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Gali: a documentary about a thriving Delhi hip-hop underground scene

A still from Gali.

A still from Gali.  

It dives into a Delhi that has been under the shadow of globalisation and of a youth that weaponises performance as dissent against mainstream culture

“Myself, my family, my hood. That’s what it’s all about.” New Delhi rapper Prabh Deep is taking the hip-hop world by storm, but his music remains rooted in the Tilak Nagar neighbourhood. It’s a sentiment that echoes throughout Gali, the new documentary from filmmakers Samreen Farouqui and Shabani Hassanwalia. Prabh Deep is part of a new wave of socially conscious hip-hop that’s taking over the streets of the capital.

Gali dives into a Delhi that has been under the shadow of globalisation and of a youth that weaponises performance as dissent against a mainstream culture that has failed to include them. The filmmakers’ last film Being Bhaijaan explored modern masculinity in India through an exploration of Salman Khan fans. It was research for that film that brought them to the South Delhi village of Khirki, where they found themselves in the centre of a thriving culture of underground hip-hop. The project expanded from there.

“It was about discovering Delhi through its subcultures,” says Farouqui. “The kind of Delhi we don’t get to see and don’t get to inhabit.” In Khirki, rappers MC Freezak and MC Akshay share a stage with local children during a neighbourhood function. They sing rhymes about the growing instances of rape and government indifference right after a rendition of the national anthem. The B-boy group ‘8 Hindus’ from R.K. Puram makes the entire city its playground, practising in metro stations, markets and parks to the delight of passersby, even as some locals turn a suspicious eye. There have been thefts in the area you see, and these are slum kids after all...

About power

Globally, hip-hop has been for the outliers, those in the margins. Asserting their identity is the biggest draw for the performers in Delhi. “The city is constantly embracing them and expelling them at the same time. Hip-hop has given them a tool to be who they are. As an art form, it is about power. It’s not easy but it makes you feel powerful. They are able to express their own story through it, with confidence. They are not willing to be anonymous.”

The artists in the film don’t let their many constraints limit their ambition. They seek inspiration from the birthplaces of hip-hop and look up to figures like Afrika Bambaataa and Ice Cube. Bambaataa especially is brought up repeatedly in the film; as one B-boy quaintly puts it, “Hip-hop was created in 1970 by the President of South Africa, Afrika Bambaataa.” These are true believers.

Staying pure

Prabh Deep is probably the biggest success story. Since featuring in the film, he has gone on to sign with Azaadi Records, release an acclaimed album, and open for British rapper Lady Leshurr. You couldn’t tell that from the film, where he is seen showing off his humble equipment in Tilak Nagar and eagerly spelling out his YouTube channel to acquaintances on the street. His album deals with the death of a childhood friend, the epidemic of drugs in the neighbourhood, and the education system’s failure to reach children from underprivileged homes. It’s a far cry from the glam rappers of Bollywood.

Prabh Deep’s rise brings up a major concern for the movement: how does one tackle mainstream success? Poppin Ticko, who calls himself India’s Top Popper, clearly believes in having a wider stage. He has successfully become the first underground artist to appear on a popular reality show. He performs with a huge orchestra to a Bollywood song as his fellow poppers in Dhobi Ghat watch him on TV. Others are more wary of brands exploiting them and the mainstream media co-opting their stories. As Farouqui puts it, “There is one part of the movement that wants to stay pure; they don’t want to be appropriated by the rich. And there are others who don’t see a larger audience as dilation but as necessary fusion.”

The directors want their film and the movement in general to be looked at as an alternative contemporary history of the city. “It is essentially oral poetry from the street. It is about witnessing the youth at this point in time” says Farouqui.

The Mumbai-based writer looks for the absurd in the midst of art and in everything else.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 5:56:04 AM |

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