How Nepali songs are blurring the lines between entertainment and sexismSexist euphemisms are ingrained in many contemporary Nepali songs, yet we love them.
When Arjan Pandey’s single ‘Ghati Bhanda Tala Ta Ramri Nai Che’ was released on YouTube in July, the platform’s comment section exploded. The chorus of the song literally translates to “She is at least beautiful from the neck down,” and many identified the song as sexist and said it diminished women to an object. The English translation of a Nepali comment on the platform reads, “This song is disrespectful to all women, beauty is neither above or below.”
Pandey’s song is funky and upbeat, and the music catchy and groovy. But many went online to diss the song's lyrics and called it downright offensive, as it describes lust for the woman’s body despite everything the man in the song is unconvinced within their relationship.
But Pandey’s song is not very different from other Nepali pop songs that describe a woman’s relationship with a man—where the woman’s role is only to react to the man’s experience to make sense of the man’s story. There are some songs that straightaway attack and stereotype women to boost male masculinity. Yet these are the songs that people have enjoyed over the years, making it a trend to make songs that have lyrics that demean women.
“I think the music in such songs tricks us into liking them. If you look at the pattern of these songs, you will notice they are really groovy,” says Seema Ghimire, an avid music listener.
Over the years, many people have enjoyed songs like Kumar Basnet’s 'Chori Bhanda Aama Taruni' and Ram Thapa’s 'Aayo Kali Dhappaka'. In recent years, songs like 'Udhreko Choli', 'Thamel Bazar', 'Kale Dai' and 'Sali Mann Paryo' have wooed music lovers. Many of these songs have even become ceremonial get-together songs that are played at parties and picnics.
While many on the internet have taken issue with the lyrics of such songs, the makers and the actors behind the songs believe that these songs are only representing the truth of society, and are meant for entertainment and to imbue flavour to the movie's storyline.
‘Sali Mann Paryo’, a popular song currently, from the movie Ghamad Shere plays on the chemistry of a sali (sister-in law) and a bhinaju (brother-in law), and has been deemed offensive by many music lovers.
"It is entertaining; but to me, it sounds offensive," says Ghimire.
The conversational song is entertaining and is played more than a dozen times every day on various FM stations. “In movies, we usually have songs to justify the movie’s storyline and sometimes to promote the movie itself. ‘Sali Mann Paryo’ is a song that supports the storytelling of Ghamad Shere, and it is there to justify the characters we are playing in the movie,” says Nischal Basnet, one of the lead actors in the movie.
However, some women believe that these types of songs leverage, even encourage, flirting and teasing between sali and bhinaju.
“Many men still believe they have the right over their wife’s sisters,” says Bindu Sharma, assistant professor at Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus. “Although it stems from our culture, to present it in popular media only serves the social ill.”
With growing awareness of gender-based issues and sexuality, people around the world are progressively becoming sensitive to how entertainment content that uses sexist euphemism encourages objectification of a woman’s body, and, according to activists, normalises demeaning women. Even filmmaker Karan Johar, who is known for his exuberant movies in an interview with the SheThePeople.TV in 2017 said, “The moment you put a woman in the centre and a thousand men looking at her lustingly, it’s setting the wrong example. As a filmmaker, I have made those mistakes, and I will never do it again.”
In Nepal, however, promotional songs have become a raging trend and are a well-thought pursuit for movie promotion. “Definitely, these days, we do think about making promotional songs to grab the attention of people; however, I do make sure that the songs that I am part of are not offensive,” says Basnet.
In promotional songs, it is usually a woman dancing around men, with lyrics describing men’s lustful passion. However, men are rarely put on the same spot.
“I understand that there is a thin line between glamour and obscenity and we have to be very careful. I think songs like ‘Thamel Bazar’ and ‘Kale Dai’ are not offensive because I have been pitched more derogatory ideas for promotional songs and I know the difference,” says Basnet.
Reema Bishwokarma, who acted in the music video of ‘Ghati Bhanda Tala Ta Ramri Nai Che’, also hadn’t found the lyrics of the song obscene. “When I was initially pitched the idea of the song, I was only weighing questions like will people enjoy it or not. And because I found the song entertaining, I didn’t see it as offensive as many found it,” said Bishwokarma.
However, Bishwokarma also believes that going after a song on what it represents isn’t fair, because as actors they are only being dutiful to the character they are playing. “Songs are art, and art reflects society, so if you are saying that this song is objectifying women, then rather than making the song the issue, we should actually look into how women are treated in our community. We should actually try to solve the problem in our society,” says Bishwokarma.
Many studies also say that the recurrence of sexism and misogyny in music lyrics might render the issues of gender, sexuality and cases of abuse as insignificant. Its repetition can make people accept the views of the songs.
“But the reason offensive and sexists songs are consumed without being questioned has to do with the structure we live in. It could be because we have accepted the way women and women-identifying folks are perceived and represented in entertainment content,” says Shubha Kayastha, co-founder of Body & Data, a non-governmental organisation.
But the more significant problem of listening to offensive songs lies in the consumption of these musical entertainments that are available everywhere on the internet and in television and radio broadcasting without any disclaimer or rating, says Basnet.
“If these kinds of entertainment songs are to continue, there should be some kind of information provided to viewers and listeners to tell them that what they are viewing and listening too is adult content or needs parental guidance. And that we haven’t been able to do,” he says.
Kali Prasad Baskota, the lyricist and singer behind the famous 'Sali Mann Paryo’ song, also agrees with Basnet and says that there should be a proper mechanism to publish content for a wider audience. “Our censorship board needs to be strengthened, and it's not just movies that should go through censorship, even songs should be rated and censored,” says Baskota.
While the tension rapper VTEN's arrest caused has slowly died down, the main issue of his detention still needs attention and more initiations from authors of art. "There was no need for moral policing, but the concerning issue the incident brought forward is definitely something that we should conscious about," says Basnet.
Speaking on the influence of offensive songs, assistant professor Sharma shares how she feels uncomfortable when children as young as 10 sing Ghising's lyrics easily and recreate his moves, without being unperturbed by what they mean. “These children cannot differentiate for themselves what is right and wrong, and so it's important to keep engaging in conversations that make people aware about the sensitivity of the various songs they are listening to,” says Sharma.
“Every creator in the art sector needs to be well acquainted with gender and queer issues. We have to criticise offensive songs and assess the graver impacts they make on society. We need to understand that art has a greater influence than we think,” says Sharma.