Wednesday 24 July 2013, 16:47
Sometimes you have to say the same thing in very different ways. That’s exactly what happened when we had to produce two songs in one week to promote family health in the two Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
In the poor, northern state of Bihar, our task was to create a song to promote our mobile phone service Kilkari.
Named after the sound of a baby’s gurgle in Hindi, the service rings families' mobile phones once a week with health advice that matches the stage of a woman's pregnancy and, after birth, her growing baby's needs. The advice is voiced by an empathetic but authoritative character called Dr Anita, whom we created for our work in Bihar and elsewhere in India.Dr Anita.
A pay-as-you-go service, Kilkari is aimed at men because they’re the ones in charge of their family’s mobile phone. But in Bihar – which has some of the worst maternal and child mortality rates in India – health isn’t seen as a matter for men. They consider it the domain of their wives and – in reality – their mothers.
So how to convince men they should pay for Kilkari and improve their family’s health? We did what we usually do: unearth an insight into how our audience thinks and behaves and turn it into a creative idea.
"Baap No 1"
Our insight was that we could appeal to a man’s desire to be respected and admired. A man who subscribes to Kilkari, therefore, is someone to look up to: he is, in local Hindi, "Baap No 1". In Hindi, Baap literally means “Daddy” but a more accurate translation is something like "dude" or "hero". The tagline that came out of the exercise was, "Mobilewa mein Daktarni ho to Baap No 1." (If you have a doctor in your mobile, you’ll be hero No 1.) My brief to Ashish Chaudhary, our senior content writer, was to write lyrics that were rich with local Bihari flavour in an almost pungent, colloquial Hindi with a generous smattering of pidgin English which works very well with the audience in Bihar. Basically use language that would make a purist shudder!
When you hear the song, you can tell instantly – without even knowing the language – that he did it perfectly.
And then with the lyrics written overnight, Ashish and Ujjwal Maitra, our audio producer, flew to Mumbai the very next morning for the recording. There they joined music director Amartya Raut, a talented and versatile young composer, who wrote the music, bringing to it his customary magic and sense of detail.Recording Baap No 1
With me in Delhi and the team in the Mumbai studio, we added words here and snipped a tail off there until the final track was laid down. (Listen to the track and read the lyrics in English on SoundCloud.)
As you can hear, "Baap No 1" has an earthy, raw melody and a beat that you can really dance to. It’s a "phantastic" song that will hopefully get, as the song says, the "Baaps of total Bihar" wanting Kilkari for their wives and babies.
Our second song couldn't have been more different.
It had to be an anthem powerful enough to energise the health system of India's largest state – Uttar Pradesh where, remarkably, every sixth baby in the world is born. There is now resolve at the highest level to prioritise health and so last week saw the launch of Hausla, a major project to reinvigorate Uttar Pradesh’s entire health system.
Hausla aims to create a movement for all stakeholders in the health system – the mothers and families who use the services; the health practitioners who provide them; the administrators and political leaders who can make things happen.
The literal translation of Hausla is "courage infused with determination and resolve". But we had to go beyond its literal meaning. Our insight led us to define Hausla as "the power to fulfil aspirations" - a clarion call to bring healthy mothers and babies front and centre in creating a better state.
To create a buzz for such an ambitious aim, we needed some big guns. We called in big Bollywood names: Neelesh Misra, a celebrity radio host and a well-known poet, to pen the lyrics; Vishal-Shekhar, a famous composing duo and judges in big TV talent shows, to write the music; and one of Bollywood’s biggest male singing stars, Shaan, to perform it.
My brief to Neelesh was Hausla is a woman safely giving birth; a father wanting to immunise his child because he wants a better future; a health worker making sure her client gets the right information; a medical officer willing to go the extra mile for the health centre he runs; and a sarpanch (elected village leader) feeling proud that in his village no young mother has died.The lyrics had to be inspiring yet relatable for every level of our varied target audience. I wanted the song to be visual. I wanted it to be universal yet intimate. I wanted to see mothers and babies, I wanted to hear the wind in the fields, to smell the dust in the villages. Neelesh took about four days and told me later, “It was a tough song to write!”
Composers Vishal-Shekhar were given the same brief: the song had to be lofty but emotional, rousing yet hummable – a song that brought motherhood and a battle-cry together. Vishal is a rock musician and Shekhar a trained Hindustani classical singer and they got it instantly.
A heady production
But working with famous, in-demand stars also brings its own challenges. Shaan, our singer, was shooting the Indian version of BBC reality show Dancing With the Stars. So, there I was camping in Mumbai waiting for Shaan to have a gap in his schedule. Vishal meanwhile worked on the track, and we brought live percussion and a flautist into the studio. As the track came together, I had goosebumps and knew we had a winner on our hands!
Finally after three days, we were ready to roll. We began recording at 10 pm with Shaan feeling bruised and battered after eight hours of dancing. But when he started singing, you could only hear energy, emotion and superb control.
Bollywood star Shaan singing the Hausla anthem for BBC Media Action.
Neelesh added a few more lines of lyrics near the end of the song because we felt we needed a stronger finish. Vishal wrote a couple of musical variations on the track. This is the part I like the best - when it all comes together and you can’t find words to describe the magic.
We finished at 2 am – it was a heady experience and I didn’t want it to end.
Again, just as with “Baap No 1”, you don’t need to understand the words to feel the song. It will hit you at a deeper level and I think you’ll want to hear it again. (Listen to Hausla and read the lyrics in English on SoundCloud.)
One week. Two songs as different as chalk and cheese. For two states but with the same goal: to help save the lives of mothers and babies.