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With its images of mountains and edelweiss, “The Sound of Music” might not seem like a natural fit for India’s “maximum city,” but the Bombay Chamber Orchestra begs to differ. Recruiting kids from the slums – home to half the city’s population — the Orchestra sets out to stage a one-time-only choral performance of the Rogers & Hammerstein score.
The Sound of Mumbai: A Musical tells the story of the tenacious, musically inclined Indian street children who are enlisted to perform a concert with members of the elite orchestra. For 11-year-old Ashish, like many of the other kids, performing in the concert means more than singing in a world-class theater; it also offers the hope of rising above his social and cultural limits.
Highlighting the gap between dreams and reality while showing the power of music to transform lives, the uplifting documentary debuts November 23, exclusively on HBO2. The film is one of four documentaries about contemporary India debuting on HBO and HBO2 in November.
The others are: “Marathon Boy,” the story of a four-year-old marathon runner whose rags-to-riches saga morphs into a tale of greed, corruption and broken dreams, which debuted Nov. 3 on HBO; “The Bengali Detective,” a portrait of Rajesh Ji, who solves crimes in the city of Kolkata while following his dreams of being a professional dancer, debuting Nov. 16 on HBO2; and “Pink Saris,” profiling the unlikely female activists of Northern India’s Gulabi Gang, who battle violence against women, debuting Nov. 30 on HBO2.
At the center of The Sound of Mumbai: A Musical is 11-year-old Ashish, whose wide smile and optimism stand in sharp contrast to his family’s constricted slum shelter. He admits sometimes lacking confidence as he repeatedly writes and speaks the affirmation, “I will not be self-conscious,” but his natural charisma suggests he could go far, given the right opportunity.
Ashish’s greatest strength, like many of the street kids vying to make the cut, is the ability to look beyond his deplorable living conditions, remain positive during adversity, and continually seek a better life.
Now, Ashish has been tasked to perform a solo piece from “The Sound of Music” at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts, normally inaccessible to the poor. He can’t help but attach dreams to the event, because he hopes to win the affections of an upper-class girl and inspire a patron to sponsor his education. With so many hopes riding on this single performance, the stakes are high.
The documentary captures the timeless international appeal of such tunes as “Do-Re-Mi” and “My Favorite Things.” For Ashish, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and “I Have Confidence” speak directly to his experience. Even in his challenging urban landscape, he can relate to the sentiments conveyed by the lyrics “Climb ev’ry mountain, ford ev’ry stream/Follow ev’ry rainbow, ‘til you find your dream.”
In telling his story, The Sound of Mumbai: A Musical never glosses over the difficulty of closing the gaps that lie between dreams and reality, rich and poor, but joyfully celebrates those who try. In addition to Ashish, The Sound of Mumbai: A Musical features Mangesh, Ashish’s best friend, who becomes jealous when Ashish is asked to be a soloist;
Nandini, a nine-year-old girl also given a solo, whose parents were once offered money by an American couple looking to adopt her and take her abroad; Kimberly, a well-spoken, supremely confident student at a posh Mumbai school, on whom Ashish develops a crush;
Johannes Steinwender, an Austrian music professor who has travelled to Mumbai to conduct the show; and Jini Dinshaw, the well-heeled founder of the Bombay Chamber Orchestra, who conceived the performance.
Notes Sarah McCarthy, the director, “Ashish has the sort of life force about him which makes him stand out. He’s ferociously intelligent and pretty much fearless. In the first rehearsal all the kids were pretty scared, but not Ashish. He got so excited about singing the final note of ‘Do-Re-Me’ that he threw his hands in the air like some sort of evangelical preacher, which made Johannis, the conductor, notice him for the first time.
We’d always known he was going to be a character in the film, but when the conductor picked him to end the concert with ‘The Sound of Music,’ that pretty much secured his spot as the star.”
Sarah McCarthy made her directorial debut with “Murderers on the Dance Floor,” the story behind the YouTube clip of 1500 Filipino prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which has been viewed by more than 43 million people. She also developed and produced the documentary “Black Widow Granny.”
The Sound of Mumbai: A Musical had its world premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival and has a special screening at DOC NYC this Nov. 8.
Image Courtesy of http://soundofmumbaimovie.com