Where is the protest?

Updated: Feb 10, 2019, 09:00 IST | Gitanjali Chandrasekharan

Demonetisation, casteism, beef ban, love jihad and, of course, azadi from patriarchy. Does Gully Boy's soundtrack offer listeners only a watered version of what Mumbai's rap artistes want to discuss?

Where is the protest?

A stray Twitter thread brought attention to what many are calling a missed opportunity. A few days after the music of Ranveer Singh-Alia Bhatt starrer Gully Boy released to rave reviews about its representation of Mumbai's underground rap culture, twitterati were discussing how the song Azadi, a 2016 mash-up by artiste Dub Sharma, of Kanhaiya Kumar's rousing speech at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in 2016, has come back in a watered down version.

Lines related to Bhrahmanvad and Manuvad - Sanghwad Se! Azadi!/Arre Poonjivad Se! Azadi!/Arre Samantvad Se! Azadi!/Arre Brahmanvad Se! Azadi! - have been removed. In an interview with Anupama Chopra, in which she questioned the film's lead actors, Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, about the controversy over the missing lines, the actors had a response that has attracted even more criticism.

While Singh said, "I'm pretty apolitical," Bhatt said, "As actors we are here to make movies, be a good person and hopefully, not run in with the law." Is Gully Boy then, just a vanilla version of Mumbai's rich rap culture, which has artistes question everything from demonetisation to why we don't have the right to eat what we want? Four musicians from across genres plug in their earphones and offer us their verdict of the film's soundtrack.

'Urge to change society is missing'
Sambhaji Bhagat
Dalit activist and lok shahir
I have heard the film's music [laughs]. It's very nice. It has a sense of creating a change in life. There's a certain mentality that gully boys in Mumbai have. Unka ek sochne ka tareeqa hota... that has come through [in the songs]. What is missing however, is the urge to change society. But, this is cinema and the motto of cinema is to entertain.

Rap originated in the West from a people who had been ignored and boycotted. This form of music was their own voice. By the time it came to India, it was already an old form. We lost the point behind it. Rock, for instance, was also protest music, but later it's meaning got diluted. Even street theatre ended up becoming about safaai karo, machchar hatao.

Gully Boy lyrics react to life in the zhopadpatti. When you go through that life - I have - the reactions are strong. But, because these people have written the rap for a film, it's commercialised. Where the gully boy had no voice earlier, they do now. I welcome the movie and the songs for this. But, yes, the protest that should have been there is missing.

Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

'Rich actor can't do poverty rap'
RAK
Tamil rapper from Andheri
The soundtrack takes you through the journey of a Mumbai underground rap artiste. For instance, in Sher Aaya Sher, by Divine, you get a sense of a man who has made it and feels like a lion.

Divine did poverty rap and talked about that struggle, but how can someone who was born rich [Ranveer] get a sense of that slang? The vocals needn't have been been done by Ranveer Singh; they could have given another rapper that platform, but I understand the decision mustn't have
been easy.

Yet, Azadi disappoints. The real rally slogans by Kanhaiya Kumar are missing. The songs barely touch political issues. They don't look at government, an atmosphere where you cannot express yourself or eat what you want. Mumbai's gully rap is about tackling social issues. Look at Swadesi [hip hop band] - their latest song is about the destruction of Aarey and its tribals. The songs should have had that representation [which they don't].

I rap in Tamil and some of my songs focus on how the government is forcing Hindi in South India. I also talk about Pongal, which is not a recognised holiday everywhere in the country, even though Mahavir Jayanti is. How is that fair?

Mayank Saxena

'No talk of division, communalism'
Mayank Saxena
Founder of Morche Par Kavi
I listened to Apna Time Aayega and Meri Gully Mein. I loved both songs. I found them cool because I was not expecting anything revolutionary, but the songs do talk about the aspiration of a guy from the slums. They talk about the deprivation and aspirations that someone from the fringes have faced. What's close to Mumbai slum rap is that the lyrics also talk of the struggle of their parents.

But, all songs can't represent all discourses. No song in the album talks about division or communalism. For instance, Aamir Shaikh of Bombay Lokal, who has been featured in the movie, has written songs about fascism, communalism. His rap also talks about the murders of MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar and Gauri Lankesh. His most recent track is on love jihad. These are clear songs, which give a voice to the struggle a person is facing.

Azadi, in its original version, was a compilation of slogans raised in JNU by Dub Sharma. It used to be my ringtone for a year, and at that time, as a journalist, I was accused by my colleagues of being anti-national. But, in the movie they have played it safe.

The truth is that this makes the release of the film easy. However, the argument is that making cinema is an expensive business and what's the point of making something if only a few people see it or engage with it? These must have been logical concerns for the makers. So, the Gully Boy makers have pushed the envelope a little bit, but stopped short of saying anything that would prevent the film from releasing.

Kabeer Shakya

'Covers India's rappers, not state of the country'
Kabeer Shakya
Poet and member of rock band Dhamma Wings
There are a few arguments here. I have heard Apna Time Aayega and what the movie [as it seems from the songs] is doing is to present Mumbai or India's rap culture. It does little else. It's only going to be about rappers in our country, and not what is going on in
the country.

For instance, there's a line - nahin mere baap ki, yeh khud ki kamayee hai - reveals more about the diss culture [in which rappers take each other on through their music] than anything else.

If one looks at the real rappers of the country, they tackle casteism and politics. For instance, when the Bhima-Koregaon incident happened in Pune, a few rappers I know went and performed at the protest. That is how rap is used. At TISS, where I was once felicitated, I talked against casteism - our life getting stuck/your casteist mentality always s**k/we will eat what we want/we will speak words we want/we will free all the women that you don't want/We are Indians so we will fight. The movie is a big platform, if real issues had got represented, it would have been good.

It's not completely apolitical, however. There are a few lines - desh sudharega nahin, for instance. There is a comment on politics in the line, par woh har nukkad pe comment hota hai. Jingostan is good. Thode issues cover kiye hain but it's not clear what and who is being addressed here. Of course, one will get a better sense after seeing the movie and we must keep in mind that this is a commercial film.

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