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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The return of Baba Sehgal

The original Indian rapper on the struggle of his early days and his role in dicovering AR Rahman.

Written by Alifiya Khan | New Delhi | Updated: December 13, 2015 12:08:02 am
Baba Sehgal at his comeback performance at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune. (Source: Naman Saraiya) Baba Sehgal at his comeback performance at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune. (Source: Naman Saraiya)

“If you’re bitter, what are you doing on Twitter?” In his inimitable, crazy-funny, nonsensical poetic style, Baba Sehgal 2.0, recently silenced a critic on the social networking website. About 25 years after he burst onto the Indian music scene with Thanda Thanda Pani, the Indian rapper who went on a self-enforced sabbatical from Bollywood has returned to the limelight, both online and offline. After his performance at the Bacardi NH7 weekender in Pune, where he showed the naysayers that he still owns it, Baba Sehgal keeps it real in a no-holds barred interview. Excerpts:

You disappeared after the 2000s. Where were you?
I was pretty close. Not many know that I was working in the south Indian film industry where I have done over 100 songs. I play a villain in films, too. I live in Hyderabad. I just left Bollywood, that’s all.

But why did you go away?
I don’t mince words and I don’t compromise on my songs and attitude. If they have to work, it’s on my terms and I don’t go asking for work. I can’t do the koocha-kuchi and air kissing. In Bollywood, there is a lot of insecurity. Today, music producers have started singing. Stars get scared that a singer will get more popular so they start pulling them down. But I am tough to break, my survival instinct is very strong and it comes from my early days of struggle. I never had it easy.

What were those days like?
I came from Lucknow, I was an engineer. My parents were worried how I would survive in a big city like Mumbai and had given me a few months to make it there. But survival ne sab sikha diya. When I made the first music video in India with Dil Dhadke, a paan shop owner at Yari Road was the first to recognise me. What a feeling it was! Someone recognised my face on the street. And the funniest part was I hadn’t seen myself on television then because I didn’t own a TV set! At that time, there was only DD Metro that would play music videos, no private channels had been launched yet.

Would you say that with the multiple mediums available to release one’s work today, it has become easier for artistes?
I would say it’s different now. You can become popular overnight but the question is how long can you sustain that?

What do you make of the current crop of rappers in the industry such as Yo Yo Honey Singh and Badshah?
They are doing their own thing and people are liking it. But if you ask me, there are no rappers today. Just by saying a few lines real fast, it doesn’t mean you’re rapping. If you study rap, it is about telling a story. It’s poetry, a rhythm. Today, they put in some obscenities, party elements or gaalis and call it rap. I know gaalis too but I don’t use them. I don’t get scantily-clad women around me and disrespect them. Because I believe songs have to be about content, if you want them to have a longer run.

At the recently-concluded NH7 Weekender festival, your audience was in hysterics. However, AR Rahman drew the bigger crowd…
Some publications wrote biased copies, they wanted to promote Rahman. Maine unse kaha tumne itna Rahman ka publicity kiya, ek baar likh dete humne Rahman ko “Rukmani, Rukmani” diya. I got Mani Ratnam to get into Magnasound and release the Hindi version of Rukmani in Roja. Personally, I don’t like his sound, others might and I don’t mind saying it. I have worked with all the big names, called them to my studio for a song. Now, everyone has become a big star.

Did you expect the reaction you got at the festival?
Frankly, I knew that I had a loyal fan base but when I saw these 18-20 year olds going crazy and lip-syncing to each of my songs, I was flattered. They even knew the lyrics for songs like Dil Dhadke which was released before some of them were born. With the popularity of my new songs, people have started looking my old ones up and saying, ‘Wow, he has done this too.’

Your songs have changed a lot in terms of content, too. You’re singing about chicken fried rice and aloo ka paratha.
Are you asking me if it’s coming from my dining table? Yeah, I am a Punjabi, I love my food. I love cooking, too. And I think food is on the top of everybody’s mind. So when I write funny songs on food like “Aloo ka paratha kha lo, Usmein thodi malai daalo,” people love it. See the number of shares and likes on my YouTube Channel and you have the proof.

But a lot of people have been criticising your content as nonsense rap…
It’s entertaining for me. They abuse me, call me names. They say kya nonsense song hai, Saale taklu tu apne aap ko sexy bolta hai. I write back to them because it’s fun. Then a fan jumps in and the two start fighting over me. I say, if I am so insignificant, why do you spend one hour to write such long posts abusing me? Itna time nikalkar gaali likhte hain, kuch to baat hogi. Some people get offended by my lyrics while some ask me, how can I think of these things in poetry? Like now I am writing a song about maids — Maid nahi milti hai yaar — about a a universal problem we all face.

You seem to be enjoying your time on social media. Your Twitter handle, @OnlyBabaSehgal, is immensely popular.
I use my Twitter account to release some teasers about my songs but also share my personal thoughts which people find humorous. Recently, I tweeted: “Saturday is dope, Sabun is soap, Mere Karan Arjun aayenge, Ummeed is hope.” Riteish Deshmukh picked it up and said “Baba ki jai ho”.

While most of your songs appear spontaneous, is there is a method to the madness too?
I returned to the scene because a friend told me about Twitter and YouTube. After creating my own channel, I have done a lot of research. I read about trends, what platforms are available and how they work, look up people who have lakhs of followers and study their pattern. It’s not so random, what I do.

On the one hand, you say that you believe in making music that has a long shelf life, but you have been putting newer material out by the dozen. What happened to quality over quantity?
Today’s generation gets bored very quickly. It’s like buying a shirt, they keep asking kuch naya maal aaya kya? Frankly, if I had my way, I would put out a song every week. God has blessed me with the ability to write a new song almost every day.

What are you working on now?
My new song, Party is in Goa, is set to release soon. And I am already halfway though my next songs on maids, Modi’s Make in India and online shopping.

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