Documentary channel

Documentary ‘Gali’ explores Delhi’s defiant hip-hop and b-boying culture

The film by Shabani Hassanwalia and Samreen’s Farouqui is a visual document of an unseen and unheard subculture.

If there is an American art form that no longer feels out of place in India, it might just be the culture of hip-hop and b-boying. Over the last several years, hip-hop and b-boying have become hugely popular in big cities across the country, whether as graffiti, a performance on reality television, or the mainstream music of Raftaar and Baadshah.

One aspect of this culture is explored in the latest documentary by Shabani Hassanwalia and Samreen Farouqui. The 70-minute long Gali features musicians and dancers who take inspiration from their environments and neighbourhoods. Gali is set in Delhi, where the filmmakers grew up. The project began four years ago, when Hassanwalia and Farouqui visited the arts space Khoj in Khirki Extension. Something about its multi-cultural environment had always appealed to the filmmakers, and they wanted to explore it further.

Over the next year, the filmmakers began spending more time in Khirki Extension, meeting different rappers in the area. Initially, the dancers and musicians were hesitant, wondering whether this was another group of people who wanted to exploit their art without understanding its context, which they accuse reality television and advertisements of doing.

“We had to convince them that we were not a television channel, but were doing it for the documentary,” Farouqui said. “But once that was clear, they were very forthcoming.”

Gali. Image credit: Hit and Run Films.
Gali. Image credit: Hit and Run Films.

The film, which is funded by a grant from the India Foundation for the Arts, began with a group of b-boyers breaking in front of the Select City Walk mall. “It is such an alien art form, and what is it doing in this kind of neighbourhood: that is the first question we asked ourselves,” Hassaniwalia said.

Rather than exploring the back stories of the artists, the filmmakers focus on their feelings and thoughts and their often politically charged lyrics. The film includes unfiltered versions of their performances, long hours of lonely practice and rap battles that stretch into the night.

While Farouqui and Hassaniwalia, who have been making films together for the past decade, did shoot interviews with their protagonists, they did away the conversations during the edit. It was inspired in part as a rebellion against the internet’s “onslaught of information”, they said.

The directors also wanted to move from the narrative filmmaking that they had used in their previous films, including Out of Thin Air, about Ladakhi cinema, and Being Bhaijaan, about a group of obsessive Salman Khan fans from Nagpur.

“A lot of people wanted backstory,” Farouqui said. “Like most documentaries, we shot more than what appears on screen, but we wanted to only to contextualise the artists within their surroundings. They were owning the frame with what they were doing so, why bring in anything else?”

Gali. Credit: Hit and Run Films.
Gali. Credit: Hit and Run Films.

The world of bboying and rappers is often presented in a hyper-stylised fashion, particularly in music videos. The camera trickery and flashy editing are absent from Gali. Rather, the focus is on the pure athleticism of the human body and the aural rhythm of the lyrics.

“We didn’t want a music video aesthetic, that visual of hip hop doesn’t attract us,” Farouqui said. “We wanted to de-glamourise the music and somewhere look at things in its entirety, to keep it real. That’s what is important for the community, as well.”

Some of the reasons for the allure of hip-hop are unusual. Bboying is a route to joining the police force because it focuses on physical well-being for one artist, while others, it offers a ticket to Bollywood, reality television and a recording contract. For yett others, it is an artistic form of expression that they want to keep pure and free from any kind of commercial exploitation.

Like Being Bhaijaan, which explores the fan culture around Salman Khan but also provided a mirror to masculinity in small town India, Gali looks at the role of gender in b-boying. Barring one, all the performers in the film are male. They are angry and their lyrics come from a decidedly male gaze.

“We are drawn to the performance of gender,” Hassaniwalia said. “And in b-boying, which is mostly a male word, gender is ubiquitous, it is omnipresent.”

Play
Being Bhaijaan.
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

A special shade of blue inspired these musicians to create a musical piece

Thanks to an interesting neurological condition called synesthesia.

On certain forums on the Internet, heated discussions revolve around the colour of number 9 or the sound of strawberry cupcake. And most forum members mount a passionate defence of their points of view on these topics. These posts provide insight into a lesser known, but well-documented, sensory condition called synesthesia - simply described as the cross wiring of the senses.

Synesthetes can ‘see’ music, ‘taste’ paintings, ‘hear’ emotions...and experience other sensory combinations based on their type. If this seems confusing, just pay some attention to our everyday language. It’s riddled with synesthesia-like metaphors - ‘to go green with envy’, ‘to leave a bad taste in one’s mouth’, ‘loud colours’, ‘sweet smells’ and so on.

Synesthesia is a deeply individual experience for those who have it and differs from person to person. About 80 different types of synesthesia have been discovered so far. Some synesthetes even have multiple types, making their inner experience far richer than most can imagine.

Most synesthetes vehemently maintain that they don’t consider their synesthesia to be problem that needs to be fixed. Indeed, synesthesia isn’t classified as a disorder, but only a neurological condition - one that scientists say may even confer cognitive benefits, chief among them being a heightened sense of creativity.

Pop culture has celebrated synesthetic minds for centuries. Synesthetic musicians, writers, artists and even scientists have produced a body of work that still inspires. Indeed, synesthetes often gravitate towards the arts. Eduardo is a Canadian violinist who has synesthesia. He’s, in fact, so obsessed with it that he even went on to do a doctoral thesis on the subject. Eduardo has also authored a children’s book meant to encourage latent creativity, and synesthesia, in children.

Litsa, a British violinist, sees splashes of paint when she hears music. For her, the note G is green; she can’t separate the two. She considers synesthesia to be a fundamental part of her vocation. Samara echoes the sentiment. A talented cellist from London, Samara can’t quite quantify the effect of synesthesia on her music, for she has never known a life without it. Like most synesthetes, the discovery of synesthesia for Samara was really the realisation that other people didn’t experience the world the way she did.

Eduardo, Litsa and Samara got together to make music guided by their synesthesia. They were invited by Maruti NEXA to interpret their new automotive colour - NEXA Blue. The signature shade represents the brand’s spirit of innovation and draws on the legacy of blue as the colour that has inspired innovation and creativity in art, science and culture for centuries.

Each musician, like a true synesthete, came up with a different note to represent the colour. NEXA roped in Indraneel, a composer, to tie these notes together into a harmonious composition. The video below shows how Sound of NEXA Blue was conceived.

Play

You can watch Eduardo, Litsa and Samara play the entire Sound of NEXA Blue composition in the video below.

Play

To know more about NEXA Blue and how the brand constantly strives to bring something exclusive and innovative to its customers, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of NEXA and not by the Scroll editorial team.