With Farhan Akhtar acknowledging the issue of sexist lyrics in Bollywood, can the industry follow suit?
Earlier this week, director-actor, and occasional crooner, Farhan Akhtar took to social media to denounce lewd lyrics in Hindi film songs. “Songs that use lewd lyrics are #NotMusicToMyEars and I commit to making sure they’re not part of the movies I make [sic]” his tweet read. In fact, his statement is not an act in isolation. He’s also been made the face of a campaign launched by Love Matters India and OgilvyOne to address how popular media and Bollywood is unwittingly propagating sexism and gender inequality through songs.
Take the example of this rap by Honey Singh from the song Aao Raja in Gabbar is Back. “Laaj sharam ka parda hatake/Rakhunga main tujhe rani banake/Mazaa utha le baby aaj raat ka/Bulb jagaa ke zero watt ka Raja…dheere dheere Raja Raja,” go the lyrics.
Right before his entry into Bollywood, the rapper had made a name when his appallingly lewd demo songs were spreading like wildfire across the country through mobile phones. In 2013, the Punjab and Haryana high courts had even summoned the singer after his songs drew flak for the explicit obscenity in his songs.
A study by Juxt Smart Mandate demands urgent notice at the problem caused by the words in many of these songs. According to the same report, the impact of these is so strong that people have started imbibing its influence on their consumer habits. Not just that, a large number of these songs has had a direct impact on the behaviour of young listeners such as creating gaps in gender equality and violence against women, men.
Senior lyricist Jalees Sherwani who co-wrote the Zandu Balm song for Salman-starrer Dabanng, points at the root of the problem. “These days, no producer tells the lyricist about the storyline,” he sighs. “Songs rarely have to do anything with the storyline of the film. The entire soundtrack is finalised separately. Producers just want one hit promotional song that will help sell their movie — that is where they see the potential for sale.”
Incidentally, Farhan’s father, noted lyricist Javed Akhtar, has been pointing at the appalling state of lyrics that Hindi cinema is facing today. However, he had also lamented on the fact that it is the demand from the audience that necessitates songs with double entendre.
Kumaar, who penned Baby Doll that stars Sunny Leone, says that a masala film will require songs that justify the genre. “Nobody really asks anyone to write dirty lyrics, but sometimes the storyline requires it and sometimes the producers want it. For instance, the storyline of Ragini MMS 2 didn’t require that song, but the producers wanted it, so it is there. Would one write a piece of literature for a song in a movie like Great Grand Masti? If a song helps the producers sell their film, then why not?” Kumaar casually questions.
Actor Swara Bhaskar, who has been quite vocal about her political stand, has been receiving flaks for her new film Anaarkali of Arrah, for the usage of obscene language. To this, she has appealed to put more stress on violence on women than the lyrics and sexuality. Avinash Das, director of the film defends the content-driven realistic films. “In Anaarkali…, the protagonist is an erotic singer and the songs are filled with sexual innuendos, cheap slurs, and double meanings — but that was her. When making the film, the songs were secondary. What we wanted to primarily capture was the journey of an erotic singer. And, the story demanded such songs.”
However, where does one draw the line between entertainment and vulgarity?
“In this industry, we are quick to categorise our songs. But lyrics have a purpose — there is a reason that certain words are used in songs. And, we fail to represent this purpose rightly in our music,” he says.
To change sexist lyrics in songs, Dr Nandita Shah had kickstarted a campaign called Gaana Rewrite, where she held a competition to rework songs that take cheap shots at women. She says, “I think Bollywood is finally waking up to the fact that its lyrics do play a pertinent element in perpetuating sexism. Bollywood has been normalising this behaviour. A lot of filmmakers argue that they aren’t perpetrating harassment, but only giving a character more nuances. However, I feel that if one is to take the implications into consideration, we are better off without it,” she explains.
Avinash concludes, “The problem is that songs with sexual innuendos and double entendre pass the Board because they aren’t straight, not outright with their meaning. In songs — like the ones in my film — talk boldly of change and revolution. But, this isn’t what society wants.”