The 1970s saw the emergence of a new emerging culture. The dark Bronx alleys of, New York gave birth to a movement that would take the world by storm. Four decades since its inception, the Street style still continues to inspire not just a prominent Bollywood film, but a group of talented and young Hyderabadis who are attempting to weave this dance form into the dynamic youth culture of the city.
But how did this ‘Street’ style influence these artists so passionately? For Pratyush Sharma, also known as 4D, it was the film Step Up 2 that opened up new horizons, for Varun Dhopkeshwarkar or Dope V, it was just a happy accident. For Harsha Maheshwari a.k.a Komet, it was her natural inclination towards dance. Gaurav Lalchandani, now a DJ, was just 17 when he was desperately trying to run away from his dad's business. Aishan Vali realised the power of words when he wrote a ‘diss rap’ to disarm a school bully and fell in love with rapping. For college friends, Nikhil Kapur and Chandni Mathur, it was the desire to move away from a 9 to 5 job that led them to become urban artists.
As his friends and colleagues gather around, Aishan explains the concept.
“Street, as a culture has nine elements. MCin’ or rapping, DJin’, breakin' graffiti, beat boxing, street fashion, street language, street entrepreneurialism, and wisdom, knowledge and overstanding” he says.
As first-generation patrons of the art in the country, their journey was challenging. “When I got interested in street dance forms, there were few places in Hyderabad that even taught hip-hop. In fact, it took me three years to meet another dancer who was in the same realm. Most of our training came from YouTube videos and then we would teach each other the new steps that we had mastered,” informs Varun.
Chandni, who now runs the pop art company called Hoozinc with Nikhil Kapur, also has a similar story to tell. She says, “People who ask us to work on graffiti don't understand what it really is. They do not have a concept in mind and just want something within 30 minutes. Explaining this concept often becomes a task.”
So, have people evolved enough to understand these forms? Harsha opines, “In the last five years, the local hip-hop scene has boomed. Now we have artistes from different cities and even countries coming here for performances and competitions that are judged by international judges. Most of us are doing it full time now and earning well doing so.”
However, it’s not just about gigs or a steady income. Pratyush laments that the understanding though gradual, is still not adequate.
“The style is guided by certain philosophies. It is not just about cool moves, but telling a story and expressing yourself. When I meet dancers from other countries, the way they train and the conscious knowledge they have about the style is amazing. The scene in Hyderabad surely has a lot of catching up to do.”
There is also a fair share of stereotyping and misconceptions that they have to deal with. Gaurav Lalchandani a.k.a DJ G-L is aware of it way too well. “Some of the most common misconceptions about us include addiction and substance abuse. People say ‘yo-yo’ with hand gestures without context. Then there are, of course, relatives and family members who say that no one would marry me because of what I do,” says Gaurav jokingly.
Often branded as rebels without a cause, this bunch, however, is motivated towards changing the perception of street artistes. “Art, especially something like street art or graffiti is incredibly powerful. We have to be careful about the contents of our message and also the timing. An ill-timed or provocative graffiti has the power to incite riots, so apart from aesthetics we also have to take this aspect of what we do very seriously. It is a lot more than getting your hand on a can of spray paint and just going to town,” says Nikhil Kapur co-owner of Hoozinc.
However, going ahead, they all dream of creating a bigger and better ecosystem for their scene, similar to what one finds in New York, London or Tokyo. While Pratyush, Gaurav, and Varun hope people take their art more seriously, Nikhil and Chandni want people to understand the power behind graffiti and street arts. And finally, Aishan and Harsha hope to bring more people together for the betterment of the art....