If you frequently travel by taxi or auto-rickshaw, then chances are that you’ve heard at least a little Bhojpuri pop over the years. Taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers aren’t just the biggest consumers of the genre in this city, a fair number of them are also the creators of the music, we learn in Surabhi Sharma’s documentary feature Bidesia In Bambai. The film, which will be screened at the Films Division on Saturday, July 20, highlights how most of the non-film Bhojpuri music made in Mumbai centers on the themes of migration, separation and longing. Among the scores of singers in this mini industry is Ramanuj Pathak, a Nala Sopara-based former taxi and auto-rickshaw driver, who has become a popular name on the live circuit. Sharma’s meetings and interviews with him are juxtaposed with clips of Kalpana Patowary, arguably Mumbai’s biggest Bhojpuri singing star (we first saw her perform as part of Trilok Gurtu’s on-stage ensemble during the NH7 Weekender festival in Pune last year).
Over the course of the four years she worked on Bidesia In Bambai, Sharma says she started to veer away from providing “information” to providing an “experience”. As a result, she wasn’t as interested in “the way [the industry] operates in the city” as she was in learning “how [the music] is being heard”. The mobile, for instance, is a recurring motif in lyrics, as almost all the migrants from the Bhojpuri belt of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar use their cell phones as their main means of communicating with their wives and families back home, and as a recording and playback device. Bidesia In Bambai then doesn’t contain an in-depth analysis of the workings of Mumbai’s Bhojpuri pop scene, but rather places you front and centre in a typical music concert, where the 20,000-strong all-male audience relishes performances of songs filled with sexual innuendos. Though the music may be dominated by double entendres and tinny orchestration, Sharma shows us how in a city where working class North Indian migrants are often made to feel unwelcome, they’re able to evoke “a sense of security” at musical events.