Main hu dude very nice

mohini chaudhuri | Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on October 09, 2015

Baba Sehgal said he feels strongly about using language that is distasteful or degrading to women. Photo: G Ramakrishna

Baba Sehgal

Flitter, flutter: (From left) Rapper-actor Baba Sehgal, stand-up comic Tanmay Bhat, and MTV VJ Hoezaay swap notes on their tweeting prowess at the#RiseWithTwitter event organised by the microblogging giant on Social Media Day. Photo: Shashi Ashiwal   -  BL

Like him or hate him, Baba Sehgal cannot be ignored as he storms the internet, one crazy tweet at a time

Every week, the popular YouTube comedy channel Being Indian uploads videos under the theme ‘India on Everything’. Stand-up comic Sahil Khattar roams the streets of Indian cities, mike in hand, taking a straw poll on hot-button topics like the porn ban, freedom of speech or Deepika Padukone’s cleavage. A few months ago, he ventured out with his iPad and earphones to get first-hand feedback on another contentious topic — rapper Baba Sehgal’s latest single, Chicken Fried Rice. The result was somewhat polarising — responses ranged from shock and horror to admiration. ‘Why? Why was this video made? It is pure torture,” screeched a girl after watching it. Another guy who cheerfully head-banged to the entire rap, loved what he heard. “I really enjoyed it. If Rihanna can make a song about an umbrella, why can’t he make a song about chicken fried rice?”

It’s easy to see why the song sparks such extreme reactions. For starters, the lyrics ‘I’m not telling lies, main hu banda very nice. Chicken fried rice, chicken fried rice’ make no sense. Equally mind-boggling is the music video. There’s Baba Sehgal rapping in bright blue shades and a pink vest, interspersed with random visuals of a girl hula-hooping, a speeding car and a DJ — none of which bear any relation to the Chinese dish in question. Yet, the song has over two lakh views on YouTube. So what’s the moral of the story? Like him, or hate him, you can’t ignore Baba Sehgal.

Sehgal’s fan base can be divided into two groups. His most staunch supporters were raised in the ’90s and have vivid memories of the birth of MTV and the Indipop wave it ushered in. It gives them great joy to see the return of the man who gave them tunes like Dil dhadke, Aaja meri gaadi mein baith ja and Thanda thanda paani. Speaking on the phone from Hyderabad, Sehgal clarifies that he never really went away. He’s just taken his business to Hyderabad, where he has built a robust career in the south film industry. “When I check the comments on my videos, I see a lot of people asking, ‘How does this guy survive?’ Not many people know that I have done over 100 songs in Telugu,” he says, with a laugh. He’s even scored a big acting role in the upcoming 3D mythological film Rudhramadevi.

“I started in early-2000 when the pop scene was declining. Devi Sri Prasad (Telugu film music composer) asked me to sing a song and I grabbed the opportunity. The song became a super-duper hit. The crowd started relating to me and called me ‘power singer’. All these south remakes you see in Bollywood — Singham and Kick — I’ve done the original soundtrack. They are mostly the entry song of the hero,” he says.

Before it became completely overrun by Bollywood, the Indian music industry had space for Indipop artistes too. Their sound was distinctly different, more contemporary, hip and westernised. Dabbling in rap, Sehgal stood out amongst his peers for pretty much the same reasons he does today — his whacky lyrics and videos. In 1992, his Dil dhadke premiered on MTV Asia. “Baba Sehgal is legendary. He was as big as Honey Singh is today. He is the only one who thought, ‘I’m not okay with this disappearance’ and has made an effort to come back. And everybody still remembers him,” says Khattar.

The other group of fans are way younger, and hence have no nostalgic attachment to his previous work. Their interest in him is solely based on his inimitable Twitter presence. With gems like ‘ Chappal chhoti ho jaaye toh pao main nahin aati, biwi moti ho jaaye toh baahon main nahi aat i (The slipper cannot fit an overgrown foot; my arms cannot get around my overweight wife) and ‘Saif ki behen is Soha, iron is loha, aaj breakfast mein hari chutney aur poha’ scattered by the minute, he has the Twitter generation hooked to his every word. Besides typing random thoughts, he uses his account to promote his latest videos and occasionally write to international pop stars. ‘Good morning @shakira, have u tried parantha with aloo jeera?’ is one such.

There is a method to this madness, he says. “The best part about digital is that you don’t need money. Even if you make a selfie video, people connect to it. Look at that Superwoman girl. She’s got millions of followers. What does she do? She’s digging her nose, and showing what’s coming out. And people are loving it,” he says. Sehgal had been on social media for a long while but didn’t realise how effective it could be till a silly tweet like ‘Gayle is like a whale’ during an IPL match got him several re-tweets within seconds. “Even a 15-year-old may not be doing as much research on social media as I do,” he says wistfully. “I have a verified account so I come to know who has been visiting my page. A lot of stars from Bollywood have viewed my tweets. Many of them have been used in Comedy Nights (with Kapil).”

Gift of the gab

From a young age, Sehgal had two talents — he was quick with words and could speak really fast — both of which he has used optimally. “Words just come naturally to me. I could be sitting in an aircraft or partying with my friends, I just Tweet when a thought comes to my head,” he says. He offers a telling example of how he’s struck by these flashes of inspiration. “Recently I wrote ‘Bar mein daaru hain, car mein Charu hain, Telugu mein how have you been is ela unnaru.’ Basically, I was in Hyderabad and was going out with a friend who is a Telugu guy and his wife is Charu. So it just happened.”

There have been other Punjabi rappers like Yo Yo Honey Singh and Baadshah who have found success in the intervening years. But Sehgal politely distances himself from them. He says he feels strongly about using language that is distasteful or degrading to women. He has only one ground rule while writing. “I always want to think weird,” he reveals. So far, that mantra has worked wonders for him. His first big song earlier this year begged the question ‘Are you going to the gym?’ “I made the song and uploaded it on SoundCloud and more than 10,000 downloads happened in two days. Now I hear the song is being played in gyms across cities. I went to an aerobic centre in Jamshedpur where people were dancing to it. My next track is about Mumbai ka vada pav which, I think, will play in discotheques also,” he says.

He quickly followed up Going to the gym with other singles like Aloo ka paratha, Snoop Baba and, most recently, Mujhe WiFi chahiye, all of which he uploaded on his YouTube channel Baba Sehgal Entertainment. “I’m a sincere rapper. I take my work seriously. I like to talk about simple things which people relate to. Look at what I’m saying in Aloo ka paratha,” he says, and belts out the lines “ Aloo ka paratha bhaalo, usme thoda malai daalo, phir kis baat ka jhagda baby, mil kar saare khaalo khaalo”. He repeats it, this time slowly, to emphasise each word. He then gives a detailed explanation of the lyrics, which is equally puzzling. “Not too many people know you add malai (cream) to aloo ka paratha. You have to tell your doodhwala the previous night, ‘please bhains ka doodh leke aao (please bring buffalo milk tomorrow)’. When you wake up in the morning, the thick cream on top of the milk is the malai, and if you put that in the paratha, it tastes yum. I’ve shown these visuals in the video. I know people identify with these things,” he says.

Clearly, he has a point.

D-I-Y star

A fortnight ago, Sehgal was invited to perform at the Hyderabad chapter of ComicCon. “Baba has repositioned himself as a comic star. We just wanted to have some silly fun, and his content fell into the right demographic,” explains Jatin Varma, founder of ComicCon in India. Sehgal performed on two days, belting out all his latest tracks. “It was great fun. The hall was completely packed and everybody knew the words to his songs,” Varma adds. Sehgal concedes he owes this renewed interest in him to the digital revolution. In fact, his advice to upcoming artistes is to exploit the social media from a business point of view. “Rather than spending on making a song, and going to a company to make a video that they will release at their convenience, it is better to make your own video and upload it on YouTube for free. I call myself a D-I-Y star,” he says.

The videos for Sehgal’s songs are cost-effective and fuss-free. Once he noticed that people were picking up the track Going to the gym, he quickly called a friend home and shot the video on his iPhone. In two hours it was ready. It shows Sehgal sitting at his dining table, which is laden with food. This is interspersed with inexplicable images of a lady — a friend of Sehgal’s — seductively blow-drying her hair. In Aloo ka paratha, we see Sehgal standing on the wing of an aircraft, his head expanding and contracting like a balloon. “I handle all the editing work myself. I’m quite quick at it. If I’m not looking good I can change myself and also the girls in the video. I know how to make my face big and then burst it,” he says. At the end of this year, Sehgal is slated to perform at NH7 Weekender, the country’s biggest multi-city music festival which boasts performers like AR Rahman, The Ghalat Family, The Raghu Dixit Project and Mark Ronson. It goes without saying that Sehgal is undoubtedly the odd man out in this line-up. But Vijay Nair, founder of Only Much Louder, the company that organises the festival, says that every year he tries to bring in an act that falls somewhere between comedy and music. In the past, this included performances by comedy group AIB and stand-up comic Vir Das’s band Alien Chutney. “I’m sure Baba Sehgal is going to have one of the largest turnouts,” he says with confidence. “I think the kids are really excited because nobody has ever seen him play live. You all know about him, you’ve seen his videos, and obviously on Twitter he’s a storm. A couple of drinks down, I just know it is going to be hilarious.”

One doesn’t have to wait till December to know he’s right.

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Published on October 09, 2015
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