“In Allahabad, there are female folk singers who come over on every occasion and sing — be it a baby being born, a birthday, the festival of teej. And that’s where my fascination for music came into being,” says filmmaker Shefali Bhushan, whose father, Shanti Bhushan, and brother, Prashant Bhushan, are both prominent lawyers and founding members of the Aam Aadmi Party. But, Shefali decided to take the road less travelled, studying mass communication at Delhi’s Jamia Milia University.
Shefali Bhushan at her residence in Andheri. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
“My father, who is 90 years old now, is the most progressive person in my family. He always told us to do what we loved, however difficult or different. My mother introduced me to music as she was deeply interested in the folk singers, and dad would listen to classical. The rest of the clan was apprehensive, but they have all come around with Jugni.” Shefali released her romantic musical, Jugni, last month. The album is about an urban music composer who travels to a village to find a rustic, but original voice. She falls in love with a folk singer, and a complicated relationship ensues.
After completing her course at Jamia, Bhushan embarked on a life-changing project. She started Beat of India, a website that aimed at showcasing the folk singers of India, who lived in far-flung nooks and crannies. And so she, and a small team including a sound recordist and some equipment, set off to explore India. “We went to a place armed with as much information as we could, and then would go to the All India Radio stations there and asked around and got more details. Usually we only had a name, a village name and a district name, and we would be rolling down our windows again and again, asking people on the road if they had heard of a certain singer,” she laughs. She’s met some fascinating singers — Balla Ram Singh from a village near Mathura who sang the tales of Alah the warrior of Bundelkhand. “He was a quivering old man till he opened his mouth and started singing, it was tremendous”. Then there was Babu Nand Dhobi, who sang songs of his community and was called a dhobiya singer. “We found him sleeping on a cot in his field. He had no concept of what a website was, or what we wanted. He just knew he could sing, and he did that for us, after he fed us mithai, of course.”
Beat of India is now in its 15th year and is still introducing people to obscure folk singers. “So many of these singers got jobs and were invited for music festivals as we put up information on them.” So when she did decide to make her full-fledged movie debut, she knew the theme had to be music. Jugni, which features songs sung by AR Rahman, Vishal Bhardwaj and Rekha Bhardwaj, with compositions by Clinton Cerejo has received some good word-of-mouth push. “People related to it. And we had some amazing voices being showcased. So yes, it was a good start.”
We ask if she has politics on her mind. No is the resounding answer. Instead, she will put her point across cinematically. Currently, she is working on a script that’s a satire about the TV and media industry. “It’s a laugh riot but will try and get a perspective across and talk about an issue. I don’t believe in making movies that don’t say anything.”