Dissecting The Directors: Beyond Anonymity & Behind The Scenes
Music videos play a major role in capturing the persona of both the artist and their track. We spoke to some of the visual creators who dedicate their efforts to the visual culture of hip-hop.
“You see this shot that looks like a machine shot? It’s actually me just running with a gimbal on stage with the venue manager running behind me to get me off. My ass was literally on screen behind Full Power thanks to the venue’s live cams. We needed the footage for a music video so it had to be done. That’s just how you do shit, when you don’t have shit.”
As I sat with Siddhant Shah talking about his process of video making, I realized just how literally visual creators work their asses off for a single shot. After all the efforts, many music video creators (especially in the Indian hip-hop scene) remain obscure, underappreciated and for the most part, anonymous.
Anonymity or lack of mass recognition is one of the banes of being a music video director. However, artists such as Galat Scenes, Yung Waris, Anurag Sharma and others have been able to cement their positions in the hip-hop scene as the go-to names for powerful imagery to accompany hard hitting music. All aforementioned names have been able to climb out of it for a variety of reasons that set them apart ranging from unconventional branding and easter egg-ing to the more traditional framing, texturing and usage of light.
For instance let’s take Yung Waris, who likes to “flip the audience and disorient them in a fun way". This is reflected in his logo where certain letters are flipped out or inverted. Furthermore, he has a logo that changes with every video he makes while retaining its core design. The evermorphing logo that changes to accommodate the unique vibe of every subsequent song is what distinguishes Waris from the rest.
In more ways than one, Waris has been able to pull off the art of making watermarks cool again. Where most logos only crowd and deter the visual impact of musical projects, Waris’ logo has had the freshness of an artist as opposed to the blandness of a commercial production house.
Siddhant, too, is no alien to successful branding. Everytime he approaches a video concept, he aims to make the everyday seem like it's out of this world. This is reflected in his animated logo which features an alien on a spaceship with the word Galat Scenes written in a mixture of Hindi and English.
The alien has stars in its eyes, and that amazement and wonder is the exact effect he desires from his audience as an artist. This animated logo also has wonderful association value, for from the moment a video starts and you hear a zap, you know it's going to be Galat Scenes.
Both Waris and Sid also use easter eggs to personalise their videos. For example, in the video for Yungsta and Rebel7’s Golmaal, logos of Full Power, Rebel7 and Galat Scenes flicker bleakly in the opening sequence of a traffic signal light. Similarly with Waris, you’d see him leave winks to the audience, saying more with less. For instance, in the lyric video for Guess I Gotta by So Fire, Shayan, Ahmer and Tienas, Waris has placed a sim card with 2G written on it as soon as Ahmer’s verse comes on.
In the same song, there’s yet another easter egg that appears in the form of his brand logo on a tiny coca-cola bottle. “I like to add easter eggs even though they appear only for a frame or two and take a lot of effort, just because I like them,” he says talking about personalisation. This is another way how certain directors and creators tend to come out of the traditional role of being behind the lens and insert themselves into a narrative. That way no matter whose track it is, it becomes the director’s too to a great degree while showcasing the intimacy between the recording and visual artist.
Anurag Sharma also has an identifiable brand of intimacy that’s both unique and candid. Instead of having an artist name approach to brand his catalogue, he brands it stylistically. Most of his videos are shot up close and personal and tell a story beyond the surface. “I want people to look at my videos and instantly realise it’s my video,” he says.
This intimacy becomes evident especially in videos he’s done with Prabh Deep, where you can see the artist raw and get glimpses of their actual life on tour. In some sense, the soft intimate tone to his video is the only brand he needs. “I don’t like to change my style a lot, because if someone wants me on a project it's probably for the perspective I bring. I want people to look at my work 30 years down the line and say that’s exactly how it was,” he says, revealing that to capture this culture in its truest form is his dream.
True enough, the video for Amar (Prabh Deep) flows like a memory with the casualness of a personal vlog seen through Anurag’s eyes where he captures moments fans don’t usually see. The constantly changing cityscapes and people superimposed with time lapses set a nostalgically cheerful tone complementary to the track itself. It has the rawness of changing cameras in different frames while embodying the rich experience of an artist on tour in the others.
For instance the frames in which Prabh is at the airport or travelling seem to have been shot on a GoPro, whereas the frames in which he’s in the studio are evenly lit and shot on film cameras or DSLRs. This constant back and forth from rawness to poshness of shots adds complexity and color to the memory capsule that is Amar.
Improvisation is often the only natural storyboard available for many hip-hop visual creators, owing to indie budgets, expensive rentals and tight shoot days. In reference to planning and storyboarding, Waris states that while his work is largely improvisational and worked on in the post, he aims to work more with storylining and preplanning of shots, something that every director approaches differently. This elbow space and ease comes smoothly with bigger budgets that allow intricate plotting of shots via frame sketches, color schemes, textures and light treatments.
Galat Scenes, for example, is an incredibly improvisational director who aims to strike a balance. He often plans a broad outline while leaving scope for improvisation to add both method and madness to the film. I was able to experience this firsthand on the set for my track Bad Blood, where I approached Sid with a rough idea that he then anchored into primary shots. These shots were then connected impromptu on the day of the shoot.
What this process results in often is the jumbling of a linear timeline for the story and leaves scope for audience’s interpretation. In doing so, it moves beyond the artist and director and also becomes the audience’s vision. In other words, improvisation often allows for ambiguity and multiplicity of meaning.
There are also other directors, such as Bijoy Shetty, who seem to meticulously plan their seamless shots. This becomes evident in the latest Hanumankind video for Genghis where Shetty uses a monochrome medium to showcase the hip-hop culture in the city of Bengaluru. Each shot and frame is meticulously planned and arranged to keep the subject centered as the point of focus while the backgrounds blend perfectly as a result of this planning. The shots are stitched together to have Hanumankind as the focal anchor as the backdrops transition behind him.
Most of the shots are also taken in slow motion combined with quick paced transitory cuts to set a visual groove-- especially when the violin sample comes around. Shetty also adds an oomph to Hanumankind’s verbal punches by tying the verbal reference with symbolic visual cues ranging from shakiness on kick drums to bboy punches at the end of a punchline. He’s made the mundane exciting here by merging a grand vision with simplicity through planning.
Other southern based directors such as Karim Poocha also show this inclination for glimpses of regular life on reel. In videos he has done with the Bangalore rapper Nex, you can see how he’s not only captured bold shots of hooves on fire in small food dedicated alleys, but has also gone beyond the music to use B roll footage to add a natural narrative to the track.
In that sense, Poocha goes far beyond the sonic aspect to work with and adds skits from real life full of eccentric characters placed before or after the song. The effect is the audience’s increased intimacy with not just Dakhni rap but also with spaces it originates out of.
All across the subcontinent the hip-hop scene has seen a confluence of directors and filmmakers who dedicate their skills largely to one genre. In their quest to curate the bubbling scene by staying behind the scenes themselves, they’ve all had the tremendous audacity to be for the culture in a manner that is selfless and true. With each of them collating different perspectives, it seems that the scene can be understood in its essence, beyond Bollywood and other cinema, in small musical pockets that are easier to consume and a treat to revisit.