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.


Ness said...

whoa! this is awesome, and totally deserves comment - except I'm 100% in agreement with you. and I could never ever have put it this coherently. I'm in awe :)

Filmi Girl said...

Great post! I have to emphasize that when I wrote about the song in my post, I had yet to see the video and was going on the description of it, which referred to it as "hiphop."

I should probably just write my own response on my own blog but I wanted to say that since seeing the song, I do understand that it's aping the "cool dude" vibe that is put forth in similarly-styled song picturizations.

What I find distasteful about "Switty" is complicated and probably not easily debated on Twitter. Those bling-filled hiphip videos have their roots in an aspirational and underprivledged culture. A lot of those rappers came from nothing and to suddenly have cash... well, the more money you have the more successful you are.

It's a nouveau riche low-brow flashing of wealth.

When I think of those types of picturizations in Indian film, my first thought are those low budget, mass market films aimed at lower class audiences, which is exactly who goes to see things like De Dana Dan, which featured one of those songs, "Paisa Paisa." And it was exactly the audience of the hiphop videos.

When I see a middle-brow film aimed at multiplex audiences starring the American-raised nephew of a major star making fun of something that those lower class single-screen audiences enjoy, it makes me uncomfortable.

Is something like "Paisa Paisa" great art? No, of course not. But it just seems so snobby to make a picturization like "Switty" that mocks it.

But is it mocking hiphop? No.

(Am I taking this way too seriously? Of course, but what else is the Internet for.)

me said...

" He is mocking a 'wannabe' who idolises certain aspects of the hiphop "culture", and the fact that most aspects are rather superficial."

Spot on! Thanks for a very thoughtful post. Like Ness, I could not have expressed it better, and am grateful that you posted this.

veracious said...

Ness & maxqnz - Thanks. :)

FG - I do get your point but this was kind of what I was trying to say in the section "who gets to perform and on whose terms". I don't feel I've any authority on the subject of hiphop stemming from experiences of oppressed people. I think reading those discussions are interesting but I can't really have a say in them, I feel.

Similarly, in the Indian context, I think to say these picturizations are aimed at at the same kind of underprivileged people as the sort of glamour of nouveau rich is rather jumping to a conclusion. Do any of us understand Bollywood marketing to the extent that we know what portions of the audience they are aiming at? I think the hiphop picturizations may also be directed at those urban young audiences who dig American hiphop and don't mind listening to similar Indian tunes when they're getting down at the club.

As far as examples of Bollywood classism goes, it's not an example I find easy to judge, hence I found your labelling of it as such rather strange.

Filmi Girl said...

@veracious I'm drawing a lot on my experiences watching mass market Sandalwood films, which often begin with a number like this before entering into the main story - which is usually about regular people. I don't like the idea of slick multiplex types mocking things that single screen types enjoy.

We can agree to disagree on this and it's completely possible that I'm just coming at it from a strange perspective.

Bombay Talkies said...

For what it's worth, "Switty" registers about as high on the "I'm so offended" scale as "Pretty Fly for a White Guy." As in not at all offensive and essentially just a gentle ribbing of the source material.

Re: classism, I agree with Veracious in that assuming these videos are marketed at merely "the poor masses" is rather offensive in and of itself. I get the feeling that they're marketed just as much, if not more, at the urban middle class film goers who ape American culture.

You can never assume that certain types of films or music are solely the purview of a particular strata of society. They rarely ever are.

Filmi Girl said...

@bombay talkies I never said "the poor masses" - I said mainstream audience. Two very different things.

Bombay Talkies said...

Ah, my mistake. I took from reading a lot of your posts and comments on this topic that you thought they were the same thing.

Filmi Girl said...

@bombay talkies I probably said mass audience which to my mind means the same as mainstream.

Dolce and Namak said...

Nice post! And welcome back! My only two cents to add to what you've already captured very well is that I find the hip-hop wannabe video to be caused not just by a need to be hip and cool a la Biggie and P Diddy, but also by the fact that we've seen a serious increase of hero-centric dance sequences. As opposed to the hero dancing with the heroine or doing some traditional dance steps. Now these heroes can't dance for the most part, which didn't matter before when all they had to do was run behind the heroine. But now they have to do something because they're alone in the video, so posing against some sort of badass blingy background was the logical choice. Of all the types of videos that were available, the blingy hip-hop style seems to have the most opportunity for standing around and looking like you're grooving but without actually doing any dance steps.

Not that I'm disagreeing with everything that is completely wrong with importing hip-hop blindly into Bollywood, but I'm trying to think of what the other options were in this context of giving more space to the guys in songs and can't really picture much else. That said, I bet we would not be as appalled by the hip-hop videos if the guys could actually dance to it. For example I did not find any of Shahid's dances in Chance pe Dance out of place, but that's because he actually looks like he fits in that groove. Others... not so much... so parody is the only way out.

Mette said...

Until now I haven't seen the video after my longer vacation, and I won't have the possibility to watch it until next week. However, your post is spot on in many aspects. Actually, I don't know what to say... Ahm... Well, for example about Right Here Right Now... It's so cheesy, but done with love, really. And keeping in mind the genre/thing conflict.
Whatever - I can't think of something intelligent to say - you got it all perfectly right.

tuqire said...
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tuqire said...


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