By VIKRAM MUTHANNA
Hi mama… yes, it is a catchy song mama. 1, 2, 3, 4
The lyrics are stupid-du, stupid-du
But the tune is good-du, good-du
Now it’s stuck in my head-du, head-du
And now I’m having a kolaveri, kolaveri, kolaveri, Headache-u dey.
Since the last two weeks Kolaveri di, the song from the upcoming Tamil movie titled 3 (moonu which in Tamil means three) has been all the rage. Kolaveri di (Kolaveri–uncontrollable rage or murderous rage and di–colloquial reference to a girl), is all the ‘kolaveri’ in India and among Indians abroad.
The media says that the song has traversed the language barrier mostly due to its ‘tamglish’ lyrics. But we all know that for music, language is no barrier. It just needs to please the ears. And this song, Kolaveri di, sure pleases the ears, but it also mocks our intellect. But then what can one expect, the song was penned in under 20 minutes as confessed by its lyricist and singer Dhanush himself.
This song will remind many of their college days when such songs were constantly made up and sung.
In college I, too, after a couple of pegs of whisky and high intensity discussion on human relationships, would become McDowell’s Muthanna, the bard, and along with my friends would indulge in our own kolaveri compositions, although ours were a little more risqué, entertaining and creative.
But we all can agree that anyone with even the slightest inclination towards rhyming has had his or her 20 minutes of banal lyrical outpouring like Dhanush.
The only difference is, he got paid for his ‘Tamglish’ 20-minute banal-spontaneity and it was recorded in a professional studio, which now has over 10 million YouTube hits. We, on the other hand, had a stool for drums and got paid in peg measures and our audiences were a few friends, some amused waiters and a security guard.
The only hits we got were from angry landlords and the occasional police patrol cops. All the same, these songs were fun. They were our stress busters and made life livable, and laughable.
That is why in India, where there is a constant sense of insecurity and heartache, music and songs are at our very core as they make — just for a moment — life tolerable. And so we wake up to music (suprabhatha), greet people musically, watch musicals and go to bed with retro lullabies.
No wonder we are a sing-song kind of people. We even speak in a sing-song manner, from the Hindi greeting, “kaisey hoooooo…” to the Kannada greeting, “hey-gidiee-raaaaa” to the Tamil greeting “nallaa erking laaaaa…,” we shake our heads, move our fingers, modulate our voices and come up with one hell of a musical greeting.
We are attached to music, so much so that even today it is almost unthinkable to have an Indian movie without songs. In fact music can decide the fate of a movie. But over the years the power of lyrical romance has taken a slight backseat.
From the mid-1990s, music was composed to match the atrocious lyrics instead of it being a homogenous creative process. And so romantic poets took a back seat and fly-by-night 20 minute-lyricists were born. And they gave us chicken fry and mobile numbers!
We are talking about the times of Govinda and Bappi Lahiri when they gave us, “You are my chicken fry, you are my fish fry…” in the movie Rock Dancer. Then there was, “What is your mobile number, what is your smile number…?” in Haseena Maan Jayegi.
Even in Kannada films, the songs used to be so romantic, so poetic, while also being pleasing to the ear. Now we have lyrics like “Nim appa loosaa, nim amma loosa, naanoo loosa….” (is your father nuts, is your mother nuts, am I nuts?).
Now Vidya Balan’s song “Oo la la…” may be a hit. No surprise, it is a Bappi Lahiri composition, but back then Bappi got us hooked on to a ridiculous song titled, “Guttur guttur…” Yes, the chorus of the song was a bird sound! Guttur….guttur… a weird species only Bappi Lahiri could have discovered—or invented.
These songs may have terrible lyrical value, but they are catchy. They easily get stuck in one’s head and take a long time to leave. Such songs are called “awesomely bad songs”; songs that are lyrically terrible, but have a very high recall value, as you can’t stop humming them.
It was during this time that Hollywood made its entry into Bollywood in the form of the sexy Samantha Fox, once again thanks to Bappi Lahiri. Since then, we have had singers like Snoop Dogg, who wore a turban and sang “Singh is King”, “Chiggy-Wiggy” by Kylie Minogue and more recen-tly, Akon singing “Chhammak Chhallo” in Ra.One.
Indeed artists like Akon can sing, but couldn’t Shaan or Himesh Reshammiya have done a better job with Chhammak Chhallo? May be, but they could not have generated the amount of publicity or hype that Akon did.
Today’s market is not talent driven but like all markets, it is driven by return on investment. And people like Akon generate publicity that indirectly helps in the movies’ box office collection. It also increased distributor confidence.
That is why Kolaveri di, though not a great musical work, is highly marketable. And so the first spark of marketing blitz was lit for the movie 3 with the news headlines “Dhanush’s new song leaked on the net!” (We have to wonder how, and who, “leaked” it).
This is called generating a buzz. The buzz turned to curiosity and people rushed to see what was so special about this song that it had to be leaked. To add to this, members of the whole team doing the movie are little-shots of the big-shots from the Tamil film industry.
The music director, 19-year-old Anirudh is the nephew of Rajinikanth. The director of the movie is Aishwarya, the daughter of Rajinikanth. The lead actor of the movie Dhanush, is the son-in-law of Rajinikanth. The lead actress of the movie is Shruthi Hassan, the daughter of Tamil star Kamal Hassan.
Need we say more?
And immediately after the “leak” there was an official release and an official video with these famous star children looking humble and intensely working at making a banal song. It is a perfectly executed publicity stunt.
The song is catchy; but what made it such a mega hit is the curiosity factor. After all, there have been better songs with much better tunes and lyrics composed by another Tamilian, A.R. Rehman. But his songs did not generate 10 million hits and end up becoming front-page news in national dailies!
In today’s digital world, curiosity is king. In today’s networked world there is a very thin line between voyeurism and curiosity and we very often go back and forth. And that is why Dhanush’s ‘Soup song’ was first a ‘leaked song,’ which inevitably then became a ‘hit song.’ But just because a song has millions of ‘hits,’ does not necessarily mean it’s the best or that good.
Soon Kolaveri di will be the new, cool Tamil word to use, like ‘macha’ was, a few years back. But for now I’ve had enough of Kolaveri di. People around me are constantly singing it and it makes me scream, “stop!” but then they don’t. So I’ve started singing my own irritating Kolaveri di back at them.
It goes like this mama….
If you don’t stop-u, stop-u,
I’ll give you a tight-eh slap-u, slap-u!
It’ll make your eyes pop-u, pop-u,
It may even make you poop-u, poop-u.
So please don’t test my kolaveri, kolaveri dey!
Well, this didn’t even take me 30 seconds to compose. Maybe I too can get a few hits, well, physical ones may be, from Dhanush fans.
* Speaking of slap-u…, if you liked the Soup song, you will love the Sharad Pawar slap song.
(Vikram Muthanna is the managing editor of the evening newspaper, Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)
Also read: When Kolaveri Di meet Sharad Pawar ji