Of migration and mobiles

A poster of 'Bidesia in Bambai'.

A poster of 'Bidesia in Bambai'.  

“Bidesia in Bambai”, a recent documentary by Surabhi Sharma, begins and ends with songs that use the motif of the mobile phone. If the former announces a wife’s desire for instant communication with her husband who has migrated to the city, the latter shows how the mobile phone has brought even man and God closer. Frugality, fasting, fire rituals, penance and prayers are some of the digits one has to dial in order to reach God, it says.

These songs are not couched in abstract symbolism. For the large population of migrants from U.P. and Bihar in Mumbai, who often work as security guards and taxi drivers, the mobile phone is a reminder of the distance they have travelled as well as a means of return. Its use as a device in songs (ranging from the erotic to the devotional) reflects the immediacy of the music and its ability to re-invent itself according to the needs of its audience. As Ramanuj Pathak ‘Chingari’, a central character in the film, informs, a few years ago, it was the remote control, a few years down the line it might be outer space.

The documentary taps into the vibrant and energetic sphere of Bhojpuri music in Mumbai. The journey of the film, which took four years to complete, started with an earlier film by Surabhi called “Jahaji Music”, which looks at chutney music (A fusion of Soca and Bhojpuri folk) in the Caribbean. “That encounter really made me think about music very differently, as a space that holds within it stories of history, of contemporary tensions and politics. It’s the way typically we have looked at film in India, not music,” the director opines.

Once the director came back, she allowed herself to be led by the music. Although it took her to a few other cities, she decided to confine the film to Mumbai. “This is not necessarily the most important centre of the industry. Delhi, Patna and Varanasi are equally important. I limited the story to this city because I found that places where music was produced or performed was opening up the story of Mumbai very interestingly for me.”

The story of Bhojpuri music is now tied as much to derelict suburbs of Mumbai as to its cutting edge studios. We are shown the people that populate both these worlds — from Kalpana Patowary, an established name in the world of Bhojpuri music, recording her lines, to a young boy and girl singing an amorous duet (He sings of poking his beak in her cup of nectar, she warns him against touching her basket of mangoes). All along, the director’s aim is to “to draw you into the music but to also not let you forget where this music is happening.”

This is achieved by deliberately muffling the sound midway through a performance. According to Surabhi, “The sound of the performance can overwhelm everything. How do we pull out of that to create a sense of space and energy? It’s okay if you can’t suddenly hear a song. Because in a performance when you see people moving to the music but can’t hear the music, you somehow get a much more visceral sense of how people are responding. You are trying to shift focus by heightening, removing or changing sound.”

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Printable version | Sep 29, 2020 3:21:14 PM |

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