The biggest problem with Yo Yo Honey Singh: Bollywood’s embrace of him

by Gautam Chintamani

When viewed in the wake of the recent Delhi gang rape the seemingly innocent ‘Chamatkar-Balatkar’ gag from 3 Idiots (2009) doesn’t seem so funny. In fact you wonder how could someone actually think of a crime as gruesome as rape in a way other than what it really means?

Once the Bollywood heroine told the man she loved that she was not his slave as in the song Bindiya chamkegi from Do Raaste (1969) where she sings Maine tujhse mohabbat ki hai, gulaami nahin ki balamaa. In Prem Nagar (1974), the hero, a bit of a playboy with a drinking problem nevertheless beats a rich man to a pulp for overpowering a woman and tells him “Jab tak auraat haan na bole paas naa aana” (till a woman says yes, don’t come anywhere close.) Today the hero could be a policeman (Rowdy Rathore, Dabangg) a college student (Dil, Hero No.1) or working professional (Hum Tum, Deewana Mujhsa Nahin) or a happy-go-lucky dhaba owner (Dulhe Raja) but he always thinks it to be his right to pester the heroine by every means possible till she falls in love with him.

Honey Singh. Image courtesy: Facebook page.

In the middle of this kind of mindset comes an artist such as Yo Yo Honey Singh whose songs have been nothing but a blatant glorification of misogyny at its crudest. Bollywood’s embrace of him has made an obscure underground rapper into a bona fide playback star. One of his first independent songs is called Ch**t Vol. 1 (Vagina Vol. 1) and if the title wasn’t an indication enough the lyrics, too brazen by any stretch of imagination, go something like: Aja teri ch**t maroon, Tere sar se ch****y ka bhoot utaroon, Ch*****7 ke baad tujhe joote maroon, Tere mooh mein apna l***a de ke m***h maroon (Come let me f*** you till the thought of making love leaves your mind, Beat you with my shoe after I f**k you and then I’ll shove my d**k in your mouth and j**k off). But what made Honey Singh accessible to millions were his Bollywood outings such as Cocktail’s Angrezi Beat Te. In a little over six years Yo Yo Honey Singh has gone from being an obscure underground rapper to a playback singer endorsed by the likes of Akshay Kumar (Khiladi 786), Ajay Devgn (Son of Sardaar), Saif Ali Khan (Cocktail), Anurag Kashyap (Love Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana), Amit Trivedi (Love Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana), Himesh Reshamiya (Khiladi 786, Son of Sardaar) and Pritam (Race 2) amongst others.

He has been one of the most searched personalities online along with Salman Khan and Katina Kaif in 2012 and also occupies two of the top ten trending videos of YouTube for the year that has gone by. He has been lauded as a youth icon on numerous public platforms and has senior politicians like Ms. Sheila Dixit, the Chief Minister of Delhi, breaking out in an impromptu jig while sharing the stage with him.

What kind of society are we if, in spite, of knowing the influence that Honey Singh could wield on the impressionable we not only don’t stop the access to his songs and lyrics but freely continue to associate with him?

We can debate whether banning a Honey Singh goes against freedom of expression but we don’t have to support and patronise him. Mainstream Bollywood’s association with Yo Yo Honey Singh certainly adorns him with popular approval. Most of Honey Singh’s fans are still unaware of songs like Ch**t Vol. 1 and this possibly allows those who collaborate with him to absolve themselves. Even the radically independent Anurag Kashyap believes that one mustn’t judge Honey Singh for his past actions. But the bigger question is that have we as a society become so shallow that we operate on ‘as long as mine is fine’ attitude? Most of those who have worked with him would say that their songs with him were clean and in any case Honey Singh’s songs like Ch**t Vol. 1 were supposed to infest the underground rap scene and never meant for public consumption. If the law hasn’t caught up with Honey Singh, yet, it doesn’t absolve him of making such songs and promoting them in one way or the other. He, as far this writer can vouch for, has not expressed any regret for them on public platform.

Troubled by the revelation of Honey Singh’s past I couldn’t help but put the question about making him accountable to a select group of people whom I considered unbiased and reasonable. To my dismay I saw a reaction that I wasn’t expecting in a case I thought as cut and dry as the one at hand. In spite of suggesting options such as outright banning such songs of his, or asking him to apologize and take the content off public domain or urging filmmakers to boycott him, the reaction was different. A majority of the group consisted of women and they opined that maybe we should look within and question whether banning or boycotting in such an instance was the right thing to do as Bollywood’s mindset has been misogynist for the longest they could remember. They worried that banning Yo Yo Honey Singh’s songs would be a slippery slope to similar reaction for just about everything from an item number, to a ‘Chamatkar-Balatkar’ scene or even an advertisement for Axe Deodorant. One of the filmmakers in question pondered if there would be any difference between the Taliban and those who’d want social ostracism of Honey Singh.

My question is if Bollywood readily gives Yo Yo Honey Singh a pass without questioning his earlier lyrics then are they even serious about taking up social responsibility? Let’s think about his misogynist lyrics now as opposed to our qualms about what the future might hold. Why do we even ask for a debate in a case like this? In the quest of being liberal we refuse to call a spade a spade without endlessly debating lest we come across as unreasonable people. And as such does one really need a debate to know which one is the bigger evil between a 'Main Zandu Balm Huee' and Honey Singh’s 'Ch***ey key baad tujhe jutey maroon (Beat you with my shoe after I f**k you)?