Who doesn’t love singing or humming along to dhinkchak, catchy Bollywood tunes like ‘Sheila ki Jawani’ or ‘Munni Badnaam Hui’? But how often do you stop and listen to the lyrics of these chart-topping hits? If you listen attentively, you will see that they are quite demeaning to women. Many songs, such as the two mentioned above, objectify female bodies and normalize sexual harassment.
Do we quit listening to Bollywood songs? No, of course not, they’re so catchy! Instead of boycotting the songs, why not change the lyrics? That’s exactly what Akshara did in collaboration with our partners, One Billion Rising India, Ek Saath Campaign, and Girls Count. We decided to encourage young people (the largest consumer demographic of Bollywood) to re write the lyrics of popular sexist songs.
The idea of Gaana Rewrite was to converge creativity and gender consciousness. Akshara wanted to challenge young people to think about what these popular songs promote or condone – harassment, stalking, and even violence – and remix theminto songs that celebrate women’s agency, freedom and equality. This is a challenge to one’s imagination and creativity whilst simultaneously raising gender conscious and awareness.
At the beginning of December 2016, we put up this poster advertising the Gaana Rewrite competition and an application form on our website and Facebook page. We created a set of gifs and short video clips of young people explaining why they found Bollywood songs so offensive and posted them to our Facebook page and circulated them on WhatsApp.
TISS student explaining what she finds offensive about Bollywood songs: https://www.facebook.com/AksharaCentre/videos/1356710587732657/
Our partners spread the word to their constituents across the country. Akshara sent 25 volunteers to visit over 100 colleges all over the city to inform young people about the competition. We held informational orientation events at 20 colleges and workshops to help students rewrite the lyrics. The panel of judges was selected based on their entertainment and/or social justice expertise and renown. It consisted of Rahul Bose, actor, director and activist; Syeda Hameed, ex Planning Commission member and activist; Jyoti Mhapsekar, founding member of Stree Mukti Sanghatana and playwright; and Raj Shehkar, lyricist.
Akshara and its partners were able to successfully spread the word not just in Mumbai but nationally. In just a month and a half, by our January 15th 2017 deadline, we received a whopping 450 submissions! The judges reviewed the entries and selected the winners:
Manisha Gupte wrote alternate lyrics for Naa Jao Saiyaan
2nd. Sadaf Vidha wrote alternate lyrics for Tu Mere Agal Bagal Hai (Khali Peeli)
3rd. Nishat Kraghanthala wrote alternate lyrics for Laila ho Laila
3rd. Ravi Jaiswal wrote alternate lyrics for Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast
In support of the competition, advertising agency O&M produced a music video that highlighted sexual harassment using the alternate lyrics from competition entries.
Here are some powerful images from the video of women taking back public spaces and combatting the sexism they face with lines from the remixed songs:
In February 2017, the Kala Ghoda Festival showcased the music video. The awards ceremony that followed at The Boston Butt, as part of the festival, saw Rahul Bose presenting the winners with their cheques in front of a full house. Singers, Nayantara Bhatkal and Praveen Done, performed the winning remixes to a cheering audience; their performance was live-streamed on social media.
Judge Rahul Bose with three of the winners
Lyrics of winning remixes and original songs:
|Original song: Naa Jao Saiyaan|
|Naa Jao Saiyaan|
Na jaao saiyaan, chhudake baiyaan
Kasam tumhaari main ro padungi
Machal raha hai suhaag mera
Jo tum na honge, to kya karungi
|Original song: Tu Mere Agal Bagal Hai (Khali Peeli)|
Khali peeli khali peeli rokne ka nahin
Haan tujhpe right mera
|Original song: Laila ho Laila|
|Laila main laila aisi hoon laila|
Har koi chahe mujhse milna akela
Jisko bhi dekhu duniya bhula doon
Majnu bana du aisi main laila
Ho ye kaise hain lamhe
|Original song: Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast|
Tu cheez badi hai mast mast
Bol jara tu jaane mehboobi,
Tu ek resham ki dor dor,
Teri julf ghani chit chor chor
|Remix: Naa Jao Saiyaan|
|Naa manu bhaiya pado bhi paiyaan|
Kasam tumhari mein toh ladungi, mein ladungi
Kuchal rahe ho, jo khwaab mere
Jo tum kahoge, kyun mein karungi?
|Remix: Khali Peeli, Khali Peeli|
Khali peeli khali peeli rokne ka nahin
Hain jeena right tera
|Remix: Lailo ho Laila|
|Naari oh naari|
Aaj ki naari
Duniya badal de
Aisi yeh naari
Mardo se kandha ahhaaa
|Remix: Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast, Mast|
Mein ladki badi hu sakt, sakt
Sun le jara tu meri jubaani
Mein ek jwaala ki aag, aag
Chal haath badhayein saath saath
The competition went national and viral, and the response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic and positive. The favorable coverage by multiple media outlets, such as Logical Indian, Ladiesfinger, Huffington Post, Youth Ki Awaaz and The Quint magnified the reach of Gaana Rewrite[see links at the bottom of page].The O&M video sparked dialogue in the cyber world of Facebook with many people engaging with the campaign by commenting, sharing and liking the video; the video was viewed over 6 lakh times and liked over 50,000 times.
Gaana Rewrite coverage in the media: