I refuse to bow down to how the industry wants to craft me as a woman: Zeb Bangash
ISLAMABAD:Zeb Bangash’s voice has captured our hearts from the very beginning, but over the years she has evolved into a serious musician of repute across the region. Unlike her contemporaries, she has earned herself great esteem through substance and an impressive body of work.
Her participation in Pakistani music has been supported by the fact that she has heralded many firsts and carved spaces for female involvement. After having lent her expertise to Asim Raza’s debut directorial, Ho Mann Jahaan, Bangash took the music director’s seat with equal aplomb across the border in Alankrita Shrivastava’s award winning, female-oriented endeavour, Lipstick Under My Burkha (LUMB).
(LUMB), which was initially denied release in India due to its sexually charged content, saw the light of the day on 21 July after over six months at the censor board and about sixteen cuts. The film explores female desire and reflects the circumstances of four women from different age-groups as they try to live their dream in small-town India. Director Alankrita is well-aware of the fine line that is to be drawn between social commentaries and mirroring the society, she opts for the latter and gives the subcontinent, perhaps its first fiercely feminist feature.
Sure, the lady-oriented aspect was important to me too,” Zeb began, speaking to The Express Tribune, when asked how she’s reflected on the cause, adding, “However, I took part in the film because I believed in it and connected with the people working on it. I saw a fresh and authentic viewpoint. One’s politics and context is embedded in our art even if one tries very hard to steer clear of making political statements. So when I gel with someone’s personal politics, I am pretty sure I’ll gel with what their art communicates.”
Does Zeb feel that her music has been politically compelling? “I like to keep my politics under wraps,” she chuckles. “Jokes aside, yes I think from the very beginning we had songs like Chup and Rona Chor Dia, which became pop songs of emancipation for many women and men,” shares the singer. Continuing on, the Dilruba Na Raazi crooner confessed, “More importantly, my first album with Haniya (former band-mate) had nine original songs, which mean I was always presenting my point of view musically. There were and continue to be few female songwriters in the scene. Those of us that are there are not always acknowledged for being songwriters also, especially if one sings as well.”
And then very organically, Zeb delved into feminism. “I admit I have been rebellious in my own way. I refuse to bow down to how the industry wants to craft me as a woman,” she says with a hint of pride, and rightfully so. “I feel the most effective way I can practice my feminism is by striving towards authenticity in my work. It’s really hard – it requires rigorous discipline and also taking on self-criticism, which is not something that comes naturally to me. But I enjoy how I grow and evolve through this process so it ultimately gives me the confidence to unapologetically assert myself; makes the journey far more interesting and fulfilling,” she explains.
So is there a dearth of female presence in the media today? “I recently came across a video on a girl from Balochistan who creates ancient instruments out of mud. I wish I heard more about inventors and craftswomen like her in the industry. To me, she was a star. But it’s tough for the media and mainstream brands to imagine her as such because that’s not how we have been trained to view and consume female stardom,” she maintained.
“We’re happy to see women overly glamourised, some of them have very little and in some rare examples even no work to speak of in the market, but they are viewed as stars because they look the part. There is resistance to seeing women outside that mould when it comes to her presence in mainstream media somehow.”
LUMB that traces the secret lives of four women in search of a little freedom, stars Konkona Sen Sharma and Ratna Pathak in leading roles alongside a bunch of raw talent, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur. Contrary to how ecstatic Zeb seemed, her involvement in the film was kept rather confidential until its commercial distribution.
“I don’t really like to talk about my projects until they come out, especially with films; I feel it’s very important to be cautious about how much you give away. Also sometimes the hype that proceeds really raises expectations. This is an Indian film and I haven’t been able to take out time to travel to India properly,” she observed, adding, “It was on the festival circuit for a long time, so I didn’t know what was happening and I needed to have a discussion with Alankrita. We had a talk after the news of the release got out.”
The film’s three-track album comprises a rather whimsical rendition of Bangash’s Coke Studio number Laili Jaan, which she believes despite being a “strong track, got lost in the season’s scheduling.” The second track, Jigi Jigi by Malini Awasthi in the film has often been performed live by Zeb with her international band ‘Sandaraa’ whilst on tour, while Ishquiya is an original composition which directly takes inspiration from Nazia Hasan.
The disco-funk track, is an old-school, softer ode to the pop sensation. Seductive in its mood, Zeb was all praises for singer Neeti Mohan.
“Since the film is set in the town of Bhopal, which has an Afghan-Pathan history, also my heritage – I had already been reworking the tunes, and since folk travels with people and migrations, I thought creating an imagined soundscape, with these elements would work,” she shared. “Alankrita really wanted to have the Nazia Hasan sound for the party. We bonded a lot over Nazia throughout this process.”
Unlike today’s film songs LUMB brings together a wide array of live musicians, from a fully-fledged brass band to klezmer flavours on clarinets and accordion, and the Rabab also shows up in two of the tracks. What’s astounding is how Zeb managed to bring her vision forward in a Bollywood production, more often than not, music directors are closely monitored by the makers. “I am really lucky, Alankrita was on board throughout the process, even Asim (Raza) was very open-minded to my approach which I am truly grateful for,” she responds. “The energy and dynamics one has in live recordings is tough to replicate while programming on keyboards.”
Though LUMB happens to be Zeb’s first released film as a music director in Bollywood, she disclosed, she has already worked on other films in that capacity, in fact she first met up with the director, Alankrita when in Mumbai working on another feature. As a backup vocalist, she has previously lent her vocals to John Abraham and Nargis Fakhri’s Madras Cafe, Alia Bhatt-starrer Highway and Fitoor featuring Katrina Kaif and Aditya Roy Kapoor.
“I have enjoyed working in Bollywood. I was most keen to understand the process involved in churning out songs and how musicians work there because for me the jam-space has always been my primary song-making world,” she said of her journey, adding, “I’ve met some amazing people, who have been loving and supportive to me from the start. Surprisingly many were already acquainted with my music. We in Pakistan follow Bollywood so keenly; it was nice to know they keep an ear out for our music too.”
LUMB’s international release will take place region wise. Zeb concludes on the conversation by sharing her excitement about the successes the film has enjoyed. Not because of its bold statement and how it breaks stereotypes head-on, but due to being a well-made film. “I actually haven’t seen the final cut yet but in a couple of interviews Ratna Pathak has mentioned how people looking for explicit content will be disappointed. LUMB is a well-crafted, sensitive film,” Bangash expressed on a parting note.