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Bhojpur to Bambai

Surabhi Sharma’s documentary on migrant music looks at the Bhojpuri underground scene in Mumbai

Written by Suanshu Khurana |
September 5, 2013 4:11:59 am

On a balmy evening,in Mumbai’s suburb Nala Sopara,is Kallu,a young man singing to Kalpana Patowari,“I poke my beak in your cup of nectar”. She teases back,“You are eyeing my mango basket”. Three dancers wearing blingy clothes and garish make-up gyrate to the duet on stage. The audience,mostly men between 18 and 40,cheer. Elsewhere in Adarsh Nagar,Vijaylal Yadav sings of longing and love. He announces that these are songs by women who miss their husbands back home. Recording these performances is documentary filmmaker Surabhi Sharma.

The 43-year-old’s recent documentary Bidesia in Bambai is a journey to seek stories of history,contemporary politics and their desires through a community’s musical culture. “The film led me to the fringes of the city,where everything is precariously located in the binary of legal and illegal,and temporary and permanent. What could the musical culture tell me about the life of a migrant worker in the city?” says Sharma,whose interest in tracking music began with Jahaji Music: India in the Caribbean,a film that looked at chutney music. Her other film Jari Mari: Of Cloth and Other Stories,looked at the informalisation of labour in Mumbai.

Bidesia in Bambai takes its title from Bhikhari Thakur’s iconic play,Bidesia. “The title refers to both a tradition of songs about separation,and the migrant who has come to the city,” says Sharma,an FTII graduate,who took three years to complete the project.

The filmmaker follows Patowari,a star in Mumbai’s Bhojpuri scene who is looking for a break in Bollywood,and Ramanuj Pathak,a Nala Sopara-based former taxi and auto-rickshaw driver who talks about the thriving underground Bhojpuri scene,and its erotic songs. For Sharma,“It was a journey of confronting and trying to make sense of the city I live in. My research began with understanding the different genres of Bhojpuri music,and which caste,which festival,and which occasion they were associated with.”

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She began piecing together these stories of them producing and circulating this music,which is mostly inspired by Bhojpuri folk but on many occasions tries to rope in some Bollywood influences. “The music has crossed over from the folk into a contemporary,music industry. People are writing their present lives into these songs,” says Sharma who noticed that the audience often recorded the music on mobile phones that was churned out from the dilapidated studios of Nala Sopara.

Their music features at Chhat pujas,festivals and regular concerts. “Mobile phones are a motif in the narrative of the film because it was a constant while I was filming,” says Sharma. Of this brewing underground scene she reveals,“Music is their enterprise to survive the city,” she says.

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