Du bigha me ghar ba lekin sutal bani tempo me
Zindagi ei ohjrayal bate, nun, tel aur shampoo me
(Back home my house is in a 2 bigha compound but I sleep in a tempo here
And my life here is caught between worrying about salt, oil and shampoo)
Thus begins Bambai Main Ka Ba, a searing rap song sung and performed by actor Manoj Bajpayee, which was released on Wednesday. Over more than six minutes, the song tears apart the comfortable veil through which the privileged class prefers to view migrant workers, with Bajpayee delivering his lines with an expression of amused defiance on his face.
The video, directed by Anubhav Sinha with lyrics by Dr Sagar and music by Anurag Saikia, had more than half a million views on YouTube within hours of its release. The lyrics have been translated into English by senior journalist Sankarshan Thakur.
The lyrics, delivered from the POV of a male migrant worker, speak of his longing for home and chokha-baati while he toils in the big city—sometimes as a security guard pulling double shifts, or as an invisible labourer who builds towering skyscrapers even while sleeping in a leaking shanty himself.
Through it all, the refrain is Bambai Main Ka Ba (What is there in Bombay?)
While art that depicts the lives of migrant workers sometimes tends to romanticise their suffering or view them through a patronising lens, it is the anger in the lyrics that stands out, with Bajpayee speaking of how he would prefer to live back home with his family—except there are no jobs there.
Bhojpuri culture is often associated with vulgarity, thanks to a bunch of soft-porn movies, but there is potential for a rich vein of ideologically powerful art in the language, Sagar, the rap song’s lyricist, told HuffPost India over the phone.
Sagar, who has a PhD from JNU, met Sinha after the director tweeted in June that he wanted to collaborate with people on producing good work in Bhojpuri.
“Anubhav sir asked me to compose a rap song in Bhojpuri to capture the anger and pain of the migrant worker who had to travel back home in penury and even on foot. Rap is a genre associated with rebellion and anger. Anubhav sir gave me the track of an English rap song to understand the rhythm, which I listened to once or twice,” he said.
Sagar was referring to the mass exodus of workers from big cities earlier this year after the Narendra Modi-led government announced a national lockdown to deal with the coronavirus pandemic with just a few hours’ notice. Fearing starvation in cities and with no transport options available, thousands of workers—men, women and children—braved hunger, police lathis and the blazing sun to walk the long distance to their villages. Many never made it home.
Sinha’s executive producer suggested that Bajpayee, who is from Belwa in Bihar, would be the perfect person to perform the song.
Sinha told Ankur Pathak, HuffPost India’s executive editor, that he had wanted to do something with Bhojpuri music for years.
“The migrants that you see, many of them don’t want to be in Mumbai or Delhi but they’re left with no choice. I wanted to comment on that for the longest time but things never worked out. But during the lockdown, it all fell in place. The situation of migrants currently is also a lot more relevant than it was before. I’m glad the song has resonated with so many,” said the director, whose most recent movie was Thappad, which released earlier this year.
Ankur Pathak contributed to this story.