If you still haven’t heard of the song Why this kolaveri di?, you haven't been anywhere near India nor Indians these last six weeks. Since its release on November 16, this song has gone viral on the Internet and been reported in all the Indian newspapers. Why is this song so immensely popular? There are several reasons and they all contribute to the phenomenon.
Kolaveri means killing rage, so the name of the song figuratively translates into something like ‘Why are you so damn angry with me, girl?’ And that remains a mystery throughout the song. One can only guess that it may be because of the guy’s alcoholic tendencies (guessing from his slurred voice) or the girl has anger management issues. The song is part of a movie called 3 so all may be revealed when the movie is released in January. But until then, the song not only has a mysterious allure, but a broad relevancy that can apply to any of us who have been confused in love and wondering what the hell we did to piss off the other person so much.
It’s supposed to be a sad love song, a song about love gone wrong, or as the singer refers to it, a soup song. And you’ll be happy to learn that it’s appropriately dedicated to soup boys, meaning all the guys out there undergoing heartache, breakup, and the sorry side of love in general. There’s instant and universal empathy with a sad love song, and calling it a soup song gives it a dash of quirkiness and humour, making it distinctive.
Some say the song is in Tanglish – a combination of Tamil and English – but you could also call it Engmil. Actually though, apart from a few words, it’s in English, with the last sound of each word extended to simulate an exaggerated Tamil accent. Lyrics such as “Moon-u color-u white-u” and “Night-u color-u black-u” are cute but it also shows something else. Since the key players on this song are all South Indians, it shows an ability to laugh at themselves – something rare in Indian songs.
Because the song is essentially in English, it cuts across state borders and has national appeal. And because the song is in very simple English, it cuts across language barriers too, such that even those not fluent in English can understand it. A major attraction of this song is its simplicity and therefore its appeal to the common person. It’s not simple in the way of the Police song ‘De-Do-Do-Do De-Da-Da-Da’ which projects a veneer of simplicity but is quite profound underneath. It’s more similar to Cindy Lauper’s ‘Girls just wanna have fun’ and the Indian party song of a few of years ago ‘Just chill chill, just chill’ – but even those are manic in comparison. Kolaveri-di is probably closest in feeling to Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’. There is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get transparency. Not only is the meaning simple, so are the tune and the words. The tune was composed by Anirudh Ravichander (age 21) and lyrics were written by Dhanush (28). Dhanush himself admits that the words are largely nonsense, but they are also simple and memorable. And beat is very catchy, the tune is easily hummable, and instrumentation is reminiscent of rustic street musicians. As Sting said, “…the simple can be so powerful.
”But it’s not just the audio impact of the song; it’s the video too. Those millions of clicks on YouTube are not for nothing. It shows a recording session in a studio with a group of 20-somethings, looking urban, artistic, and cosmopolitan. There is a very relaxed casual atmosphere, no sense of hierarchy, no rules, no pretension. Everyone is doing their own thing, in their own way. The song is not being lip-synced by a slick and buff movie star, but half sung and half spoken by a guy who looks like the boy next door or your college classmate. Watching him, people think, “Hey, I could do that.”
Most importantly though, it’s a soft protest song for today’s Indian youth – protesting against the establishment, rules, hierarchy, practicality, and idol of intellectualism. Everyone is striving to be class-topper and exam-topper, striving to get into IITs and IIMs, and striving to get into Microsoft and Google. These are youth who have been for years told “Always listen to your elders”, “Keep your nose to the grindstone”, and “Stay away from all vices”. They are tired of being so good, so clean, and studying so hard. However, unlike the youth of some other countries, they’re not the kind to rampage in the streets; father would disapprove and mother would be most disappointed. But along comes this simple, funny, and easy-to-understand song about girls, love, and alcohol, sung by a guy who looks like your college buddy who doesn’t study too hard and sounds like he’s had one too many himself. What a release! What’s not to like? This song is their soft rebellion.
This song is the opposite of everything they’ve been told: study hard for 16+ years and you will succeed. This song has not been carefully composed, respectfully nutured, and long practiced. The tune and the lyrics were all done in under thirty minutes. It’s impromptu and off the cuff. And it works. This song smacks of a ‘whatever’ attitude and perhaps even has a trace of apathy – emotions prohibited in Indian youth, not to mention other sections of India – except perhaps when you’re old and occupying the hallowed halls of government.
On a minor scale, in liking this song, the Indian youth are in essence saying they don’t always want that fully orchestrated, carefully choreographed product that comes out a complex, hierarchical, non-transparent, entertainment industry. They want something that’s simple, impromptu, that represents them: a song by youth, for youth. On a major scale, in liking this song, they are asserting their independence to disagree with their elders, to go against society’s standards and choose their own, to step out of the frenzied rat race and just slack off … even if just for four minutes.
This article first appeared HERE.
Check out this exclusive video shot during the recording of the "Why this kolaveri di" with the music composer Anirudh, Dhanush, Shruti Hassan, Aishwarya and Sound Engineer Sivakumar.