“Kodaikanal won’t step down till you make amends now”, begins a rap song by young musician Sofia Ashraf, which, in a short time, has become a viral sensation on social media, racking up over three million hits on YouTube. Angry in tone and activist in spirit, the rap is aimed at consumer goods giant Unilever for the contamination caused by its thermometer factory in the pristine hill station. “Unilever, clean up your mess,” goes the chorus, making it clear that the song wants to affect a change, not merely talk about a problem.
Music videos are becoming the latest weapon in the arsenal of those who have a cause to fight for, to bring about a change or simply focus on a social problem. From gender politics to human rights, these videos are using the freedom and reach of social media to spread their message.
Not that protest music or art hasn’t been a part of India and the world for a very long time, but what’s new is how, at minimum expense and without any corporate sponsorship, these creative souls are being able to reach out to millions of people.
Artists from all over the country have been using music, art and satire to address both larger issues and more narrowly focused concerns. Whether it’s the emerging dissent rap from Kashmir’s rappers MC Kash and Haze Kay, the alternate rock of The Imphal Talkies that takes on AFSPA, Mumbai’s young and charged up-and-comer Naezy, who raps about the slums, AIB’s videos like “it’s your fault” – about rape, and starring Kalki Koechlin – artists are taking to the Internet to facilitate dialogue and make waves large enough to try and add to the conversation. Of course, their main objective remains to make a change.
Targeting Article 377
Two new videos by young artists in Mumbai have addressed Article 377 which outlaws homosexuality. A burning topic—more so since the Delhi High Court had briefly done away with it before the Supreme Court recriminalised love between consenting adults—the video was released on the eve of Independence Day.
The video, which attacks the archaic section and asks the question “Why is this still a thing?” has been produced by the funk-rock duo MAFAKA. “#377, teri ma ki choodi, pehn ke dekhi mujhe aayi nahi puri” goes the refrain; suggestive, but clever. However, fully aware of the speed with which people take offence, the video opens with a disclaimer: “This music video is not intended to hurt the sentiments of any individual, community, sect or religion.” Even satirists have to be careful, it appears.
Do these videos, which may gain popularity among the young, really make a difference? Joshua Thomas of MAFAKA says “In a perfect world if music or any art addressing these themes brought about immediate and tangible change, it would be ideal. But this song is my own personal creative expression of dissatisfaction and my only aim is to continue dialogue in an area where it’s necessary”.
Much like Sofia Ashraf’s video, this one too is a project that a bunch of artists worked on with their own funds and with a bunch of their own friends.
Gangsta Gudiya’s video featuring Nikhil D’Souza and Ugoeze, “Out and Proud”, also released earlier this month, is a softer number with a plea for tolerance: “Does it really matter if I’m straight or gay”, sing a number of members of the gay community shot in different settings. Gangsta Gudiya, the rapper name of Natasha Vakil took inspiration from popular artist Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking out Loud’.
“I wrote this song as a symbol of support for members of the LGBT community who are close to me and for the community at large. My intention wasn’t to sound angry, it was simply to spread the feeling that everyone must be allowed to love whomever they may choose to love.” Immediate change is not the sole objective; “even if one person or parent’s opinion changes, we’ve done our job” she adds.
A professional touch
While these videos are by up and coming youngsters, even veteran professionals have got into the act. Indian Ocean’s Rahul Ram has joined comedians Varun Grover and Sanjay Rajoura’s to create Aisi Tesi Democracy, an omnibus outfit that focuses on many social issues in a satirical way. Their song “Meri Samne Wali Sarhad Pe Kehte Hain Dushman Rehta Hai” ridicules the preconceptions many Indians have about Pakistan.
Speaking about their new act comedian Sanjay Rajoura said, “Many artists who have politically charged ideas are now doing self censorship. People should express their opinions and use the access that they have to point out problems and hypocrisy.” Using popular Bollywood tunes and injecting their own polemical lyrics the trio has talked about caste, corporate corruption, even the obsession with selfies. “We have 13 songs part of the act, most of which are to the tune of popular Hindi music. This, we believe, is the easiest way to communicate to the public.” The videos may not immediately change mindsets, but at the very least, they will make people think about important issues.