Katniss Everdeen – The Girl on Fire

(After yet another unplanned hiatus, here’s something by @amrith10 on Pataaka Guddi, a song from Highway, a movie that impacted me quite a bit! –Viju)

At first, it was the teaser. A city girl kidnapped; a ruffian, stubble et al; a lorry; a gag; perhaps a touch of Stockholm syndrome. All this was the promise. The premise, even. The backdrop was the scenic beauty of the hillside and the ghats. Aptly named, the movie captured the spirit of the road. For this visual, a techno-Punjabi beat started, quite plainly, if one may say so. But then came the voices. Those earthen voices that accentuated everything that was rugged about the premise.

The song was played. Over and over. And then over. There was nothing profoundly great about the music, save for, perhaps, one flute solo, or two. But those voices were, well, something else entirely. The entire package simply made for some compelling listening. And re-listening. And re-re-listening.

That, of course, was a teaser of sorts. After the previous effort that had an angry rocker as a protagonist led to such stupendous levels of brilliance, the expectations from this album, it is safe to say, were sky-high. And this, for a teaser. One could not wait.

Of course, when such teasers come out for an album, there is always the lingering feeling that the best song might just be the one that is put first. Of course, the song in question would well have qualified to be the ‘song of the album’ in any album. Then again, this was no ordinary album, was it? It never could be, could it? No; not after its predecessor.

And then the track-list came out. Zeb was crooning. The heart skipped a beat. Several, perhaps. The expectations were no longer sky-high. Sky was no longer the limit. Nowhere near.

And then the eyes wandered. And then they swooned. And then they looked incredulously. And then they lost focus. And then the focus returned. And those words were still there. There was ‘another version’ of the teaser. It was no ordinary version, however. He would be the centrepiece of it. Knees buckled. The anticipation was, quite simply, too much. Of course, the dread was too.

And so the album came out. And then, track by track, it was devoured. Zeb was drooled at; Alia, commended. Sunidhi was patted on the back and Jonita Gandhi was lauded for being yet another find. Wanna Mash Up was regarded as a drishti pottu that simply did not gel with the rest of the album but then again, that would have to wait for the situation in the movie might change that opinion. That song, however, was left for the end. It had to be.

The dread built up. How could the teaser be improved? I mean, of course, anything could be but… the hand quivered. The play button was pressed.

No techno. Simple guitar notes. Fifteen seconds in. Slowly, a drum beat. Softly. Nineteen seconds. The ear picks up the faintest sign of the start of a hum. This really is happening. It really is. Three seconds. The words begin. Tu ne naam… twice, that happens. And then something out of the corner of the ear is heard. Of course, not. That has no business being here. The ear is strained. That disappears. Of course, must have been a figment of the imagination. There is no other explanation.

And then it is back. There is no mistaking it. It is a constant presence now. A harmonium. Ah the audacity of it! Incredible. Absolutely incredible. And just when the mind begins to comprehend this, his voice again. This, the mind is not ready for.

This is not the easy singing. No, of course not. The eyes close. He is imagined, chest out, one hand donning a mic; the other, beating his chest. The pronunciation is long drawn. On purpose. Words are elongated. Syllables are stretched. On purpose. This is not a song. This is a statement. When the voice usually goes under certain words, in this case, it goes over them. The words are in command. They have their place. He is the king of the jungle. His is the word. What might usually be sung a few decibels lower in the same octave are sung louder. Not blaringly loud; that, of course, would be rude but louder all the same.

Then the point is made; or so it would seem. The voice dies down again. And then it starts again. Each ho is not sung; it is punched. The harmonium kicks in again. The cha in the chali is not a cha but a chha. Then, it becomes familiar. The pitch rises with every ali until it reaches a crescendo, and then it recedes. He must be a Monty Python fan. Must be. For, what transpires for the next minute or so, is simply him taking a back seat and letting the Carnatic guitar man do his thing, and telling the people, and now for something completely different.

The mind struggles to get to grips with all of this. All this is happening too quickly. No. this is quite criminal. He cannot do this to us; there is only so much that can be processed. This bit in the middle is totally out of place and yet, it is somehow perfectly there. Just when the mind is slowly registering what has been happening for the past minute or so, he decides to turn around and face the audience. He stands in front of us, with a nonchalant smile and holds his arms outstretched, and opens them. There is nothing.

On cue, the song starts again, or so you think. He leads you to believe that. And you do. Because there is no evidence that anything happened. You look incredulously as he just stands there, shrugs his shoulders, and smiles. He simply stands there, with a glint in his eyes, shrugs his shoulders as if to say, ‘what are you looking at? Keep listening. I did nothing.’   Sure enough, it is all there. The harmonium and all else. Simply like nothing ever happened.

Before too long, that familiar feeling of something that is ending before its time dawns. You just know that you are in the last throes of this experience. The brashness is gone. The punches are gone. The decibel level is normal. The instruments do their thing. He lets them, of course. And then it is over. The oooo ooo oooo oooo ooooh takes over. There are still a few chatiyas left, though. He is smiling at you now. The chattiya is not so much a chattiya as it is chchattiya. That mischievous glint in his eye is there.

You look at that and you smile. He knows. You know. He knows you know. And yet, he lets the oooo ooo oooo oooo ooooh have the last word. He has finished. As ever, he lets someone else take the limelight, while he slinks away.

You press the rewind button and press play again. 

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