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Dosa Hunt Soundtrack Decoded

The culinary quest across New York features an inspired list of tracks composed by the posse of musicians who feature in the dosa docu

Megha Mahindru Jun 07, 2013
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Dosa HuntNew York rapper Himanshu Suri aka Heems probably gets the munchies too often. When he was in Mumbai last month to start work on his new album, Heems told us he wanted to write a song for the owner a Bandra eatery he frequented more often than he should have. “I’ll write a whole song about Lovely, the Sardarji at Mini Punjab. He’s such a great dude. It [the song] will say ”˜He’s a lovely man, his rolls are great at 2 in the morning”¦,’” he joked. Previously, as part of the now disbanded Das Racist, Heems has rapped about Taco Bell and Pizza Hut [“Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”] as well as Harold and Kumar’s favorite joint, White Castle and its miniature burgers on “Rainbow In The Dark”, while addressing rampant consumerism in the West. So when music writer and Executive Editor of Stereogum.com, Amrit Singh tweeted about sampling the best dosa in New York, Heems, who featured at number 11 on Rolling Stone’s 50 Top Tweeters in Music, undoubtedly joined in on the culinary quest.

The idea behind Dosa Hunt [watch the trailer here], a 22-minute documentary by Singh came about when Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij tweeted about eating a dosa with Arugula and Jack cheese. “I knew I needed to take this fusion-dosa eating Persian out for some of the authentic South Indian stuff,” says Singh. What conspired on Twitter then was a dosa trail across New York that found takers in Heems as well as his mate from Das Racist, Ashok Kondabolu. Yeasayer’s Anand Wilder, Grammy-nominated pianist Vijay Iyer, Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo (he’s Mexican, not of Indian origin) and Batmanglij completed the six-pack who Singh captures in his docu.

Like its star cast, the soundtrack of Dosa Hunt mirrors the eclectic arrangement of the film. While Singh won’t tell us where they found the best dosa [“Go watch the film if and when it releases in India,” he says], he takes us through the 13-track soundtrack of Dosa Hunt.

“Madder Red”- Yeasayer

 

There are two tracks that I would call are the spiritual centre of the film, one of them is “Madder Red.” Overall, that’s one of my favorite Yeasayer songs. I have it opening and closing the film. I don’t know how intentional it is, but Yeasayer songs like “Wait For The Summer” are overtly Indian, where they are using a sitar and then you see them and you’re like ”˜Yeah, they have this world music kind of vibe,’ but it’s not always India. The vocal melody on “Matter Red” harks back to Hindi film music and this South Asian music that’s beautiful. When I hear it, it evokes India, but not in an explicit cheesy way. It’s subtle.

It’s nice to plug it in as the intro and outro. It has this wistful melodrama that is very attractive and makes me want to laugh in the beginning because it’s so exaggeratedly dramatic seeing a dosa made to this song. I got a kick out of it. It feels cinematic and it really sets the tone. At the end, “Madder Red” signals that things are wrapping up. It feels a little bittersweet and melodramatic, saying goodbye to these guys where you kinda wish you could keep on hanging out with these guys. It’s the only emotionally dramatic music in the film. 

 “Giving Up The Gun”- Vampire Weekend

One of the devices that I used in the film to introduce the characters was to cut to a song or video where all of them have a big moment of their own, so the audience gets to know the character. So it has to be the perfect song and the right video. After Anand (Yeasayer)  steps into the van to go on this dosa trail, Rustom (Vampire Weekend) comes in. When he walks in, we cut into his Vampire Weekend song “Giving Up The Gun.” 

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 “Alien Gonzalez”- Heems 

This is really background music, not a song making a statement. It comes when we first define a dosa. I wanted this film to have that conversation starter bridge culturally, between India and America. It is about young people straddling cultures.

“Rainbow In The Dark”- Das Racist

 

This song has a very heist-like feel to it. It’s like we are getting together and conspiring.  It appears when we start talking about how this Dosa Hunt started”” who tweeted what. We enter the first restaurant in Manhattan, Pongal. Pongal exists at a stretch where there are a bunch of Indian restaurants, so people have now started calling it Curry Hull. So we talk about whether that’s racist or not. 

“Campus”- Rostam

Listen to the track here 

“Campus” actually existed as a Rostam song, it’s him singing with a string quartet. This version predates their debut album. It’s not a song that a lot of people are aware of. Vampire Weekend had sent me a letter with a Blue CD-R, their demo, before anyone had written about them. One of the things I was juxtaposing in the film was to create this sort of dynamic between Manhattan and Queens, the two places that the film is really shot in. When we walk into the Manhattan place, I use Rostam’s “Campus” because it’s the only real opportunity I had to use something approximating classical music. We are ordering dosa for the first time, so I thought the classical music gave it the right feel.

“Optimism” – Vijay Iyer

There are so many songs I wanted to use and Vijay’s version of M.I.A.’s “Galang” which got him a lot of attention as a crossover artist. He did this jazz version of it, bringing a piano rendition of M.I.A. It’s a very cool, hip version and I felt like it was a good inside joke that we didn’t get any desi woman to act, but at least we got one guy who could cover MIA’s music. I was trying hard to make that happen, but I couldn’t get the permission and rights. “Optimism” was a good second choice. It comes from this live DVD of Vijay’s. He’s really an incredible performer and he does some of the most blinding piano solos. You have to watch this footage of his fingers going up and down. I knew I had to introduce Vijay with something special and this establishes him. You are like, ”˜This guy is a genius.’

“Psychic Chasms” – Neon Indian

 

Once we move into the kitchen and the first dosa is served at Pongal,  I move to Neon Indian to lift the energy a bit.

“Ephemeral Artery” – Neon Indian

Basically I have strung together a bunch of Neon Indian songs to maintain a cohesive feel. It has this energy with its psychedelic, synth pop. 

“Sleep Paralysist”- Neon Indian

This song appears when we walk out of Pongal and congregate at a sidewalk to discuss and evaluate it. In this documentary-style, I pull Alan Palomo (of Neon Indian) aside to show what he represents to the film”” someone who has never had a dosa. In Alan’s case, I use this video to introduce him. It was a relatively high budget video for Alan at that time in his career. It was shot much earlier than the film, so you’ll see he has a whole lot of hair, but it’s a good video and song. 

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“Ek Shaneesh” – Das Racist

Besides “Madder Red”, “Ek Shaneesh” is another track that can be heard multiple times through the film. It comes at a pivotal moment. It’s also on the trailer, so people who haven’t seen the film yet, will identify this song with the film the most. This song is so much of what Dosa Hunt stands for. If you just break it down from a components standpoint, “Ek Shaneesh” takes an Indian classical instrument, the sitar and the sitar line is then suddenly fused with a swaggering fat New York city hip hop backbeat vibe. In that fusion is everything that I’m trying to say with Dosa Hunt. It’s what all of us in the cast are doing at some level””reconciling with where we come from, defining ourselves. Ek Shaneesh” has that spirit. All along, Heems’ take on this project, right from the first tweet was to go to Queens to try out the best dosa and that’s still his evaluation when we break into this song. 

In Queens, to pick up dosa ingredients we go to this grocery store called Patel Brothers. Here you see sardarjis, women in chunnis and saris walking around with kids. It’s almost no white people in this grocery store. It can be eye opening for some when you think you are still in New York. This moment shows that our skin color is the same as everyone there, but we are probably more  like the white and black people you see elsewhere. As a cast, we are somewhere between the two worlds. “Ek shaneesh” is such a powerful soundtrack for the theme.

“Wood”- Rostam Batmanglij 

 

This is another Rostam song. There’s actually an instrument that sounds like a sarod. It has a very Indian classical feel, but I guess Rostam actually had Persian classical music in mind. The song is an example of Rostam being an inherently cinematic music composer. He didn’t make any of this music for the film but he appears with so many different guises and if you didn’t see the credits, you probably won’t realize it’s the same guy who made the orchestral version of “Campus” and this new wave feel with “Giving Up The Gun.” 

 “O.N.E.” – Yeasayer

 

This is at Patel Brothers. Anand previously has a charming moment with his mom discussing dosa ingredients. At the grocery store is when he really takes over. You see him grabbing all the ingredients and I chose “ONE” to introduce him since it’s the most Anand-heavy song with this disco, weird futuristic setting. It’s a little sci-fi, kinda like Mad Max meets WWF with Anand in this crazy outfit. 

“Womyn” – Heems

We are just walking through Jackson Heights, talking about Bollywood and stuff when a voiceover  says that this is where Heems grew up. 

“Orange Shirt” – Discovery (Rostam Batmanglij & Wes Miles)

The last restaurant we visit features Rostam’s side project called Discovery with Ra Ra Riot’s Wesley Miles. Their project in general is like laptop R n B. I’m always so taken with what Rustom does. He’s the most diverse of all the guys in the film. 

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