He was one of the most important musicians of our times. Not just because George Harrison belonged to the Beatles but also because he was the first musician of global repute to try a fusion of different musical styles, especially Indian.
Director Martin Scorsese’s documentary on Harrison, "Living In A Material World", which played to packed houses at the Mumbai Film Festival, pays homage to this spirit of the man.
Fans of the Beatles are treated to some rare insights, trivia and anecdotes from the band’s existence and archival footage from their tours and from Harrison’s home life. Others, however, might not find the film too appealing.
Of course, there are many flaws that can be easily pointed out, including its over three-hour length. And though it does talk a bit about Harrison’s formative years, a little more depth into the Beatles' early life when they often used to perform eight hours a day, seven days a week at bars in Hamburg, Germany, could have provided greater depth. After all this became their hallowed ground to practice and perfect their music.
“Martin (Scorsese) was not interested in the obvious. He wanted to go deeper. How did George live a meaningful life despite being one of the most famous people on the planet? How do you live such a public life and survive. Interestingly, that was also what George was interested in,” says Olivia Harrison, wife of George Harrison and also the producer of the film.
Yet, in focusing only on his fame, and how Harrison dealt with it, the film might actually be doing a disservice to the very thing it is trying to comment against, materialism in this world. However, where it scores an ace, is in its Indian element.
Some maestros of Indian music like Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, Allahrakha, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt among others make an appearance from footage of the 70s. Watching them you realise that one of the greatest contributions of George Harrison was in being the first famous musician to try out a musical tradition totally diverse to his own, thus paving the way for a true musical fusion to happen later.
Olivia agrees. “I think he was very instrumental in influencing western music with Indian classical music. He loved it. He found a very gentle and way of influencing western music. Though, he always called Ravi Shankar the father of world music, he did find subliminal ways of introducing Indian music to the West,” she says.
She smiles, reminiscing about the times when in their home the masters of Indian music would be chatting and jamming together. “George often used to call this fusion, confusion,” Olivia says, trying to contain her laughter.
George’s love of India and its music and musicians, is no secret. Yet, seeing is believing. Watching some masters of world music jam together in this film and the film’s contextualization of the same, might indeed become its greatest contribution to the world.
(Satyen K. Bordoloi can be contacted at email@example.com)