“Junun” is one of the strangest documentaries but then which Paul Thomas Anderson movie doesn’t come with a bit if strangeness in it. Junun is an exploration of music in a room with a blend of people from different parts of the world. An Israeli musician,Shye Ben Tzur, has Jonny Greenwood playing guitar, Qawwali vocalists, instrumentalists who have been playing the horns, nagara, kamaichi for generations, so far back that even they do not know when their ancestors started playing the instrument.
There’s little talk here and the few times Anderson has one of the people talk, there is little to glean about why they make music. The problem I face with most documentaries about an art form is that the pontification of the art has become repetitive. Somewhere, we are led to believe that the people practising the art are born to do nothing but perform, their lives intertwined with the art. Anderson doesn’t use the usual techniques but in the little dialogues with the men and the very way they play their instruments, renders the belief that these men and women were born into the life. Anderson doesn’t explore casteism or ancestral pressure at leading this life, his interest is in the collaboration and the music that’s coming out at the fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. It creates an image that this is production footage of backstage rehearsals of an album being made. This is why there is a prevailing sense that Junun is a minor work, especially when you consider Anderson’s oeuvre but it is a magnificent meeting of cultures and exploration of music.
It is the first time Anderson has gone digital and it takes getting used to from this child of celluloid, especially the scenes where drones are used to capture the city and the area surrounding the fort aerially plus the birds being fed.
Anderson also doesn’t indulge in discussing technique or sound production with Nigel Goldrich. Goldrich is seen chasing a pigeon with his mike or usually in rapt attention, caught in the music.We do not know the names of the artists as they play their music or even when they talk. It is only at the end, when Anderson closes his film that we know who we’ve been watching play like Gods. In making them anonymous gifted musicians, Anderson gives them an indescribable personal touch, making them ours when the film ends.
“Junun” captures the insanity of making music, it captures the very essence of why people collaborate and make music. It gives Junun-e-mohabbat, the madness of love. The love for music in the people who create it and the satisfaction and admiration when the song comes out as it formed in the head; the quenching of this thirsting madness is Anderson’s great turn with “Junun”.