Ghoom Taana: Video Review

Song: "Ghoom Taana"
Artist: Junoon

"Ghoom Taana," Salman Ahmed's 'attempt' at building bridges comes at a time when the message of peace has been repeated to the extent of sounding stale. The "Building Bridges" documenatry, which could well be described as the making of "Ghoom Taana" video compiles views of everyone from the "lead cast" to the producer, to the behind the scenes crew. Here, Nandita Das describes "Ghoom Taana" as a video that "re-enforces the message of peace." However it's Naseeruddin Shan who takes the cake when he says that if this melody doesn't create harmony "then I don't know what would."

Ironically, despite being the desire of a large segment of society on both sides, peace remains, by and large, a matter of policy for both countries. And this policy is heavily dependent on Uncle Sam's initiation. It takes Uncle Sam's bulldosing and Islamabad's and Delhi's acting accordingly, to mend fences with each other. As long as these three elements are not interested, a Bollywood film or a Pakistani video may just 'express', the desire for peace - that too strictly within the boundaries drawn by the government.

Coming back to "Ghoom Taana," the video is the story of the offspring of two neighbours separated at the time of partition. The next generation grows up and Salman, playing a guitarist, is instructed by his dying mother to return an amanat to its rightful owner. It is a 'gehna' that was left behind by their Indian neighbours when they moved to Patiala at the time of partition. Like an obedient son, Salman journeys from Lahore to Patiala to return his ex-neighbour's memento. Once there, he is greeted with hostility by the widowed daughter-in-law (Nandita Das) of the ex neighbour. Eventually Salman manages to make his place in the family set up by celebrating the monsoons and Diwali with them before he returns all teary eyed.

In its own way, "Ghoom Taana" is a fairly good onscreen narration of how hostility gives way to mutual trust and understanding. Uneasy vibes between Nandita Das and Salman's characters turn into a blossoming relationship, and this is effectively portrayed on screen. That and the original locales of Patiala add flavour to the whole independence fever that the country was gripped with mid-August when the video was released.

Naseerudin Shah does a voiceover as Jasbir Kaul who leaves his 'khandani gehna' with Salman's family. Though the screenplay has been credited to Saqib Malik and Asim Raza, the video has been directed by Saqib. Asim was to direct the video earlier but the project was lapped up by Saqib when Asim fell ill. The video was shot in five days at various locations in Patiala, Yousuf Salahuddin's haveli, and surrounding areas in Lahore.

Though there is a strong belief that the Indo-Pak peace move is sponsored by Uncle Sam, thankfully there was no sponsor's message in "Ghoom Taana." The storyline flows like a stream and bridges are built rather speedily. Nandita Das is in form. Her look is deglamourised and she emotes well as a disapproving widow/mother turning into a friendly woman who seems to have taken a liking to Salman. Sadly, Salman's acting skills are not any different from his debut drama serial "Aahat" (1992) days. He is still an expressionless actor whose discomfort is amplified in front of a fine actress like Nandita Das. Though Shubha Mudgal's voice is forceful and assertive, Ali Noor's vocals in the original version were far more passionate and had a deeper impact.

For all its attempt at originality and promoting a noble cause, "Ghoom Taana" is an idea that has turned stale now. It would have been a daring attempt if executed three years ago when Indian and Pakistani soldiers were caught in a tense eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the volatile eastern borders. It is this very staleness that is a letdown, despite the stellar cast.

The message of peace between Pakistan and India has been reiterated countless times. In fact Junoon was one of the few to voice the desire when it was almost a sin to utter the word 'India' in public. Junoon have a lot of 'firsts' to their credit. The band reached out to India at the peak of hostilities between the two countries, they made a video on corruption during Nawaz Sharif's 'democratic' rule, and graciously took the ban slapped on them for 'growing long hair'. The band rebelled and won the hearts of fans as well as the appreciation of media. Today Junoon is still basking in the glory of its past success but is not making any attempt to push boundaries.

It may not be a band's/video's job to suggest solutions to half-a-century old problems, but it is certainly the visual medium's job to point out problems that society faces. And now that "Ghoom Taana" is being propagated as a "musical short film" by Junoon, it can well afford to bring out issues that others dare not touch. One expected Junoon to talk about problems impeding the peace process. Being close to both India and Pakistan, Junoon has an ideal opportunity to do that. But the band which chose to "rock the Presidency" on the eve of Independence is hardly likely to do anything that spoils their equation with the high and mighty in Islamabad.

At the same time, this musical short film reflects the sorry state of affairs, the lack of cinema culture entails in the country. Five minute long videos are being made with the budget of feature films (case in point "Anarkali" that was rumoured to have a budget of Rs. 7.5 million, though more conservative estimates put it to Rs. 4.5 million). "Ghoom Taana," according to Junoon's manager Sherry, cost $100,000). The hype that precedes the 'release' of such videos is a different story altogether.

For "Ghoom Taana", one came across a 17-minute-long documentary "Building Bridges," that briefs the mountains moved to make the video happen. Salman described Nandita Das as a daring actress who took up this challenging 'role' which requires her to deglamourise. Nandita reciprocated by saying what a shameless actor Salman is. According to Nandita, despite being the laughing stock of the unit for his lack of acting skill, Salman would carry on his act without embarrassment. The idea of having the cast and crew speak about a project is digestible when Karan Johar gathers his actors to seek publicity for his forthcoming film. Glorifying a five-minute long video with a 17-minute long documentary is a bit ambiguous. At the end of all the hoopla, all you get to see is a five-minute long video.

The itch factor comes from the fact that "Ghoom Taana" is called musical short film. According to the encyclopedic definition (commonly available), a short film is a motion picture that is shorter than the average feature film. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines the length of a short film to vary from a maximum of 40 minutes to about 80 minutes. "The short film, in theatrical environment usually shown prior to the feature, is usually less complex and covers only one main or a limited number of narrative arcs and threads. Most films of this genre focus on one character or show one special incident. The structure often resembles that of a joke or stories usually told by word of mouth. The short film is able to focus on difficult topics full-length films usually avoid."

Going by this definition, "Ghoom Taana" doesn't fall in the category of short films from any angle. Neither does it run for 40 or 80 minutes, nor is it shown prior to a feature film, and nor does it cover only one or limited number of narrative arcs and threads. Hyping it up as a short feature film is an exploitation of the fact that the country has no film industry to look up to and the public is largely ignorant of the proper definition of various type of films. An unassuming public buys the idea because they have no reference point in the now defunct film industry to get their definition of feature films, short or long, right. Imposing such an idea on public is misleading.

All said and done, "Ghoom Taana" besides being a victim of its own hype, comes full circle with its peace message. It's time to highlight obstacles to peace. Will the pioneers of Pakistan's music industry take the lead in talking solutions (Kashmir) now?

Zeenia Shaukat
September, 2004
The News International, Pakistan