Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed Saturday 15th September 2012
Tasmanian born actor, Erroll Flynn, went to England and worked in repertory and film, where he was discovered by Warner Brothers who took him to Hollywood, where became a household name. Perth born Mary Evans was taken to India as a child by her British career soldier father, where he was stationed. She, like Flynn, became fascinated by the cinema and dreamt of being a star.
She was discovered by J. B. H. Wadia the head of the Wadia Movietone studios. She was an instant hit in her the film, Hunterwali, and became a highly popular swashbuckling heroine, but performing in Hindi meant that her audience was limited, preventing her becoming as famous as Flynn. Her 1940 film, Diamond Queen, was the basis of this work, a film which has been described as the most strongly written by J. B. H. Wadia, and the best made of her films, as well as being her best role. Having worked in circus, she was also capable of performing all of her own stunts.
There are, naturally, a lot of similarities between these early Indian films and those being made in Hollywood and, although much of the film has a sound track, a caption will suddenly appear and a wordless section will be inserted where an extended piece of action takes place, reminding us that sound was a recent inovation at that time. Nadia could, possibly, be seen as the Indian cinema’s equivalent of Hollywood’s Pearl White.
Ben Walsh and The Orkestra of the Underground provided a new background of incidental music for the film, but not in as simple a way as that might sound. Percussionist and composer, Walsh, has edited the film, using a percentage of the original soundtrack and music, fading the original music and adding his own under the original dialogue, putting new music under the silent sections, and he has also inserted gaps, where the film ceases and the music takes over as the main focus.
The Orkestra is an eclectic mix of instruments, including five Indian musicians, two of whom play tabla. One of these, tabla master Aneesh Pradhan, adds some exciting improvised sections to the score, with Bobby Singh on tabla getting into some fine duet work with him. Walsh, of course, conducts the Orkestra, as well as adding more percussion to the music, with more percussion added by Greg Sheehan, primarily play drum kit.
The Indian influence in the music is further enhanced by Sanjeev Shankar on Shenai, Sangeet Mishra on Sarangi, and Sudhir Nayak on harmonium. This is blended into a new sound by the jazz influences introduced by several other members, in particular, Sandy Evans on saxes, Matt Ottignon on saxes and clarinets, and Eden Ottignon on bass. Embracing these diverse genres and adding influences of their own are Luke Dubber on keyboards, and Grant Arthur on low brass: sousaphone, bass trumpet, trombone, and also banjo.
On violin and viola is Shenzo Grigorio and, as if they were not difficult enough instruments to play anyway, he is hooked up to a framework and hoisted into the air to play violin and give an aerialist performance at the same time during one of the orchestral interludes.
Walsh has composed a remarkably varied collection of music for this production that complements the film perfectly, capturing the many moods, from comedy, to romance, to action and chase scenes, and more. Some sections lean far more towards the Indian influences, others towards pure jazz, others have marvellous blends in which one or other will dominate hovering to and fro in a clever interplay, and yet other sections touch on completely different genres, yet it all works so well in conjunction with the film the there is no incongruity.
This was a most rewarding experience, both for the chance of seeing this incredible woman at the height of her career, and for the brilliant composition and orchestrations of Ben Walsh played by such a superb group of musicians. It is important to remember that, without the OzAsia Festival, we would never have had the opportunity to see this, as the work was especially commissioned by the Adelaide Festival Centre’s OzAsia Festival and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Duration: 2hrs 40mins (advertised 2hrs 5mins)