While the music industry might be under the impression that Bhojpuri music sees high physical sales, the local labels, entrenched in the trade, say otherwise. Viewed and presented as raunchy, explicit and vulgar, the genre is today caught in a cusp of transition of format from physical to digital and is yet to widen its appeal to cater to its target audience.
Divya Naik gets to the crux of the business to understand the real picture
It’s 2.30 am in the urbane city of Mumbai. A young gang of girls is intrigued by the music video being played on their television screen. The name of the show is . A woman dressed in an average, day to day salwar kurti, heavy chested is gyrating to the song; complete with sexual connotations. Her ‘yaar’ is a poorly endowed man, almost double her age, with paan smeared across his teeth, lusting after her, eyeing her from head to toe. The camera movements are such that they capture just what they must – the pudenda. There is absolute banter among the young 20 year olds at this frippery.
The above example might as well be an apt instance of the audience that Bhojpuri music has in areas apart from the hinterland. As our encounter with the local tapri-wallahs in the seedy locales of Flora Fountain, Masjid Bunder and Lamington Road in Mumbai have revealed, that the ‘babus’ apart from the taxi and rickshaw drivers also happen to be the prime customers, purchasing bulk, 10 compilations in one go at times. “,” one of them reveals on request of anonymity. Aamchi Mumbai is smitten by the Bihari bug, with small counters being shoved in the lanes of Bandra, Central Mumbai and North Mumbai as well, where the working class needs their daily dose of fantasy.
Proof of the fact that why the age group of these consumers falls between 30 to 50 years and obviously constitutes the male population – apart from the exceptional example given above of the cheeky 20 year old girls.
If you rewind back almost three to four decades, there could be a pinch of culture shock that one could experience. Temple music, devotional chants and bhajans were the essence of the Bhojpuri music scenario. Singer Kalpana Patowary takes us for a walk down memory lane, “Harmonium and tabla were the accompanying instruments, everything was very raw unlike the huge orchestra set up we have today. It was the time of devotional boom.”
The turning point happened to be the advent of peppy wedding songs, which then diversified into many other genres apart from Bhojpuri too. “Twenty years ago, the film industry started flourishing, but that was only for a limited period of time,” she adds. The album released in 2004 was the mode to revival of the film segment. And from thereon, the high note was hit by the genre with producers from Punjab, Hyderabad and neighbouring regions showing remarkable interest. The infectious nature of this viral phenomenon is evident as we notice the ‘ ’ slowly and surely diluting and become a part of the Bollywood culture too. However, times have changed and how.
One cannot digest an offering from Bihar served without the festoons of or . Would you take note of folk tales or even ? Of course, it would only make someone frown or raise an eyebrow or two. ! Fascinatingly, a fresher in the industry was made to croon the first Holi song that came her way which went, “ ” – whose implication dawned upon her much later, causing much embarrassment.
A noted artist narrates that the image in the mind of most key music companies is that Bhojpuri songs have the much perceived connotation of, ‘ , I wanted to rise above the Rs 35 pricing, prevailing in the market.” Times Music, whom she had approached initially was unable to understand her requirements, which then made her shift to EMI Virgin. The album – which threw light over the caste system being a hindrance in the society – managed to garner enough sales – physically and digitally as well. However, that doesn’t shift focus from the fact that folk sub-genres such as kajri (once popular) have lost their patrons, rich literature in Bhojpuri thus becoming overshadowed.’ – a term that has stunted the growth of talented young artists who try to cut a niche for themselves differently. Patowary states, “With my album
It’s the migrants; the labour class population, which find their fantasies comes alive in the crude nature of the lyrics and presentation delivered from the poor, low cost productions, finding their way through Siliguri and Raxaul, the border between Nepal and Bihar.
Approximately 270 million people are estimated to speak this dialect all over the world. Even in these distant lands, with all links from the native culture having dissolved over time, the Bhojpuri diaspora has sparked new trends in music and performance, displaying a remarkable cultural dynamism. Gautam Sarkar, DGM – National Sales Distribution and Publishing, Saregama Music gives more insight by saying, “Most of the consumption can be seen in Nepal, North Bengal, Haryana, Delhi NCR, where the population of migrant workers is at its highest. The hub however, is in Lajpat Nagar Central market followed by Kolkata and Lucknow.” Cochin too has come up as a market recently with Mauritius and the Caribbean towns also having a huge consumer base. That doesn’t come as a surprise since the third language in these regions is Bhojpuri, with a different dialect. The plantation areas in Fiji have a huge migrant population, the primary consumers for this genre.
Narrowing down to India, Kumar Gautam, Chairman at Wave Music Company points out that Punjab, Gujarat, Mumbai are evolving as consumers in a big manner. “The Gulf countries too are starting to show increasing demand now.” He adds.
It is the low spending capacity of this labour class folk that has led to the music companies pricing the albums as low as Rs 35. “Even music videos being sold in the physical format are priced at Rs 45 or 50. This market doesn’t have the DVD format as yet; we are trying to work towards the same,” cites Ajit Kohli, General Manager, A&R, T-Series. He goes on to reveal that single CD recovery in this market is a challenge and hence, one has to play up strategies such as placing products in temples, which helps develop consumer connect. “I must say that each day the price points are lowering drastically”, Kohli warns.
Following the drastic decline of cultural richness, the market was salvaged by the uncouth content that we see today. Item songs started becoming more popular. Sarkar of Saregama Music elaborates, “If you notice, three years back, Manoj Tewari was all over the place and was extremely popular. But then, a huge slowdown took place, we haven’t seen a star of that caliber come up in the market ever again.” Sarkar blames the changing market analytics for the same. “The consumption has rocketed but the monetisation strategies aren’t being adapted to suit the same.” The price changes, though constant are thus not viable for survival.
A similar tune is hummed by Rhythm House’s Mehmood Curmally who feels that folk songs need to be exploited than the vulgar content as it has proved to be a hindrance to the market growth. “It is going the same way as the Punjabi market but the scope is unexplored. One can see the sales picking up but then formats are only limited to MP3 and CDs,” he explains. The thought is echoed by most industry folk, who lament that shops are starting to shut with the web being the only platform for recoveries. R H Chhatrapati, Vice President – Physical, Live and Merchandising, Universal Music India SAARC offers a different perspective by saying; “Demand of visual format is more as compared to audio. Audio is consumed on mobile and physical format; wherein a lot of physical audio MP3 format and side loads are done by the retailers selling recharge coupons to the subscribers.” This is convenient for the most of the people consuming this music are people on the move / working in the fields.
The CRBT players have only but witnessed a miniscule percentage of the market encompassing this genre. OnMobile’s Atul Churamani analyses the genre as not being a digital player at all, counting it to be less than one per cent of the CRBT space. Techzone’s Naveen Bhandari generously gives it three to five per cent of the total market share, by rationalising that there happens to be no consolidated approach among the music companies who are scattered in the space. Bhandari further rues that it’s poor quality content, which has become a problem. “If you look at the genre’s peer group, which has Bengali, Tamil and Punjabi languages, you will observe that the others are culturally a notch higher and richer. Bhojpuri on the other hand falls in the C category, its biggest shortfall to date.”
There are more than 100 labels and or music aggregators in digital and physical world for this genre, among whom Moser Baer has become recently active.
All the relevant players in the industry called for this story had ruled out that the market for Bhojpuri music is majorly reliant on physical sales. Conversations with the local music companies and the retailers showcase a different side of the story. Gautam of Wave Music Company throws light by saying that formats have changed over time, with most content being available digitally today. “The listenership and public reach of the genre has widened. What needs to be made clear is that in comparison to other regional markets the sales are high, but if we take into consideration the status with an industry view, then I can safely cite a decline of 80 per cent as opposed to last year.” He believes that it’s only three to four companies are doing well enough to manage survival.
In consequence, the space is small today, with the investments of the labels being low and the purchasing power also being just as less. The nukkads and tapriwallahs are also the ones blamed by players such as Angle Music, who think that piracy has been the mean monster, eating into the once-spiralling physical sales. Dinesh Yadav of Chanda Music feels that stagnation is taking place with only a handful of teen stars coming up. He sees a 20 per cent decline in sales in comparison to other regional genres. Yadav reasons by voicing the fact that as a medium physical can be easily converted to any other format, especially mobile, leading to the poor trade seen today.
Efforts however are being taken by the labels to push their products by way of discounts of 20 to 30 per cent being offered even on a base price of Rs 25. Mittal Joshi, Proprietor, M4U Music shares that he sees good sales for compilations of three in one albums. “At least 1,000 to 1,500 units of such MP3 albums are seen in a day, while 300 to 400 units of films are sold.” The film industry churns out a movie a week, and four to five movies a month, making the business smoother.
An amusing point to be noted is that most Bhojpuri music videos are released with a (U) or a (U/A) certificate. Sources also state that this applies mostly for home videos; other content doesn’t even need certification. As Chhatrapati of Universal Music opies, “Censor certificates are acquired without much issue, as the local / folk music gets away smoothly as compared to national and international visual content. The visual content generally is not offensive but catering to the local need and demands of people of the region.”
Production of video content has been low key for some years now, with not many dealers jumping into the fray. Vikas Varma, Partner, Launch Pad – Hummra M, points out that Bhojpuri as a market has become a blind spot with Punjabi and Bengali content becoming leaders in the game. The lack of budgets and characteristics such as packaging and viewer interaction are not being paid enough attention to, leading to a dearth of non-film content. There is hence, no competition in the television space with only Mahuaa TV, Humraa TV, Sangeet Bhojpuri and the latest Anjan TV joining the bandwagon. The direct competition is therefore with the General Entertainment Channels (GECs), where polished approach to programming seems to be the need of the hour.
The players have managed to firmly hold their ground and root themselves by managing to crack into the Bhojpuri Speaking Market (BSM), by innovating on the content front. Partha Dey, Vice President – Creatives and Operations, Mahuaa TV, discloses that the channel is coming up with a second season of , a music talent hunt involving auditions for contestants across 24 districts. Dey says that the first season managed seven television viewer ratings (TVRs) for half an hour, urging the channel to come up with a music show every quarter to keep up.
Film content still happens to be the cream of the programming pie, with Mahuaa TV claiming to have the biggest library, leading the acquisition game for years. The fraternity thus has 30 to 40 per cent of content culled out from the film space, with no one wishing to invest in non-film.
There is however, still scope for more channels to crop up and factors such as high impact and low cost can be the advantages that they can play their cards on. “The low cost model is what may work in favour of most investors, else, going overboard can lead to losses,” advises Verma.