Machaan Ado About Nothing

What explains India’s newfound love for South Indian pop culture?

01 January 2012
Rajinikanth in Bloodstone (1988). In the 1980s and 1990s, cosmopolites in the south often mocked him for his pomp.
DELHI PRES IMAGES
Rajinikanth in Bloodstone (1988). In the 1980s and 1990s, cosmopolites in the south often mocked him for his pomp.
DELHI PRES IMAGES

AS OF MID-DECEMBER 2011, the Tamil viral video hit ‘Why This Kolaveri Di’ (‘Why This Murderous Rage, Girl?’) has been watched more than 28 million times on YouTube; three weeks after its release on 16 November, it was the world’s seventh most popular YouTube clip, sandwiched between Justin Bieber’s ‘Mistletoe’ and Lady Gaga’s ‘Marry The Night’. More than 200,000 mobile phone users have now downloaded the song, which has already been remade by amateur artistes in just about every language that figures on the rupee note. The four-year-old son of a fading Bollywood playback singer even has his own suitable-for-children version of ‘Kolaveri’, which is supposed to be the launch pad for his own musical career.

The Economic Times—a dutiful chronicler of Indian triumphs in any field, business or otherwise—gleefully reported that several of the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) had begun to conduct academic research on the success of ‘Kolaveri’. IIM Ranchi’s marketing club led the way by organising a seminar to examine the ‘Kolaveri’ “strategy” and the lessons for making an idea successful overnight. When ‘Kolaveri’ hashtags started appearing on Twitter, I surmised it was a clever marketing gimmick from one of the cola manufacturers—and, indeed, when a young colleague of mine checked out drinkify.org, a website that provides dubious recommendations for music-cocktail pairings, someone had already determined the best quaff to accompany your ‘Kolaveri’—(One ounce ouzo on the rocks, garnished with sparklers, if you insist). Several friends in Delhi called me up seeking to know what the lyrics meant, and when I told them, essentially, “nothing”, a few hung up in disbelief and the rest suggested maybe I had just lost touch with my mother tongue after spending a decade in the capital.

In just a few weeks, one of the most execrable songs to come out of a Chennai recording studio had become the new gold standard of Indian popular culture. And you could see it coming.

TR Vivek  has worked with the Economic TimesOpen and Outlook. He was associated with Swarajyamag.com as a co-founder. He is the co-author of IPLCricket and Commerce: An Inside story. He is currently based in Hyderabad.

Keywords: South India pop culture kitsch camp Kolaveri Di Rajinikanth Quick Gun Murugan Silk Smitha Bollywood Tamil Telugu
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