appreciate this promptness of theirs.