Poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar is baffled by the success of the sensational Tamilian hit song,Kolaveri Di. “Tune ordinary,singing substandard,words an insult to sensibility” he tweeted recently. Akhtar is undoubtedly one of the most prolific and influential writers in the Indian film world today,and despite years of experience catering to a fickle cinema audience doesn’t get how a song sung with a deadpan voice mouthing nonsensical lyrics can become a global phenomenon.
Akhtar assumes that people care about meaningful lyrics and soulful poetry when actually the majority only wants a catchy tune with simple melody,peppy and silly like a nursery rhyme that is easily hummable. Something easy on the ears and just as easily forgotten when the next sillier and more hummable song comes along. Kolaveri Di ‘s amazing success comes because it caters to everyone: even those who don’t particularly love it,like it enough to sing along. Like the Spanish track Macarena ,the biggest hit of the 90’s. And the last time you heard it,was probably in the 90’s. The singer of Kolaveri Di ,Dhanush,seems disarmingly endearing. In every interview he appears humbly grateful for this most unexpected,smashing success. The music community,meanwhile,maintains a rigid skepticism. Will people be humming Kolaveri Di five years later? Can Dhanush replicate this success? Time will tell.
The music world is full of some sensational songs by musicians who vanished without a trace after magically conjuring that one,fantastic,rhythm. Top of the list has to be Funkytown ,the 80’s hit by a band called Lipps Inc,possibly the only song they wrote. Or that anybody heard,anyway. Like Kolaveri di ,it’s not big on lyrics with one line repeated about a hundred times: “Will you take me to,Funkytown?” But it’s stood the test of time and is listed in VH1’s list of all time greats. More recently,the brilliant track Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verves comes to mind. The band,predictably,faded into obscurity after creating history and sweeping the charts,but the track lives on,and has been covered by important bands like Coldplay and U2. Similarly,if you are born in the era when The Beatles had already been over for a decade,like me,you might find it hard to understand the mythology surrounding the Fab Four,over music that seems elementary and largely pedestrian. (I understand they’re above reproach,but try hearing Yellow Submarine four times in a row without smashing your system in.)
Critics and skeptics of one hit wonders should think about a world where it’s becoming increasingly hard to do anything original,while there’s more music and more literature being churned out than any other time in history. Even managing to write one impactful song,or book,or movie is a huge accomplishment. The world would have been worse off without J D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye or William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice. Are Dhanush and his team future Rahmans? It’s extremely unlikely. But they’ve earned these precious moments of success right now,and finally,it’s better to be a one act wonder than nothing at all.