It was almost a year ago that 18-year-old Maithili Thakur, along with her younger brothers Rishav (15) and Ayachi (12), decided to archive the songs they’d heard from their grandmothers on both sides, and their father, a music teacher. Some of these songs were learned in Darbhanga and Uren, Madhubani, both in Bihar. “We wanted people to listen to the beautiful world of Bhojpuri folk, that’s melodious and has wonderful lyrics. Ye theth Bhojpuri hai. Ise sunna bhi zaroori hai (this is typical Bhojpuri, listening to it is also necessary),” says Maithili, who began making home videos of folk songs such as Koyal bin bagiya na shobhe raja, Pahil paran siya thanal (Bhojpuri sohar), Pagal kahela na (Bhojpuri nirgun geet). Some of these were sung at weddings and births in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, such as Purva pachhimwa se ayile sundar dulha and Aaju Janakpur chahu mangal.
She also recorded Chhat songs, semi classical kajris, horis and chaitis. Among the notable pieces is a tender chaiti, sung in raag Mishra Pahadi — Chait maas chunri ranga de hai rama. It was celebrated in the mainstream after doyens of thumri — Girija Devi and Pt Chhannulal Mishra — took it to great heights. Maithili has sung the semi-classical chaiti with all of its difficult demands — the alaaps, khatkas, murkis and diction. Rishav’s immaculate and crisp rhythms accompany her in this chaiti with taal Deepchandi, while Ayachi’s claps and choruses give it the spark and charm of folk. Their rendition of Sejiya se saiyyan roothi gaile in the same tune is also impressive.
The three young musicians are presenting songs of yore, some of which are sung by classical singers, mostly from the Banaras gharana, apart from folk songs. The latter are often sung by singer Malini Awasthi but the Thakur siblings win by a huge margin. Their repertoire also includes thumris and now on popular demand Punjabi and Rajasthani folk apart from Bollywood covers.
Putting it all on You Tube is a masterstroke. With no special recording equipment, microphones, auto tuners or studio, the three Thakur children sit on their bed in Dwarka, Delhi, with a high-pitched baaja and tabla and sing with gusto.
Apart from lakhs of hits on YouTube, numerous concert offers and a constantly building fan base, Maithili has also been declared the brand ambassador of district Madhubani by the Election Commission. “We had not expected such a response. It is an honour to be termed ‘Mithila ki beti’ and become the brand ambassador. We weren’t even sure if people beyond Uttar Pradesh and Bihar would be interested in our music. But now we are doing concerts in the South,” says Maithili, who recently performed in Coimbatore.
Bhojpuri folk is seldom described as beautiful — the genre is infamous for its innuendo-laden lyrics and bawdy representations through Bhojpuri cinema and through the “naach” in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh — but the trio is unfazed. “This is our heritage. It may not have been represented rightly by a number of people, but it is beautiful. It has the fragrance of our childhood and of the place that these songs come from. We have learnt them from our father,” says Maithili, who has just returned from Mumbai after competing in Viacom 18’s Rising Star on Colours, where she was declared the runners-up. Their father Ramesh Thakur used to teach music in a school and gave home tuitions as well. He would return home and sit with his children. In the last 20 years, they have changed their apartment 17 times. “We could only afford one-room houses and they were mostly attached to someone else’s house. My husband’s riyaaz and that of my children would disturb people and we’d have to leave. These kids were never naughty or troubled anyone but we kept moving so that they could practice peacefully,” says Bharti Thakur, their mother.
After earning through the concerts, the family has bought a one BHK apartment in Dwarka, and has soundproofed it a bit. “Now that these three are popular, people don’t mind so much,” says Bharti, sitting next to award trophies that the trio has received. “I’ve become so busy with them now. They fly out one day and I wash their clothes and keep the next set ready. It has been worth the effort. There is no price for the affection that they are receiving,” she says. The doting mother adds that the three have also received phone calls from the offices of Yash Chopra and Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions with offers of recording for them.
As we leave the apartment, the Thakurs are getting ready to leave for Goa for a concert. “We have never been to Goa before,” says Rishav. The three sing for us too — a Bhojpuri biyah geet that welcomes the bridegroom to the house of the bride on the wedding day. Purva pachhimwa se, ayele sundar dulha, Jhurve lagli re, saasu apni nayanwa (the handsome bridegroom has come from the west to the east; The mother-in-law wipes away her tears of joy) is a simple ditty that highlights the Indian tradition of a song for every ceremony. Listening to it, there is reassurance that this endangered folk form may survive. “It will,” says Maithili.