They add excitement to celebrations, but the bandwallahs often have disgruntled lives of their own. “Behind their loud world of music, lies a very quiet and unreal world,” says Aditya Arya. Under the aegis of India Photo Archive Foundation, the photo historian commissioned six photographers to focus on bandwallahs from across India. The outcome is an ongoing exhibition in the city, titled ‘Bajatey Raho’.
Sujatro Ghosh, Kolkata
“They might be poor financially but they are rich emotionally,” says Sujatro Ghosh, of the men from Mehboob Band, one of the most famous names in the profession in Kolkata. Situated in North Kolkata, the band has seven shops owned by the seven Mehboob brothers. Ghosh documents not the celebrations they are part of, but the life they lead. “A family of 15 end up living in a one-room hut because they are so poor that they cannot even afford a respectable accommodation,” he adds. From long working hours to insensitive employees, Ghosh brings out the often discounted challenges, including their hefty and coarse costumes that weigh up to 1.5 kg.
Sujata Khanna, Delhi
An integral part of Delhi weddings, the bandwallahs seldom associate with those who hire them. “Away from the bright lights of the wedding procession, is a very different life for these musicians,” says Sujata Khanna. She followed Sohan Band on the streets of Delhi, leading a baraat in the auspicious winter season. “These artistes, from the villages of Uttar Pradesh, receive poor wages, have irregular working hours, and live in cramped houses,” adds Khanna, who frames them in their hostile conditions.
Vinit Gupta, Delhi
Unlike other photographs, Vinit Gupta follows no particular band. His “Portrait” series freezes private moments in the personal spaces of bandwallahs from across India. “The objective is to record a scene where there is a mixture of direct information and enigmas, and in which there are visual contrasts between private and public spaces,” says the Delhi-based photographer. The 35-year-old, therefore, photographs musicians who work as farmers and wage labourers around the country, but head to Delhi during the wedding season. There is 62-year-old Laluji, who has been travelling to Delhi to play in a band for more than 30 years now. Ram, 18, cherishes the dreams of migrating abroad.
Richa Bhavanam, Bangalore
Traditionally, there is neither a band nor baraat in South Indian weddings, but there are musicians, in a corner of the hall where they play traditional music as guests troop in. “I hope to portray their lives beyond the wedding hall, find people who capture the rituals or habits that constitute their everyday life,” says Richa Bhavanam. She has them playing music, as people seek divine blessings.
Raj Lalwani, Goa
“The word is musician, not bandwallah,” the member of a Goan brass band corrects Raj Lalwani. In the beach town, they music bands denote not just celebration, but also loss. “Their identity testifies to the essence of their practice — faith. Faith, surrounding the reverie of the local village feast, and faith, underlying the loss and contemplation at a funeral,” says the Mumbai-based photographer. He does remorse their death though. Goa has only one trombone player, and a handful who play the trumpet and sax.
Nirvair Singh Rai, Bathinda
Playing in one of the oldest cities of Punjab, the group of men are used to frenzied baraatis in Bathinda. In his photographs, Nirvair Singh Rai brings out their “unbridled happiness”. “These men are at peace with their aspirations, and their little pegs of daaru at night,” says the World Press Photo Award-winner. Rai has them piling into tempos and heading to the venue. The group includes a former conductor in Delhi, and another member who was in the police in Sirsa, Haryana — all of them find solace in the band. “Playing for the band is not my passion, that’s agriculture,” Shubhash tells Rai. For youngest in the group, Rahul, it is another odd job. “Sometimes, I was a waiter, sometimes a tea seller, and now I am settled as a bandwallah,” he says.