From Manoj Bajpayee's Bhojpuri rap to Gulzar, Javed Akhtar's poems, a look at how celebs responded to migrant crisis
'Bambai Main Ka Ba,' a searing rap song sung and performed by Manoj Bajpayee, and directed by Anubhav Sinha, tears down the gaze of privilege and asks us to acknowledge the plight of migrant workers.
Sonu Sood, who made his career by playing a mean villain in films, emerged as the most unlikely superhero during the pandemic. For thousands of migrants, he is the man who helped them at a time when they were gripped with fear and were walking for days to an uncertain path with no support or assurance. The actor opened the doors of his hotel in Juhu, Mumbai for healthcare workers of nearby hospitals, arranged transportation services for stranded migrants to reach home, and is now providing employment through an app, named 'Pravasi Rojgar', will digitally connect job providers with the job seekers.
However, beyond the heroic efforts of Sood, a few Bollywood personalities found solace in art. Their contribution to the crisis may not be evident on ground, but in some ways, it was central to draw attention, provoke thoughts, and lend voice to the migrants. In this time of crisis and isolation, the role of art becomes more central to our lives, whether we realise it or not.
Celebs through their art prod us to never forget the visuals of hundreds and thousands of people flocking at interstate borders, waiting to go home, often in dangerously squalid conditions. As the Indian government claims to have no data on migrant deaths, these poems, songs are a sore reminder of the plight of thousands.
Manoj Bajpayee turns rapper with a Bhojpuri song
'Bambai Main Ka Ba,' a searing rap song sung and performed by Bajpayee, and directed by Anubhav Sinha, was released last week. The song is an empathetic look at migrants who come to the city of dreams, Mumbai, to earn a living. The song, with its powerhouse lyrics, compels one to tear apart their gaze of privilege and acknowledge the plight of labourers. Written by Dr Sagar and music by Anurag Saikia, the rap is from the point of view of a migrant who speaks of his longing for home while he toils in the big city. Through all of it, the refrain remains the same, "What is it in Bombay?"
In an interview to HuffPost, Sinha spoke about the song and how it came into being. "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," Sinha said.
Taapsee Pannu recites a short poem
In early June, Pannu recited a poem highlighting the struggles of migrant workers amid the coronavirus -induced lockdown. The haunting illustrations within the video were drawn from real incidents of — labourers walking, cycling or riding in trucks for thousands of kilometres — which emerged during the nationwide lockdown.
We are also reminded of two other horrors that we witnessed during this period — migrant labourers sleeping on the platform being run over by a freight train and a toddler trying to wake his dead mother up.
The poem begins and ends with the same question - "Hum to bas pravaasi hain, kya iss desh ke vaasi hain? (We are just migrants, are we also citizens of this nation?)
Gulzar's poignant take on migrants
Veteran poet, filmmaker and lyricist Gulzar shared a poignant take on migrant exodus, justifying their desire to go home. The constant refrain in his poem is “they will go to die there – where there is life”, implying the cities and workspaces remain places that are identified in terms of their labour and not as human beings. The poem is an aching reminder of the inequitable distribution of pain and the universal urge to go home when crisis strikes.
Javed Akhtar pens a poem for labourers
Akhtar, who won the prestigious Richard Dawkins Award 2020 for critical thinking, is often regarded high for his outspoken attitude on public issues. In an interview to The Wire, the lyricist read his poem written on the lack of empathy for the migrant workers in India during the lockdown. Apart from describing the travails of the hungry, barefoot travels on the hot, burning roads, the poem also slams the misuse of religion by politicians.
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