The sheer absurdity of our times is ripe for art to exploit. Why should the Bhojpuri music industry hold back? The industry has taken upon itself the prerogative to produce content around the Coronavirus; the marriage of cringe-pop and public service announcements, or in some cases, just cringe-pop. Like the film industry itself, these videos seem to be doing very well, the views fluttering between the millions and high hundred-thousands. Sorting through a dozen of these songs, here I discuss the range, with the 3 most notable ones – either for their cringe quotient or just… entertainment.
Hello Kaun, Coronavirus?
The video has 3.8 million views. Khusboo Uttam, the singer featured, who also moonlights as a devi-jagran performer (Her YouTube channel has “Break Up Songs” side by side with messages on Mahashivratri) has been snowballing in popularity. She routinely puts out videos of her political views in the form of song. (For the recent hanging of the Nirbhaya rapists she sang with an evil grin ‘Chakra sudarshan bankar phansi ka phanda aaya; Rapiston ke gardan par, kanoon ne chalaya’)
This video has her conversing on the phone with her lover who has just returned from China. She asks him doubtfully, as he is constantly coughing, if he has eaten snakes or bats. He keeps asking her to meet him so he can give her the gifts he got her, but she refuses citing that distance needs to be kept:
“Phone pe hi hoga ab apna romance,
Saamne se milne ka nahin koi chance
Mein hoon deewani teri, tu hi mera pyaar hai
Virus corona yeh beech ki deewar hai”
The song gleefully ends with the lover promising to get tested, and Uttam urging her 3.8 million viewers to get tested too, even at the slightest symptom. The songs black out with “Jaan hai toh jahaan hai”.
Non-veg Khaana Nahin, Darling
It’s a great time for words rhyming with Corona! Let me paint you a picture. A girl in a body-hugging red dress is cooking chicken in her kitchen, when her lover (Ashish Keshri) walks in, warning her “Chicken khana nahin darling, Corona pakad lega”. But she’s insistent, staring at the chicken legs in desire, reaching out for it, but her lover keeps stopping her whilst serenading in Bhojpuri:
“Ek piece khao na, O mere shona
Tujhko pakad lega, virus Corona”
One never knows if she ate it or not, the video ends in what we call a cliff-hanger.
Guddu Rangeela, (christened Diamond Star Guddu Rangeela by T-Series) a Bhojpuri star known for his lewd lyrics (His Holi songs are so popular and so crude that when people have protested against the songs, they have been knifed to death in public brawls) too has put out a song urging people to wash their hands ten times with soap. To be fair to his reputation, he also put out a chart-buster ‘Humra Lehenga mein Corona Virus Ghusal Baave Ho’ (He made a similar song on the NRC- ‘Humra Lehenga Mein NRC Lagu Hooke Na Dem’- He has even made dictatorship racy and ribald) The CoronaVirus has also been cited inside a choli in another popular Bhojpuri song.
These are well-consumed cultural works. Their innate problems, suggestive lyrics, home remedies (Corona Bhajans are a thing), largely point towards an audience that demands that, enjoys it even. You can call it escapism, or sexism, it’s here to stay. The argument has been that as Bollywood looked Westwards towards the NRIs, Bhojpuri movies and music came out of the shadows, catering to the hinterland who were isolated by the ‘Multiplex content’. This is not a rationalization of sexism, merely a context-setting
But one can hope for better. And humour one-self along the way, perhaps?