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?