Aditi Maddali

Arts Research

Grant Period: One year and six months

Aditi Maddali is a Mumbai-based researcher and non-fiction media producer. She has worked at the School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences in various capacities. Besides being part of many research projects, Aditi has worked on radio and film projects in the capacity of an assistant and co-director.

This project enables Aditi to make a film on the work songs of women in Telangana with a focus on Uyyala Paatalu songs. These songs are primarily sung by women while working in the agricultural fields or as labourers in the informal sector. The stories that Uyyala Paatalu songs carry range from those of gods, ancestors, childhood, domestic horrors, fighting patriarchy and caste oppression, everyday rituals, health and sanitation, as well as longing and fantasies of a better world. During the Telangana People’s Struggle (1948-51) these songs became part of the movement as a large number of women from marginalised socio-economic backgrounds joined to fight. Uyyala Paatalu played a key role in spreading awareness about caste, patriarchy, everyday life of women in the struggle, and the oppressive past and an imagined future of equality. The songs helped to organise women’s groups and shape their political consciousness across Telangana.

Through this project, Aditi aims to chronicle the subversive histories of women in the fight against oppressive societal structures in Telangana through Uyyala Paatalu songs. She will examine how these songs were conceptualised and composed by the women, while living on the run during the struggle, and how it played a key role in motivating other women to participate in the movement. However, after the struggle these women came back to the drudgery of their quotidian lives as did the songs which became work songs again. By studying this return, Aditi aims to understand the afterlives of the women who were part of the struggle and their disillusionment of having to leave behind their political lives. She will then explore the changes that have occurred in more recent times in the agricultural sector and the way new technology has impacted the content and the form of the work songs. Aditi will also study the relevance of these songs outside of their space and time in the popular Telugu film songs, where they are often used as rustic additions.

While not many of them are around anymore, Aditi aims at featuring at least two conversations with women who have participated in the people’s struggle of Telangana about their stories and how work songs transitioned into songs of struggle. There is little or no documentation on the women who went back to their domestic lives after the struggle, particularly those who belonged to marginal castes. Most of the conversation has been taken forward by men and women of upper castes, who continued to be in the political sphere and held power after the struggle. This means that a large part of Aditi’s project will depend on memories of people and the scant records in the archives. To fill in the gaps, Aditi will look at how Uyyala Paatalu songs are sung today by the women workers in rural Telangana. Through informal interviews, Aditi will delve into the legacy of songs that are passed down generations, the process of composing them and the ways in which neo liberal work conditions have impacted them. She will shoot these sequences during the seed sowing season. The songs will be interlaced alongside the conversations and the available archival material in a manner that will hold the structure of the film together and add coherence to the larger idea of oral traditions of women. Since it may not be possible for the freedom fighters to sing the songs, for Aditi recording them locally would allow retaining the texture of the songs and set the tone of the film. Aditi imagines the film to have mixed montages with audio-visual and textual material from contemporary socio-political environment juxtaposed with archival material from the times of the people’s struggle. According to Aditi, the purpose of the montages will serve as a temporal distortion to emphasise the relevance and richness of the songs and narratives vis-à-vis the current socio-political conditions in Telangana. 

The decision to make this grant is embedded in our programmatic mandate to support projects that undertake research into the marginalised histories and artistic expressions in India. The outcome of this project and the Grantee's deliverables to IFA with the final report will be a film. The budget is commensurate with the proposal. 

This grant is made possible with support from Titan Company Limited.