Coke Studio 2020’s season opener was an all-women anthem which garnered over 900k views on YouTube within 24 hours of its release. The official description calls the song an ode to the resilience of women, whose hearts remain unbroken despite constantly being on the verge of breaking. It’s a potent sentiment which attempts to depict the liminal state of a woman’s heart – it has suffered but it stretches instead of breaking. Dil toot’te toot’te bas reh jaata hai – it feels like it will break but it doesn’t because a woman’s capacity to withstand trauma is, unfortunately, relentless.
One interesting thing about the song is the lack of a typical build-up which is rare for a CS song; they are usually self-indulgent and kick off with elaborate intro music. Tutteya Ve wastes no time jumping right into the action with its alliteration-heavy chorus featuring the voices of six artists. In fact, even the first word uttered is a conjunction (“Keh dil mera…..”) which amplifies the abruptness of the opening. A woman’s trial and tribulations simply don’t have a clear starting mark do they?
The significance of Meesha being the lead vocalist here is not lost on anyone. That itself may be considered a powerful statement for Coke Studio to make. Meesha pops on the screen with her vibrant, multi-colored saari and prolific expressions. Sehar Gul Khan’s visual energy is infectious here even though her vocals don’t stand out. If anyone other than Meesha is allowed to make an impact, it is Sanam Marvi and Fariha Pervez, which is fitting considering their veteran status in the music industry. Wajiha Naqvi’s voice is more noticeable in the backing vocals than the main song itself. Zara Madani makes enough of an impression to pique one’s curiosity. However, Meesha remains the vocal powerhouse of the song and carries it almost completely on her shoulders.
The song was originally conceived with one artist in mind and it shows. But I think adding multiple artists was a good choice not only from a marketing standpoint but also in terms of giving this song its dholki vibe. The intermingling vocals of women in the backdrop of Babar Khanna effortlessly strumming a dholak has a spectacular impact on the listener. The percussion smoothly mixes with the rubab in between verses, never boring you for a second.
When our ensemble of artists croon “tha kar ke” and “odda khak naiyo banna” just as the music quietens, it reminds me of the moments during dholkis where the dholak stops and the voices of women reach a loud crescendo. If you’ve ever participated in singing ‘Luddi hai jamalo pao’ at a dholki, you will know exactly what I mean.
The dholki vibe reminds me of a recent video essay by Feminustani in which Sabahat Zakariya explores the feminist potential of folk songs. She highlights how most folk songs take a mournful and resigned tone to narrate the grief that accompanies marriage. On the other hand, some folk songs bluntly poke fun at the patriarchy while others are subtly subversive. I believe Tutteya Ve falls in a different, unexplored category. It isn’t mournful; it registers a clear complaint against the patriarchy. It isn’t sarcastic nor subtle. Rather, it is an honest narration of how women are imprisoned by social norms: “Zanjeer ae zanjeer ae, bairi reet bani taqdeer ae”.
While I appreciate this sentiment, I also detect a discomfort in myself upon hearing these lyrics. The resigned acceptance of women has been depicted to death (literally, sometimes).
This is a good time to remind ourselves of the limitations of corporate representation. The brand desires co-option of feminist themes, without truly embracing them. The song celebrates a subdued form of resilience of ‘good’ victims: the women who sacrifice, the women who suffer, and the women who politely remind their husband that they too are his family now. The system which has forced these women into this situation is not critiqued. The women who refuses to be good victims remains absent.
Understanding the distinction between lukewarm, capitalism-approved feminism vs. radical feminism is important because it helps us understand how Rohail Hyatt can produce this song while simultaneously defending PM Imran Khan’s misogyny on Twitter. Like Hyatt, the song is reluctant to challenge the status quo; it is content with recognizing the misery of women but fails to ask, what would joy look like? In his interviews about this song, Rohail Hyatt has mentioned how this song’s ultimate message is that a woman’s strength is her sensitivity. It is hard to imagine joy in the world painted by this song. A woman’s solace is in the recognition that her perseverance is her strength? This is an oft-repeated trope in pop culture. There is no joy at the end of this self-sacrificial road to unhappiness. Where is the woman who rejects unhappiness? Where is the woman who finds joy? Where is the woman who measures her khwaab instead of measuring the grave in which her dreams are buried?
The song fails to imagine the woman outside the confines of her house. This is not something to hold against the songwriters who are simply building up on lyrical cliches while attempting to subvert some of them. The resilience of women is often depicted as quiet acceptance of their fate. The actually rebellious women who exist beyond the confines of private home life are more or less absent in pop culture.
Shuja Haider has proved his prowess as a lyricist time and time again. Lack of empathy and understanding isn’t a problem here; he is writing from the perspective of women and does a decent job with it. He and Hyatt should talk more often. I might be completely wrong and it is quite possible that we might see some questionable tweets from Shuja soon as well but I get the impression that he has a better idea of the structural facets of gender politics than most people in the industry do because the emotions he taps into here feel quite authentic. Or maybe, he was just writing a sellable song for a PR-conscious brand. Who knows?
For me, the most subversive element of this song comes from its rap ending. This is where the song takes its most radical stance against romanticization of oppressive love: “Iss reet riwaaj ne rol ditti har Heer, Sassi, Sohni, te naale Laila di na sunni kise ne wi aah”. Individualized tales of forbidden love often miss the point: patriarchal family structures are what prevent a woman from seeking the love she wants.
Tutteya Ve is undoubtedly a catchy and cathartic gaana. When it plays at Aurat March, you feel like dancing, stamping and singing along. Feminist anthems do not need to always have the perfect message which aligns completely with your politics but what matters is the sentiment a song is able to invoke.
Bio: The author is a graduate of LUMS who majored in Economics and Politics. She is a multidisciplinary writer who strives to imagine interdisciplinary futures.