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Why I’m raging against Kolaveri

In the end, it is only a song, not world peace

The Good Life | Shoba Narayan

 Why don’t I like the Kolaveri Di song? That’s the question that’s been bothering me all last week. Am I not Tamilian enough to like it? Am I too Tamilian? It has morphed into a full-blown identity crisis.

Everyone around me— family, friends—is raving about it. Interestingly, though, the other Tamilians who populate my life (milk lady, flower man, ironing man, vegetable vendor, help) don’t mention the song during our daily conversations about news and views.


Out of sync: The song isn’t really a Tamil song, it’s a watered-down version.

Out of sync: The song isn’t really a Tamil song, it’s a watered-down version.


Among the myriad communities which populate Tamil Nadu, I know three fairly intimately. There are the rich mill towns surrounding Coimbatore (where I was born). These are families belonging to the Gounder community, who make their money out of cotton and farming. They wear crisp whitedhotis, matching shirts and speak with the lilt of what I call Coimbatore Tamil. They have a sweetness of speech that comes from the Siruvani reservoir water they drink. They also have a small chip on their shoulder about the north Indianization of south India. They are proudly Tamilian; and were frequently portrayed in Tamil movies of an earlier era, made by director Bharathiraja. I doubt that these communities who farm Ethicus cotton in Pollachi or coconuts in Vettaikaranpudur are entranced by this song. Their instinct for hospitality will make them agree with you when you rave about what a sensation it is, but it remains largely irrelevant to their lives. 

The stylish urban youth of Chennai are the target audience for this song. They are comfortable calling you machi (akin to the Australian “mate”) and dancing the dappankuthu. They use matchless phrases likeSothappal, which are hard to translate. It means messed up, but when delivered well (“Ennada? Sothapittaya?”), it can mess you up for life. Young Chennai can talk about film directors like Kurosawa or Mizoguchi, but when it comes right down to it, they will watch an Ajith, Suriya or Dhanush film in droves. First day, first show. They will whistle when Vivek, Senthil or Goundamani comes on screen. I was one of them till I moved out of that city. I wanted to invite Senthil and Goundamani for my wedding and request them to come in the blue-striped knickers they usually sport in their movies. Most of my friends in Chennai love the song.

Kolaveri means murderous rage. Dhanush sings it to a nursery rhyme beat. I don’t like Dhanush because I don’t think he is a good enough son-in-law for my icon Rajinikanth—he who morphs into a tiger and then back. Dhanush is a middling actor. His anorexic frame doesn’t help. That said, he has acted well in this video, displaying an endearing quality that is sadly lacking in his films.

Domestic and international emigrants love this song. These are Tamilians who have migrated to Bhopal and Bhubaneswar; Boston and the Bay Area. Some have fond memories of their “native place”, as we call it in India. Most are mildly embarrassed by their Tamil-ness. You would be too if you grew up in south Bombay or south Delhi and were forced to streak sacred ash on your forehead and apply coconut oil in your hair. I subject my daughters to this whenever I can. Most of my emigrant Tamil friends and relatives have shortened their names. Suryanarayanan becomes Suri. Ananthasubramaniam becomes Soni. When a guy goes from being Ariyanayakipuram Hariharasubramaniamto Ari Harry, you know you’ve lost him. These same folks are suddenly posting this song on their Facebook status and talking about how “proud” they are to be Tamilian. Where were they all these years?

The song in question—Why this KolaveriDi?—isn’t really a Tamil song. It is a gratuitous, watered-down imitation of a Tamil song, somewhat likeShah Rukh Khan’s enema-inducing depiction of a south Indian inRa.One.Kolaveri is the lowest common denominator among Tamil songs which is, arguably, the reason for its popularity. The beat is moronic and the lyrics are mostly in English. It is apparently all the rage in the US and Dubai too. In the end, it is only a song, not world peace.

Yes, I’ve heard the Japanese, acapella and Arabic versions, thank you. I have watched in bemusement as Indian-Americans who cannot speak a word of Tamil post it as their Facebook status. I’ve had north Indians sing it to me. I’ve sung it to them in a clumsy attempt at bonding. Curd rice meets rajma chawal. That type of thing.

The best part of its popularity is that it has broken people in. You want to hear Tamil music? Let me give you a few recommendations—all current, all trendy. I am not going into classics like Ilaya nila orRathiriyilPoothirukkum, or any of those S.P. Balasubrahmanyam numbers. Listen to songs from these movies: Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya(Hosanna), Ayan (Vizhi Moodi), and Vaaranam Ayiram (Mundhinam Partheney) for starters. Shankar Mahadevan has sung some fabulous songs—Varaha Nadhikarai is one of my favourites. Listen to a song called Nee Korinaal, from 180 Rules Kidaiyathu; or the one calledThozhiya en kathaliya from Kadhalil Vizhunthen. It has a nice folksy beat with English lyrics and a rap beat blended in. Now that’s a song. Go to MusicIndiaOnline, one of my favourite sites, and play these songs on your computer.

As for Kolaveri, play that darn song if you must. Post it as your Facebook status. Just don’t call it a Tamil song.

Shoba Narayan jives (awkwardly—like Elaine in Seinfeld) to the beat ofAppadi Podu, while her WTK (Why this Kolaveri Di?) friends watch in amusement.


  1. Huh?

    Article starts nicely, spurring curiosity as to why you don’t like this song.

    But then there is a description of seemingly related things – Gounders, emigrants, a capella. Surprised you didn’t throw in a bit about the Eurozone crisis or the Cuba embargo here … hehe…

    Only reason you give is that Dhanush isn’t good enough, your own antediluvian tastes notwithstanding? What the hell is Nee Korinaal? (“What the hell is papier mache” – as in papyeh mashey!)


      1. I seen the film and heard the song Akka. My question – aka George in Seinfeld – was rhetorical. You were probably part of the AD (antediluvian) Chennai youth who thought Revathi in Mouna Ragam was a real rebel. “Modern” today means we (the real youth of Chennai) are *equally* at home with Tamil or Japanese or US west. To us “ClubLeMubbLe” and 50 cent are equals, and we think Senthil playing DiKiLoNa is sort of .. well … dandy (hehe). You like his blue knickers – good for sistahs of your gen, but we sort of prefer AllG most days.

        Stop by Kodambakkam and interview my gang, Akka, when you next in town. Seriously. Your readers better not think we Chennai Youth still hootin for Goundermani….

        Oh, and that question re papyeh-mashay was asked by George to his prissy and uptight little girlfriend in an episode that – wryly – was called The Truth.



        1. Oh, oh, (say in George voice), now that you have brought my all-time favorite, still-watching-reruns sitcom in, the stakes have changed baby (again, George voice).
          Would love to meet your gang in Kodambakkam next time. You sound too smart to be Dhanush (notwithstanding your screen name DaNoosh).
          I loved Revathi’s saris in Mouna Ragam, but thought that the puppy-faced Mohan was a bit much.
          I like yo style, bro!!


  2. I don’t understand why “WTK” is subjected to such critical analysis. All they did was package the song in a way which appeals to lot of people irrespective of language, region etc… It is one of the examples of a good marketing strategy which has earned it such success…

    As you mentioned it’s just a song and not world peace, let us forget the rest and just enjoy WTK.


  3. Very relevant blog. Just last weekend, me,my cousins and all our families freaked out on the song at a DJ Nite in Mumbai. The DJ had to play it twice, on popular demand. ( Appadi Podu also featured- but only once).
    Things I love about WTK :
    The amazing speed at which it went viral. Worth an analysis.
    Instruments used in the song – distinctly tamil from the 70’s? If you listen carefully, you can hear a whizzing drum in the background (dunno what its called) and the clarinet ( ??) me thinks is also brilliant.
    The dark, crisp hi-def video – containing only blacks,browns and whites.
    Extremely catchy tune – difficult to get out of your head.

    The rest as you say is crap. But it worked- and worked brilliantly :-).


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