Entertainment, Films, music, Nostalgia

Blade Runner C-beams speech: A throwback to 80’s sci-fi films

In my previous blogs, I have often mentioned about serendipity. It’s a magical word, and the effect of serendipity in our lives is even more astonishing. One such example would be how a great inning from the maestro Sachin Tendulkar would lead me to Blade Runner and the C-beams speech, and following that through to my revelation about the science fictions in Hollywood.

It was the summer of 1998 when I witnessed what is known as “The desert storm” — Sachin dismantling the ominous Aussie bowling attack in Sharjah. The ferocity and sheer brilliance cannot be explained to anyone who hasn’t witnessed it. It was devastating and lyrical. The next day as I still reminisced the flurry of strokes by the little master, I came across a compilation of musical scores. One of them caught my interest instantly as if it complemented the replays of the previous day going through my mind. I noticed that the music was called Chariots of Fire, a tune I had heard many times before, composed by none other than Vangelis.

Fast forward a few years, when I’m working and have all the money to splurge as I have no outgoings. Finding Vangelis albums in Calcutta was extremely difficult as the handful of well-known music stores mainly stocked what the most people wanted — 90’s boy bands, 80’s rock and 70’s pop. Who’d be interested in a Greek electro composer? Still, I found luck and the old love rekindled. Each CD cost equivalent of £50, but I still bought a few. Apart from albums like Chariots of Fire, China and Antarctica, there was another compilation album called Themes. That’s where I came across Blade Runner first. It was the title soundtrack of the film, and unlike the serene Antarctica or China, the music was strikingly different. The music seemed completely in sync with the name Blade Runner as though the protagonist running against time — the Laser beams shooting past him in a futuristic world. Learning from hearsay, later on, I thought it’ll be another cop film. But regardless the genre, Blade Runner compositions has been permanently etched in my memory.

Let’s blitz past another decade. The year is 2017. I came across reviews of the Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the original film. The superlative reviews, about how the sequel befits the original film perfectly, made me want to watch Blade Runner, which, despite initial low earnings, is now hailed as a cult classic. However, a lesson I’ve learnt watching Tron: Legacy is that I should at least learn a little about the original film if I’m going to watch the sequel first. And that’s how I decided to watch Blade Runner.

This brings me to the role of serendipity again. I needed all these preludes to tell a story behind deciding to watch Blade Runner. The rest is pure magic. It is undoubtedly one of the best science fictions I’ve ever watched. Set in 2019, this doesn’t perhaps resemble the world we will be living in two years, that most of Earth’s populations will set sail to intergalactic colonies, and there will be flying cars and replicants. But when you think that the film was made in 1982, the concepts of the film and visual effects are mind-boggling. Most of the film features a bleak backdrop — a dystopian LA full of darkness and dereliction. And throughout the film, the music from Vangelis casts the web of magic that complements the feeling of noir in the film, yet in a dreamy world. He pulled all the stops in making the soundtrack for the film — from Indian classical instruments to techno-synth — and the result is magical.

I’m not writing a film review here, so I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of the film. But it was an amazing experience, even watching it on my iPad. All I would say is that it was a thought-provoking film, and asked many existential questions. Questions that are still unanswered and admirers are still looking for answers arising from the closing scene of the film. And then there was the C-beams speech. A speech that immortalised Rutger Hauer amongst the Blade Runner fan community. The sheer contrast of character that the viewers witness in Roy Batty during the closing climax was baffling enough when he saves Deckard from falling. Just as we begin to take in what had just happened, Hauer delivers the C-beams speech and blows us away!

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

The words were profound, but beyond those dramatic words superbly drafted by Rutger Hauer himself, the C-beams speech leads to another window or realisation. A realisation that the film, just like its enigmatic soundtrack, was way ahead of its time.

As we are left spellbound at the climax of the Batty vs Deckard duel — Roy Batty said his last words, the white pigeon fluttering away symbolic of his freedom, the downpour and the dark background and finally, the mesmerising music from Vangelis — the film seemed unmistakably 80’s. And it made me wonder. Was 80’s the best decade for science fiction movies? And you think of Tron, Blade Runner, Terminator, ET, Back to the future, Predator, Alien. The list goes on. And when you look at the visual effects and the concepts adopted in the films, the ideas are still fascinating even considering forty years of advancement in science and technology. At times it feels like we have let down those visionaries who depicted a picture of the future, by not advancing enough! I mean, there are brilliant science fictions since the eighties like Jurassic Park, Matrix trilogy, Inception. But the flurry of maverick ideas that we see in the 80’s seems to have been lost. The scripts are much more mainstream and cautious. We have talking robots like in Transformers, but they don’t make C-beams speech anymore.

Watching Blade Runner was nostalgic in another sense. Apart from marvelling at the concept behind the film, it reminded of the growing up, the teenage years, forbidden pleasures of going to the cinema without telling parents. I recently came across a term — Xennials, a generation born between 1977 and 1985, a crossover between Generation X and the Millennials. They are characterised by having the cynicism from the Gen X and optimism of the millennials. This unique combination is perhaps the result of an analogue childhood and a digital adulthood. Living in an analogue world meant the digital reality of today was science fiction then. The information was scarce, so science fictions opened the magic doors to a glimpse of the future. Blade Runner rekindled those memories of the past, and provide inspiration to explore the magical world of science fictions. All this due to a whirlwind inning nearly twenty years ago. Butterfly effect? I call it serendipity.

Rutger Hauer, the C-beams speech and Vangelis soundtrack

music, Reminiscence

My musical journey: glimpses to the past and endeavours for the future

It would be fitting to start this with an anecdote from around 2001. On the charts billboard show on MTV, I noticed a curly blonde girl gyrating her petite hips to a song “whenever, wherever”. As a young twenties, the eyes were glued to the screen, and to the hips, but I did not think much of the singer or the voice afterwards. That song would pave the career of one of the biggest pop stars of our times, Shakira. Over next few months after that song smashed all the billboard records, there were a few more songs played on TV, and one particularly drew my attention called Te dejo Madrid, sung in Spanish, but I soon forgot the star Shakira has become, and was sucked into the daily chores of life. Then in 2003 during my first visit abroad to Bangladesh for work, the client took us to a shopping mall in Dacca, where in a music shop I found an MP3 CD of all Shakira songs.

When I played them, there was an initial disappointment that all songs were in Spanish, but that soon became the reason I would listen to the songs over and over again. Although the content were not very clear having no knowledge of Spanish, I still found that her voice was a tours de force, she was the aria with a bass of a mezzo-soprano in her voice, her voice was not something for the faint-hearted as they hit you like a thousand glass shrapnel and blow you apart, and the vibes don’t stop at your eardrums but hit the brain cells like fresh smell of habanero. Despite avoiding so far from becoming a fan, I did become a fan at last – the only solo vocalist I would be called a fan of, other than The King (Just to clarify here, there is only one king, MJ was only the king of pop). I became a fan of Shakira Meberak, who spoke five languages, wrote all her songs and put music to them, and played a number of instruments as well, and especially the voice that had the free spirit, not tarnished by the materialistic world of music industry. I liked the Shakira who sang in Spanish, and represented a youth life of Columbia. Despite the fact that the tracks in English paved the path for her super stardom, after listening to the original Spanish versions, they did appear rather monotonous, it lacked the vitality. And thus, through listening to Shakira songs over and over again began a journey of exploring the Spanish music, which is the last frontier crossed at the time of writing this, in search of discovering various genres of music – a journey that began years back, perhaps during the first few years of my life.

Despite the lack of any music lessons ever, I felt as if music has always been running in my veins. Being grown up in a Bengali neighbourhood in the eighties, which could be treated as the avant-garde period of Bengali cultural renaissance in the neocommunist era, music was omnipresent in many different genres and shapes and forms. There were the Indian classical music, which in itself presented a myriad of classes. There were Hindi and Bengali film music, then the rare and eclectic western music and beyond these various sources, mainly heard though radio or TV, there were direct musical influences in the form of musical schools in every neighbourhood with aspiring parents sending their children to be taught musical lessons, mainly classical or Tagorian – the two columns of music education of the time. Apart from this, there were bands and folk songs of various kinds ranging from baul vagabonds to communist youth forums. In short, music were everywhere in every hour of your life, it was impossible to avert.

My earliest recollection of music was the sitar tune by Late Pt. Ravishankar, played on the daybreak on radio every day. My day started waking up with that one, followed by the same songs played between 6:00 and 6:30. The other genre I got accustomed to from the early childhood was the film music. Until I was about 13, I hated films and would only go to children films, very rarely, and such was my aversion that I would go to other room if someone had films on TV. However, film music was inescapable – be it on radio, or on TV or loudspeakers at street corners for any and every conceivable instances – religious, social, political or recreational. There were two distinctive differences between the Hindi and Bengali film industry music – Hindi had already gradually moved away from its classical base that dominated the music industry since its inception, whereas Bengali music was still based prominently on its classical roots. Also due to the nature of the majority of the mainstream films, Bengali ones, being mainly shot indoors, adopted slow melodious tunes, whilst the Hindi songs, the biggest money spinner for films, have shifted to faster and saucier tracks. 

Then came the late eighties and like rest of the world, Calcutta was swept away by the king of pop MJ. On all occasions, the loudspeakers churned out tracks from Thriller, Bad or Dangerous instead of the film songs. If not the popularity were for the music, it was the break dance that came with the music, which heightened the fan base even wider. And thus formed a propensity to listen more of the contemporary western music, which previously had an eclectic audience due to, amongst other factors, a lack of access and high prices for the cassettes – almost five times the price of a newly released Hindi film track, and possibly 20 times if it was an original version imported. Despite not understanding any more than 10 words out of all MJ songs, I was more keen to experience this new and different mode of music I never encountered before and started listening to the few programmes aired on radio playing western music, and in early nineties the national television broadcasters would introduce a few programmes later at night playing pop and rock & roll. 

This all changed in 1993, when the city first had the cable and satellite dish TV connections that opened up a much wider range of western music through the likes of MTV. The restriction on accessing western music has been lifted, allowing a large variety of music to a wider audience base. Even during those days, western music to me was a collective identity, I could hear the difference in rhythm and content of different genres but didn’t know what they were and would still hardly understand many words of the songs to comprehend the overall message. As a result, what started much earlier, I was still carrying on appreciating the music, the rhythm and a more succinct fact that these music represented a life and people of an almost diametrically opposite world; the music sent ripples of glimpses of a world that never existed before. Since then until 2005-06, music channels on cable would become an integral part of my musical explorations – be it nineties boy bands or melodies of seventies, from Beatles to Pink to Eminem to Britney. 

During nineties another revolution in the Bengali music industry has been happening silently, which actually began in the seventies through the likes of Late Gautam Chattopadhyay alias Monida and his Bengali folk-rock group Mohiner Ghoraguli. Bengali bands (Bangla band as they are known) had seen its resurgence through an exceptionally talented trio of Suman-Nachiketa-Anjan. The genre can be classed as folk-rock as Suman-Anjan took inspiration from Dylan to Seeger to Joan Baez, whilst Nachiketa had his own style of rendition mainly based on the Bengali folk songs mixed with rap. The more hard core Bangla Rock movement has been going on on the other frontier of the Bengali speaking world, in Bangladesh. The likes of Miles and LRB have been creating some amazing pieces during this era, and their experiment with guitar and drums were miles ahead of any Bangla bands in West Bengal. Reminiscing those years, there was always a heated debate on who the best of the trio was and the socio-political relevance as songs of Suman were quasi-communist, Anjan’s were usually neutral and Nachiketa was disillusioned Leftist. Inspired by these three, suddenly there were a larger number of Bengali bands in the fray ranging from folk songs from Bhoomi, Chandrabindoo to rock themed Cactus, Parashpathar. This movement almost in its own has altered the musical landscape of Bengal in the twenty first century. Whilst the Tagore and Classical genres were always in the contention, the film music to the contemporary music, they seemed completely liberated from the aegis of the previously indispensable classical roots. 

While doing my engineering degree there was a big hype on a certain Yanni performing at the Acropolis. I didn’t know who Yanni was, and my experience of contemporary classical western music orchestra was only limited up to three tenors and Zubin Mehta. On one evening, MTV aired Yanni, live at Acropolis and that moment will most definitely be cast into the hall of fame of musical mesmerism I have experienced. Tracks like Aria, Santorini, Acroyali…words cannot describe the feeling and the magic they created on me, it was pure bliss. On that very moment new age/techno went all the way to the top of my most favourite genre, as I realised at that very moment, that no matter what the mood is, when I put these music on, time just melts away and takes with it all your worries and woes. Then I came across Vangelis who created the music for the film Chariots of fire, and all I remember was I roamed all across Calcutta trying to find all his albums and ready to pay any price. The good news was That I was not disappointed by Music World, the bad news was that they were all imported original tracks as there were no recreated versions in Indian studios, hence costing an arm and a leg. Thus I had all his albums from China to Antarctica to Themes; the more I listened, more fascinated I became of his works. On the happiest moments of my life, when I had time to cherish it, I’d close my eyes and the ears would be filled with with Aria or a Santorini or Antarctica, and my mind would immediately drift away cruising along the sunny Mediterranean or diving into the hypnotic blues and whites of Antarctica. 

Over the years I tried to stretch the experience even further, be it the genres like funk and bluegrass to different languages – French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Celtic, Chinese and even though all such exposures enriched me, apart from adding some exciting artists to my list of favourites, the overall impact was not substantial. This can partially be attributed to lack of ample exposure of each genre/language to reach the critical sample size, where I would have come across good quality music. 

The Spanish music had been an exception throughout. Returning to the Shakira anecdote, perhaps I did manage to listen some good quality music as Shakira acted as a pivot; my explorations started off Shakira and if unsuccessful I always had those songs to come back to. For example while listening to si tu no vuelves, I discovered another Latin music superstar Miguel Bosé, who is probably unheard of in the non-Spanish speaking parts of the world. Then I found another version of the same song by Amaral and Chetes. Amaral is my most preferred band for last few years and I discovered them out of the blue!  I even went to a concert by Amaral in London, the only time they were in the UK. Again, looking at Amaral’s live concerts on YouTube, I came across Amaral’s remake of la noche que la luna salio tarde by a rock band 091 and invited their lead guitarist Jose Ignacio Lapido. Searching his name and band again led to another realm of nineties Spanish rock and what a guitarist Lapido is! These are small examples how the six degrees of separation unveiled to me a whole world of fascinating music that all started in that shop in Bangladesh.  

Having heralded a picture of the musical journey I have traversed, as the new wonders unfurled in front of me, the realisations permeating through these experiences can be summarised in an expression I picked up in the language that kindles my current passion in music,darse la vuelta or turn around. Turn around in a fashion that Paulo Coelho wrote in The Alchemist, that one you fulfilled all your dreams, travelled the world and still searching for the treasure trove you found that it actually lies next to your doorstep, where the journey began. Perhaps being away did play a part but my next big venture would be to go back and experience the Indian classical music and instruments, and the bands, and perhaps the film music with which I had no contact for last seven years. This will be a journey off the beaten track of the exploitative and anti-individualistic big music studios. In that glass empire where consumers are omnipotent lords, and artists their puppets, and barely any artists emerge who create music just for the sheer joy of it, and with their own ideas not what the crowd wants. Perhaps going back to the roots would pave new pathways to explore; this journey will never have a destination, but it will be interesting to see if I follow the same path of the past again making a never ending loop or whether this will take a completely new direction each time and the map will look like a fuzz of thousand circles all passing through each other but none of them following the same trajectory…