For many years now hip-hop and rap have been a platform for alternative creative expressions—an outlet for social and political injustices, cultural issues capturing the spirit of the people through lyrical rhymes. Over time it’s grown and evolved into a lifestyle of sorts—a new-fangled ‘modern identity’ for the mainstream even, but in many nooks and crannies of the world it continues to thrive as a mouthpiece for youth expression, and it’s no different in India. Although Mumbai is considered by many, the home of India’s burgeoning electronic and indie music scene; through the city’s winding alleys a new breed of home-grown rappers have taken it upon themselves to paint verbal images of what they call the ‘new’ India and its lending more authenticity to the genre than ever before.
This musical movement, so to speak, has drawn in a variety of rappers, dancers and numerous artists who had little space to speak their mind nor the opportunity to explore their creativity and imagination, and it is this blooming hip hop culture in one of the world’s largest slums that is explored in Bajao’s ‘Dharavi Hustle’ best, a short nine-minute-long documentary directed by Sachin Pillai.
Taking us through the lanes of Dharavi, we meet B-boys, songwriters, beat boxers and rappers, each of whom play an integral part in the hip hop culture of their ‘ghetto.’ “It’s a way to live your life that has different elements — B-boying, graffiti, DJ-ing, MCing, beat boxing, and each of these play a role in hip hop culture,” says Faisal Sagri, also known as FUZE, in the film.
It all started about a year ago during an intense 3-day-long shoot; “I had heard of Slumgods before as well as Dopeadelicz. When I came up with the idea of the documentary I met Akku from Slumgods and discussed what we wanted to do, then I met Tony Sebastian from Dopeadelicz and he put us in touch with other crews,” says Bhanuj Kappal, Executive Producer of the film, over the phone. “I was looking at exploring subcultures and counter-cultures in India that weren’t so well known.” Writing about the hip hop/rap scene in Mumbai for a couple of years now, this theme wasn’t a new one for Kappal. “The documentaries I’ve seen on Dharavi have always been more poverty-centric. It seemed a good place to start off, start a conversation with its residents and let them talk about what Dharavi means to them in their own words instead of having a narrative imposed upon them,” he says.
Bombay Mafia, 7 Bantai’z, Outlawz, Sout Dandy Squad and Street Bloods are just some of the crews in Dharavi, as Tony explains in film, and with hip-hop collectives like Slumgods active in the area, the foundation is set for the genre to flourish. “Hip-hop is currently a small scene in Dharavi, it works because you don’t need a lot of equipment for it. A theory that I have, and don’t have too much evidence for at the moment, is that hip-hop has a competitive element to it that works for kids on the streets, it allows you to push yourself to stand as a threat against others and not a target — that element ties in with the hip-hop of Dharavi. It allows people to take out aggression in a non violent way,” says Bhanuj. When asked why Dharavi’s youth have taken so keenly to rap he says, “Rap’s poetic, it’s about storytelling from subaltern points of views, which in India is not visible in mainstream society.”
There aren’t any specific growth plans that they have but rather, more goals to achieve, he explains. Most are driven by the desire to get the residents of Dharavi to accept hip-hop, even as they stake a claim for Dharavi to emerge as one of the important centres for rap and hip-hop in the country. If the myriad talents we get to see in this film are anything to go by, it’s likely that it’s only a matter of time before the believe it’s only a matter of time that Dharavi gets its much-deserved recognition as a multifarious source-pool of homegrown artistry.