Genda phool, the hit number from the film Delhi-6, is a traditional song from Chhattisgarh that was brought to Bollywood’s notice by the actor Raghubir Yadav, who is from the neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh. Prasoon Joshi translated the lyrics from the Chhattisgarhi dialect into Hindi and A.R. Rahman provided the score.
In tune: Rekha Bhardwaj says the state should promote folk music. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
The song seems tailor-made for Rekha Bhardwaj, who can rightfully claim the mantle as the reigning playback queen of a certain kind of Bollywood number—one with an identifiably traditional or folk element, but also possessing a brazen earthiness that listeners relish. As she recounts the song’s journey from Chhattisgarh to Mumbai to a smash hit all across India, it is obvious that she is still savouring the afterglow of its popularity.
“So many are feeling nostalgic after Genda phool,” she says, recounting how a 70-year-old woman told her that it brought back memories of her youth. She feels that the song’s “simplicity and innocence” won over listeners. “Folk is alive and touches you at another level,” says the trained classical vocalist who burst into popular consciousness with mega hits Beedi jalai le and Namak ishq ka from the 2006 film Omkara (directed by her husband Vishal Bhardwaj).
So it is fitting in a way that Bhardwaj gets prime billing at the second edition of the Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) that will be held at the picturesque Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. She will share the stage with two noted folk artists from Rajasthan—Bhanwari Devi, who sings in the Bhopa tradition, and Rehana Mirza, who sings of the valour and glory of kings and princes in the Maand tradition. Bhardwaj will sing folk songs from Rajasthan and other regions.
Divya Bhatia, festival director of RIFF and the artistic director, Jaipur Virasat Foundation (JVF), stresses that Bhardwaj’s Bollywood connection is incidental. “Her voice quality, which is different…her affinity for traditional music and, on top of that, her classical training—these are some of the reasons why we are featuring her at RIFF,” he says. JVF, along with the Mehrangarh Trust and the Taj Group of hotels, is organizing the festival.
Bhatia also sounds wary of promoting the idea that the three singers will be collaborating on stage. “Rekha, Bhanwari Devi and Rehana Mirza come from three different traditions, have three different voices and different backgrounds,” he says, pointing out that folk music in Rajasthan is but one component of a way of life. Unlike in the West, where it has become a genre of music, folk traditions are alive in India, being much the same as they were 100-150 years ago.
But there is a growing ignorance of, and disconnect with, these traditions. “There is this wrong mythical image of (folk artists) as people in turbans and costumes,” he says. The idea of putting them on stage in RIFF with classical or rock or jazz musicians—national and international—is to show that they are as good.
For her part, Bhardwaj welcomes the trend in Mumbai where music directors looking for “newness” are turning to folk music traditions, but cautions that it is not the film industry’s job to “save” folk music. “There is so much at stake in each film that this kind of responsibility should not be thrown at (the industry),” she says, echoing Bhatia’s view that the promotion of folk music has to be the state’s job.
She also counters the charge that folk tunes are lifted by Bollywood, without credit or benefits to the folk artists. “It is our music too,” she says, recalling the years growing up in Delhi when she regularly sang gidda, bihu and other songs at the folk dance festivals at Bal Bhawan, a government organization that promotes traditional arts among children. At Jodhpur she will have another opportunity to renew the bond between folk and mainstream popular music.
Jodhpur RIFF will be held at the Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur city, from 1-5 October. For details, go to www.jodhpurfolkfestival.org