Shiv Kotecha Curates a Bollywood Playlist

frieze editor Andrew Durbin speaks to the author about his new essay on Bollywood for the November/December issue

BY Andrew Durbin in Interviews , Music | 20 NOV 20

Andrew Durbin For the November/December issue of frieze, you’ve written a personal essay about Bollywood – specifically the playback singer Asha Bhosle. You write very movingly about the way her voice reminds you of your childhood in California, the current wildfires there, the Indian diaspora and, of course, the general precarity of the world in 2020. Why Bhosle now?

Shiv Kotecha I wanted to write about Asha Bhosle as someone whose role in queer and feminist accounts of the Bombay cinema - an industry that has always been embroiled in state-level corruption - betrays how colourism and class function in India and its diasporic, neoliberal imaginary. I find extreme comfort in Asha Bhosle, and I have been talking to some queer, non-white, and non-cis friends about spending time rethinking the psychosexual backlash of growing up gorging on culture from countries we’re ‘from’ while living in the strained, incoherent US. 

When you asked me to write, I was thinking about how trauma – like addiction, disease – is trafficked and distributed intergenerationally, and how this may relate to diasporic displacement. I tried to write about Bhosle’s voice as if it moved like trauma does: slowly, in dissonant configuration, and really only legible when in transit between one generation’s unlived desires and another’s indulgences. The music speaks for itself. 

Shiv Kotecha, 2020.
Shiv Kotecha, 2020. 

AD When did you first feel the influence of her singing on your writing practice? 

SK I spent my senior year of high school adapting Bollywood plots into three-act screenplays and my first ‘poems’ were poor translations of songs Bhosle sang in Tamil and Bengali. I left home for film school with a treatment for what I remember believing could be an international crossover hit, an adaptation of what I then thought was a good book, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925). Ha! 

AD What happened to your screenplays?

SK For years, I resisted thinking about Bollywood critically or otherwise. This was partially Jean-Luc Godard’s fault. I watched Weekend (1967) and started to understand how film isn’t only a representational medium, but also a sedative and a weapon. Partially, it was because I wanted to get along with weird young men and all the weirdest were extremely into Godard. They were not, for instance, invested in the recombinatory narrative structures of populist melodramas about heteronormative Hindu families, as I was. 

AD Bhosle has become one of Modi’s best-known supporters in the Indian entertainment industry. Your essay approaches – but never quite addresses – the terror of seeing someone you love, even if it’s someone you love but don’t know, fall in with the far right.

SK Trump doesn’t yet know how to lose, and Modi still reigns. The pus has risen to the surface. I remind myself that the dysphoria and incredulity we have all been made to feel daily because of these two administrations is intense enough to remind me of one of the best feelings produced by a great book or piece of art – the one where you see that the state and money are evil, that you must protect your friends. I’m having a flashback to a scene from the HBO series Six Feet Under (2001–05), in which Lauren Ambrose’s character, Claire, gets high on DMT while listening to Death Cab for Cutie, and paints a line of text onto her friend’s wall: ‘Terror starts at home’.

Asha Bhosle, 2015. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Asha Bhosle, 2015. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

AD Speaking of the terror at home, you’re currently in New York, during what seems to be the end of the world. What else have you been listening to in lockdown?

SK I am revisiting other music that was in my periphery growing up, so maybe the general mood I’m aiming for is ‘regression’. I grew up in a house with ten adults (thankfully, most of them women), who had strong but conflicting tastes in music. My uncle Rupesh is a tabla artist; my parents are ghazal nerds; I was named after the santoor artist Shiv Kumar Sharma; and my aunt Rupa, who is really more like my big sister, introduced me to Hole when I was six.

On days when I am hard to read or visibly upset, my roommate likes to play Bhosle to trick me into singing songs and pull me out of whatever harrowing crisis-du-jour my death-cult of a country has confected. When she plays Bhosle’s collaborations with the poet/songwriter/director Gulzar, it works. Here is a playlist of my favourite Bhosle bangers and deep cuts.

Listen to Kotecha’s Bollywood playlist here and read his feature from frieze issue 215 here

Main image: T. Rama Rao, Andhaa Kaanoon, 1983, film poster detail. Courtesy:


Andrew Durbin is the editor-in-chief of frieze. His book The Wonderful World That Almost Was is forthcoming from FSG in 2025.