Sleazy music videos are not so very new, and it's not my intention to rant against the titillation which as a teenager, might have thrilled. But a trawl through the Nepali channels of today hints at something more disturbing.
Anyone heard of NBEX Mountain TV? At first chance, most of the traditional fare on play seems conventional enough. There's a lot of melodic dohori-style call-and-response folk singing, as well as ghazal pop. We're so accustomed to these styles that often we hardly pay attention to lyrical content outside of the chorus, especially when a video is fronting the music. And from what I saw in the space of a couple of primetime hours, Nepali music videos are leaving very little to the imagination:
A couple singing by the banks of the Marsyangdi, lamenting that society will not let them spend the rest of their lives together. Their solution? Eutai dori paso lagau … Cue gruesome images of the couple hanging from a tree as the heartless villagers repent.
A woman is forced away from her love to marry a drunkard and a womaniser, who collides head-on with a truck, leaving her a stigmatised widow. She commits suicide by drinking poison.
A woman dances suggestively to entertain her patrons, and after innumerable wiggles and winks, spurns one to leave with another with the approval of a middle-aged madam type.
A chaste woman sings while another dances lewdly to advertise her wares to a group of drunk men, whose pockets she picks at the end.
A man laments losing his wife to another man, who is seen plying her with gold jewellery.
And the apex of NBEX – Hosiyaar, a Sholay-type campfire dance with armed dacoits and vamps boasting of their love of violence and wild living, punctuated with images of a terrified, very young schoolgirl they've kidnapped and have standing by, tears streaming down her face.
What does this alarming parade of sleaze, violence and trauma indicate? Bad programming? Badly made videos? Bad ethics? Or do these terrible videos actually reflect the society we are living in now, a hotbed of extra-marital affairs, suicides, prostitution, violence and thievery?
Music has always reflected changing social contexts, and dohori, as an expression of Nepali youth, has a special role in this regard. Of course, dohori itself has upped and moved to the cities, where singers make a living singing in restaurants while aspiring to record an album. It's no surprise then that the perennial themes of love and loss have been augmented by references to migration (from By-road ko baato ma to Gau chodera jaadaichu Qatar).
And urban living, if one interprets this to include lashings of unseemly behaviour. It's not just the blatant glorification of crime that songs like Hosiyaar advocate and their videos enlarge upon. These videos reflect in bad taste what's in the lyrics, while others interpret the lyrics as per their own bad taste. Whatever it is, these visual narratives are beamed out to primetime audiences across Nepal.
Should we recognise that we should have some kind of ethical filtering – not censorship – to mediate the kinds of images that are broadcast to Nepali families and children? Or should we accept these music videos and the songs behind them to be a fair reflection of modern Nepali society, and acknowledge that this society has changed for the worse in many ways?
Either way, we should be concerned. Anna Stirr, ethnomusicologist and dohori singer, has said, "As Nepalis of all backgrounds focus on shaping the future of their nation, dohori will continue to play a part in the ongoing conversation among diverse voices of the New Nepal." If NBEX Mountain TV is what this conversation looks like, we had better start listening.