Why Guns & Guitars?

Bob Dylan

Note- This post is dedicated to Bob Dylan on his 61st birthday.

The idea of ‘Guns and Guitars’ came to me 2010, on a casual monsoon morning in Mumbai, while I was accompanying Lou Majaw, legendary rock artist of Northeast India to a shop selling musical instruments. That shop owner happened to mention that a very large percentage of his customers belong to the music loving Northeast region of the country and hence he has a soft corner for the musicians of that region. This set me thinking and I wondered aloud to Lou about this paradox – while the best of alcoholic beverages from across the country and indeed the world are easily available in the neighborhood wine shop in the Northeast, for something as basic as guitar strings the large number of musicians are dependent on music shops from outside the region! Maybe there’s another story hidden here, but let me get back to the Guns and Guitars…

For past 38 years now, Lou has been organizing an annual concert on Bob Dylan’s birthday and now this has become somewhat of an occasion in itself. During our drive back, as we were discussing the music scenario in the Northeast region, I asked Lou about this concert and his thoughts behind this unique way of paying obeisance to his idol. He said that one day way back in the 1970s he felt a strong urge to thank Mr. Dylan for the way his songs had touched Lou’s life, and rather than writing him a postcard, thought of thanking him with a birthday concert. Since the concert was very popular with the local audience, he was requested to repeat it the next year and the year after and the trend continues till date…Lou told me that that this year, on May 24, 2011, he is planning to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday in a different manner. He is planning a massive, ‘Sunrise to Sunset’ concert in a large vacant plot, near the Umiam Lake in Shillong, Meghalaya. Visitors and audience will be invited to come in their tents by paying a nominal entry fee. Local food and brew will be available at very reasonable rates and some of the best bands of northeast will be playing music all day long. I will not blame you if you were reminded of Woodstock ’69, I know I was! ..… Instantly I knew that this is a film I have to make!

More often than not, the Northeast finds a mention in the national media for all the wrong reasons – when there is bomb blast, ambush, economic blockade, drug haul, so on and so forth. With no mention or focus on the positive energies in the region, the default focus has been on the negative energies….For years, I have been troubled by this and have tried to bring out various, lesser known aspects of the
region through my films. The above mentioned discussion with Lou, the upcoming concert and the unusual proliferation of music and bands in the region triggered a thought process in me and ‘Guns and Guitars’ was born.

The aim of this film is to track the journey of 8 rock groups from eight different states that make up the Northeast region in India – one each from seven sisters (Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam,Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland), and one brother (Sikkim) – till it culminates in the grand finale on the night of 24th of May with Bob Dylan’s birthday concert. The film will try to bring to light how these youngsters arise out of the negative energies that surround their environment with the guitars in their and and songs of life and dreams in their lips……

And it would be difficult – if not impossible – for them to find a better role model than Lou. Here is a 63 years ‘young’ man, who never says ‘never’… Popular legend has it that the arrival of winter in Shillong is signified by Lou changing to full pants from his favourite pair of shorts… A man who has refused to get tempted to make the millions that a musician of his caliber can easily make and leave his hometown,only because he believes that the youngsters of the region need him more… a man, who still can’t afford a house of his own, yet completely at peace with himself and his surroundings. When I asked him whether he has ever missed the possible ‘limelight’ a bigger city could have provided, he answered with a laugh ‘every morning when I see the sun, I know that is the light!’, before adding on a serious tone – ‘if I can make a difference to one person’s life through my song, that means more to me…’

This film uses the concert as a vista to walk into the in one of the most beautiful regions of the country,where music seems to be just another way of life! A region of unparalleled beauty and beautiful people,the northeast always has been that place of ‘the unknown’ even for the rest of India. It will provide a surprise discovery for viewers that in a region which otherwise is mostly shrouded in talks of internal strife and unrest, somehow always had music playing and growing in its midst. Indeed, music itself seems to be the ‘leitmotif’ of life here. Through the film, we plan to take the viewers through a journey into this land of fables and tales and unveil, how over the decades, children of the same land have alternately taken up Guns and Guitars to vent their woes and carve their dreams!

~ Bidyut Kotoky

PS – due to backing out of sponsors at the last moment, the concert had to be curtailed last year. However, the never say die spirit of Lou is ensuring a 3 day celebration of Bob Dylan’s birthday this year again, that will culminate with an outdoor concert by the Umiam Lake on the 26th of May…

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