By Tanaya Patnaik
Underdeveloped and backward, faithfully picked by the choicest super cyclones and wettest of floods, serial and sincere back-bencher in the classroom of Indian states, ostracized for months and years by the national media (but, of course, for super disasters!), by definition described as the region next to Bengal, the forever alone Derp – I am musing about Odisha, my beloved homeland.
I’m completely unapologetic about the above comments about my state – because they are true. Yet, I have always identified myself as a proud Odia. A super proud one. When all is said and done, Odisha is a land of marvels, of stunning sceneries and generous jungles, of palatable ‘Pithas’ and delectable ‘Panas’, of dance and of drama, of twelve months and thirteen festivals, of townies and tribes, of Chromite and Bauxite, of being ranked by the World Bank as the best place to do business and of ancient temples and thriving educational institutions.
There is enough about Odisha to make one feel blessed. And I have always considered myself immensely fortunate to have been born in this land. Somewhere, there always was a belief inside me that ‘hamara number aayega’. A deep-seated conviction that Odisha’s story will be a story worth telling. And I wanted to be a small part of the big story, witness the extraordinary affair unfold and of course put in my tiny bit.
But today I am feeling ashamed to be an Odia because of a recent brouhaha caused by the re-creation of the quintessential Odia song ‘Rangabati’ by MTV Coke Studio, a popular experimental music platform.
We Odias (yes Odias. Odissi is the dance) are warm-hearted and mostly simple. We are peace-loving and not very confrontational. We are a little lazy and this laziness escalates multiple levels post lunch. It is rumored that once we move out of Odisha, there is an astonishing enhancement in our efficiency and ambition, and we flourish in whatever field we pursue. Quite an agreeable bunch. And yes, most, if not all, Odias have two things in common:
1) We complain a lot. We are always whining about how we have been neglected for decades. There is an eternal wait for someone to come and reestablish our lost glory. And when, once in a while, that someone comes, we acknowledge their effort with the PTL Syndrome.
2) We suffer from the PTL (Pull the Leg) Syndrome. Whenever any one or more of our fellow brothers or sisters does something creditable, we unfailingly and systematically pull them down. Pull the Leg and cripple the idiot! We also suffer from chronic STM (Sling the Mud) Syndrome. But that story is for another day.
‘Rangabati’ is a Sambalpuri song from Odisha (originated in Western Odisha) that has over the years attained a cult status. A creation of Prabhudutta Pradhan with lines penned by Mitrabhanu Gauntia, the song has been sung by Jitendriya Haripal and Krishna Patel. To term the song as merely ‘very popular’ would be a glaring understatement. ‘Rangabati’ is much more than that – almost an anthem, ubiquitous in most marriage processions, melodies and festivities.
Before proceeding, I would like to confess that I am not at all conversant with the dialects, literature, culture or music of Western Odisha and will also not pretend to be knowledgeable of the same. I have utmost respect and consideration towards the sensitivities of the people of this region. I am a firm believer in the idea of a united Odisha and feel the amalgam of varied cultural flavors make my Odisha a beautiful place. I also know for a fact that people from all parts of Odisha love Sambalpuri songs and we can never be grateful enough to the makers of ‘Rangabati’ for gifting us this masterpiece.
The song, which was originally sung in Sambalpuri dialect, has been re-created on numerous occasions and in many languages in the past. And recently MTV Coke Studio released a Coke Studio-ish rendition of the same. The music has been rearranged by Ram Sampath. Odia girl Sona Mohapatra of ‘Ambarsariya’ fame has lent her voice to this version. Odia boy and ‘India’s first ‘Rawstar’ Rituraj Mohanty also croons along, blending ‘Bande Utkala Janani’ (Odisha’s State Song) with ‘Rangabati’. There are also a couple of rappers rapping in Tamil in between the verses.
Coke Studio, by their own confession ‘an experiment in fusion music’, has gained enormous popularity and has built up a sizeable group of admirers both in India and abroad. As I type this, Coke Studio’s ‘Rangabati’ on YouTube has 1,521, 225 views, 19,655 likes and 1,297 dislikes. Close on the heels of the online trend, the new “Rangabati’ has received overwhelming positive response from a vast majority of the public and overwhelming bitter objection from a select few which includes the makers of the original.
Naturally there are many questions. Why did they have to put the Tamil rap in between? How could they sing ‘Bande Utkala Janani’ with ‘Rangabati’? Sona’s pronunciation was terrible! Did she have to jump like that? What was the need to recreate it? Songs like these should be best left alone. Messed up lyrics! Is Rangabati actually a folk song? Copyright issues? Right or wrong? By all means there always will be questions especially when it is regarding the remixing of a song that a certain region and generation is so emotionally attached to. And these questions might very well have merit – no one is denying that!
Response to a piece of music is a personal, instinctive and an emotional affair. To be honest, I personally didn’t like the song initially as I thought it lacked the verve and energy of the original. After a few listens, however, it grew on me and now I love it and appreciate the effort behind it. However, it would be nonsensical on my part to vote for a population if certain music should exist or not. ‘Let the listeners decide for themselves’ should be the overriding formula.
But some detractors are alleging that this rendition of ‘Rangabati’ has brought ‘Shame’ to Odisha. Shame.
I think Shame is being ruthless in our criticism towards Sona for mispronouncing a word or two when we are completely cool with our Chief Minister failing to speak the least acceptable sounding Odia even after holding office for more than 15 years and counting. I won’t even be a teeny bit surprised if our CM does not know where the Hirakud dam is and I am mighty serious.
Shame is being absolutely oblivious to who Jitendriya Haripal, Krishna Patel, Prabhudutta Pradhan and Mitrabhanu Gauntia were and what they were doing for the past 40 years.
Shame is when we moan about the fact that Odia language is dying and the youth are not listening to Odia music while, in the very same breath, denouncing a fellow Odia’s visibly earnest endeavor to promote our music beyond the borders of our state.
Shame is when one of the original singers, as a panelist in a television debate where he was vehemently opposing the recreation, was asked what part of the new version he found ‘twisted’ and he responded with ‘ I haven’t heard it properly yet’.
Shame is when the same Sona Mohapatra performed ‘Rangabati’ at a concert organized by a leading Odia entertainment channel exactly two years ago and lakhs of people watched it and its multiple repeats on their television screens without flinching.
How can an attempt to introduce an Odia song to the country and world at large by two Odias bring shame to Odisha? How can the makers of the original song feel that the remake is an insult to the original?
We need to understand that nothing and absolutely nothing can replace the original ‘Rangabati’. The original’s standing is unparalleled. We loved it and will always do. The fact that Sona Mohapatra decided on ‘Rangabati’ to represent Odia music speaks volumes about the original. Originals are the inspiration behind remakes and their essence is never lost. Having said that, I strongly believe there is an inherent need to re-introduce our classics and masterpieces to the younger generations and keep re-re-introducing it for the future generations. For instance, so many Kishore Kumar and R.D Burman classics have been remade and remixed. And these remixes have only served the purpose of popularizing their music and creating a larger audience. They have never disgraced the original or have threatened to diminish its popularity. Like they say, change and adaptation is the way forward. But if we continue to exhibit such severe rigidity to change, in the form of merciless fault-finding, we will miserably fail in promoting the rich music of our state beyond the realms of Odisha.
It cannot be contested that Coke Studio provides a tremendous opportunity to stage our regional music to music lovers spread across the country. ‘Rangabati’ is the first Odia song ever to have been heard and lauded by so many people outside of Odisha. Is this not a fine beginning and something to be proud of?
As a proud Odia, who has always tried to showcase the wonders of my state to the little world of friends I have outside Odisha, more than ashamed I am feeling a little hurt today. Because ultimately, the reality is:
Two young Odia musicians, who have earned some name and recognition on a national level, in an enthusiastic attempt to open the windows of Odia music to a wider audience base outside the state, re-created the Sambalpuri classic ‘Rangabati with a modern feel to it in their own way.
Now to accept it or reject it should be left to the audience. There might have been a few lapses. But at the end of the day, they are only our fellow Odias who wanted to celebrate their roots. There does not seem to be any ulterior intention behind this endeavor. How difficult it is to be a little forgiving and magnanimous?
I am not saying that the Coke Studio version of ‘Rangabati’ is perfect or that there is no scope for betterment. I am no authority when it comes to music, but a lot of simple errors could have been avoided if some more thought and care was invested in the project before releasing it. Like taking permission from the original makers never hurts. Engagement with them can only enrich the performance.
But criticism can be bitter or it can be constructive. The kind of criticism the makers of the original and a few others have subjected the new version to, is stinging, brutal and hateful.
As an Odia, I can’t help but imagine how absolutely beautiful it would have been if the original makers, being very senior in the profession and held in such high regard, had shown their large-heartedness and congratulated Sona Mohapatra along with a few words of advice. How gracious it would have been if they had even mildy reprimanded her, as is done to a junior when he or she makes a mistake. How fitting would it have been if they had communicated their feedback, recommendations and words of caution so that she, as an ambassador of Odia music, was extra careful and considerate the next time she attempts something like this.
(Picture Courtesy: mtvindia.com)
* Tanaya Patnaik is the Executive Director with Sambad, Radio Choklate and Kanak TV. She tweets at tanaya_p