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Big Picture: Suggestive lyrics, discordant notes

It is not exactly music to the ears, and has got more to do with hungry eyes, restless feet and heaving hips. That's how Aman Deol, the 25-year-old firebrand leader of NGO Istri Jagriti Manch, describes current Punjabi music.

chandigarh Updated: Apr 16, 2012 14:13 IST
Aarish Chhabra
Aarish Chhabra
Hindustan Times

It is not exactly music to the ears, and has got more to do with hungry eyes, restless feet and heaving hips. That's how Aman Deol, the 25-year-old firebrand leader of NGO Istri Jagriti Manch, describes current Punjabi music.

The NGO, which deals with issues of women's rights and empowerment, has managed to, quite literally, re-ignite the debate over the content of Punjabi music by burning effigies of singers who, according to Aman, "have turned the female form into a commodity to be sold in the market".

The protests have been held over the past two months across Punjab, targeting five singers - Honey Singh, who prefixes his name with 'Yo!Yo!'; Geeta Zaildar, who has the Manch to thank for the fame he never got earlier; Gippy Grewal, who wonders what's wrong with his "naughty" songs; Diljeet
Dosanjh, who uses video-sharing site YouTube to shout expletives at irate fans but quotes scriptures when asked to respond through mainstream media; and Miss Pooja, the quintessential queen of the truck driver's heart.

The targeted artistes claim they are only fulfilling the market's demands, but Charanjeet Kaur, another of the seven state committee members of the Manch, asks, "What about social responsibility?"

Diljeet, who has several religious albums to his credit besides the hugely popular pop song 'Lakk twenty-eight kudi da' which has attracted the ire of the activists, has this to say about social responsibility: "According to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, God has assigned everyone duties. That's all."

Honey, apparently, has a policy of near-zero interaction with the media, while Pooja went incommunicado after a man picked up her phone, listened to the topic of this report and said she was busy. As for Zaildar, he wants to profusely apologise to those hurt by his 'antics' when he was "young, impressionable and immature".

But Gippy Grewal, whose song 'Angreji beat' with Honey is on top of the charts, has the most interesting argument. "If my dear sisters are protesting, I will try and not release such songs," he says. "But what about those who like these songs?"

"People like a lot of things; do we make everything legal then?" asks lyricist Raj Kakra, advocating censorship for lewd lyrics. Though the likes of legendary lyricist Babu Singh Maan favour "society as its own censor", the Istri Jagriti Manch, too, wants a government-constituted censorship panel, as do lyricist-singer Debi Makhsoospuri and Sufi legend Hans Raj Hans.

What about the existing Central Board of Film Certification?
"The law says that only visual-carrying content needs to be certified. Only those Punjabi songs come under our purview that have accompanying visual content," says Raj Kumar, regional officer of the board, adding that the audio content of such submissions is examined but is not their focus "unless there is utter abusive language". That could leave the room wide open for double-meaning lyrics. But the predicament, it seems, is more basic.

"The problem is that most of the songs on Punjabi TV channels - nearly 95%, I guess - are not cleared by us," Raj Kumar says. "The production companies never apply, fearing the 'A' (adult) certificate, and the TV channels, apparently, are not bothered."

Asked why no suo motu action can be taken, he says, "The number of songs is huge, and I can't find the time to watch and hear each of them. We need complaints, but get none."

Aman says it is not possible to file a complaint on each violation. "That is unimaginable given the size of the Punjabi music industry. That's one reason we have chosen just five singers to protest against, to make right-thinking people aware of what the channels are doing to society," she says.

Simarjyot, programming head of MH1 music channel, rubbishes such allegations. "We have a policy - no telecast without censor certificate. But then, people don't usually realise what the words are; they just like the beat."

Satwinder Singh, part owner of record label Speed Records that manages the five under-fire singers besides several others, too claims he goes by the rules. "If the censor board is okay with innuendo, what role do we have? I am into a business, you see," he says. "Popularity of an artiste de-pends on the listener's individual choice."

"There's no individual choice when every channel plays these songs. You always have those sudden encounters with vulgarity, when you need to change the channel as the songs make it awkward for the family to watch TV together," says Kakra.

He admits that "erotica and vulgarity" have been around for some time, but says the scale of lewd lyrics and their conspicuousness makes them a problem now.

"Even legends like Lal Chand Yamla Jatt sang several suggestive songs in the times of LPs and tapes, but at voluntary gatherings, not in your face everywhere, threatening to come out of the TV screens and scream expletives into your ears," Kakra says.

In the same period that Kakra mentions, Amar Singh Chamkila sang lewd songs that became instant hits - before militants gunned him down in the '80 for the expanse of his 'vulgar' empire.
Babu Singh Maan certainly does not want that level of social control. "At regular intervals, such lewd, low-level art creeps its head up above the acceptable height, and then dies down," he says. "The market will be bored soon, and the turn of high art, or at least acceptably low-level art, will come too."

Hans Raj Hans, however, wants a short-term recourse too. "We can't let the inner pervert take over," he says. "Let's have a board of intellectuals that points out vulgar songs, and the state should then ban these songs."

In 2008, the then Punjab culture minister Hira Singh Gabria announced to set up such a board within a month. Nothing happened. The Istri Jagriti Manch is lobbying for such a body. Kendri Punjabi Lekhak Sabha president Anup Virk even suggests forming an alternative music industry to promote "good, cultured" songs.

Babu Singh is dismissive of all such suggestions. "As long as our people, especially the men, bloody hypocrites, will despise vulgarity in their drawing rooms and at seminars, and then get drunk on lust and perceived modernity and dance to the same songs at weddings, anything that is served hot will sell," he says. Asked if pop music can ever get rid of the 'vulgar' tag, he says, "It's hard to make good art, it's equally hard to appreciate it. Everything else is just a bubble, which bursts after growing bigger and bigger."

Aman says she understands the pragmatism, but insists the effigy-burning is necessary. "Society always has a righteous minority that never stops trying to be the majority," she says. "We are that movement of constant struggle."

First Published: Apr 16, 2012 14:10 IST