In the ghetto of Nizamuddin, 23-year-old Sahil’s broken heart began to dole out sugar-coated platitudes about love. He collaborated with his 31-year-old friend, Nadeem, also born to a flower seller, and together, they decoded the indignation, pain and rage that follow heartbreak under the name Painfull Rockstars. The singers form the nucleus of filmmaker Pankaj Butalia’s latest documentary, Mash Up, which will be screened on September 19 as part of Public Service Broadcasting Trust’s Open Frame 2017.
“What drew me to them was their strong desire to break away from the environment in which they were born. It’s a struggle, and each of us faces that struggle in a different way, but it was particularly interesting for me to see how they were dealing with it. I was keen to put together on film, the daily pressures that they were under and how they were trying to make it work despite those pressures,” says Butalia, who first encountered their story in a news article in end of 2013.
Seated at the Nizamuddin Community Centre, that Nadeem says is “under” them, implying that his family has been appointed as the official caretakers of the recreation centre, the two talk about their love for music, how their passion gave birth to new aspirations and what they have gained and lost along the way.
“I used to love singing Himesh Reshammiya’s songs but the thought of singing professionally only occurred to me after my break up. I was really confused at the time and couldn’t understand what had happened to me. So, one day I decided to write to her but instead of typing out the message, I started writing in my notebook — kyun is tarah se mujhe chod ke, kyun kar gayi tanha, kaise jiya Sahil tere bina, aaja tujhe vasta,” says Sahil of the first song he penned.With little know-how of recording, sound engineering et al, Sahil searched the web for answers. “I figured that one could download free tunes and use them by giving the composer due credit. So, I downloaded the ones I thought would suit my lyrics,” explains Sahil. Their songs can be found on YouTube and ReverbNation under their band’s name.
He located a recording studio in Lajpat Nagar, whose owner would often sneer at them, as they did not own smart phones and took the songs they recorded on memory cards, recalls Sahil. Little by little, he explored the world of music production and now mixes and masters songs on his own at a compact studio built using the monetary help extended to him by the Aam Aadmi Party as well as Butalia. Initially set up to cut the cost of production, Sahil now works as a sound engineer and even pens lyrics for singers who come to his studio.
But technical ignorance was not the only dissuasion. In their faith, music or “useless entertainment” is forbidden. “I really like his music.
All my friends keep singing praises of his voice,” says Nadeem’s sister somewhere in the 27-minute documentary, supported by PSBT. At another point in the film, Sahil’s sister says, “Once Abbu found out about his followers on Facebook and people started applauding bhai’s work, his apprehensions slowly started to dissipate”.“Initially, people in the basti would mock us. They used to tell our fathers that we are wasting our time and would even raise questions about our devotion to Islam. But after the news report, and as they watched Pankaj sir follow us with his camera, their perception of us changed,” says Nadeem, who used to sing at melas and jaagrans on his friend’s beckoning. “But Sahil gave me the confidence that I can do this professionally and don’t have to rely on welding to earn my bread,” he says.
The two harbour dreams of singing for Hindi films. “They’re both invested, but Sahil’s determination, as opposed to Nadeem’s who is quite reconciled to his life of poverty, is more fierce. He keeps looking for ways of getting ahead. For instance, he’s always trying to find out about ongoing trends and how he can fit in with them,” says Butalia, hinting at a rendition of Justin Bieber’s popular ditty, Sorry, that he dubbed in Hindi. “It’s imitative but creative at the same time. You don’t know what’s happening in the world but this is one way in which you come in touch with modernity,” he adds.