Saturday 22 June 2019

'My parents wanted me to marry. I became a DJ'

Women DJs are still a rare sight in India's nightlife. Photographer Sayan Hazra spent five months with Puja Seth, one of few women spinning discs in the southern city of Bangalore.

"I love to see people enjoy my music. For me, it's a type of freedom - it lets me express myself to the world," says 31-year-old Ms Seth.

She started DJ-ing in 2014 in Bangalore, commonly referred to as the country's "pub capital" for its vibrant music and bar culture. Over the years, bars and pubs have expanded beyond the city centre, cropping up in older, even residential, neighbourhoods.

"When I started playing at clubs, I met female DJs who would visit Bangalore from other cities around the world for gigs - but as far as I knew, there was no one who lived in Bangalore doing the job."

In fact, she adds, after a few gigs she was known as Bangalore's "native female DJ".

But her journey hasn't been easy. Born in a village in eastern India to conservative parents, Ms Seth says she always wanted to work.

"My parents have always wanted me to get married - but I never wanted to do that."

Once she finished high school, she decided to run away from home and "follow her dream".

"In my community, women aren't allowed to work - and many of them don't move out on their own unless they get married. So I knew I had to leave."

Her hunt for a job brought her to Bangalore where she started working as an air stewardess.

That's when she went to a party for the first time.

"The first thing I noticed was the DJ and I remember being so impressed," she says.

After that, she knew what she wanted to do.

"I made friends with some DJs in the city who taught me the basics. The rest I learnt from watching YouTube videos."

Ms Seth has played at more than 450 gigs across India over the last five years.

"I had never even seen women drinking and smoking in my village - and now I play for large crowds of people who do that around me and I don't blink."

Despite the glamour, she says, DJ-ing as a woman isn't without its risks: "People keep saying this profession is not for women."

"In clubs, people get drunk and think they can approach me. Often, they ask for my phone number. And sometimes, its hard to ignore them and do my job - but I get help from the bouncers."

But she hasn't let any of that stop her.

"The best thing about my job is making the audience dance, to watch them connect with the music like I do. People come to my gigs for that feeling."

All photographs by Sayan Hazra

(Source: BBC)

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