Monday, August 28, 2006

Chaya Geet: Film Music, Fandom, and Memory

The day after I arrived in Athens, Georgia, to begin graduate studies (august, 1999), I walked to a computer lab on campus, logged on, and discovered rec.arts.movies.local.Indian (r.a.m.l.i) and (r.m.i.m). Over the next few months, I spent many happy hours browsing through discussions (and occasionally participating) of heroes, heroines, villains, playback singers, and music directors of Indian cinema (mostly Hindi cinema) with other fans, many who were graduate students like myself.

Several fans on rmim and ramli also set up websites of their own using space provided by their college/university or sometimes, using services like geocities. One such fan - Sami Mohammed - was a particularly active member of rmim, and also a fan of Naushad and Rafi. A grad student at Lehigh, Sami also developed a series around the popular film music show (on All India Radio's Vividh Bharati) Chaya Geet. The series, as he describes it, is a small tribute to my favorite Vividh Bharati announcer (and Chhaya Geet hostess) Kanta Gupta."

Some of the themes that Sami developed seem to emerge from grad student life in the U.S. in the early-mid 90s, before the Internet, CDs, and VCDs enabled direct and immediate contact with the world of Indian cinema (exams special, FORTRAN 94, Insomnia). Other song lists are developed around emotions such as intezaar (waiting) or bichhaRna (separation) - themes that Chhaya Geet was known for. From what I can read through now at Sami's site and rmim archives, it is clear that this series was a tremendous hit with the hundreds of other rmim-ers.

I like Sami's site for both personal and academic reasons. It is a terrific archive that can help us account for the role of grassroots cultural production in the emergence of an Indian cinematic cyberpublic, well before dot-com companies like IndiaFM and Indiatimes entered the picture (more on this later). And on a more personal note, it resonates deeply with my own sense of being a "fan" of Indian films and film music, and why radio shows like Chhaya Geet, television programs like Chitrahaar, and later, shows like Pepsi Ungal Choice on Sun TV were so important as spaces for fan expression.

As I've mentioned earlier, the "fan" is a marginalized figure in India, thought of primarily as a rowdy (an imperfect citizen in aesthetic, cultural, and political terms). Sami, and other fans on rmim and ramli, are anything but rowdies. And what is more, for many of these fans, it seems shows like Chhaya Geet and Binaca Geet Mala constituted a "virtual" community, a site of participatory culture that was "safe." By safe, I mean both anonymity, and the fact that film music has always occupied an ambiguous "middle brow" position where cultural definitions were concerned (my parents didn't bother me when I tuned in to Chhaya Geet, but they didn't like it when I hung around a street corner fan association!).

Perhaps every fan letter that anchors like Ameen Sayani read out loud on Radio Ceylon and All India Radio served to legitimize a mode of being a fan who was neither a "rowdy" nor a "rasika" (high-culture connoisseur). When Kaanta Gupta opened each episode with the lines, "chhaya geet sunne walon ko Kaanta Gupta ka namaskar," perhaps she brought together a community of fans, convened an adda, if you will, that lasted a mere 30 minutes, but came together each night at 10:00 p.m.
Little surprise then, that "recreating" these shows on the Internet evoked such nostalgic and joyous responses from hundreds of other fans with similar experiences.


  • good written thread, thanks for sharing.

    By Blogger michael, at 8/28/2006 10:26 PM  

  • Michael - thanks! I follow "bollywood bloggers" and enjoy your posts a lot.

    By Blogger Aswin, at 8/29/2006 8:46 AM  

  • also thanks :)

    By Blogger michael, at 8/29/2006 11:12 PM  

  • Hi Aswin
    Do you have any thoughts on why Indian film music was/is considered middle brow?

    I have been a fan since my teens and I remember always feeling pressured to mention Michael Jackson or Madonna as my favorite artists during chats with classmates at my public school in Jaipur.

    By Blogger Durga, at 8/31/2006 3:35 PM  

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