Sneha Khanwalkar: The Womaniya !

You are a kings daughter .. I don’t even have friends …

You walk around wrapped in shawl… I dont even have a quilt…

You come from gardens where koels dwell….  

Only snow falls over here .. not a trace of green grass around….

How will you manage to stay here… not a ray of  light in my house…  

You should marry some rich guy…      

I am just a monk, barely clothed, who drinks bhang derived from crushing leaves.  

Chances are that you would have heard the song numerous times without knowing what it means. It’s ‘Tu Raja Ki Raj Dulari’ from the movie Oye Lucky Lucky Oye (2008). Adapted from a popular Haryanvi ragini which, according to folklore, was sung by Lord Shiva to Parvati, trying to convince the princess not to marry Him. There could not have been a better song for the following situation in the movie.

Here the princess is a wine glass socialite, wearing cashmere and sporting Tag Heuer; where as our hero, giving her a bike ride, is  a street hoodlum, a destitute, who lives in chawls abound with power-cuts [read the amazing interpretation over here].

Sneha Khawanlkar must be the only music director from mainstream Bollywood going all around the country, making music on the road, finding folk references for her films and right voices for her songs in those folk singers. No other music director would have even vizualised that a twelve year old girl child (Durga), singing in Local Trains for a living, would go on to deliver a chart-buster.  And if you are still clueless about the song I am talking about, then drop everything right away and listen to it.

Sneha’s family came down to Mumbai from Indore with an aim of her joining an engineering college, but instead she started working in animation followed by art direction for films. When she saw how the crew working on films ate, drank and slept the projects they did, she was hooked. Instinctively, she knew her medium in the industry would be music.

She was supposed to make her debut in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s (now shelved project) The Killing of a Porn Film Maker, starring Irrfan, in early 2000s. Some odd projects (Kal, Go, one song in Sarkar Raj) and a few years later, she finally got noticed in 2008 with Dibakar Bannerjee’s Oye Lucky Lucky Oye.  

Although she credits RGV (who gave her the first big break with his film Go) for her continuous urge to improvise and out-of-the-box thinking, it was Dibaker who brought a method to her madness.

He knew her feet had wings, when she traveled all the way to Bhopal, just for one song for an unreleased period film of his, to get references for a track from an author. Without giving a second thought, he handed over the responsibility of an entire film to her. And there she was travelling all over Punjab & Haryana, exploring sounds, music, culture and more importantly a process which was so much to become a part of her unique identity as a music composer in times to come.

In her own words “I started travelling only to make the most of the experiences that I may have missed out on while growing up. And also because Punjab was new to me….” She eventually ended up discovering seventy-five year old folk singer Des Raj Lachkani and a twelve year old ragini folk singer to sing Jugni and Tu Raja Ki Raj Dulari respectively.

Music doesn’t get bigger or smaller depending on whether you are in a city or a village. Music is the biggest driving force“, says Sneha.

Watch the making  of these two amazing songs over here.

Her second collaboration with Dibaker, Love, Sex aur Dhokha (2010), led her to a music festival in Rajasthan for the song I can’t hold it any longer. So while you have the use of a Bhapang to add the flavor, it’s a Rajasthani puppet whistle and a flute going haywire to give the squeaking squeeze-me-toy effect at the beginning of the track.

Rendered in Sneha’s ‘trained, but non-playback’ voice, I really can’t hold back my laughter whenever I listen to it.

She calls me up at 3 am in the night saying she is in a remote village in Haryana, surrounded by inebriated Jats, recording a song; so that I know where she was if she does not return alive.-Anurag Kashyap.

Being only the fourth female music composer in the Hindi film industry, after  Jaddan Bai(mother of Nargis Dutt), Saraswati Devi and Usha Khanna, Sneha’s bohemian and aplomb spirit makes me awestruck all the times. In fact, she just walked into Ram Gopal Verma’s office dressed in pedal pushers, said that she wanted to compose music, and within an hour came back with a song recorded in her voice, based on the one line brief she was given.

Being a woman has the same advantage and disadvantage” , she says. “People assume you to be overly sensitive. Hence they don’t pester you much. At the same time they sometimes okay a song, though they might not be completely happy with it.” And while this was her interpretation of how people in the industry treat women, it was her immense love for  meeting and interacting with other women, wherever she goes, that led her to making Womaniya for Gangs of Wasseypur (2012).

Watch how she went around Bihar, auditioning housewives with penchant for singing, to make the song.

So what other innovation does she intend to shock us with in times to come ? “I’d like to use the vocals of people who’ve lost their voice and people with no teeth, even“, admits Sneha. [read full interview over here]

Good thing about us, the movie enthusiasts, is that these habits of her’s have led us to discovering different worlds through her music. For example, the Hunter song from the same film led me to finding out about the chutney music which owes its origin to the Indo-Caribbean people, with ancestral roots from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal. While there is a Caribbean flavor throughout in their songs, the pronunciation can’t hide their North Indian roots.

Needless to say the lyricist and playback singer (for the English part), Vedesh Sukoo, was found by Sneha in Trinidad itself. Enjoy the song!

The post would not be complete if I don’t mention about Sound Tripping– the MTV  music documentary-cum-travelogue show over here. While Sneha’s love for phonetics led her to the now famous Tain Tain To To  for Gangs of Wasseypur-I,  Sound Tripping is one step forward with mixing and scratching all possible sounds one comes across in everyday life-water droplets falling on Dhol, temple bells tinkling all around, cows mooing,  sifting of rice grains – to form grooving tracks.
Sneha ventures boldly into the lesser-known India, backpack and recorder in tow, in relentless pursuit of authentic sound, because nothing captures the essence of a location of a community better than its local sounds.

The following song was made during her visit to the Siddi community-the unique Afro-Indian community, spread along the Gujarat-Karnataka belt to the west of India. Here you go!

If you really loved the concept then the good news for you is that she had tried something similar in Gangs of Wasseypur’s second installment where poems recited by Bihari school kids are going to give all your Angrezi Rap songs a really tough competition ;-). And yes please read along as you listen to it.

Bahut khoob Bahut khoob Bahut khoob               Chakachak kumari..

Chattanon se krida karti                                             Kal kal karti, chal chal karti

Chattanon se krida karti                                             Kabhi idhar mud, kabhi udhar mud

Ban parbat mein lipti chhupti.                                   Dharti ke har kisi chor se,

Ban parbat ke kisi mod se                                        Boond boond se bana hai, kaun

Chaar dhaamon se juda hai, kaun.                        Bahut khoob Bahut khoob Bahut khoob


Come back soon Sneha! We are waiting 🙂




22 thoughts on “Sneha Khanwalkar: The Womaniya !

  1. Loved the post Abhishek! Detailed without being lengthy. Excellent selection of videos. Loved the making video of Womaniya too.

  2. Super!

    Specially liked the trivia in the beginning , Tu Raja Ki Raj Dulari originally coming from a folklore of Shiva-Parvati , and thanks for the link of that beautiful translation 🙂

  3. You have a good sense of choosing topics to write on & here again I would say you’ve done a good work in showcasing Sneha and her work so far.Good work Abhishek, expecting more & more such posts from you,lage raho !!!

  4. One correction and one opinion –
    The correction – Shibani Kashyap gave music in couple of films. At that time she was the only active female music director in India.

    Opinion – I don’t think the girl pillion-riding the hero was Raja ki Dulaari in the sense of being Tag Heuer rich. She also had a small gift cards shop in the same vicinity where Lucky lived. There was a sense of divide though, and the song was more meaningful in relation with both the character’s emotional landscape. Lucky from a broken family hanging by a financial and emotional thread, and the girl from relatively much better financial and emotional backdrop.

    I wouldn’t have thought about it but for your translation of the lyrics at the top. Amazing post.

  5. arrey, why did i miss this one? curse my vacation.. this is a very nice post.. Sneha is definitely bringing in a new style of music.. IMO, the only thing she now needs to do is to create more memorably / melodious (or possibly massy tracks). Most of her songs fit in the context of the movie, but don’t stand out as separate tracks one would like to hum.. 

    •  That wud happen once she starts working with big banners who keep separate space in the screenplay for songs and promote them accordingly. I see that happening soon 🙂

  6. I must mention here that people from Indore and around must get something in their genes while either being born there or due to staying there that they become so good in music and rhythms. Don’t trust me just Google the examples-Kumar Gandharva(Dewas,near Indore),Ustad Amir Khan (Indore Gharana),Lata Mangeshkar (Born in Indore),Kishore Kumar (born in a small town Khandwa near Indore, but studied in Indore) and now Sneha Khanwalkar.
    I am not saying this because I am Indori but just as a matter of fact.

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