A trained tabla player, Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) alumnus Udayan Biswas always desired to make a film on musicians. So, when his third-year curriculum needed him to make a non-fiction film, Biswas knew what it would be. Shot in the lanes of the Dharavi to the quaint backdrop of Bandra-Worli Sealink, his 22-minute documentary Mumbai Hustle not only shows the rap culture birthing in the city but also highlights the innovations these rappers are bringing to this genre of music.
The film recently had its international premiere at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in France. “I have been quite aware of the rap culture in the city. I knew that at an underground level, a genre like hip hop, which is so dense with metaphors and has a lot of activism attached to it, is brewing. And, I somewhere thought a film has to be made on them,” shares the 29-year-old.
Featuring city-based rapper groups like Dopeadelicz (who sang and acted in Rajinikanth’s Kaala), Swadesi, 7 Bantaiz and Mayavi, Biswas’s film trace the impact politics has on the masses.
“Most of these rappers are from marginalised background and to break apart from that, they are using this music. I have always identified with such movement and activism,” he shares. To capture them and their stories, the filmmaker followed these rappers to their concerts, studio recordings and their hideouts. “I tried to stay away from too much of chest-beating kind of activism and not explicitly showing that they come from slums and how tough their life has been. And, so did the boys. They have moved on in life and are letting their music come out and speak for themselves,” he adds.
While the genre of hip-hop works on time signatures of western classical music , these rappers have adapted to the Indian percussion systems. We have much more experimental and complex time signatures and they rap on them. On top of that, they use their local language. They rap in Tamil, Marathi and Malayalam with the phonetics of their language and have created something new. It was interesting to see how they have re-interpreted hip-hop to the Indian context and in the process, created a true Indian hip-hop genre,” smiles Biswas.
About the challenges that the filmmaker faced, he reveals that some of the boys were sceptical of how they will be shown in the film. So it took him and his team around two weeks to convince them. “These people have used hip-hop as a foundation to grow. As kids, these guys couldn’t afford expensive instruments but the cheapest thing that they could afford was pen and a paper,” he says adding that given a chance to make a longer film, he would like to tackle the sociological of hip-hop in Dharavi.
Recalling his first meeting with the Dopeadelicz crew, Biswas shares, “While we were waiting for Tony in the in Matunga Labour camp with our camera, a bunch of five-six-year-olds who were playing cricket instantly understood why we were there. They approached us to show their beatboxing skills. We were pleasantly surprised to see them beatbox. It was our first glimpse into the future generations who may become a part of this culture one day.”
Having seen this growing musical genre so closely, Biswas takes back the knowledge of creating something from nothing and producing with whatever is available. “This allows one to be free of any external pressure on his or her piece of creation, to be true and individual in thoughts. This knowledge can be applied to everything - music, cinema or art. Most importantly hip-hop taught me to create my own identity, to be strong and stand up for things I believe in,” he concludes.