Bollywood playback singer Zubeen Garg’s refusal to stick to an agreement not to sing Hindi songs during a performance organised to celebrate Rongali Bihu — Assam’s biggest festival — has divided the state.
Zubeen, who has several Hindi hits to his name, left a function in Guwahati on Friday night after he was stopped midway through his number ‘Dil tu hi bata’ from Hrithik Roshan’s superhit Krissh 3.
The festival marks beginning of the Assamese new year and stage functions are organised all over where songs and dances of the state’s various tribes and communities are showcased.
The incident highlights a growing divide in the state over what many say is a forcible imposition of traditions from the “Hindi heartland”.
The first day of the Bihu, dedicated to cattle, also saw a heated online debate over several groups organising “cow worship” sessions. A section of the people say that cows are just pampered in the agrarian state but never worshipped.
“You shouldn’t have called me if you wanted me not to sing Hindi songs. I have sung over 16,000 songs in the past 25 years, I don’t care about your restrictions,” said Zubeen, the hit-maker of the 2006 song Ya Ali from Gangster.
The organisers of Noonmati Bihu committee said they had an agreement with the singer where they insisted on Zubeen sticking only to Assamese songs during his performance.
The singer, who has over 30 shows booked all over state in the next few days, later performed at another Bihu function in Guwahati where he sang Assamese, Hindi and Bengali songs till past 2 am.
By Saturday morning, social media was abuzz with news of the issue with hundreds of Assamese divided on whether Zubeen did the right thing or should he have refrained from singing Hindi songs during Assam’s biggest festival. Many showed solidarity with the singer using the hastag #IStandWithZubeen
This is not the first time Zubeen has been in the headlines for his refusal to stick to conditions imposed by Bihu committees. In 2015, he had refused to wear traditional dress while performing or refrain from singing Hindi songs.
“It was an insult to Zubeen that he wasn’t allowed to sing his own song. The way the organizers stopped him midway was bad. I stand with Zubeen,” popular Assamese actor Jatin Bora told journalists.
Many across Assam shared Bora’s sentiments. But there were thousands of others who thought otherwise.
“If he had an agreement not to sing Hindi songs, he should have respected it,” noted author Ratna Ojha told a local news channel.
Many singers and performers have been opposing a fresh set of guidelines imposed last month by the All Assam Bihu Sanmilani Samannayrakshi Samiti, an umbrella body which lays down guidelines for the celebrations.
Once a solely rural festival, Bihu celebrations came to the urban stage in the 1970s and has grown in size and stature over the years. With corporate sponsorship, Bihu functions are also big business with crores of rupees spent by organisers to invite popular singer who perform to packed houses late into the night.
The apex body of Bihu committees across Assam, which has been issuing guidelines since 2015, had issued fresh directives on timings of functions, dress worn by performers and the fee charged by them.
Like previous years, AABSSS directed that functions must end by midnight, performers to wear traditional or decent clothes, refrain from charging heavy fees and end Bihu celebrations within the month of Bohag.
“Bihu is our identity. It shouldn’t be made into an industry. Ours is just an appeal to keep the festival stick to tradition,” Ranjan Bora, working president of AABSSS had told HT.
Beginning on the first day of Bohag month (on April 14), over 2,000 Bihu functions are held across the state --- and the AABSSS is attempting to unify all events and bring in some uniformity in celebrations.
Following past instances of some singers performing under influence of liquor and an ongoing debate on lyrics and music videos getting raunchy, artists are also requested not to indulge in unruly behavior or sing vulgar songs.
Though there is no general guideline on singing non-Assamese songs, some organisers want singers and cultural troupes to stick to songs and dances from the state and region as Bihu is a traditional festival.