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V/A - Bollywood Bloodbath

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Artist: V/A

Album: Bollywood Bloodbath

Label: Finders Keepers

Review date: Jan. 3, 2012

For a brief period between the early 1980s and 1990s, something was rotten in Bollywood (India’s mammoth Hindi-language film industry, based in Mumbai). Spurred by the international popularity of mainstream horror movies like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and supernatural slapstick-splatter of Evil Dead, directors like the Ramsay Brothers, Mohan Bhakri, and a handful of others submitted comparatively “quick and cheap” entries into the Hindi film canon before the genre collapsed under its own weight in just a few years. These films stood in stark contrast to the big-budget opulence of mainstream Bollywood production in style and execution (pun intended). The gritty, hatchet-edited presentations were rife with violence, both onscreen and implied, and threw in a good deal more sexually risqué content, earning most all of them an “Adults Only” rating from India’s Central Film Certification Board. While they were in some ways derivative of the bigger western blockbusters (a “possessed hand” sequence from the Ramsay’s Shaitan Illaka cribs directly from Evil Dead II), taken at face value, they are still wildly entertaining films.

Luckily for aficionados of fringe film music from all corners of the globe, Finders Keepers comes through once again with a mammoth 22-track compilation of music from many of these outsider films. The contents document some of the most dramatic and weirdest music ever meant to accompany Hindi cinema – from wacky, funky dance numbers replete with bargain-basement electronic effects and on-a-dime orchestral crescendos, to sultry Gainsbourg-esque soundtracks for sexy towel-clad item numbers. The same critics who would dismiss the films as trite, raunchy or lacking sophistication might have a much harder time panning music whose compositional quality transcends the shoestring budgets on which much of it doubtlessly had to be composed, arranged and recorded.

Rajesh Roshan’s brief “Sanata Theme” gets the proceedings off to a suitably chilling start with a cascade of shimmering synthesizer chords and witchy cackling that gives way to a waltz befitting of some Dario Argento nightmare. It ends abruptly with a chorus of electronic noodlings, but it contains nearly all of the essential ingredients for a great, mood-dampening horror theme. “Sansani Khez Koi Baat,” a funereal disco stomper, follows, propelled by spooky organ pads and a rolling tom-tom pattern. Bappi Lahiri offers the album’s most captivating track with “He Left Me in the Guest House,” a micro-epic where quivering slide guitar punctuates maddening Bernard Hermann-strength strings before morphing into a Synare (that synthesized “woo!” sound) and kick-drum driven disco groove. A spidery atonal guitar and organ segment precedes yet another buildup to a panic-stricken orchestral climax. The lyrics – essentially variations on the title sung in a come-hither female voice – are more in the territory of Bill Murray as “Nick the Lounge Singer” than as a James Bond theme, but the crashing conclusion makes up for the unintended silliness.

Some of the abbreviated tracks that appear here are most likely taken from opening credit sequences. Comic relief comes in the form of Lahiri’s “Dance Music,” which incorporates a squeaky-toy rhythm and woozy trumpet while a playfully sexy female vocal coos away. L-P’s “Theme Music” sets a creepy minor-keyed piano to a bossa nova beat, before submerging it all under a sea of roiling strings and clattering temple bell percussion.

And there’s even more evidence of another less-threatening haunting, that of the specter of disco that lingered over India for some time after the clubs shuttered in the West. Sapan Jagmohan’s “Sote Sote Adhi Raat” is a lively floorcrusher, as is Usha Khanna’s even harder rocking “Tere Jaisa Pyar Koi Nahin.” Lahiri’s “Disco Theme Music from Dahshat” marries that two-and-four backbeat to a ghoulish guitar and organ fugue and more of that desperate-sounding guttural male vocal, concluding with an inhuman roar.

Scan the composer credits and you’ll see many familiar names: the legendary “Pancham” R.D. Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, and the eminent Bollywood disco godfather Bappi Lahiri. If these guys felt they were “slumming” scoring such video nasties, it certainly doesn’t show in the quality of the thoughtfully chosen compositions. And though a couple of the selections have seen prior release on other recent compilations (“Sote Sote Adhi Raat” was featured on Bombay Connection’s “Bombay Connection Vol. I” and “Tere Jaisa Pyar Koi Nahin” was included on Guerilla Reissue’s “Sitar Beat Vol. II”), Finders Keepers scores another overall win for making these great tunes widely available.

By Adam MacGregor

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