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I protest, therefore I sing
Sitting on a fast at Jantar Mantar or marching down busy streets in skimpy attire are not the only ways of making a point. Activists have now realised that music speaks louder than words - whether it is on adivasi rights or against NATO's role in Libya
When documentary filmmaker Amudhan Pushpam made a satirical music video based on A R Rahman's Vande Mataram in 2003, his idea was not to belittle the music maestro's work but to show people that India was not shining as the popular album claimed.
Music videos exposing the 'other' side of India followed one after the other, in a shift from the usual formula of love, lust and strobe lights. A four-minute music video, America America, directed by filmmaker and activist KP Sasi attacking US domination made more and more join the bandwagon. Protest music videos have traversed quite a path after that. It has now become a widely accepted tool for highlighting issues concerning the nation and its people.
Activist and documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan says the main reason for encapsulating the theme of a protest in a music video is that it can capture emotion effectively in a short duration. "A lot of emotion can be packed in a single song. The making of it is relatively cheaper compared to documentaries. And this isthe reason why activists these days choose music videos to highlight their issues," says Patwardhan.
Thousands of music videos appearing online now focus on issues ranging from Kashmir to Kerala, from discrimination against minorities of all hues to gender inequality. When the young Roushan Illahi, aka MC Kash, released his album called I Protest in 2010 against atrocities committed by the Indian army in the Valley, he became the first hip-hop artist from Kashmir to take such a route. In an interview to a TV channel, the young BBA student said he wanted to use sharp rhythms and beats instead of stones or guns to protest the mayhem in his state. "The only solution is the resolution of freedom," he sang. Now, the Valley has a number of youngsters who believe "Rap is rebellion."
Medha Patkar's Isliye Rah Sangharsh Ki Ham Chunen (This is why we have chosen the path of struggle), Kabir Suman's Bonduk niley hatey (You grabbed the gun) and Sasi's Gaon Chodab Nahin (We will not leave our village) and the Fight for Telangana have already been viewed by tens of thousands on Facebook and Youtube. Facebook, in fact, even has a group to share protest song videos and documentary links.
Sasi says though he has directed a number of full-length movies and documentaries, producing music videos is a completely different experience. He realised this when he released his first music video America America in 2003. "Music and songs are in our culture. A powerful documentary may do a better job than a full-length movie in the fight against oppression and injustice in society. Music can influence the masses fast, and that's why protest videos have now become such a potent tool to hit out against the establishment," says Sasi, whose America America was a brutal and satirical indictment of the US's role in escalating conflict around the world. The music in his work is set to the tune of the popular Sinhalese song Surangini with English lyrics and a catchy chorus in Tamil. The video has dancer Malavika Tara Mohanan dancing sometimes on Bush's shoulder and sometimes on the roof of the White House. It criticizes the post 9/11 bombing of Afghanistan by the US and also the occupation of Iraq saying "America, America ...American War Paar Da...( Look at the war America has launched)"
Gaon Chodab Nahin, in turn, focuses on the adivasi struggles in India. Written in Nagpuria dialect, the video became a huge hit in remote villages as well as in towns, grabbing awards along the way. But Sasi had to face the ire of the government for making that video. "The police said I was a Maoist. They threatened my cameraman, " he says. Sasi, though, is quick to add, "Maoism is not my politics. I am against the killing of human beings. I support the struggle for the oppressed and marginalised in the society in my own political terms."
Meghnath, a Chhattisgarh-based activist and documentary filmmaker, finds another reason for the popularity of protest music videos. "In the past, every political party or organisation used to have their own song groups. The origin of the trend can be traced to that. Music videos these days are playing the role of the old music groups, " he says. Songs have always played a major role in society. So do the protest videos.
According to Pushpam, there's a song for every situation. "We even had folk groups which used to travel from one village to the other singing about contemporary issues. Since music is attractive, it will communicate easily. It's a positive trend," he says. True, but does the trend affect the documentary culture in the country? No, says Patwardhan. "Protest music videos are a very effective tool. But they can act only as a supplement, not a replacement for the documentary."
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