Made in Trinidad, Stamped in India:Part II
  Sharda Patasar
November 2015

Sharda Patasar straddles two fields, music and academia. She is a sitarist trained in North Indian Classical music and also holds a PhD. in Cultural Studies. Her musical work, comprises both fusion and North Indian classical music. Sharda’s has performed both locally and internationally, including a recital for the Commonwealth Heads of Government 2011. Her work as a musician has informed her academic work in no small measure.


Like most of Anurag Kashyap’s work, Gangs of Wasseypur challenges notions of the perfect India and the Bollywood industry’s preoccupation with romancing the land. The film uncovers reality as much as film can. Set in Bihar, from which many of the indentured labourers to Trinidad migrated, the film was done in two parts, having been too long for a one-part film. In this very structure it breaks the rules of Bollywood’s one film to go formula. The film thus moves through three different time periods. Traveling from the 1940s to the contemporary period, here is a society working through poverty as it contends with urbanization.

The gang violence, upon which the film is based, like any, is political. The music too makes this travel through time in the combination of sounds and textures, mimicking whether consciously and subconsciously the fusion of the urban and rural settings. Globalization after all has broken these barriers, leading to re-definitions of genres and confusion for some who work within particular genres. Some creative minds however very rarely indulge in the limitations that definitions impose, choosing instead to explore the full length of their creativity. For such a film, Sneha Khanwalkar, could not have been a better choice for musical director.

Bold, unapologetic and curious, she arrived in Trinidad looking for musical ideas for Anurag Kashyap’s new film Gangs of Wasseypur. This time, unlike the Kanchan and Babla reinventions, it was the authenticity of the Trinidadian voice and music that caught this music producer’s attention. 

“My first introduction to chutney was “Lotayla”. I was in college at the time and it was such a hit there. I learnt all the words and made my friends do the same. The other one was “Tote He”. It was only when I came here that I realized what it really was implying,” she laughed. “I was really curious about Trinidad and started reading up about it. I was interested to see what over one hundred years of separation from India had done to the music so when Anurag asked me to do the music for the film, it was my opportunity to come to Trinidad.”

Trinidad, brought up on a diet of mainstream Bollywood music, will not be familiar with the songs that made Sneha popular for her musical experimentation. In fact that first film that dared to be different, Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye, never made it to Trinidad. Listen to the songs however, and as Trinidadians we find similarities with our inherited folk musics. The same goes for Gangs of Wasseypur which features an array of music and voices from Trinidad. Three soundtracks utilize Trinidadian singers and musicians.

In a world where barriers between different genres of music are beginning to disintegrate, the music of “Gangs…”, challenges the neat sounds of Bollywood’s mainstream music. Sneha, described by Dibakar Banerjee, director of Oye Lucky, on a Youtube post as the sort of person who would take a backpack and go into the deepest jungle or wherever and get inside the musical soul or root of that area, proved true to that description. Instead of the conventional hotel, she opted for Barataria, in an area that was not exactly the typical tourist location. It was however, one of those places where she could be in touch with many aspects of Trinidadian culture.

There was some degree of planning to her work but a large part of it depended on spontaneity. At any given morning, she would pick herself up, call her taxi driver friend and go looking for music. Linking up with singers like Rasika Dindial, Vedesh Sookoo, paranderos and pannists, she caught the essence of Trinidad, the folk and fringe music cultures, on SD cards.  

“I’m not looking for clean, trained voices. I want the raw ones. Get me someone who can sing a really dirty song.”

Out came “Hunter” in Vedesh Sookoo’s voice.  The song, rendered in English with Hindi interjections, taps into the natural sexual nature of Bihari culture, a feature very prevalent in Trinidad’s chutney music. It is catchy, new to Hindi film and simultaneously very Trinidadian. 

Rasika Dindial

Rasika Dindial’s voice had the local Indo-Trinidadian folk singer’s dhab (essence) and “Electric Piya” made a hit. Local listeners may well recognize a familiar folk melody in it, the idea drawn as it was from a popular folk song “Bhabana Aawe Jaye” that was first rendered by Surinamese singer Ramdeo Chaitoe back in the 1960’s. The shift in voice texures in the song, from Sharda Sinha’s Indian folksy voice to Rasika’s Dindial’s Indo-Trinidadian voice in a sense represents the temporal backdrop of the film. Not entirely the Bihar as indentured migrants had left it, there are now shades of English in the language, a result of urbanization in and around the village. “My loveless and luckless and messed up piya”, does not sound strange in modern day Bihar, much less within an Indian disaporic community. The music reflects these cultural layers that are now contained the Bihar region. The sense of the village, in “Moora”, the earthy sounds of the cuatro, an instrument used in Trinidad’s parang, Trinidadian music producer and performance DJ Robbie Styles’ deep voice, are the sounds of dusty village roads, the lazy sauntering melody, easily reflecting a summer’s evening. This could be the Caribbean too.

The soundtrack of Gangs of Wasseypur is global given the ubiquitous preoccupation around the world with tapping into folk music cultures and fusing it with popular music as a method of trying to reinvent and create newness. It is new to the Indian film industry in the use of unknown singers, many untrained, for whom music is a part of daily and ritual lives. It does not fit the Bollywood music formula. This is the music of the people, common people whom Khanwalkar easily picks out from wedding and other ritual events, and on streets. The creative utilization of voice textures and the range of sounds, that wrap around each other in quirky ways yet remain musical, all represent a range of possibilities for music making within the Indo-Trinidadian community. The possibilities are limitless if we can look in from the outside.

Here are the links for the three soundtracks on which Trinidadian singers and music appear:

Gangs of Wasseypur part I: “I am a Hunter”


Gangs of Wasseypur part II: (Taar Bijli/Electric Piya) (“Moora”)

By: Sharda Patasar | COLUMNS-REVIEWS | November 2015

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