A Place at the Top for the Short Film Set to Donn Bhat’s “Disco Disco”
How does a tale about record-setting human pyramids during Mumbai’s Janmashtami festival end up having anything to do with a trippy disco throwback? The answer to that is in Donn Bhat’s documentary music video for Disco Disco, off the Mumbai-based electro-rock artist’s second album Passenger Revelator. The video, which is a six-minute documentary short film on a coach, and two govinda participants – a young man and an even younger girl – from a govinda, a human pyramid that is formed and cheered on as part of Janmashtami celebrations to break a pot suspended at a height.
You can sense the emotion, the risk and the drive behind people who’d want to be part of the govinda tradition – it’s come under the scanner by child rights activists and authorities, who have questioned the safety of putting humans, specifically children in precarious situations. But Suburban King/Top Girl, the title of the short film directed by Mumbai filmmaker Aakash Bhatia, goes behind the sheer dedication that goes into the people like coach Sandeep, top girl Prapti Nilesh Desai and participant Vidyadhar Achrekar from the Jai Jawan Govinda Pathak group to keep up their Guinness World Record to make a nine-tier human pyramid – the highest in the world. Set to the pulsating classic Bollywood disco number Disco Disco, led on the vocals by Sarosh Nanavaty, Donn Bhat provides an interesting score that captures the intrigue and will-they-won’t-they suspense leading up to day of reckoning for the Jai Jawan Govinda Pathak on Janmashtami.
It’s this mix of danceable music and a human interest story that makes the music video for Disco Disco stand out even from the general range that independent artists in India aim for. It’s even found its way into the Texas film and music festival South By Southwest (SXSW)’s music video showcase category, as well as garnering a nomination alongside global hits such as Turn Down For What by Lil’ Jon and DJ Snake, Paolo Nutini’s Iron Sky, and Chet Faker’s Gold. Bhatia, who is currently in Austin for SXSW, confirms that they might have lost the music video competition to Iron Sky and Turn Down For What, but he’s happy that the video got a world premiere at SXSW. Says Bhatia, “The reactions [to the video] were one of the most tangible ones I’ve seen or felt so far. I’m looking forward to the rest of the screenings and hoping to collect as much love for the video as I can.” Bhatia and Donn Bhat, who have previously worked together for advertisement films, started off discussing ideas for a music video last year. While Bhatia was looking to shoot a music video for Samson Delilah, also off Bhat’s 2014 album, Passenger Revelator. Bhatia says, “I really enjoy the Donn’s work because it is not genre bound, which is something I swear by.”
The same applied for Bhat when he wanted a video that stood out for his music. Says the producer, guitarist and vocalist of his live band, Donn Bhat + Passenger Revelator, “When he sent me the idea for his docu music video and told me it’s going to feature real people and no actors or anything, I thought that’s amazing. For any idea that I make, it should obviously have something of its own. There’s no point with all those videos that actually get aired on Pepsi MTV Indies nowadays – with people sending love letters and burning them into maps and framing out world problems. I’ve been watching Indies for the last month and it’s just s*** f***ing videos, it’s amazing.” One listen to Passenger Revelator will tell you Bhat already has a cinematic streak to his music, which would make it even easier to adapt them for videos. He says a U.S.-based film student, Neha Dutta, has shot a music video for “Samson Delilah,” a version of which was uploaded last year. Bhat says, “Inspiration doesn’t just come from music alone. It comes from good writers, films, even art for that matter. I wanted to incorporate that. I do like cinematic things. Say It Again has a one-and-a-half-minute intro, which has nothing on it. It’s just an intro. When you go to record labels and play them your stuff, they’ll probably fast forward through that. I want to be able to exploit that freedom, otherwise what’s the point of making four-and-a-half-minute radio-friendly songs?” Interestingly, Bhat mentions he and Mumbai-based filmmaker Sachin Pillai (who was worked with the likes of Nicholson and Begum) are discussing music video ideas for Say It Again. Says Bhat, “There’s no concrete plan, but because we haven’t been free we’re just going to do something from the new EP.”
It’s a bit odd to hear that the video for Disco Disco, however, was received differently by fans of the music and fans of the film. While Bhatia mentions the fact that it was such an unusual combination of music and visuals was really appreciated, Bhat says most of the people he showed it to didn’t like it at all. Says Bhat, “A lot of my friends told me that this doesn’t work. They didn’t get it. A lot of people told me that – that it’s not working and this is not the right song.” Bhatia also admits to initial reservations, but says the contrast of a music video and documentary has been appreciated.
Of course, the real validation comes through things like a world premiere at SXSW. Bhat says, “The fact he got selected for this is just a reaffirmation of the fact that we did something nice.”
Photo credits for featured image: Abraham’s Creations