This year has hardly been easy one for anyone across the world, with the pandemic throwing up unexpected challenges that most of us couldn’t ever envision. But in a bid to dispel some of the doom and gloom that has settled in our lives comes a song – a song that celebrates people in every possible way.
The song, titled ‘I Am Who I Am’, is the brainchild of Sharif D. Rangnekar, a well-known communication consultant, human rights activist and the director of the annual Rainbow Lit Fest. The video set to the song – which was shot, produced and edited during the lockdown – was released this morning (September 15) on YouTube and various other platforms.
Over a span of seven minutes, we see a montage of 31 people – a disabled queer woman, the mother of a gay son, a former tennis player, a 26-year-old with a disability, a drag artist, a Dalit queer journalist, a Punjabi-Congolese family and even a sleeping child – as upbeat music plays in the background. The song itself is acoustic rock and choir-like, reminiscent of the early days of the rock indie scene in India during the noughties.
“The music video features, most likely for the first time, 31 ‘different’ individuals for various parts of the country,” says Rangnekar, who played multiple roles in the project beyond getting it all together – he also wrote the lyrics and sang the main vocals. Delhi-based indie-acoustic duo Chayan and Smiti accompanied him with the a capella section that runs through the song. On the guitars is Delhi-based musician and educator Adhir Ghosh.
The aim of the video, Rangnekar says, was to bring together diverse voices and celebrate multiple experiences.
“Given what has been happening over the past couple of months: the Black Lives Matter movement, attacks on the queer community, reports on everyday violence, ageism – I just felt like this was the right time to bring all those experiences together in the form of a not-so-poignant music video but one which could try to bring a smile on everyone’s face,” he said.
The mainstream discourse around underrepresented voices, he adds, is majorly limited to big cities like Delhi and Mumbai and rarely goes beyond that. “Getting the cast together for this video was not a deliberate attempt, but something that I intend to do with every project I am involved in. We need to hear more voices, more stories,” he said.
In December, Rangnekar organised the annual Rainbow Lit Fest, a one-of-its-kind literary event where artists from across the LGBTQIA+ community come together under one roof to talk about their individual journeys.
In the same vein, for the cast of the video, Sharif worked with over 31 people from across the country – including his own mother Dr Veena Rangnekar and filmmaker and writer Tanuja Chandra. Everyone was was asked to send in clips that got clubbed together to make the final video.
“I couldn’t have put this together without everyone’s contribution. They came up with their own ideas besides following my cue – for instance, the gay couple you see in the video suggested that they dance together. They sent a few clips dancing in different directions. Similarly, Somdev Devbarman [former tennis player] sent me videos he shot on his terrace,” he said.
The idea, he says, is to essentially have fun and spread happiness in times of uncertainty.
“As a topic, it sounds morbid, probably even dark, but we kept the song and tonality on the positive as the last thing we need is sadness at a time where there are so many constraints on interactions between people given the COVID-19 situation,” he said. “If you notice Arman, the 26-year-old person with disability, you would notice how he is just enjoying the track.”
One of the participants in the video is Shanthi Muniswamy – a Bangalore-based mural artist and blogger who identifies as a transgender woman. She has previously worked as a radio jockey.
The video, she says, was like a flicker of hope amidst the darkness of the lockdown. “This is my second video with Sharif. I really enjoyed working on the video and would want to work on more such projects. I liked every bit of the video, but my personal favourite moment is the shot of Sharif’s mother looking up with a big wide smile on her face,” she added. “We have to celebrate no matter what circumstances we are in, that’s what the video is all about.”
“Each of us is equal in the eyes of nature. So be who you are,” says Chandra in the video, in a spoken bit towards the end.
Rangnekar has more such video projects in the pipeline and wishes to include more diverse voices.
Featured image credit: Screenshots from the YouTube video