nostalgia, 90s, india, pakistan, smoking, conservatism, society
When Zeest's "BC Sutta" was released, the website it was first uploaded it crashed within a week. In the days to follow, it was a sensation across South Asia. Photos: Zeeston
Life

How the ‘BC Sutta’ Song Defied Moral Censors in South Asia To Become a Cult Anthem

On the cusp of peak internet age, a fleeting Pakistani music project Zeest tapped into the raw angst of being young in South Asia.
Pallavi Pundir
Delhi, IN
November 26, 2021, 6:17am

Back in 2007, when I had just joined college in the Indian capital of New Delhi, a friend of mine downloaded an MP3 file on my hand-me-down Nokia flip phone. In this relatively new internet age, I, a young millennial, had little use of my phone apart from actual communication. The other times, I would painstakingly open the internet browser, and download clunky music files. So while my phone was laced with useless wallpapers of rock bands and emo pop-rock music, hidden in some inconspicuous sounding folder was also that one song that nearly everyone of my generation in South Asia had surreptitiously heard, and exuberantly enjoyed. 

Advertisement

It was the “BC Sutta” song. 

“BC” stands for “bhenchod,” which, literally and rather crudely, translates to “sister fucker” in Hindi, but is evoked out of frustration or exclamation and can mean “shit” or “damn” – kinda like how “fuck” is a go-to word for frustrated emotions. Indian author Suketu Mehta wrote about this term with fondness as an expletive “without any discernible purpose except as a filler” in South Asian vocabulary. 

“Sutta,” meanwhile, means “cigarette.”

And so, “BC Sutta,” which was created by Zeest, a "music project" by two brothers, broke through the South Asian scene like a raging storm back in 2005. 

A Salon article in 2006 noted how the profanities kept the song off mainstream platforms such as the radio channels, but became an “underground hit” in both Pakistan and India. 

“BC Sutta,” which was created by Zeest, broke through the South Asian scene like a raging storm back in 2005.

Advertisement

In the time before democratic music platforms such as Soundcloud, Apple Music or Spotify, “BC Sutta’s” success was not just phenomenal, but it also spoke to a whole generation born at the cusp of the internet age.

“I remember releasing this song in April 2005,” Saqib Abdullah Aziz, the Zeest musician who composed and sang “BC Sutta” way back in 2003, told VICE over a Zoom call from Karachi, Pakistan. “I knew someone who had a small music website and we had sent him the song to upload. Within a week, he called me up and told me, ‘Saqib bhai, bada masla ho gaya hain (Saqib brother, a big problem has come up). My website has crashed.’ Turned out that there were so many downloads that his website went down.”

The song begins with Saqib dedicating this song to “all the smokers and dopers” out there, and even though I wasn’t a big smoker or doper, the song hit a lot of raw emotions, partly due to the scandalous words – peppered as the song was with “bhenchod” exactly 39 times (yes, I counted) – while also speaking to the struggles of the youth. 

nostalgia, 90s, india, pakistan, smoking, conservatism, society

Saqib Abdullah Aziz, or "Skip", composed the song after he was caught by his father smoking.

The song’s lyrics chart the journey of a young man, from being caught smoking by his father, to dealing with young love and existentialism in college, to being married and constantly tired – all while being denied the small joys of a smoke. In Pakistan and India, the song resonated with youth life, and was associated with existential gloom, angst and youthful nihilism, among other sordid feelings. Towards the end of the song, the lyrics are just two words, “bhenchod” and “maachod” (the latter literally translating to “motherfucker” but which connotes the same nondescript cursing as “bhenchod”). This bit, especially, was often chanted as an anthem by millennials when they were the age group Gen Z is in now, in a bittersweet mix of angst and joy. 

Advertisement

“I knew someone who had a small music website and we had sent him the song to upload. Within a week, he called me up and told me, ‘Saqib bhai, bada masla ho gaya hain (Saqib brother, a big problem has come up). My website has crashed.’”

Last week, when VICE reached out to Saqib, now 37, and his brother Sohail Abdullah Aziz, 42, who manages Zeest, the duo went back in time to talk about what shot them into fame, and keeps them relevant even now. 

The “real creator” of this song, Saqib said, is their father. “During school and college days, we’d be bunking and smoking with our friends,” he said. “One day, when he caught me smoking, he was so shocked, he said, ‘Bhenchod sutta. Sutta pee raha hain?’ (Fucker, cigarette. You’re smoking a cigarette?) Later on, this became a joke among us for many days. Then it hit me that we can do something with this phrase. That’s how I started composing a song around it.”

The translated lyrics of the song go something like this: “I was smoking with my friends / when my father caught me red-handed / When I got home, my father gave me a good one/ sister-fucker cigarette, I didn't get to smoke.”

“One day, when he caught me smoking, he was so shocked, he said, ‘Bhenchod sutta. Sutta pee raha hain?’ (Fucker, cigarette. You’re smoking a cigarette?) Later on, this became a joke among us for many days. Then it hit me that we can do something with this phrase.”

Advertisement

The brothers say their father probably still doesn’t know about this song, even 16 years after it went viral. “Will you say such a cuss word in front of your father, even when you’re older?” Sohail asked me, laughing. “He does know there’s a famous song, but he’s not interested in it.”

Saqib added that some of his father’s friends told him they heard the song, but his father never bothered to check. “Our siblings know, as do our cousins, uncles, even our school teachers. But abbu doesn’t know. Or maybe he does, but we’d rather not ask him,” said Sohail. 

nostalgia, 90s, india, pakistan, smoking, conservatism, society

Sohail, Saqib's brother, manages Zeest. Photo: Sohail Abdullah Aziz

For most millennials, this sentiment – in the song and in Saqib’s real life –resonates with South Asian parenting, where the boomers demand obedience from the younger generation, no matter how old they are. And when it comes to vices, they’d rather live in denial. 

Interestingly, the Aziz brothers’ ancestors lived in the Indian side of pre-Independence, undivided India, mainly Allahabad, with some familial links in Pratapgarh and Lucknow in the northern Indian Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Their father and uncles, said Sohail, have fond memories of spending their childhood and youth in India. After the partition in 1947, most of the brothers’ immediate family migrated to Pakistan.

But some of their family members continue to live in India, and the song reunited them from across the border.  “Considering our generation gap, we barely had links with our Indian relatives,” said Saqib. “When this song went viral, we had a chance to connect with them for the first time.” 

Advertisement

Given the cultural similarities between Pakistanis and Indians, the song appears to blur man-made borders and diffuse the otherwise fraught geopolitical tensions between the two countries. 

A big paradox in South Asian lives is the way raw, profanity-filled vocabulary exists in deeply conservative societies. “Gaalis (profanities) are a part of our society,” said Sohail, adding that the song was never flagged as controversial or even censored by the government. In Karachi’s music scene, Saqib’s song was already a hit. In India, many Indian college bands cashed in on the popularity and played it at music festivals. “Nobody has ever raised an issue with the terms used in the song,” said Sohail.  

“Considering our generation gap, we barely had links with our Indian relatives. When this song went viral, we had a chance to connect with them for the first time.”

But the brothers did hit a bunch of roadblocks while trying to record the song in 2005. Saqib said that many recording studio owners either quoted really high rates, or got upset with the lyrics. 

“There was this one popular music site back then, and I had spoken to the founder about the song,” Saqib said. “When I sent him this song, his first reaction was that he couldn’t upload it because his image would be ruined.” 

When they played the demo for another studio, the owner stood up angrily and told them that they’d insulted music. “They told us to get out and said our song is crap,” said Saqib. Some of their musician friends also warned them against recording the song, and told them they’ll get censored. But Saqib was determined. “It wasn’t for fame. I didn’t care if anybody listened to it or not,” he said. 

Advertisement
nostalgia, 90s, india, pakistan, smoking, conservatism, society

Finally, when a friend of Saqib’s said yes to recording the song, he gathered a bunch of his other friends and headed to the studio. “It was a motley crew of young boys who probably sat on their terraces and played the guitar,” laughed Saqib. “Many didn’t even know how to sing. But they all loved this song and so, after practising a bunch of times, we went to the studio. We had paid for just one recording session and were worried that if we messed up the first time, we wouldn’t have another shot. But our first take was so perfect that that’s the version we eventually released. It was all done in one, single take.”

Some of their musician friends also warned them against recording the song, and told them they’ll get censored. But Saqib was determined.

An Indian news outlet reported the song being downloaded at least 7,600 times in the first 21 days of its release. By then, according to the report, the song had “covertly” snuck across borders and “bypassed moral censors” to become a youth anthem for South Asians. The brothers said they got great feedback not just from South Asians, but also people from countries like Myanmar, Germany and Turkey. “It was surreal, and felt amazing,” said Saqib. 

But the duo wants to reiterate that the message is bigger than a bunch of cuss words. “Sure, the words ‘bhenchod sutta’ have a certain charm in it,” said Saqib. “But the song is not just my personal story, but everyone’s. You can replace ‘sutta’ with anything you want in life.”

Advertisement

Sohail added that “BC Sutta” is a “timeless story.” 

“It’s not just gaalis (profanities),” he said. “It’s about your frustrations in the times we live with, whether you’re in India or Pakistan. We go through the same economic depressions, same struggles, same anxieties.” 

Over the years, the song hasn’t lost its charm, and has now become a horcrux of peak millennial nostalgia and retro South Asian music culture. Saqib and Sohail released only one other song apart from “BC Sutta” called “100 Rupai.” 

But has “BC Sutta” gotten lost in the din of the internet, where everything is streamed and virality is common but fleeting?

An Indian news outlet reported the song being downloaded at least 7,600 times in the first 21 days of its release. By then, according to the report, the song had “covertly” snuck across borders and “bypassed moral censors” to become a youth anthem for South Asians.

Saqib said that while many millennials still revere the song, its charm has eluded the younger generation. Over the last several years, the brothers have often been asked why they didn’t follow up their internet fame and launch more music, or go mainstream with the famous song. 

“Some of it has to do with our own laziness and getting caught up in our personal lives,” said Sohail, who is currently in a government job. Saqib, for his part, took up other projects like commercial photography and art, and recently became a father, too. 

Advertisement

In 2022, the duo plan to revive Zeest and release a few songs they have been writing over the last few years, the details of which they want to keep under the wraps for now. 

Back in 2006 and 2007, the duo was inundated with requests for album deals and other commercial releases, Saqib said. 

“But they would always ask for a cleaner version,” he added. “The song was already a cult song, and we didn’t want to compromise with it. If we took out a clean version, it wouldn’t be the same.” 

“Sure, the words ‘bhenchod sutta’ have a certain charm in it. But the song is not just my personal story, but everyone’s. You can replace ‘sutta’ with anything you want in life.”

In some family gatherings, Saqib does end up sanitising the song a little by replacing “bhenchod” with perhaps a “bhaisaab” or “bhaijaan” – both variations of the term “brother”. 

To ensure their surprise megahit lives on, the brothers are also fiddling with the idea of releasing a music video for “BC Sutta”. But re-recording it, even with the best of equipment, is out of the question. 

“You don’t recreate a legend,” said Sohail. “It’s like creating the Taj Mahal, and then making a duplicate in blue or pink.”

Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.