Elections are on, and, as can be seen in Bollywood and much of the entertainment industry, political raps are in.
To highlight the “sentiments of a broken nation” – divided along the lines of religion and class – in his debut single ‘Poorna Swaraj’, Delhi-based visual artist Sumit Roy uses a sack to cover his face as a motif to describe the current state of affairs in India.
Making heavy use of synths and a hip-hop beat which is old school and progressive at the same time, the song invokes the disillusionment of Indian citizens and the climate of fear that has pervaded the country.
Roy, who we saw glimpses of recently in Zoya Akhtar’s film Gully Boy, highlights the culture of hatred, income inequality and how free speech is curtailed at every corner.
“Poorna swaraj, sawaalo pe kyu ho bawaal, kya yahi hai achhe din? (You talk about self-reliance but why does criticism disturb you. Are these the achhe din you were talking about?),” he raps in the video.
The music video was released in collaboration with comedian Kunal Kamra and PeeingHuman, who both feature in it.
The music is performed by a seven-member band — RollsRoy.
While Roy and Krishna Vinod were on vocals, Pranay Parti played the synthesiser, Kaushik Manikandan on guitar, Akshat Pradhan on bass, Shantanu Sudarshan on drums and Vibhor Mathur played the flute.
Abhishek Sekhri along with Roy composed and arranged the video at Kintsugi studio.
The visuals of the music video play an intrinsic role in communicating the sentiments.
Visual Artists Dhwani Mankad, Anirudha Hajare, Kushagrah Kalia, Gaurav Wakankar, and Uditarko Misra worked together with another artist who goes by the name ‘The Poet of the Black’, to make the video in one single night.
The lyrics, by Roy and Aman Agarwal, were written after demonetisation. Roy finally decided to release it just around the elections which has, thus far, invited both praise and criticism.
He says the incumbent government has only made empty promises, and has turned its back on the rising culture of hate and the looming environmental crisis.
“The things that the current government is doing is pretty sad and threatening to the country, democracy and free speech. [Narendra] Modi doesn’t think global warming exists. But it definitely does and needs to be talked about. We did so, through rap,” he says.
Talking of how the air in Delhi after Diwali was classified as ‘extremely hazardous’ and continues to be the same, Roy says the government didn’t take any steps to solve the crisis.
As the lyrics go:
Lets us face and breathe the blatant truth of celebration
Happy Diwali, New Delhi
How did we not see it coming?
That’s what she said, our mother nature
Don’t WALL-E this planet
According to Roy, Gully Boy introduced rap to the masses. Dub Sharma’s ‘Jingostan’, he says, is a commentary against the jingoist nation-state in the present time. This form of rap in India, he says, is no longer limited to one particular section of society and appeals to communities across different social strata.
Earlier, rap music in India was predominantly apolitical, overtly sexist and primarily materialistic. Now, however, both politicians and citizens have been using it as a medium to talk about what matters to them. While politicians make promises and taint other party leaders, citizens have been using it to criticise the government – both, at the central and state levels.
In January, the BJP had released a video with the hashtag ‘ModiOnceMore’. The tagline of the video read: “This is a rap with a difference, for a cause.” A month later, the party released another video titled ‘Banda Apna Sahi Hai’ aiming to woo first-time voters. The song was inspired from Gully Boy‘s popular song ‘Apna Time Aayega’.
Another political party, Dravida Munetra Kazhgam, released a song in Tamil, questioning the motives of actor Kamal Haasan and his party — Makkal Needhi Maiam — while making fun of its electoral symbol.
A few other regional parties, too, have taken the rap route to attract young voters.
Amidst all these, artists like Sumit Roy, Shankhdeep De and many others are providing a counter-narrative through their own raps. The representation styles, however, differ vastly from those released by political parties.
While De, in his recently released single ‘Hatt Salaa‘, featured transgender women rapping about unemployment problem in India, Roy tried staying true to the roots of hip-hop by bridging the gap between electronic and live music.
The music video, Roy says, doesn’t mean to target any political party, even though there are some shots of comedian Kunal Kamra holding a placard saying, “Don’t vote for Modi” in the beginning.
“We do have our own political biases but we just want people to think before they go out to vote. People should make sure that they don’t cast their vote for someone who has not been just to the citizens in any way,” Roy said.
Ultimately, the video simply wants viewers to ponder over the question: Kya yehi hai achhe din?
Featured image credit: YouTube screengrab