TV Review: The Dewarists

October 17, 2011 4:32 pm by

Vishal Dadlani and Imogen Heap. Photo: Kunal Kakodkar.

When we first heard about The Dewarists, a new TV show where each episode features a different set of Indian indie rock musicians collaborating to create a new song, we thought of the 2002 Channel [V] series Jammin’. The main difference between the two shows is that The Dewarists takes the collaborators out of the studio and into cities, towns and villages across the country. It is thus being called a “music-travel show”. The Dewarists also features a few international acts: British singer-songerwriter Imogen Heap, Pakistani duo Zeb and Haniya and Canadian-Indian rapper Humble the Poet.

Jammin’ was made at a time when music channels had only recently become Bollywood centric and had yet to embrace reality shows. The Dewarists, on the other hand, has been made at a time when Indian indie music seems to be reaching critical mass, when it looks increasingly possible to sustain a career and a living outside the mainstream. This is something even MTV has acknowledged by airing shows such as Coke Studio and Unplugged. It’s significant though that The Dewarists is not being aired on a music channel but on the English general entertainment channel Star World (right before Simi Selects India’s Most Desirable of all things). It is also significant that it’s the best among these three music-centric shows.

The reason for this is fairly simple. The show is made by people who are immersed in the Indian indie scene, as opposed to those who are attempting to co-opt it. Boutique production house Babble Fish Productions and its sister company, indie music conglomerate Only Much Louder (which among many other things is responsible for the Bacardi NH7 Weekender festival) are the folks behind The Dewarists. Instead of getting a big-name act to reinterpret existing work (as Leslie Lewis did on Coke Studio and Ranjit Barot does on MTV Unplugged), the artists on The Dewarists get to do their own thing and see where it goes. The different locations and settings—Jaipur in the Vishal Dadlani-Imogen Heap episode, Mumbai in the Zeb and Haniya episode—provide inspiration and influences for their collaboration.

By allowing the musicians to be who they are, we get songs that are a truer representation of their artistic personalities. It was a stroke of genius to get Heap for the show because she is one of the most open-minded, free-spirited and innovative artists of her generation as was evident during the first episode, which documented the creation of “Minds Without Fear”, a collaboration between Vishal and Shekhar and Heap filmed at Samode in Jaipur. Heap put on a pair of ghungroos and recorded a sample of herself dancing in a music store filled with antique instruments; taped a group of 30 gawking children singing in chorus; and gamely sang a few lines in Hindi for the song. She also candidly said of her collaborator Vishal Dadlani: “Maybe to the face he looks a bit scary but he’s very nice.” Inspired by the Rabindranath Tagore poem “Where The Mind Is Without Fear”, “Minds Without Fear” is an infectious Rajasthani and Maharashtrian folk-inspired, indie pop-rock gem that is possibly the catchiest—and most smartly arranged—tune we’ve heard all year. (You can download it for free until the end of this week here.)

In fact, the track sets the bar so high that we’re not sure how the other songs will match up to it. But we’ve heard Zeb and Haniya’s collaboration with Bollywood composer Shantanu Moitra and Hindi film lyricist/singer Swanand Kirkire, and can say that the music part of the music-travel show is some of the best we’ve listened to in a while. We’re not so sure about the “travel” part, however, which in the first episode at least was limited to snatches of Rajasthani street life and shots of the Samode Palace. We’re also a bit uncomfortable with the name of the show. It’s been bankrolled by Scottish whisky brand Dewar’s (pronounced “do-ers”) whose name has been tweaked into the as-yet-not-in-the-dictionary noun “Dewarists”, defined by the producers as “musicians who have immense passion for what they do”, who “inspire others to follow their dreams”. We suspect that it’s just a canny way of making sure that journalists don’t leave out the sponsor’s name when writing about the show. We should however give props to the producers for making host Monica Dogra say “Dewarists” just once (in the opening segment) during the 40-minute programme.

The Dewarists airs on Star World on Sunday at 8pm.