Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ek main aur ek tu hai.. Random thoughts about hiphop.

This post is just some thoughts inspired by Switty Tera Pyar Chaida, a promotional video for Delhi Belly, and Filmi Girl's brief thoughts on it that inspired debate in the comments of this post, as well as Twitter debate that touched on the same topic (I don't know how to link to this so I won't).

I think when it comes to the intersection of hiphop and Bollywood, there are numerous points to consider.

1) Globalness of goth genres. It's clear that these two would not intersect if it were not for the global popularity of hiphop, or the popularity of Bollywood films outside India. But the fact that they are global, brings up a question that problematizes the 'globalness' of them. So we understand hiphop and Bollywood as "things" or as "genres"?

If we classify them as "things", then they can be more clearly defined and located. Hiphop music and culture becomes something that stemmed from the experiences of black Americans in the late 1970's and onwards. It's not just a genre of music with certain characteristics - it's a thing with a certain, definite history. Bollywood as "a thing" would be mainstream Hindi films produced in Bombay/Mumbai.

As genres, I think the boundaries somewhat disappear. A musical dance number in an American sitcom can be considered in the "Bollywood genre", despite it not being in Hindi or produced in Mumbai. Yet there's something "Bollywoodish" about it, so it can be understood to fit the genre. Hiphop as a "thing" isn't produced by two Indian guys, with the son of India's biggest film star providing the vocals, but as a genre, it can accommodate a hiphop song like "Right Here Right Now" from the 2005 film Bluffmaster.

I think it's good to keep in mind both hiphop and Bollywood as 'things', because those I feel like are their "truest nature". It's where the genres stemmed from, and it's where you can still find a lot of variation (so it's not as if its a very purist view). But at the same time, you have to consider the global aspect.

2) Mockery. What's the parody of "Switty", regardless of how funny or poignant it is, aimed at? I would argue the same as those defending it in the FG post - at the endless appropriation of hiphop as a genre by Bollywood film makers because of the idea that hiphop is glamorous, current and cool. But of course, what they really ape is only some aspects of hiphop as a genre - the musical style and the materialistic flair of the music videos (not to mention the objectification of women). So there's bling, cars and girls, not well-crafted lyrical output about the racism of the police or such issues.

I don't think Switty's a fantastic parody - it runs the risk of becoming the thing it mocks to the casual viewer, who will just see as another hiphop-inspired Bollywood promotional video and react accordingly. But I also don't think it's saying, "this is how silly hiphop is". To do that, it would just be ignorant, the same way in which some "Bollywood-inspired" things made in the West come off as insulting because even if they come from a place of love, they boil "Bollywood" as a thing or as a genre down to rather shallow "essentials", which can upset those fans of Indian films who find meaning in the lengthy dance numbers or other factors which these "inspired" thing contain.

3) Who gets to perform, and on whose terms? In hiphop, this is a much more pertinent question than it is for Bollywood, but applies to Bollywood as well, to a certain extent. It's obvious that hiphop's roots are not in the materially rich living portrayed in numerous music videos. At the same time, there are middle class rappers, too. I don't think it's my place to really chip in on this debate; while I do think that hiphop has become a global form of expression and I think a lot of respected, ground-breaking MC's have voiced similar opinions, it's really difficult to draw the lines of what 'feels' appropriate and what doesn't. And a whole other issue is just what is good music and what isn't.

Is Imran Khan performing a mockery of hiphop? In this case I feel like I can confidently say no. He is mocking a 'wannabe' who idolises certain aspects of the hiphop "culture", and the fact that most aspects are rather superficial. But what about white people performing Bollywood style dances and sequences?

Well, it might not be completely insulting, but it can be cringeworthy. I've been thinking about the Finnish bhangra-group, for example. Bhangra is global, but in the sense that desi people make it and perform it and dig it in Punjab, London, Toronto, wherever they may be in the world, and the audiences can be composed of various ethnicities. What are pasty Finns doing declaring their own sub-sect of this genre? I am biased, of course, and one of the things that bothers me is that I understand the lyrics to the song, whose title translates "leaders/commanders are invicible", which hardly gives off the vibe of a respectful tribute, but more of a boast. If you're going to borrow the musical stylings of another culture, at least be respectful. Or maybe I'm just easily irritated...

In terms of "Right Here Right Now", which I reference in the title of the post, it has to be said that this song only takes in aspects of hiphop, and while done in love, can be rather goofy in the way that Abhishek lives out his "rapstar" fantasy in the video. But for all its "trying too hard", it comes out as rather sympathetic to me, as does "Switty" in the end, even though it's more the bits of the movie that they show that make me want to see Delhi Belly, not the promotional video as a whole.

Or am I just a Bollywood apologist, easy to find fault in everything else but it? I don't know. I recognise that there are issues surrounding the problems and I do wish that certain Bollywood film makers would also think twice before making the "hiphop style" music videos for promotion of their films.

Until they do, hiphop producers outside India will rake in good money from the global success of their genre.. Has Bollywood gone down that path as well? Will it? That's probably a topic for another post.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Moments in film, as in time.

[I've not been writing as of late, for various reasons ... I think I'll remain relatively inactive in terms of this blog for most of the summer, but I'm trying to be more relaxed about reviewing films or whatever, so who knows, maybe you'll get some random updates every now and then.]

There is this brilliant little throwaway joke in 3 Idiots, a movie that I feel deserves all my worship of it (and of the fact I've rewatched it like 5 times since I first saw the film), which happens in the toilets of the university, where the guys are washing their teeth, and Raju is stressing out about exams and the antagonism Rancho has built with Virus.

Farhan steps in to assure him, relax, it's going to be fine - "Nothing is impossible."

Raju stops his storming out from the bathroom to turn back at Farhan, and asks, "Nothing is impossible?"

He then empties half of Farhan's tube of toothpaste onto Farhan's palm and says something to the effect of, "Try putting all of that back in there and then tell me nothing is impossible."

I love this joke, because not only is it funny, it demonstrates something we all know about life. Nothing is impossible is true when it comes to most things (other than the truly impossible things, like reductio ad absurdum type of logical fallacies) but of course, putting the tooth paste back into the tube would be an ultimately useless, tedious process that nobody in their right minds would consider taking up, unless they really, really, really needed that specific tooth paste. And even then, unless you're in severe financial circumstances, it'd probably just be better to buy a new tube.

Nothing is impossible, yes, maybe, but some things are so difficult, time-consuming and fruitless efforts, you can question whether they'd be worth it in the end. Nothing is impossible, but some things are so improbable, it's easier to rely on the improbability than it is to put your trust in something happening.

I think as we go through life, we want to believe in 'nothing is impossible' but are faced with certain challenges that make us lose faith, or come across a certain realism that it would just be foolish to keep believing. I'm not saying we should believe, I've never been the type to keep insisting there's no ceiling to achievement or circumstancial / structural things that might prevent certain things from happening. But I guess what I'm saying is, I think when you assess certain situations, and have a determination to make things possible, you know, they just could be.

And that's why I've been thinking about this scene as of late, and of the film as of late. There are going to be some steps I'll take in the future to mold my life in a way that I think Rancho would have liked me to; in a way that hopefully benefits and satisfies me and my future goals. But it's scary, and it's especially scary to think about the end results - what if I don't know myself enough to make the right choices? What if I've still go blinders on and cannot see what I'm really meant to be doing with my life? And is there ever going to be anybody to show me?

Life's not like a movie, things happen randomly and for no good reason, and affect each other in unexpected ways. Good timing comes and goes and who's to say that good decisions taken now will be good decisions in 3 years' time?

It's these sorts of difficulties that the film does not address, nor should it, being an uplifting comedy. It re-affirms life, and the kind of trust you can only place in yourself, but of course, life is so much more complicated and requires different solutions than just the "go-get" attitude movie characters exhibit.

So that's what I've been thinking as of late; a bit of filmi-inspired philosophy for you..