Zeb Bangash disappointed by Bollywood legend Usha Uthup

Shanzay Salman

Shanzay Salman

Features Editor
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Zeb Bangash has recently expressed her disapproval of the Bollywood cover of the Afghan folk song, “Bibi Sanam Janem”, in an opinion piece published over Scroll.in After Zeb and her cousin Haniya released their celebrated version of Bibi Sanam on Coke Studio in 2010, the international hit was used in the Hindi film ‘Cabaret’, where it has been sung by Usha Uthup.

Zeb says about the Coke Studio version, “From the moment my cousin Haniya and I released our version of Bibi Sanam on Coke Studio, it resonated with people from Kabul to Kolkata and beyond, becoming one of our most-loved and celebrated numbers. Its success spawned many other versions on YouTube and it was a delight to see and hear people from all over the world engaging with the song with so much love.”

However expressing her disapproval of the Bollywood version, Zeb went as far as to question the authenticity of the Bollywood queen of disco genre ‘Usha Uthup’ saying “I was eager to see what space had been carved out for this beautiful folk classic by the multi-billion dollar industry we all follow and participate in so actively. The names attached to the project heightened my excitement. Usha Uthup, whose beautiful spirit and voice has inspired me since childhood, and Richa Chadha, an actor I respect as someone who stood up against objectification of women on the silver screen.

When I finally heard the song, I was unsettled, disappointed by its re-imagining. I could not find Richa’s spirit or Usha’s voice in the song, neither could I find the soul of Qandahar, Tajqurghan, Kabul jaan, or Sisstaan — all the places the song has referenced.

Instead, the song was forcibly put in a place it was never meant for. I must admit it deeply disturbed me to see a cover of our loving tribute/rendition juxtaposed against the general ongoings of a forgettable Bollywood item song. What was infused into the innocence, the freshness and sweetness of Sistaan is unwanted aggressive sexuality. Sadly, it felt perhaps for the first time a version has compromised the beauty of an ancient poetic, musical and spiritual tradition.”

The Bollywood version she says raises a number of uncomfortable questions, “As artists and art producers we cannot imagine ourselves separate or disconnected from our own artistic product. What then is the value of musical heritage for artists in the South Asian music marketplace today?

She further questioned that artists do need marketing and the corporate sector to put their work forward but has the commercial aspect of it heightened to a point where “even the radiance of a powerhouse like Usha Uthup appears dimmed.”