Published: 29th January 2019
If we'd been some other kind of band, we might not have been stopped: Why the cops stopped Casteless Collective's Modi Mastan
Tenma, the band leader and music producer speaks about the band being asked to stop their performance because the song had the word 'Modi' in it
Two days ago, the Casteless Collective band was asked to stop performing a song that had the word 'Modi' in it. They were performing at Elliots Beach in Besant Nagar as a part of the Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha which featured other artists like Chinmayi. We reached out to Tenma, who leads the Casteless Collective to ask about the events that unfolded that day and what sort of response or support the band has been receiving since.
Given the atmosphere we live in today, anyone would feel a little fearful of saying anything critical of the government. So we asked Tenma if he at any point anticipated the police stopping their performance this way. He said he didn't even slightly anticipate something like this. "We had prepared to sing nine songs at the concert and 'Modi Mastan' was the seventh song. So we were well into our performance when the incident occurred," Tenma said. Tenma says that they were barely into the third line of the song when the police ran up to the stage and stopped the song. The band carried on with another song anyway even as the crowd booed the policeman. "The show must go on, right?" Tenma said. However, he says that the band and he were still a little taken aback by what had happened.
Sources in the police department are divided on the issue. While some say that it was unnecessary high-handedness on the party of the duty police, a senior official explained that the timing had a lot to do with it, "The PM has been attending programmes across the state for the last few days, so any and all threats relating to him are being addressed on high priority. This troupe singing a song about Modi could have caused a security issue that we averted to be on the safe side. There was no intimidation," he explained.
The Duo: Music Producer Tenma and filmmaker Pa Ranjith came together to create the Casteless Collective
They had way more political songs
However, the most ironic part of this whole affair is that the song wasn't even about the Prime Minister. "If the people had just chosen to listen to the song instead of immediately rushing to stop us from singing they would have known that it wasn't worth stopping. The song 'Modi Mastan' is a song about a magician and is inspired by 'Nagoor Mastan 'by Gana Pazhani but based on the modern day issues we face. We had never performed the song before, except once in Kerala, so they wouldn't have known the contents of the song anyway," Tenma said.
The band had planned to perform it at the Vaanam Festival that took place last month but they didn't get the opportunity to and so performed it at a concert in Kerala, where it received an overwhelming performance. This song, they say, wasn't actually controversial at all. In fact, there are songs that they performed that were far more political, songs like Daadikaara and Quota. "The most upsetting part of all this is that no one heard it. You can oppose something if you've heard it and don't like it, but how can you oppose it when you've not even heard it," he rightfully questioned. When the police stopped them, the band decided to do another song without locking horns with the police, "We can't scream and shout, it would only make them angrier. I think the patriarchy was what stopped us. It stopped us from expressing what we feel and stopping us from creating room for dialogue for a more equal society," Tenma said.
Cut right at the start
Citing the example of Banksy, the "anonymous, vandal, political artist" who was recently in the news over destroying his own art after getting it sold for a record 1,042,000 pounds, Tenma said that there had been many controversial artists in the past. He says there have been artists in the past who have had to deal with the police because of the art they produce, including Da Vinci, the Doors for the song 'Light My Fire' and even the artist, N.W.A for his song criticising the police. "But these songs were listened to and then action was taken on them. But in our case, even before our song got to the third line, we were asked to stop," the artist said.
The whole experience was a jolt. "We live in a democracy and criticism should be allowed to happen both ways. We should be allowed to criticise the government, as so many artists do across the world. People across the world create art that is critical of the issues that affect them. But songs are more influential than other art and it has the ability to emanate dialogue, I think that's why people are so apprehensive about songs," Tenma feels.
The team: The band has been giving chart-topping hits the last few months besides playing at sold out concerts
A pat or a punch? The powers of privilege
The band leader though does point out that if it had been any other band, maybe this might not have happened to them. By any other band, Tenma means that if the band was from a more privileged background then it might not have happened to them, "It could be anything, from the way we looked to the colour of our skin to how we sang. The fact that we are the Casteless Collective is what made it so easy for the police to come and switch off our mics. If it was anyone else, they might have got a warning after their performance, not get their mics switched off in the middle of a performance," Tenma said.
When asked if they feared that they might never perform the song again, Tenma said that he was sure they would be able to perform it someday. "It depends on a lot of other factors too. But we will perform it and we will invite the same police officer to be there as well," he says.
The people are with them
In the last two days, Tenma said that the band has been receiving immense amount support from people across the country. He said that a lot of conscious artists had reached out to them now that it had become national news. The artist said a lot of the people who were responding first thought that the band had said something provocative which was why they were refused the chance to perform, "They were so surprised to find out that we were stopped even before we said or did anything," he adds.
When asked what their next step in this whole issue was and if the band will take it up with higher authorities or wish it away, Tenma said that they had chosen the second option. He says the band's intention is to maintain peace and promote dialogue, not agitate. "This is not a big issue at all. It's best if it is immediately subdued. There are so many other huge issues that are plaguing our society, we should be focussed on those issues, not this," he said.