Bombay the Hard Way: Guns, Cars, & Sitars, 1998

Max Kritzer
July 6, 2020

This piece is part of the Detours series. Detours are deep dives, because music deserves time and context. Listen, breathe deep, take the scenic route.

In high school, I was obsessed with producer Dan the Automator. He was responsible for a number of albums that blew my mind and opened up my musical world: Gorillaz’ self-titled debut, Deltron 3030, Dr. Octagon, Handsome Boy Modeling School. He was also my path to discovering DJ Shadow, another one of my favorite artists. Despite being Bay Area associates working in a historically collaborative genre, Dan the Automator and DJ Shadow didn’t seem to have made much together — besides a track here or there. So I was extremely excited when I learned that the two of them had made an entire album together, and it was…remixes of Bollywood music?

Bollywood is famous for producing hundreds of movies a year, but even by that standard Kalyanji-Anandji were prolific. A duo of brothers, Kalyanji and Anandji Shah worked in the film industry for nearly 40 years, and at their peak in the 1970s they were responsible for almost one hundred movie soundtracks a year. Much of their work was for “masala” or “brownsploitation” films — labels inspired by blaxploitation, kung-fu movies, and James Bond-style thrillers. Bombay the Hard Way: Guns, Cars, & Sitars is a selection of their music, remixed by Dan the Automator and DJ Shadow.

Well, sort of. It turns out that DJ Shadow had minimal involvement with the project. He’s credited as DJ Josh Davis for “additional drum tracks,” and stated on his website that all he did was lay down some drums for Dan the Automator to sample.

And that drum work and DtA magic nicely expands on the original. The record maintains an appropriately kitschy vibe — a meeting of Indian instrumentation, Shaft-style funk, and ’90s alternative hip-hop, with tongue-in-cheek song titles like “The Good, The Bad, and the Chutney” and “Fists of Curry.” Kalyanji-Anandji combined the melodies and rhythms of Rajasthan with western funk, creating exciting and distinctive tracks like “Theme from Don.” And there’s goofy tracks, too, like the Mission Impossible-theme variation “Fear of a Brown Planet” or the surf music “Swami Safari,” which sounds like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Many of the songs don’t seem to have much — if any — alteration from Dan the Automator. In contrast, others have clearly been reworked, such as “My Guru,” with its droning sitar loop and heavy beat, where Automator inserts plenty of dialogue clips, giving it a similar feel to classic ’90s sample-based hip hop.

Overall, though, there’s very little information out there about Bombay the Hard Way — there’s not much context on which movies the songs come from or to what extent they’ve been edited and remixed. Whatever the origins, it’s a consistently enjoyable record, from the glorious silliness of “Ganges A Go-Go” to the psychedelic groove of “Professor Pyaralal.” It may be a mere footnote in Dan the Automator’s career, and given its mysterious background it’s not the most instructive introduction to Bollywood music, but it’s still a detour well worth taking.

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