×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Speaking Drum

Ustad Zakir Hussain's tabla connects with the ear more directly than Sumantra Ghosal's long docu on the master percussionist, "The Speaking Drum." While the film generously explores contours of tabla playing, auds clueless to Hussain will need patience to wade into vid-shot work. Fest vibes are in the air, but lack of production polish will limit its reach.

With:
With: Ustad Zakir Hussain, Ustad Alla Rakha , Bavi Begum Alla Rakha , Pandit Jasran, Khursheed Aulia , Ustad Sultan Khan, Ustad Shafaat Ahmed Khan , Anuradha Pal , Ustad Rais Khan, Vijay Kichlu , Pandit Shivkumar Sharma , Ravi Shankar, Antonio Minnecola Hussain, Mickey Hart, Vikku Vinayakram, L. Shankar, Pandit Hariprasad, Pandit Birju Maharaj, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. (English, Hindi dialogue)

Ustad Zakir Hussain’s tabla connects with the ear more directly than Sumantra Ghosal’s overly long docu on the master percussionist, “The Speaking Drum.” There are multiple dangers in a docu-profile of an artist being made by an unabashed fan — loss of perspective, to name one — and, make no mistake about it, Ghosal is big on Hussain. While the film generously explores contours of tabla playing, its multiple stylings and personalities in Indian music, auds clueless to Hussain will need patience to wade into a vid-shot work that too often assumes you’re part of the fan club. Good fest vibes are in the air, but lack of production polish will limit its reach as a full-length music vid.

The profile is divided into two parts of equal length: The first detailing Hussain’s upbringing and training by his father and tabla master in his own right, Ustad Alla Rakha; the second devoted to Hussain’s career and musical life in both the East and West, with considerable chunks of time given over to concert footage.

This life of one foot in India, one in the non-Indian world was established early on, since he was raised in a Hindi-speaking Muslim home, but educated in Christian and English schools. Hussain tells of his father’s “childlike pleasure” while playing, and it’s easy to understand how the boy simply picked up the tabla like a toy he naturally adored. Underlying that was a culture of training involving an abiding respect for elders (teachers are literally “gurus”) which has no corollary in Western music schooling.

What is never fully examined by Ghosal, though, is how Hussain managed to both abide by the demanding rigors of Indian classical music and then, step by step, break the rules, and, as it’s remarked more than once here, subvert his music altogether. In lengthy clips of Hussain speaking to the camera, he demonstrates a multitude of techniques and devices (a memorable touch includes how he turns the treble drum in the two-drum tabla kit into a “female” voice, and the bass drum into a “male” one).

The concluding section looks at Hussain’s extensive stays in Northern California (where he met wife Antonio and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart) and delivers tasty concert clips from Hussain’s many gigs with Hart’s Planet Drum ensemble. But neophytes to Hussain’s world will not know from “The Speaking Drum,” for example, that he has also extensively recorded with jazz musicians such as the brilliant Norwegian horn player, Jan Garbarek, and guitar god John McLaughlin (who never appear on screen or are referred to, except obscurely in the acknowledgement credits).

The choppy assembly of many talking heads segments, performances and other bits makes for a less than musical pacing. Some sound elements are sadly sub-par.

The Speaking Drum

India

Production: A Shift Focus presentation. (International sales: Accent Films Intl., Montreux, Switzerland.) Produced by Ram Madhvani, Sumantra Ghosal. Executive producer, Harsh Dave . Directed, written by Sumantra Ghosal.

Crew: Camera (color, video), Barun Mukherjee, Vijay Khambati, Harsh Dave, Ghosal; editors, Amit Karia, Manoj Shroff , Adesh Dubey, Ghosal; sound, Dave, Ghosal. Reviewed on videotape, L.A., May 29, 2003. (In Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.) Running time: 104 MIN. (I: 52 MIN.; II: 52 MIN.)

With: With: Ustad Zakir Hussain, Ustad Alla Rakha , Bavi Begum Alla Rakha , Pandit Jasran, Khursheed Aulia , Ustad Sultan Khan, Ustad Shafaat Ahmed Khan , Anuradha Pal , Ustad Rais Khan, Vijay Kichlu , Pandit Shivkumar Sharma , Ravi Shankar, Antonio Minnecola Hussain, Mickey Hart, Vikku Vinayakram, L. Shankar, Pandit Hariprasad, Pandit Birju Maharaj, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. (English, Hindi dialogue)

More Film

  • Netflix HQ LA

    Andy Gruenberg, Veteran Film Executive, Dies at 68

    Veteran film executive Andy Gruenberg, who most recently oversaw theatrical distribution at Netflix, died suddenly on Friday. He was 68. Gruenberg worked on classic films like “Ghostbusters,” “Karate Kid” and “Silverado” while at Columbia Pictures in the 80s and 90s. He then moved to MGM where he served as exec VP of distribution. There he [...]

  • Fyre Festival Caterer Receives Thousands in

    Unpaid Fyre Festival Caterer Raises Thousands in Donations on GoFundMe

    As two Fyre Festival documentaries hit the airwaves, a couple who say their credit was ruined due to the Fyre Festival’s lack of payment for their services have raised $54,381 at time of publication on GoFundMe. Elvis and Maryann Rolle wrote on their page that they catered “no less than 1000 meals per day” in [...]

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Author Tony Mendez arrives at the

    Tony Mendez, Former CIA Officer Depicted in 'Argo,' Dies at 78

    Tony Mendez, the former CIA technical operations officer who orchestrated the 1980 rescue of six American diplomats from Iran and who was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the Academy Award winning film “Argo,” has died. He was 78. Mendez’s book agent, Christy Fletcher, announced the news on Twitter Saturday morning. “Early this morning, Antonio (Tony) [...]

  • Glass Movie

    'Glass' to Rank in Top 3 MLK Debuts With $48 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is on its way to a solid debut with an estimated $48 million for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. A sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2017’s “Split,” the Universal superhero thriller should bring in around $41 million from 3,841 domestic locations over the Friday through Sunday period. The estimates are [...]

  • China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to

    China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to Hit French Theaters (EXCLUSIVE)

    Midnight Blur Films has signed a deal with French distributor Les Acacias to release Chinese arthouse drama “Three Adventures of Brooke” in France this year, the Chinese production company told Variety on Saturday. A release date has yet to be set for the film, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and stars Chinese newcomer Xu Fangyi [...]

  • Noe Debre On His Directorial Debut,

    Top French Screenwriter Noe Debre Makes Directorial Debut, ‘The Seventh Continent’

    This last half-decade, few French screenwriters have run up such an illustrious list of co-write credits as Noé Debré. Thomas Bedigain’s writing partner on Jacques Audiard’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Deephan,” Debra co-penned Bedigain’s own debut, “The Cowboys,” “Racer and the Jailbird,” by Michael Roskam, and “Le Brio,” directed by Yvan Attal. He has now [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content