Cuppa Rebellion

Music against Empire A still from Swaang's latest music video Sursuri
Music against Empire A still from Swaang’s latest music video Sursuri

What do you do when the freedom, pluralism and rationalism of your country is attacked? This is the question Swaang asks through their recently released music video ‘Sursuri’, which has gone viral. Perhaps a sarcastic take on ‘Achche din’, or perhaps a peep into the bitter reality of a society that lends an indifferent ear to the growing injustice and intolerance around by relaxing and slurping down cups of chai, ‘Sursuri’ has been popular among the youth for its innovative, long take shots. A Mumbai-based cultural group, Swaang’s 10-odd members include a motley bunch of actors, writers, directors, singers composers, who have primarily been working with the Hindi film industry. Video Director and Lyricist of the group Ravinder Randhawa, in conversation with Srija Naskar, walks the tracks of their previous projects like Maa Nee Meri (a melodic protest against the December 2012 gangrape) and muses upon the idea of progressive art.


Edited Excerpts from an interview.

Our readers would like to know about the Hindi film projects that the members of Swaang have been associated with.

Members of our group work for the Hindi film industry in different capacities as actors, writers, directors, singers, composers, choreographers and producers. They have worked on films like Aarakshan, Satyagraha, Filmistaan, Ship of Theseus, Tanu weds Manu, Hawaizada, 404 and Buddha in a Traffic Jam. We are also busy with various upcoming projects. Hailing from different parts of India, most of us have been associated with progressive arts in the past.

How do you manage to handle independent projects of Swaang, so anarchist in nature, along with mainstream projects of Bollywood?

As they say, ‘if it is important, you will find a way, if not you will find an excuse’.Swaang is not just another thing that we do. It is an integral part of our lives. And we are certainly not anarchists. We believe in democracy and prefer to call ourselves progressive artists. Our songs are songs of justice, equality, peace and love. Intolerance is assuming newer and more sinister shape today in our country. Minorities, women, children, Dalits, tribals are increasingly becoming more vulnerable. Religion is being used as an instrument of polarisation. All this troubles us, makes us restless. We express our restlessness through music. Music is our tool of protest.

‘Mother I will not fear you, Mother I will not become you’ recurs throughout the December 2012 musical production of your Maa Nee Meri, made in response to the Nirbhaya gangrape. Does it hold any special significance?

We decided to make Maa Nee Meri because we felt a sense of collective responsibility. Maa Nee Meri implicates not just the rapists but everyone who has validated and perpetuated the culture of rape. Hence, the line in the song. The song does not pity Nirbhaya. It instead celebrates her courage and her desire to live. Mother and father are used as symbols of parenting. It tries to probe parenting. Parents in India are the first who start instilling fear into the young minds of their girl children in India. From their very childhood they are made to believe that they are weak, vulnerable, a liability and that to be a girl is to always be a ‘safety issue’.

Interestingly, if we look at the data, 98 percent of rapes in India are committed by people known to the survivor. So if there is any place that is most unsafe for a woman, it is actually her own house and the people known to her. Fear is just another tool to repress women.

The song also probes the omnipresence of patriarchy. From the policeman to the politician, judge to a commoner, all have a similar attitude towards women. How can we expect justice and change in this kind of an environment? It is therefore very important that we teach our girls to resist and not run, fight and not fear, speak up and not keep silent. And it is equally imperative that we start sensitising boys at a tender age.


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