The story behind their new single `The Great Indian Freak Show’.
26th May, 2014 heralded, what I like to think is, India’s menopause. Like habituated members of a family we were quite used to the nation’s PMSish ups and downs, but the sudden and outright way the country began going berserk was something us plebeians were not quite ready for. A government came into power in the aftermath of a vociferous anti-corruption movement. It promised to look into these issues, once sworn in. Then, suddenly, the 'Man' got more vigilant about cows than financial misappropriation, and talking more about chowmein and skirt lengths than bureaucratic corruption. What the hell was going on? “The nation wants to know!”
So the nation asked, through Tweets, and on Quora, in long essay-type FB status rants and their posts. Everybody started liking and sharing ‘The Logical Indian’ and ‘Unofficial: Subramaniam Swamy’ memes and poked fun, and mocked and complained. Dissenting became ‘cool’ instead of purposeful, and all this trend-catching-meeting-political-activism bombarded social media, while very few worked on sending out a message. Recently The Ganesh Talkies (Kolkata based pop/rock band with Suyasha Sen on Vocals, Ronodeep Bose on guitars, Sambit Chatterjee on the drums and Roheet Mukherjee on the bass) tried to do just that, independently on India’s 70th Independence year with the release of their new video “The Great Indian Freak Show” directed by Sourya Sen and shot by Naman Saraiya.
The Ganesh Talkies at Tram Depot
Since the band’s inception in 2011, it has had a penchant for ‘making a statement’ whether through their loud pop-art like clothes, or the weird concoction of a range of genres that gives them their distinctive sound, or their catchy song names, or sometimes simply through their hair colour. They are very regular next door people, middle-class musicians who built their brand through hard work and a whole lot of passion. It comes out on stage. Ganesh Talkies is a self-made band that caught my attention the moment they went live for the first time. The thing is, however, that while the country was experiencing a not so subtle shifting of paradigms, the band also decided to make their statements not so subtle any more. I was keen on probing this as my political heart throbbed with excitement.
Ganesh talkies at work in their jam pad
This is what I did – I landed up at Suyasha Sen’s house, a few days ago and let her treat me to some home-made honey lemon tea first, which later became Old Monk, while we had a great long chat about everything from Feminism to JNU to our redundant education system, and of course, the story behind The Great Indian Freak Show.
Ganesh Talkies behind the scenes
As someone who does not understand the intricacies of music and is a musically challenged (and even ignorant) listener, I was often confused about their ‘sound’ and could not ever really deduce the logic behind their Hinglish lyrics, music and essence. Suyasha explained the theory behind their quirky music quite simply. She said, “Growing up in the 90s in India meant our lives were extremely influenced by Bollywood, so we use it as a common vehicle to connect with millennials”. Well, that sounded legit because I could not remember a day from my childhood that wasn’t spent without mulling over which movie was going to be out next Friday! Yeah, life before INOX and IMAX.
Great Indian Freak show video
We jumped to the video, which struck a reverberating chord the moment I watched it. While I had danced to all their songs at all their gigs (in Calcutta and Delhi) in a drunken swirl and with my Macha (Bengali colloquialism for obnoxious) swag on, this was perhaps my favorite because it wasn’t just designed to make you dance but also came with a powerful and poignant message. Even their earlier songs like ‘Item Song’ conspicuously mocked eve-teasing and the objectifying of women in new Bollywood item numbers, but the music itself was of such a frolicking nature that, to most of the audience, the point was often lost after a few drinks. This also made me think of how different TGIFS sounded compared to all their other songs such as Dancing Dancing, Dendrite and Item Song. I was itching to find out why!
The Ganesh Talkies for The Great Indian Freak Show
“It’s a lot of growing up. Rock is the genre of angry people. You HAVE to scream when you are saying ‘The Great Indian Freak Show’. We realized we were becoming cynical about everything that was going on. We are still very much a pop band but I started listening to music with bands like Nirvana, so the emotion still remains same. Item Song was a sarcastic jibe which is why it was more ‘fun’, but with TGIFS we are trying to be blatant”, said Suyasha, explaining their metamorphosis.
Suyasha was a History student before she left academics to pursue music full-time and continues to be a geek at heart. As such, it’s not surprising that much of their lyrics have a political/social context. However, the TGIFS video seems to be attacking certain specificities of the Indian social fabric and overtures by the incumbent government that have caused insult and injury, akin to our democratic principles recently. Whether it is the teacher educating a class about “sexist joke appreciation” or a student writing “I will not eat beef again” in a classic junior school punishment style (intrinsic only to Indian schools), the attack on issues such as lynching, vigilantism, saffronization of educational text books, the banality of TV reality shows, absurdity of Indian media and what makes headlines, is quite obviously depicted. At the outset, what may look like just a ‘dig’ at majoritarian right-wing politics or the autocracy with which Ms. Manusmriti was handling education is actually trying to shed light upon things that go much deeper, and really, it's just the tip of the ice berg.
Ganesh Talkies live in Kolkata
What GT is trying to do is, to ask important questions. Questions like (as Suyasha pointed out)
“What happened to Abhijeet Sawant from Indian Idol?”- are reality shows made to hunt out and provide a platform to new talent or merely for TRPs?
Or “Why at a Masters level are we still being taught from Wikipedia in supposedly great institutions like Jadavpur University?”
“Why is education in India being imparted in a way that stifles the thinking of a student instead of expanding their intellectual capacities?”
“Why are politicians talking about noodles, skirts and alcohol instead of carrying out engaging and pro-active discussions about rape culture?”
“Why are leading media journalists getting away with talking utter inconsequential crap instead of doing their job, which is objective, critical and perspicacious reporting?”
To sum all of this up Suyasha said, “I still wake up every morning and read the newspapers back to front. Right now Indian society is a little bit of a Circus, hence this, The Great Indian Freak Show”.
Dancing Dancing with the Ganesh Talkies
A few days ago, they played TGIFS live for the first time in front of the Calcutta crowd and, needless to say, I was thrilled before, during, and after with the rest of the people going pretty bonkers. They are also playing in other cities such as Pune and Hyderabad soon, so heads up for that because political as their music have may become, they still have a whole lot of ‘Dancing Dancing’ left in them.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Suman Quazi
Photographs by Suman Quazi and Naman Saraiya