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News |  15 Sep 2016 15:42 |  By Suhas Thobbi

Dharavi Hustle: The latest effort to promote the evolving sub-culture of underground music

MUMBAI: Towards the end of the 1980s, and a decade before joining Rolling Stone, noted music journalist Rob Sheffield recollected the general opinion to that era’s live music scene as “discouraging and lame”. Sheffield disapproved the notion then, and three decades later, owes the period for the explosion of hip-hop genre, and how the phenomenon revitalised the other sub cultures around it.

It’s an equally exciting time to be a music journalist in India. What Sheffield observed in the American eco-system then does stand relevant in India today. And Mumbai, once again, finds itself at the center of a possible explosion of a culture that has – globally - outgrown into ‘beyond music’ practice. To understand the potential of this culture, Hip Hop, that found its way into the Indian sub-continent several years after the concept gradually gripped the rest of the world, director Sachin Pillai and the then Content Head at Bajaao Bhanuj Kappal gave life to the latter's idea of documentary ‘Dharavi Hustle’, in an effort to provide a glimpse of what was going on inside the continent’s one of the biggest slums.

What began as a mere discovery of the unheard and unappreciated talent turned into the messenger of the philosophical perspective of these talents towards hip hop, rap, b-boying, graffiti and other similar art forms. The nine-minute-long documentary only skims the surface of the elaborated and spread-out hip hop culture in Dharavi, and at the same time, provides a better idea into the reasons for the genre’s surprising growth in popularity (as compared to other genres) in this part of Mumbai.

“Bhanuj Kappal approached me and asked me if I'd like to make anything music related in Mumbai. We both agreed that this would be a great film to do as a quick short piece of discovery. Bajaao funded the film and Bhanuj set up meetings and interactions to make the film happen,” informed director Pillai. ‘Dharavi Hustle’ becomes the first such project for both Bajaao (online music instrument retail outlet that produced the project) and Sachin Pillai, whose earlier directorial work only restricted to ad films and music videos. “When the idea came to me, Sachin (Pillai) was the first name in my list. I worked with Bajaao then, and it was not really difficult to convince the whole team to support the idea. Bajaao has been linked to underground music through some form or another. It has been a mission statement for the company to support sub-cultures,” said Kappal, the brains behind the refreshing mini-documentary.

Hip-hop has gradually found home and support in other areas outside Dharavi, but a documentary focusing on the region made more sense for the creators, as it defines everything that hip-hop stands for. “It’s an Indian ghetto,” remarked one of the community members from Dharavi, in the documentary. For several of these existing artists, Dharavi has remained the only hope. At the end of the documentary, one would crave for more information and wish for an in-depth film about the whole scene – and that stands as an acknowledgment to the brilliant direction and editing (both executed by Pillai). Bajaao defended the length of the documentary emphasising on the short attention span of the viewer as well as the prevailing trends in online video. “We believe shorter length is one of the reasons why it’s gone viral,” replied Bajaao.

The shoot took mere three days, but as every ambitious project, 'Dharavi Hustle' faced a tiny obstacle with regards to the music in its process. “We had approached an international collaborator who initially agreed upon working for the OST of the documentary. However, that did not reach to its hopeful conclusion,” informed Kappal and Pillai, who later assigned Mumbai-based producers and musicians Ankit Lal, Rohan Ramanna and Sid Vashi for the same. And for what it’s worth, the trio’s sincere effort throughout the nine-minute long documentary acts as the icing on the cake.

Hip-Hop, as Kappal explained, has the potential to grow bigger than Rock or Electronica genres. The genre is all about authenticity, and Kappal agreed that the times have improved when compared to the previous decade, in terms of attention towards these sub-cultures. The long overdue attention extends beyond the audience, as brands and venues have realised the true potential and market for these musicians. In the mainstream space, record labels like Sony have shown faith in Divine, and the kind of dedication that once was exclusively reserved for commercial content, has extended to the musicians representing these genres too. The consistent Red Bull engagement through this sound, this year’s dedicated gig in Mumbai ‘Hip Hop Homeland’, and streaming services drive to push these artists’ content has been encouraging, to say the least. The fact that hip-hop music can be ‘localised’ only helps the genre further to reach the audience representing all classes and backgrounds.

The most remarkable attribute about these musicians based in Dharavi is their ambivalent relationship towards mainstream hip-hop, as projected by Bollywood. These Dharavi rappers/hip-hoppers are updated, informed, educated and passionate about the genre. “Rap is about giving a message. It’s not about I got this, I got that and I got bitches…No, that’s just fucked.” An upcoming Bollywood movie, directed by Zoya Akhtar on the subject, comes at the right time and could essentially change how the ‘scene’ will be perceived henceforth. But, historically speaking, Bollywood has a record of ruining it for everyone. In the case of 'Dharavi Hustle', Bajaao and Pillai let these rappers and musicians speak on their own terms and voices, essentially performing the role of storytellers.

Kappal informed another documentary, produced by Bajaao, would be out soon. In fact, Bajaao further added that four more similar documentaries are in the pipeline. As mentioned earlier, it’s an interesting time to be involved in the music scene in India. An Indian DJ filling up an entire stadium for an album launch, a dedicated monthly metal gig, international music festivals penetrating into Indian cities, and now hip-hop has only warmed up to speed. Explosion or a gradual growth, only time will tell, but the culture’s rising dominance is only inevitable.