‘Acche Din Blues’: Soft Protest Song About Society’s Lost Love

Mere paas bechne ko kuchh nahi so bech raha hun ghaflatDaal bohot mehengi hai so log khareed rahe hain nafrat” (I have nothing to sell really so I sell lots of apathy, And lentils’ too costly so folks here buy hate cheaply) said an imaginary shopkeeper in Aamir Aziz’ video song Achhe Din Blues.

In a free-melodic style, Aziz says, “Ye Dukaandaar mere dost hai bas nafrat ka ek pyaada” (This shopkeeper, my friend, is only a pawn of hatred)

Visuals of a mob-lynching runs in the background as the conversation ends.

A week ago, Aziz released the video on his YouTube channel which has racked up more than one lakh views since. The protest song, the actor and poet says, aims at amplifying the “screams from the depths and corners of our country” which we often choose to ignore.

The simple metaphors in Aziz’ poem are juxtaposed by searing visuals of lynchings, bloodshed and propagandist news channels by the team work of director Amit Mishr, editor Parikshit Jha and director of photography Girish Kant.

Protest song

Set amidst overtones of despair, the poem describes the sad state of affairs under the present regime. The incident of mob lynching in 2016 where cattle-traders Mazlum Ansari and Imteyaz Khan were found hanging from a tree, left a lasting impact on Aziz’ conscience.

The incident and the ones that followed the same year prompted him to write this poem in the classic American folk-style genre Talking Blues.

However, he clarifies, the poem shouldn’t be read keeping in mind his own personal experience. “I want people to interpret it [poem] in their own way. We all have our own stories, memories and experiences.”

The nearing-speech format of the genre adds a conversational touch to the composition making it easy to understand. The poet uses unadorned phrases like “morning walk,” “chowk pe chai” and “awaara kutta” while re-telling the dark tales from the past.

The phrase awara kutte, Aziz says, is taken from Faiz Ahmed Faiz’ poem Ye galiyon ke awara bekaar kutte. While Faiz’ poem uses the phrase for common men, Aziz uses it to refer to all those who refuse to accept the lies of the emperor or those in power. The music video intercuts into visuals of journalists (Gauri Lankesh, Ravish Kumar), academic scholars (JNU professors) and student activists (Rohith Vemula, Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid) whenever he uses the word ‘awaara’ in the poem.

The juxtaposition of conflicting figures occurs at other places as well. In one scene, we see a man hitting three half-naked men as Aziz says “Bharat” “Mata ki” “Jai” separated by short pauses in between. In another, we see a manual scavenger swimming in a gutter while Aziz refers to a living fish in a dead pool. The poem ends with a visual of two corpses hanging from a tree, alluding to the Jharkhand lynching incident.

The leaden background further enhances the loss of love that the poem attempts to convey. “The choice of shooting during the rainy season was consciously done because the slightly separated clouds look quite magnanimous, but you still feel sort of trapped,” said Amit Mishr, the director.

Glimmer of hope

Amidst this melancholic canvass, the poet and the director of the video manage to give us slivers of hope through shots of kids playing in Bombay’s famous Mahim fair. “If you notice, the elders look depressed and sad but [the] kids are cheerful and happy because they are our only hope,” said Mishr.

They also look back straight at the camera seeking answers and judging the onlookers. In one of the initial scenes, a little girl stares around her surrounding reminding us of Asfia Bano who was raped and murdered in Kathua a year ago.

“I had written these lines much before the incident [Kathua rape case] but that’s the beauty of poetry: it helps you connect with things that occur in other time spheres,” says Aziz. “When I read it now, it feels like it is directly referring to Asfia.”

The multiple shots of curious, confused and happy kids, the poet says, also refers to all the innocent people because, at the end of the day, it is only the innocent who get killed, lynched and murdered.

The visuals and conversational poetry has apparently moved many to tears as is evident from the comment section of the video. However, there are few others who are targeting the poet for his Muslim identity and for portraying a one-sided narrative.

Nevertheless, he is happy and contented because the messages of love have outnumbered those of hate.

Featured image credit: YouTube screengrab