The song Garam Chaha is a unique concept, conceptualized by singer Aashish Vilekar and award-winning filmmaker Sankalp Meshram who speaks to us about what went behind the scenes into the making of the video. Sung by Aashish Vilekar and Shruti Bhave, directed by Sankalp Meshram, Garam Chahe is a Marathi song produced by Audumbar Arts and released by Zee Marathi which has been garnering rave reviews since its release. Welcome to the duo Aashish Vilekar and Sankalp Meshram giving us a peek on what went behind the scenes during the making of the video.
Freshly minted tea leaves and brewed flavor not only offers a ubiquitous feeling to beat the Mumbai blues, albeit India but to wade through the sweltering heat. Chai or Garam Chaha in Maharashtra is eponymous with emotions and identity for the masses. It equates minimalist with maximalist, a juxtaposition of tea and emotions. So Mumbai, so India! To constantly live on the edge and bearing a contrasting simplicity to quench our emotional thirst with tea. Just imagine for one day that our quest for Garam Chaha is relegated to dreams and ruins of the past where our favorite beverage would mysteriously flicker in the air. Can you imagine tea or Chaha to go out of our lives?
Tea is simply banned from our lives. Yes! You read it well. It’s the message behind the Marathi song ‘Garam Chaha’ produced by Audumbar Arts and released by Zee Marathi, beautifully crooned by the multi-faceted Aashish Vilekar and talented Shruti Bhave, languishing on the dearth of tea in our lives. The video has been shot aesthetically by the award-winning editor and director, Sankalp Meshram.
Today, we feature on the blog the duo behind the making of Garam Chaha Aashish Vilekar who lent his voice and director Sankalp Meshram, two creative souls bound by mutual admiration, having a long creative association but also started their career at more or less the same time.
As its name implies, Garam Chaha swept through the vistas of Indian cities and showcases a concept tapping into the pulse of middle-class India. Aashish Vilekar terms the concept behind Garam Chaha as simple and multi-layered at the same time. “It is the ignition and inspiration we all need for it represents a slice into the life of middle-class India. It is the moment we soothe, share and breathe free over a cup of tea. Chaha is the commoner’s drink which inspires us, the artists, a perfect, simple and sweet companion. A taste that inspires the promise of a release which is not catharsis but a creation,” he says.
Music became the calling card of Aashish Vilekar not by pure accident but laden with deep symbolism. He narrates: “One early winter morning in 1983 was the first time a beautiful pattern of melody and verses was heard and I found myself humming simultaneously from within while sipping my favorite tea. The time my inner voice gently stroke touched the soul that I can compose a song. Time has flitted but I continue to compose songs and pen the lyrics for them.”
Award-winning editor and director Sankalp Meshram who won several national and international awards as well as being a visiting faculty at Whistling Woods International reveals that the making of the concept was initially planned to revolve around a simple story telling the tale of a group of art students who are out on a day trip doing landscaping painting led by their professor that would be played by Aashish Vilekar.
He explains: “The concept was about students somehow finding it difficult to get tea on their way, feeling listless and uninspired without India’s favorite beverage. It wasn’t a bad idea on paper but I felt that something wasn’t clicking. Somehow, the idea was incomplete for we know that in India, there is no dearth of tea.”
Brainstorming with the self and the FTII alumni asked himself, how realistically anyone would accept the premise of being unable to get tea. The director shared how the creative team doggedly kept working earnestly on the idea, planning the shoot and shot division before going for the final kill.
“We were a fortnight into the project and suddenly during the dead of the night at 1 a.m, this totally crazy idea flashed inside my brain. The kids couldn’t get any tea to drink for the simple reason that it was banned in the country!!!”
The big idea struck Meshram like the big bang theory perhaps. “I called Aashish ( Vilekar) at 1.30 a.m to share this idea and poor guy was so groggy at first but it didn’t take him long to understand the new angle. He was ready to incorporate the same,” he says. The director makes no bone about his admiration and perks of working with Aashish Vilekar, saying, “It’s one of the greatest payoffs for Aashish is very sharp at grasping a new idea and has the courage to fly with it. It’s his conviction which allowed the song to become what it is today. We were both kicked off with this idea and convinced that it would arm Garam Chaha with a strong narrative that we were looking for.”
For Meshram, the idea germinated beautifully on two counts. Firstly, it solved the problem of realism to give their story the correct futuristic and dystopic background, allowing the fantasy plot to become believable. Secondly, the song lingered on the contemporary and garnered the excitement. He says, “The concept became a slight comment at the season of narrow-minded politics where various ‘Bans’ became order of the day. We showed through the song that in some absurd Kafkaesque way that drinking tea has been banned. The music video portrays a day in the life of this art professor taking the kids on a study tour and just cannot find a single drop of tea. Or, perhaps, he imagines everything.”
Garam Chaha is touted as the comeback song of Aashish Vilekar after almost a year. Aashish defines the concept which is a sort of rebellion brewing with a dash of sweetness and Kadak that has seeped into the life of every Mumbaikar coupled with the song giving a feel of vibrant Maharashtra’s culture.
“Love alone is the most rebellious thing on this planet. I strongly oppose the idea of ‘Rebellion means being loud’ and it may be seen through the lens of scholars cum intellectuals. In my book, love can be sweet and kadak at the same time.”
Both Aashish Vilekar and Sankalp Meshram profess an undiluted admiration for each other and a friendship that has been going strong for more than 25 years where they started their journey together from Nagpur. It wouldn’t be wrong to call it a collaborative friendship that evokes awe and admiration at the same time looking at their career highs. The director harks back to those days, “From Nagpur, Aashish (Vilekar) went into art, music, and poetry while I ventured into films. Our friendship went through the ups and downs but we were able to churn some brilliantly creative collaborations and case in point is Aashish along with Shailesh Dane composed the music for my feature film, ‘Chutkan Ki Mahabharat’. The film bagged the National Award for Best Children’s Film in 2005 where Aashish penned all the songs and since then, following this brilliant, multifaceted career where he always keeps me in the loop about what he’s being up to.”
Garam Chaha first happened to Sankalp Meshram when one day his close friend Aashish Vilekar dropped to his house. “He casually played this new song that he has just recorded which captured my attention with the wonderfully catchy tune and soulful lyrics. I was simply blown away. I conveyed the same to him. When Aashish told me that there are plans for a music video, I told him that the song has seamless creative possibilities and I would be happy to assist him in any way I could.”
Meshram shares the grapevines: “There was a certain hesitation on his part in asking me to work with him in a direct professional capacity since he correctly guessed that I would busy with my mainstream assignments. The only thing that he requested to me was to look at the editing aspect of the music video and to offer my inputs on the same. I felt a strong connection to the song and acceded to his request on the spot.”
The idea of Sankalp Meshram filming the video happened during the rough edit which Aashish Vilekar did with his ‘very promising bunch of JJ college kids.’ Meshram who lauded the wonderful editing and shoot by the JJ School of Arts students said that along with his friend, they felt something was amiss, the story and a certain narrative idea that should be embedded in the song. “We agreed that the work requires some re-thinking and reshooting. I vividly remember that the decision to direct the video was an impulsive one and thankfully Aashish immediately agreed to my request. I also told him that Garam Chaha was a kick ass song which calls for an equally Kickass video. I cannot thank him enough for giving me the opportunity to work on this wonderful song that captures the senses. That’s how Garam Chaha happened to me,” Meshram tells.
Audumbar Arts’ Garam Chaha is garnering a terrific response from listeners and viewers alike which leads to Aashish Vilekar sharing some behind the scenes anecdotes. Firstly, he says, the song took birth while traveling through the serene hills of Sahyadri Mountain where he has this peculiar habit of humming words and composing a tune the same time that he writes.
“During the shoot, it dawned upon me that I was entering into the zone of abstracts as a painter where my narration may not show figuratively as a previously painted canvas but was turning more sensory”, Vilekar adds. Secondly, the all-rounder artist who wears several hats says that there is a transition in his own style which stayed with him for years coupled with transitions which are likely to be sensorial and simplistic.
On future projects on the anvil in both arts and music, he says, “The transition may create a newer possibility in the structure of my composition and painting, something which offers an aesthetic pleasure to both youth and maturity can give birth to something new.”
The medium of shooting a music video can differ from other genres such as feature and ad films where Meshram gives a first-hand account. He explains that the main distinction of shooting music or a playback sound lies in the fact that the source of one’s visual imagination is the soundtrack.
“The soundtrack is your master here which fits the context of visuals serving the master. As you allow yourself to respond to it, the soundtrack must be able to replicate images inside the head is the video that you visualize. Music can set fire to our brains which gets totally crazy coupled with weird imagery starting to pop up. The reason why music videos are cradle and laboratory for experimental film-making. There is a tremendous creative license to go berserk in music videos.”
The opposite was done while shooting for Garam Chaha where the makers didn’t allow themselves to go crazy. The visual style was restricted pretty much to a realistic grammar of visual treatment where the story unfolded in a proper linear time following the laws of cause and effect cum oriented spatiotemporal progression, Meshram explains.
He says: “It was a deliberate strategy as we were already dealing with a pretty absurd idea-something as benign as tea banned. I didn’t want the song to be visually absurd or crazy since there was a need to make our bizarre proposition not only accepted by everyone but believable at the same time. Straight-faced realism was the key for us to open up the black humor embedded in the song.”
Sound and crisp editing have always played an important role in film-making where many argued that being an editor is a stepping stone to become a director one day. Meshram says: “Everyone who attempted to make films knows that it’s during the editing that a film gets to be actually made. Having said this, one needs to understand that shooting a frame is a film-maker’s unpredictable contact with reality and sometimes the latter bends to our wishes while on other occasions, we have to bend. Everything is very unpredictable. A dose of reality has got its own way to surprise the best of us. The material which is recorded the time the image is acquired is filled with the mercurial nature of reality itself. All films are re-written and re-designed on the editing table. Editing is film-making.”
At the same time, he emphasizes on an important aspect implying that unless the director has understood the vast possibilities of its work during the shoot through enough ingredients, magic will not automatically happen.
“Without an iota of doubt, a deep and technical knowledge of editing really helps to hone their skills as a better director,” Meshram shares.
Aashish Vilekar is an all-rounder and versatile artist who has lent his voice to beautifully rendered Ghazals such as Ghar to Aakhir Ghar Hota Hai and the award-winning children movie, Chutkan ki Mahabharat’. Certainly, there is a force that makes him loaf the creative road and a force that drives him towards the creative pursuit. He says with a tinge of humility, “Frankly speaking, I am lesser known and the credit mentioned are negligible yet during the span of years, I have dedicated myself to the musical journey, something which keeps me going from strength-strength.
Aashish Vilekar says that he has kept away from the arc light but that didn’t deter him from being forever active with his creations and churning music, at times for others, like it was the case with the albums by Times Music and fountain. Being an advertising professional, he contributed 1800 plus radio commercials which serves as an incredible feat and a staggering record. A career milestone was reached, he says when Sankalp Meshram asked him to compose for his children’s film, ‘Chutkan ki Mahabharat’, a feeling that he cannot express in words. “Doing music for a full-length film is a tough task and that too for kids who are the most unpredictable lot. Sankalp had the inner faith in me and there was no way out but to prove to a friend who always supported and encouraged me. One thing that I love about him is how he puts a twist in the tale like in the story of Garam Chaha which was his idea. Sankalp has put his magical touch after seeing the rushes in the first shot that fired his imagination since he has always told how much he loved the song. That’s how Garam Chaha happened,” he says.
“The time I was away from singing was something I sorely missed because it was my mother’s gift to me and I know that she is watching me somewhere. I must keep this promise,” Vilekar says.
Aashish Vilekar career is filled with incredible achievement not just as a painter, poet, singer, lyricist or musician but also the fact that he is the Head of Photography at JJ School of Applied Arts in Mumbai. His paintings are often showcased at the Jehangir Art Gallery but he says with a whiff of humility that it’s all about his inner nature and whittles down to him being the creation of God. He explains, “I carefully observe myself with a critical eye so that my creations are not trapped in trends and influences.”
He rues the unfortunate trends and fashion-phobic mentality which is a real tragedy and a dampener to encourage artists in India. There is a dire need to give a shot in the arms to popularize art. Vilekar explains, “All platforms are crowded and the need to garner TRPs have become more important than the genuine promotion of artists. The sad fact is that people are most interested in sales. How can we promote art and create an artistically cultured society? There are platforms but to produce a song or painting calls for financial support and in the context or circumstance, a good melody may die before reaching its audience. A lofty thought expressed through the creative medium such as painting may never see the light of the day,” he explains.
Society is ever evolving and we are at the crossroad. Arts and music make the perfect blend offering sensory pleasure but this mixture must be understood properly for us to be able to achieve virtually art expression and give birth to better creations in future, Vilekar argues.
The need for aesthetic expression to revolutionize our thoughts and ring change is emboldened by the words of the art connoisseur. “Contrary to the perfect blend of art, demonstrative painting on live raga or music performance can be a gimmick and a shallow way of interacting between the two forms of arts. It’s not the interpretation of the text in another language but it is the way we think, understand, appreciate and react to weave pure art.”
He says, “Music is a catalyst in doing painting. Similarly, music and colors are catalysts to give shape to a song. Aesthetic experience is a mental blend and physical incarnation. The aesthetic experience that I express is bound to transcend from my own work of art to entertain and enthrall the audience’s allegory experience.”
Garam Chaha echoes a revolution which needs not be violent and the same thought is echoed in the appreciation of arts as a form of expression where the artist reiterates, “There are beautiful possibilities around us to alter orthodox concepts, patterns, and cliché thinking. Art is such a beautiful ambassador of peaceful pleasant revolutions,” Vilekar emphasizes.