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.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Watch Ruchir's journey: A story that captures the impact of accessible technology

Accessible technology has the potential to change lives.

“Technology can be a great leveller”, affirms Ruchir Falodia, Social Media Manager, TATA CLiQ. Out of the many qualities that define Ruchir as a person, one that stands out is that he is an autodidact – a self-taught coder and lover of technology.

Ruchir’s story is one that humanises technology - it has always played the role of a supportive friend who would look beyond his visual impairment. A top ranker through school and college, Ruchir would scan course books and convert them to a format which could be read out to him (in the absence of e-books for school). He also developed a lot of his work ethos on the philosophy of Open Source software, having contributed to various open source projects. The access provided by Open Source, where users could take a source code, modify it and distribute their own versions of the program, attracted him because of the even footing it gave everyone.

That is why I like being in programming. Nobody cares if you are in a wheelchair. Whatever be your physical disability, you are equal with every other developer. If your code works, good. If it doesn’t, you’ll be told so.

— Ruchir.

Motivated by the objectivity that technology provided, Ruchir made it his career. Despite having earned degree in computer engineering and an MBA, friends and family feared his visual impairment would prove difficult to overcome in a work setting. But Ruchir, who doesn’t like quotas or the ‘special’ tag he is often labelled with, used technology to prove that differently abled persons can work on an equal footing.

As he delved deeper into the tech space, Ruchir realised that he sought to explore the human side of technology. A fan of Agatha Christie and other crime novels, he wanted to express himself through storytelling and steered his career towards branding and marketing – which he sees as another way to tell stories.

Ruchir, then, migrated to Mumbai for the next phase in his career. It was in the Maximum City that his belief in technology being the great leveller was reinforced. “The city’s infrastructure is a challenging one, Uber helped me navigate the city” says Ruchir. By using the VoiceOver features, Ruchir could call an Uber wherever he was and move around easily. He reached out to Uber to see if together they could spread the message of accessible technology. This partnership resulted in a video that captures the essence of Ruchir’s story: The World in Voices.

Play

It was important for Ruchir to get rid of the sympathetic lens through which others saw him. His story serves as a message of reassurance to other differently abled persons and abolishes some of the fears, doubts and prejudices present in families, friends, employers or colleagues.

To know more about Ruchir’s journey, see here.

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