Skip to content

Why This Kavala-Worry Kavala-Worry Di?

December 5, 2011

As somebody recently said about the Mumbai flash mob video, if you haven’t seen it, you probably don’t have internet. I’m speaking of the recent ‘Tamil’ hit song of course, ‘starring’ Dhanush.

The one with the catchy tune and simple ‘lyrics’? See, this is what worries me, the fact that I have already used so many quotation marks – for ‘Tamil’, ‘starring’ and ‘lyrics’. Which is why I titled this piece “why this kavala-worry kavala-worry di”. “Kavala” means worry in Tamil (without quotes). So kavala-worry really means worry-worry, which should be nonsense, but it isn’t, given the massive ‘success’ (can’t keep away from the quote marks sorry) of the original ‘Kolaveri’ song, full of double-double words, because this is how we speak in soudh indiya. “Kolaveri”, for those suddenly-uncool nordh indiyans who don’t understand ‘Tamil’ or even plain old Tamil, means ‘murderous rage’ – kolla (murder) + verri (rage).

It may appear like I’m launching into a full-fledged defence of the song, telling all of us cool and uncool indiyans to stop worrying and start enjoying the song. Alas, I’m not. One gentleman did say something similar on a site reporting that Javed Akhtar had “slammed” the song. His response (to a commentator who had agreed with Akhtar) went something like this, “this is somebody’s creativity, please respect it before you start criticising somebody’s work and vision.” This made me kavala-worry. Apart from being very confused about whether it was temporality he was worried about (we should respect something BEFORE we start criticising it – which would only render the critique more forceful in my humble opinion), I wanted to know from the man why exactly I shouldn’t criticise somebody’s creativity.

It reminded me of the dizzying moral ground taken by Appleheads when their fountainhead died…er…stopped spouting the water of genius that ordinary heads may bathe in. Even accounting for the fact that death had rendered Steve Jobs’ halo ever more shiny, any criticism about Apple or its founder, its ways of functioning, its business tactics…even mentioning that ol’ Steve was as much of a businessman as any other (surely, this should be incontrovertible fact?) invited wounded defences of his ‘creativity’. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that all creativity is produced within specific environments – economic, cultural and political – and that that environment may be deeply problematic to your the way you want to live your life or want your products to be manufactured – I’m thinking of those sweet-smelling soaps produced at Nazi concentration camps, or the amazing (human) life-saving medication which involves the slow dismembering of (non-human) bodies, or even those hugely comfy running shoes produced by eight-year olds in sweaty prison-factories in Cambodia….Let’s assume that Kolaveri was produced in a socialist-anarchist commune using green recording technology (my fantasy, you can fill in your own here, no kavala-worries). Why should I, an ordinary member of that anarcho-environmental commune lose my rights to criticise that song, even as every other member is dhinka-chikkaa-ing like verris to the tune?

Or take a more recent controversy, in the literary sphere in which author and critic Pankaj Mishra has written a long, engaged and well-researched (my opinion, you’re free to disagree) review of historian Niall Ferguson’s books, arguing essentially that Ferguson makes little attempt to hide his love for the Empire (British and now American) and that his version of history is disrespectful to the memory of all those who perished under the Western imperial order, as well as to the incredible struggles waged by those subjugated. Ferguson’s written response to Mishra is a little confounding: he argues essentially that he loves Empire, but is not an imperialist/racist. Ok, if that argument holds water for you, no kavala-worries. What is even more confounding is that Ferguson has asked for an apology from Mishra and the editor of the magazine the review appeared in, failing which he has threatened to sue the magazine! Now I’m really kavala-worried. Wasn’t it enough to call Mishra names in public for doing a job that all literary/academic critics are meant to do, to engage readers in an alternate reading of a text or an author? What are we aiming for? A society in which coca-cola can ask a filmmaker to remove a scene in which the villain is shown drinking coke but all humourists, literary and music critics, stand-up comedians or authors have to sign 500-page contracts they won’t insult a public authority or god forbid, “seek to influence public policy” (believe it or not, many magazines ask for such ‘contributor’s agreements’ from authors nowadays)?

A magazine that stands behind its author and her right to criticise another author/individual must now be dragged through the legal process and feel the might of the all-knowing lawyers and judges too? In India, the recent suing of Caravan magazine by Arindam Chaudhuri (apparently his suit was too shiny to tolerate bad press) has set a new low. I’m not speaking of legal processes alone. There has been a creeping acceptance in public morality about the fundamental idea behind blasphemy – the need to be ‘respectful’ in some a priori way, to not criticise something ‘prestigious’ or popular. And now we have exhortations to like a song that ten million have already liked by clicking on it on youtube. This is how popularity ratings are calculated nowadays (nobody asks if all those ten million who saw the video liked it, indeed on the main youtube site, only 1 million 643 thusand-odd have clicked ‘like’), but that’s another matter. What I’m saying is, why this kavala-worry for me also to like a song that YOU like, di?

I have ranted pointlessly enough, which must be sending you into a bit of a kolaveri…so let me list the reasons why I don’t ‘like’ or even plain like the song. One, the ridiculously inane tune, which gets stuck in the backbrain like all annoying jingles, giving you that bubble-gummy feeling of having chewed without having eaten. Two, the tired old misognyny in the lyrics, so mastered by a certain genre of Tamil uber-cool ghetto boy – a misogyny that involves chasing a ‘white-u’ (lighter-skinned) girl of usually higher class (played for about a decade now by nordh/east Indian girls in Tamil films); only to tell the girl how her heart is ‘black-u’ ‘black-u’. As a friend put it, the misogyny that pretends that “girls cause all the trouble and heartbreak, guys are selfless creatures”. It’s a misogyny that has touched a million nerves, as some of the funny, creative counter-videos put up by mostly women show. Three, the careful marketing of the song to make it look like a casual goofing-around-recording-session-gone-genius whereas it is slick, slick, slick – the tune has a clear Tamil folksy musical ancestry; but the form of the video subliminally reiterates the star as its originary creator, the quirky, mysterious musical spring. Finally, the pidgin English/Tamil/Tanglish and the senseless words.

Now, ok, I get the funkiness of talking pidgin back to the masters. I also love nonsense lyrics. But is that really all that’s going on here? Am I imagining it or has simplicity to the point of simpistic-ness become the new emperor, one to whom we must bow and scrape? We have it from the horse’s mouth: To Dhanush himself, the success of the song, proves that “people universally only want simple lyrics and simple tune from the filmmakers”. Not surprisingly, the composer of the song is now in great demand, not just in Kollywood but also in Bollywood. Why, da? Why must simplicity reign? To be fair, neither Dhanush nor the composer predicted the success of the song, nor have they demanded it be liked. I’m imagining right now rather, the horror of the brave new world that some of us want – simple in word and tune, serious and respectful to its gods and stars. Worse, Kolaveri’s simplicity is far from being just that. It is a very complicated simplicity, really – interspersed with such a glut of just-acceptable misogynist cultural messages, just-right folksiness and pitch-perfect global marketing packaging.

But this may be the crux of the matter, when the gentleman asked us to respect the song, not to criticise it. What he meant was: respect the mood of the age, the brain of the machine, the virus in the global body. Don’t be a stick-in-the-mud, looking for meaning, critique, diversity and so on. Why, da? Why this kavala-worry, kavala-worry da?

40 Comments leave one →
  1. rakesh singh permalink
    December 5, 2011 3:56 PM

    true for the last para :)

  2. Chris permalink
    December 5, 2011 4:12 PM

    Sunalini,

    Should I say, super mama! Loved this post. I was thrilled to see articulated with clarity my own vague sense of discomfort at the over-koll that’s been happening with this song. This kolaveri song is basically a life-affirming anthem – or shall we say, one of the anthems — for the kind of anti-complexity, ad-friendly, dissent-unfriendly, consumerist paradise that the schizophrenic residents of our delusional middle-class want to inhabit.

    • December 5, 2011 9:07 PM

      Super comment, Chris, thanks :)

    • Sumana permalink
      December 6, 2011 1:04 PM

      You put it so very well, Chris!
      And this is an essay after my heart – Sunalini Kumar, you spoke for a minority-like-us. Thank you.

  3. Isabel permalink
    December 5, 2011 5:35 PM

    Hi Sunalini,

    While your double worry at this misogynistic song’s mass appeal and its success being attributed to Dhanush is understandable, there is an underlying distaste of all things mediocre that comes out from this piece. Mediocre may be anti-complexity but it is not always middle class / consumerist savvy. Its not that simple. Do I see an elitist bias here of-course garbed in a quest for brilliance?

    • December 5, 2011 9:13 PM

      Isabel, I am not really interested in the question of mediocrity and brilliance. When I was a child, ‘brilliant’ was usually used as some supposedly neutral IQ-rated measure of intelligence. I quite like the way the word is used now, as a kind of fully-biased affirmation of something, usually nothing to do with standardised intelligence at all…say, “I thought the play was brilliant.” I have not used the words mediocre or brilliant at all. The closest I’ve come to it was to call the tune inane, but if you see Dhanush’s statement, he himself calls the song utter nonsense. One man’s nonsense is another man’s inane no? And that is really what I’ve been saying. That a hundred responses are possible to this song, and there is a stifling culture of conformity that demands we like the next cultural product on the block that goes viral.

  4. Ajith kumar a s permalink
    December 5, 2011 5:53 PM

    i would ask why this article carries such `kavala veri’ about the `popular’?first of all i think Sunalini misses the point that we are talking about a different music sphere what we call internet music,which i think carries different habits of listening and sharing and liking.i think its is not a wise thing to address the popularity of this song as a popularity of a film song .but we have to think about the tendencies in the internet music world.new forms of music has appeared since mobile and internet.what would you say about the popularity of `airtel ‘ringtone.it has to understood within these new practices in music.the conventional ways of understanding music popularity would not be so helpful. then,how could one analyze one particular tune as inane?
    about `misogynist cultural messages’ i would say if we analyze popular songs in such a way there won’t be any songs that is not misogynist. the better way would be considering popular music as site of conflicts and negotiations -where the dominant values and the opposing values contest each other(following Stuart hall’s understanding of popular culture as a contested terrain and Richard Middleton’s undertanding of popular music as dialogic)

    • December 5, 2011 9:25 PM

      Of course dominant values and opposing values contest each other, Ajith. But not just in the realm of the popular. This opposition could happen in a number of permutations and combinations. It could be popular-verus popular, popular versus academic, elite versus democratic spaces. No one realm has a monopoly on this struggle. Having said that, I must say I have never felt the pressure to like the ‘popular’ simply because it is the ‘popular’. For the same reason I have no reason to dislike it either. What I see around me are different kinds of popular spheres, with internet music being one kind. I’m not sure I was addressing Kolaveri as the popularity of a film song. Indeed my point was precisely that there was a powerful marketing brain behind putting it on youtube, even if the marketers did not foresee its ‘viral’ success. So we are talking here of a heavily mediatised popular, a popular produced through technologies of mass media. How does analysing this listening/recording culture – precisely my intention – preclude my finding this an inane tune? As for misogyny being in every (popular) song, thankfully you are wrong. What would I listen to otherwise?

  5. December 5, 2011 5:54 PM

    Enjoyed reading it! I have not heard the song with the exception of a first 2-3 lines. In one sense it reminds me of one episode of KBC. When Amitabh Bachan asks one the contestant what does he tell his wife when he gets angry (or something to that level) and the contestant responds in Marathi (That he will shout, beat and throw her out or something to this effect). At which the audience laughs and claps. I did not know what was funny, or I could not make out if the audience could not understand what was said, or they laughed and clapped at the animated contestant and his ways of expression. But it was the small “crash” moment where you do not want to question where the world is headed anymore and there are a clue staring at you in the face.

  6. December 5, 2011 7:14 PM

    I enjoyed this article but I think it misses a very crucial point of class-parody that stands up more striking than all possible signs of misogyny really. And if anything worries me about ‘kolaveri’ it is that.

  7. Sneha Banerjee permalink
    December 5, 2011 7:54 PM

    Just as a pointer, Below is a very interesting reply to the Kolaveri Di confronting its mysogyny head on….

  8. Sneha Banerjee permalink
    December 5, 2011 8:00 PM

    Contd. from above… It is also very interesting to read the description that this respondent gives with her video.. the need to add all the caveats that she does – e.g. an anticipatory apology for ‘slaughtering’ the song, that it is not male-bashing generally and that Dhanush rocks, is very interesting.

  9. December 5, 2011 9:49 PM

    I would agree with Sneha Krishnan above that the class/regional parody element is at least as worrying as the misogyny. It is the song of the failed man/masculinity who is still too wedded to the ‘vernac’ (at one point the director asks Dhanush to stick to English lyrics when he slips into more Tamil than desired), and Dhanush’s slickness and ease during the performance continually gestures to this being a conscious impersonation and exaggerated parody of the same (with the subtitles actually spelling out the -u at the end of words). What is one being goaded to laugh at here?

  10. Ajith kumar a s permalink
    December 5, 2011 11:10 PM

    Sunalini,yes, as you “Indeed my point was precisely that there was a powerful marketing brain behind putting it on youtube, even if the marketers did not foresee its ‘viral’ success.”but while there was a `powerful marketing brain’ what could have been these listeners doing -sharing it on social networking sites ,liking ,emailing?what would be there contribution in this viral marketing and making of this `popular’ ?i wanted to talk about the `new listeners’ with lot of new powers ,that emerged with the new forms of music.so there is no reason to believe that this popularity created by “technologies of mass media” could be a one sided affair.
    going back to the lyrics and its `folksiness’ is the misogyny being complicated here by a subaltern masculine expression about the `white skinned women’.it is my doubt

  11. Ammu Abraham permalink
    December 6, 2011 7:05 AM

    Thanks for this article. I thought the song was quite catchy, but the colour coded articulations of male desire (common to both north and south) and the misogynistic cow-business is disturbing. Yes, the words of this song are few, and simple. So there can be no mistake about its chilling message. Feminism has obviously never affected the collective unconscious here.

  12. December 6, 2011 11:10 AM

    Sneha Krishnan and Aniruddha, absolutely. Strangely, that was the first thing that annoyed me about the song, as my friend from Chennai and I have been discussing on FB. Which is why the referrence to those double-double words and how people from the ‘soudh’ speak. This whole I’m-country-bumpkin-speaking-pidgin-able-laugh-at-myself-look-look!! Dhanush seems to carry the whole thing with aplomb and without a trace of apology, to his credit, again, but then he isn’t the son-in-law of Rajnikanth for nothing. Rajni, who inverted the stifling Brahminism of Tamil cinema, its aesthetics and morality with such flair in the 80’s that he can now in the 2000’s play an hyper-masculine android helping gormless women deliver babies and magnetising crude Iron-Age implements so that they fly away from dark-skinned devi-worshipping natives and towards his light-skinned android self. In the process making more crores for the star Rajnikanth and his well-insulated family – light-skinned wife and daughter. The daughter marries the charmingly vernacular Dhanush, and some kind of crazy circle is completed again…And Ajith, if we are speaking of listening cultures, does it not worry you that a big part of the popularity of the song outside south India is the immense gratification it provides to other indians to see a south indian make fun of himself, his accent? Clearly there is no one-way relationship between a product and its consumption, but what is the two-way relationship telling us? And why shouldn’t we listen with a critical ear?

    • joe permalink
      December 10, 2011 3:16 AM

      Sunalini, thankyou for the clarity

  13. Anju permalink
    December 6, 2011 3:21 PM

    I found it catchy when I saw it first but perhaps, the simplicity of the lyrics makes the misogyny stand out even more and so stereotypically too-the “white” girl in “murderous rage” (misogyny 101). So I was very happy to see the many “reply” covers done by women and it was heartening to see that so many would not put up with this kind of thing anymore. But I think what I was most put-off by was the video! It creates the illusion of spontaneous creation(and Dhanush himself said, it’s just some nonsense that came to him on the spot or or something to that effect) but the video is definitely directed with every intention of being sold (like Sunalini mentioned) and the composer, Aiswarya, Shruti and Dhanush seem to have pre-meditated every move as though they were directed. Like you pointed out, everything is too ‘slick': the lyrics, the gestures (to remind one of rap?) and the singing. All of it together create a sense of uneasiness and if you listen to the song without the video I think around the fifth time, you will be bored.
    People seem to have a big problem with accepting that some didn’t think the song was all that great.

    The article was really fascinating. Thanks!

  14. December 6, 2011 7:11 PM

    Anju, Punetreewatch, Sneha Banerjee and Ammu, thanks for your thoughts. And Sneha and Aniruddh what I was saying in my previous comment was that strangely while the regional/class self-parodying was the first thing that angered me about this song, it got lost when I started writing the post, maybe because I started stumbling on to all sorts of other subtexts and problems. For one, Kolaveri takes off from the urban musical sub culture of Gana paattu in Tamil Nadu, but re-packages it as a viral video with a photogenic Dhanush. Anju’s point is important – what’s the song without the video? And if we’re talking about ‘the popular’, then Kolaveri’s popularity needs to be placed in context of other hugely popular musical sub cultures in TN and beyond. This website has a good list (ignore the slightly funny write-ups) http://www.squidoo.com/tamil-folk-music.

    • Ajith kumar a s permalink
      December 7, 2011 7:15 AM

      Sunalini,i was thinking why we are comfortable with the `real’ `folk’ but not with kolaveri song which doesn’t fit into our easy classifications of music genres?finally you have given a link to a list of real `hugely popular sub cultures in tamil nadu’i. The essential `folk’ which is considered as innocent ,pure and `not for sale ‘ doesn’t become a threat but the film songs which disagrees to fit into any of these `real ‘ genres becomes a threat because it is `polluted’ .here the `folk’ is treated as the legitimate popular.
      i think Anju’s suggestion of listening to song without the video is irrelevant in this context.because we are talking about the complete package -the you tube video and the song.
      yes .we have to listen with a critical ear .but `we’ are not the only ones who listen to it critically .there could have been many reasons for the listeners to like and share the song.i don’t know whether commenting on a song “One, the ridiculously inane tune, which gets stuck in the back brain like all annoying jingles, giving you that bubble-gummy feeling of having chewed without having eaten” could be considered as critical listening.

  15. Pankaj Sharan permalink
    December 7, 2011 11:34 AM

    I enjoyed your brilliant article! Here are some comments from a physicist.

    There are two streams in art — popular and classical, and they appeal to two very different needs of human mind.

    (We carry in the networks of our mind the strategies of evolution which were needed at one time for survival but may no longer be necessary. Survival depends on being with the group, with the crowd. An animal is safer in a large group because the predator would kill only one, if at all. On the other hand individual ingenuity can also guaranty survival, especially in those situations where the crowd might perish.)

    One should evaluate ‘participatory’ art and ‘introspective’ art differently. A person in a rock-concert follows the actions of other members of the crowd far more than the score of the music. (I am not even sure if a rock concert follows a fixed score.) Compare that to the introspective silence of listeners in a classical concert.

    It is pointless to ‘kovala-worry’ too much about popular art which has received a huge boost with the information and communication technology revolution. The test of good art is whether it survives. I am sure a few months from now the same crowds would be singing some other tune, equally passionately.

  16. December 7, 2011 1:21 PM

    Dear Pankaj,
    Thanks for your interesting thoughts. I’m going to think seriously about these categories now. Although I’m not sure Kolaveri points to a dichotomy between introspective and shared listening experiences. In fact what it banks on is the use of the internet to create a kind of shared, but highly individual listening experience, which is essentially what youtube videos create – a sense of being alone in front of your computer but doing the same thing that everybody else is doing, alone in front of their computers. There has been no Kolaveri concert, and the film that this song is (possibly?) part of has not yet released, to the best of my knowledge. And this is what I’ve been trying to say to Ajith, I’m not at all worried about its popularity. I’m saying two, quite simple things: one, that Kolaveri’s popularity is one of many forms of popularity (dichotomies like pure and polluted, or mediocre and brilliant, or popular and classical simply miss this point), but that this form has a powerful listening audience in terms of class and internet access, something worth noting. Two, its a very self-consciously created popularity, based on the use of highly conventional musical forms and idioms; indeed ‘purer’ (if I were to use Ajith’s category), less raucous, less transgressive versions of other popular forms like gaana paattu. Kolaveri also celebrates a kind of self-conscious naivete or simplicity, a simplicity that runs nicely parallel to the deliberately simplistic misogyny it reiterates – I’m-such-a-good-fellow-why-won’t-this-unattainable-girl-love-me-it-must-be-because-her-heart-is-black. Finally, it embodies a self-aware parodying of class and region in a way that appeals not simply to those who are from the same class but also builds on well established memories of cultural othering to disarm those from outside. What could be more charming than the native laughing at himself? I will grant a certain transgressive possibility to this self-parody, however, does it need to be built over the foundation of tried and tested themes of misogyny, and wrapped in this aggressive assertion of simplicity? As Aniruddha has pointed out, we are being asked to laugh at certain constituencies here. All-important question is at who. My guess is there are two levels of humour – one is the pidgin-speaking native is laughing at himself, and second, the native united with the non-native (predominantly male audience), laughing at/ crying over the heartlessness of the girl-u girl-u (the universal enemy).
    Since Ajith, you were under the impression that my critical analysis was limited to finding the tune inane, I took some care to elaborate. I still find the tune inane, though.

  17. December 8, 2011 10:20 AM

    Some much-needed background on Dhanush, the under-city genre in Tamil cinema, its complex class-versus-gender angles, and the rather unfortunate popularity of Kolaveri, from somebody well-steeped in popular Tamil cinema – far from icy critic, Arul Mani in the latest Tehelka is a self-declared fan, somebody who fell for an actor who looked “for the first time, like his scrawny fans”. Mani writes (full article at http://www.tehelka.com/story_main51.asp?filename=hu101211Take.asp):

    “We could declare Dhanush a subaltern hero but that is not quite how his films work. Simpler, perhaps, is to acknowledge a range of roles in which he enacts epic transformations. We are offered such a spectacle in Vetri Maaran’s film Aadukalam, where he plays a lungidancing ‘cock-fighting’ enthusiast struggling to keep a moral focus in a world darker than he might have expected. Then there are films like Vengai, a caste epic that requires him to slap the heroine several times, merely one of its 30 winces per hour.

    The backward class (Tamil) hero’s mythic tussles with the modern may win him an audience, but it is nevertheless his fate to also be met with incomprehension beyond that audience. That incomprehension may be pleasant and sunny if he arrives without inconvenient history. A passage made easier by fora grounded in an eternal present — Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. That, perhaps, is all there is to Kolaveri Di.

    If such a hero arrives wrapped in a history that does not unravel in an easy bolero, then that incomprehension will take the form of hostile caricature. Which is why Rajini must inspire jokes, and Raj Kumar’s superbly parodic Eef You Come Today must become every clueless fool’s opportunity to be Englishmedium hipster for five minutes on the Internet. In such a regime of understanding, some cultures are always fated to be folkloric, to be living museums.

    Is Kolaveri Di the first sign of a series of crossovers from the local into the national and the international? There is the mythology of easy creation and ready acceptance everywhere that is beginning to form around the song. The lyrics are no more than a riff on the various declarations of class- anxiety that keep turning up in Selvaraghavan’s films. The music, for all its supposed folksiness, isn’t particularly distinctive. What it does is never quite a crossover because it has nothing in particular to transport.”

    Mani concludes, “There is something tragicomic about the fact that an actor like Dhanush must win unprecedented attention for a mere bagatelle, while his far more substantial work goes ignored, but what can we do about that except laugh and shrug our shoulders?”

    Somebody simply has to see the ways in which I have referred to Dhanush above (‘charming’, ‘photogenic’, ‘carrying something off with aplomb and without a trace of an apology’) to see that I’m far from immune to the pleasures of the popular (!!). I’m glad that a long-term fan like Mani is now alerting us to the full range of ironies behind Dhanush’s new popularity.

    • joe permalink
      December 10, 2011 3:31 AM

      interesting . That is what zizeks says. A time when a lumpen rioter,like the pidgin, can speak of why he became so, in a mode of self psycho analysis

      • December 10, 2011 8:24 PM

        Hey Joe, thanks! I’m not sure about the Zizek reference, so can’t say much on lumpen rioters. Would you care to send me a link please?

  18. Shikha Jhingan permalink
    December 8, 2011 12:05 PM

    Sunalini, there is something about the song that has not come into discussion so far. The song completely unmasks the process of recording. I remember, when Rehman burst into the scene with Roja, we sat up and noticed the way he used electronic music and technology. But everything about Rehman has been mystified. All those references to his studio turning into a mystical space, the charged atmosphere, the fact that he only records at night (the only exception he made was for Lata Mangeshkar it seems). ‘Why this Kolavari di’ takes the recording process inside out. The ‘dummy lyrics’, the ‘tune change’, the ‘rhythm correct,’ the vocalisation of instrumental sounds… it’s all part of the song. The ‘out takes’ become ‘in’. Composing, rehearsing, singing, recording and listening seem to get collapsed. This is very much a part of the appeal of the song. And I agree with Ajith this is definitely about internet music and a different kind of address to the listener/viewer. This genre of ‘destructive songs,’ a term coined by Rey Chow, has been around but we have not seen it in this form in which the recording process itself is parodied. I do not know anything about the contemporary Tamil music industry so can’t comment but from what I saw in Bombay even quite recently, there has always been this myth about the studio. This got transposed to other spaces, for example the music contest shows on television. The contestants coming on stage and touching the feet of the judges and all the ‘rituals’. Kolaveri di to me is a break from all this. Yes, it is all very self conscious absolutely no doubt about it.

    • Ajith kumar a s permalink
      December 8, 2011 5:16 PM

      shika,that is a crucial take about the unmasking of the process of recording.few decades ago the studios were unreachable for the listener.this demystification of the process of music making has brought music closer to the listener and has also contested the aura of the `composer; and `singer’. simultaneously with the development of music technology and the recording soft wares we could set up a studio at home and make music at a more democratized space.Rey chow’s term `the destructive songs’ sounds interesting.

  19. Nandini Sn permalink
    December 8, 2011 5:38 PM

    Thank you so much for voicing my thoughts here. If the article you’re referring to was the one on HT/The Washington Post on Facebook, I was the commentor who got flamed and who had people pouncing on me just because I called the song what it is – a gimmick, nonsense and an insult to music. Not to mention the extremely presumptuous, pseudo cool lyrics. I still get notifications, 6 days on, of people slamming me for not liking the song, on an article that also critiques it.
    Mediocrity is spreading like wildfire. Real talent, meaning and creativity are now pushed aside when people say they love ‘simplicity’. Sorry but if this is what simplicity is, I’d rather stick to the complexity.

  20. Nandini Sn permalink
    December 8, 2011 5:47 PM

    Also, my comment thread has since been deleted from the article…that alone says a lot.

  21. December 9, 2011 10:26 AM

    Nandini, yes ma it was your comment! I now understand why I wasn’t able to find it when I sat down to write this post. I had read your comment in the morning and been horror-struck at the vitriol it generated. It crystallised my intent to write the post. By the afternoon when I wrote the post I could no longer find the comment on the site. I cannot believe they took it off!!
    Much of the discussion on the post has centred on the song itself, and whether it is indeed mediocre or not (and I take your point that you find it mediocre; I find the tune inane too), and I can completely understand why, since I myself couldn’t resist putting on record how silly I find the tune. However, if anybody were to read the post again, it was really about two main things: One, the culture of stifling worship that can grow around many kinds of “prestigious or popular” icons; most of which are products of a high degree of control over technology and marketing and may not have survived a truly competitive cultural marketplace. So we are talking of classic economic monopoly and the way in which advertising blitzes can introduce distortions in consumption that make any ‘neutral’ assessment impossible. Thus the comparison with Steve Jobs and Apple. And here, Shikha, I truly don’t believe that bringing a high quality video camera into the music studio is an act of demystification. Indeed, I think the way in which these very attractive videos are shot are heavily mystifying regarding the process of creating music, carefully packaged to keep or boost the aura of certain characters in the video – the star, occasionally the music director, and let me venture to say, even the physical recording equipment – the loving soft-focus light on the instruments – dazzling music console, professional headphones…have a look (if you haven’t already seen it) at the recording of chammak challo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4LZuGIq6q4&feature=related. And this whole ‘making of’ genre is now used by a certain kind of market-savvy director in Bollywood, most famous being perhaps ‘Chale Chalo’ – the making of Lagaan. These videos thus use to full effect arguably the most mystified, mystifying parts of the music making process – the star, the mysterious genius of creation and that sexy, enigmatic, unattainable recording technology in the studio. Second, I was trying to analyse the reasons for Kolaveri’s popularity, which I consider an entirely legitimate exercise, since ‘popularity’ in some abstract sense is no holy cow to me. For many Kolaveri is a sign of a crazy, wonderful, miraculous crossover phenomenon. My response is why not? Let’s say it is. However, it is clearly not the first crossover right? Every single Rihanna, Avril Lavigne or even Julio/Enrique Iglesias music video immediately goes viral. Rihanna’s average is around 35 million views. A Jamaican-born U.S based singer with dance-friendly tunes who is heard in a 100 countries around the world – that to me sounds like a crossover. When Indians celebrate the crossover of Dhanush, there are two levels of implicit (and to me, patronising) approval – from Tamil Nadu to outside TN, and from India to outside India. As Arul Mani reminds us, not all musical forms pass the test of success in the ‘eternal present’ of internet social media. Kolaveri passes with flying colours because it parses a nominally folksy tune (undoubtedly ‘catchy’) through a powerful set of subliminal messages – the myth of easy creation (one of the most powerful myths of the post-Renaissance world), the idea of simplicity (as Nandini has also pointed out), including simplistic misogyny, and the mystique of the star/recording process, always unattainable to the average listener. You have to meet only one avid movie fan/young assistant director/Bollywood hopeful to see the way in which the ‘making of’ video is hungrily consumed, diminishing none of the aura of the star system.
    What happened to irreverence and iconoclasm? I ask because Kolaveri clearly marks the making of an icon. Is there a new reverence for the ‘popular’ simply because it is the popular? And before anybody can jump to conclusions about the inherent elitism of such a position, I just want to point to the extremely elite processes of packaging and marketing for cultural products like Kolaveri (by the way, the exact same set of arguments defending this kind of cultural production and habits of democratic consumption and sharing can be made for Apple’s products). I would also like to remind us that devastating critiques of the popular can come from other kinds of popular. In Ajith’s post on this http://kafila.org/2011/12/08/high-theory-low-kolaveri-di-why-i-am-a-fan-of-this-flop-song-a-s-ajith-kumar/#more-10809 he makes an assumption that those who critique Kolaveri are doing it from the position of high classical music. I’m a self-declared philistine who has no ear at all for high or low music, but I have an ear for complex and annoyingly simple tunes (for instance, I find an ad jingle like Airtel’s rather complex – the mechanics of its downloading and distribution are another issue). I can think of a hundred thousand extremely popular musical forms that are far more complex and far richer with meaning than the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Kolaveri.

  22. Nandini Sn permalink
    December 9, 2011 11:38 AM

    I had never expected that kind of a response to my comment, which, if you noticed was initially just a line that agreed with Javed Akhtar. I also do not understand why it was deleted – but being the cynic that I am about freedom of expression in this country, I’m not surprised.

    In the comment thread, I noticed two kinds of argument in favour of the song – one, the fact that millions of people who love it can’t be wrong and the other, blaming Javed for writing Dard-e-disco. One person even said that it has helped in bridging the north-south divide. Of course, there were others who asked me to ‘go quit your job and join a reality show’, ‘shut up you idiot’ and another, it was funny, said that I shouldn’t have made that comment because now ‘everyone’ hates me. Since I am a Tamilian I was also told I’m not a ‘true’ one, that being a Tamilian I’m bringing other Tamilians down.

    I think the point here is that those who tend to go against the popular and the viral are labelled as elitist. As for the song, it is a clever way of simplifying ‘love failure’ while sending across the message that women are temptresses who break hearts, while men are simple and sincere. The ‘simplicity’ of the lyrics, the ‘catchy’ manufactured background beats and the whole video that, as Shikha pointed out, unmasks the studio process, create this aura of a ‘humble’ actor who just happened to pen down these nonsense lyrics. There’s a degree of respect for Dhanush, as he’s an actor and not a singer, and the whole being proud of one’s roots for the Tamilians that identify with this song.

    There’s simple, and then there’s plain nonsense, and Kolaveri falls into the latter category. What is more baffling is that somehow, you are automatically labelled a snob or someone ‘with no sense of humor’ if you voice your dislike for the song. The ‘white-u skin-u heart-u black-u’ is both racist and misogynistic on so many levels, and the whole tone of the song is patronizing towards this girl. There’s hardly any singing, because the little singing that there is, is auto-tuned too.

    I also think that elitism is inherent in that position as well – where the popularity of something is the only sign that it’s good, and there’s this tendency to look down upon those who disagree. There seems to be a certain amount of fear of going against the grain when it is warranted. As one commenter has said ‘if this song can unite north and south indians then why can’t you enjoy it?’ The media’s extensive coverage of this song and all the hype that surrounds it contributes to the general thought that ‘if it’s this popular it must be great’.
    Like you said, it’s not the so-called simplicity of the song I dislike because there are lots of songs that are simple but far better and actually more inherently complex.

  23. Nandini Sn permalink
    December 11, 2011 2:51 AM

    I had never expected that kind of a response to my comment, which, if you noticed was initially just a line that agreed with Javed Akhtar. I also do not understand why it was deleted – but being the cynic that I am about freedom of expression in this country, I’m not surprised.

    In the comment thread, I noticed two kinds of argument in favour of the song – one, the fact that millions of people who love it can’t be wrong and the other, blaming Javed for writing Dard-e-disco. One person even said that it has helped in bridging the north-south divide. Of course, there were others who asked me to ‘go quit your job and join a reality show’, ‘shut up you idiot’ and another, it was funny, said that I shouldn’t have made that comment because now ‘everyone’ hates me. Since I am a Tamilian I was also told I’m not a ‘true’ one, that being a Tamilian I’m bringing other Tamilians down.

    I think the point here is that those who tend to go against the popular and the viral are labelled as elitist. As for the song, it is a clever way of simplifying ‘love failure’ while sending across the message that women are temptresses who break hearts, while men are simple and sincere. The ‘simplicity’ of the lyrics, the ‘catchy’ manufactured background beats and the whole video that, as Shikha pointed out, unmasks the studio process, create this aura of a ‘humble’ actor who just happened to pen down these nonsense lyrics. There’s a degree of respect for Dhanush, as he’s an actor and not a singer, and the whole being proud of one’s roots for the Tamilians that identify with this song.

    There’s simple, and then there’s plain nonsense, and Kolaveri falls into the latter category. What is more baffling is that somehow, you are automatically labelled a snob or someone ‘with no sense of humor’ if you voice your dislike for the song. The ‘white-u skin-u heart-u black-u’ is both racist and misogynistic on so many levels, and the whole tone of the song is patronizing towards this girl. There’s hardly any singing, because the little singing that there is, is auto-tuned too.

    I also think that elitism is inherent in that position as well – where the popularity of something is the only sign that it’s good, and there’s this tendency to look down upon those who disagree. Then it gets to the point where those who disagree are somehow betraying their true self and ‘deliberately’ going against the grain in order to seem different, when in reality it’s plain and simple – they see things for what they are and not for what popular opinion makes them out to be.

  24. December 11, 2011 11:47 AM

    Loved this article. I have personally started a war against this song on Facebook.

    Thanks to a friend of mine who gave me the link to your article. It was a good read.

    • Nandini Sn permalink
      December 11, 2011 6:03 PM

      I’d love to join in. Am sick of the hype.

  25. December 11, 2011 8:01 PM

    I don’t know why should anybody start a war against any song, especially the type of a catchy tune like this Kolaveri di. By the way, what is said in the article about its meaning is wrong. In Tamil ‘Kol’ means ‘kill’ and ‘veri’ is a sort of ‘frenzy’ and so it can be understood as ‘killer frenzy’ or as somebody translated ‘killer rage’. Also except this Kolaveri and some sort of idiomatic slang of English there seems to be nothing more Tamil in it. As Jawed Akhtar commented it cannot be held high for literary values or will it stand for all times as any classic. But it is very catchy and ‘hear-able’ song which caught the imagination of millions of people for its rhyme and tune.

    • December 14, 2011 10:46 AM

      Sir I think you missed some sentences in my article. I have translated ‘kolla’ as murder, which you would agree is the same as kill. I have translated verri as rage, which you say is frenzy. Verri can mean mad/crazy too. So one or all these meanings are implied depending on the usage – rage, anger, frenzy, madness. So ‘murderous rage’ as a translation of kolaveri is perfectly acceptable. Second, it is my point precisely that this song is not Tamil but pidgin/idiomatic English. I quote from above, “See, this is what worries me, the fact that I have already used so many quotation marks – for ‘Tamil’, ‘starring’ and ‘lyrics’.” In other words, I’m saying this is not a Tamil song, which is what you are saying too, if I’m not wrong?
      Third, if your argument is that a ‘catchy tune’ cannot be subjected to any critique or analysis, then what can I say? You are certainly entitled to that view.

  26. December 12, 2011 11:41 AM

    Very interesting take by Ruchir Joshi in India Today, with many convergences but equally many divergences with my piece. Slices down the carefully crafted ‘spontaneity’ of Kolaveri down to a t.

    http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/kolaveri-di-madness-dhanush-shruti-hassan/1/163772.html

  27. March 5, 2012 1:11 PM

    @Sunalini, there was a recent piece about how Dhanush is going to hold a session in IIM-A on…viral marketing. Says a lot about the song doesn’t it?

  28. March 10, 2012 7:57 PM

    Rex, thanks for pointing that out. Yes, marketing marketing marketing. And more marketing. It’s song-eat-song out there!

Trackbacks

  1. The Grey Zone: Censorship and Consent - |

We look forward to your comments. Comments are subject to moderation as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 55,928 other followers

%d bloggers like this: