A Tale of Three Instant hits – 1976, 1991 and 2011

September 24, 2015, Chennai

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I cant help comparing the unprecedented reach of kolaveri in 2011 with the success of Illaiyaraja’s machana paattingala in 1776 and Rahman’s china china aasai in 1991 – the three events are spaced at gaps of 15 and 20 years.

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'3' "Why This Kolaivery" Video Song

I remember machaana paattingala in 1977 to be the rage of Madras; booming in all patti thottis as I used to walk the streets of George Town towards my school (St. Gabriel’s High School) .Machana paattingala rattled MSV’s dominance and it was soon Illaiyaraja all over the place.  The Tamil tinsel world and audiences got to hear a blend of folk and classical tunes orchestrated with strings and winds with the right amount of counter melodies and a seasoning of freshness that these hits from the late 1970s are fresh even to day. (Just take a trip to thiraipadal.com and enjoy the melodies).

Action replay in 1991, when Mani Ratnam’s Roja showered the ‘desire song’, aasai on all and the beautiful composition became an instant hit. You just wanted to hear it over and over again. It sounded so different; the lyrics were beautiful; you wanted to learn the lyrics. You wondered who the singer was. You wondered who the Raguman was.  The song broke linguistic barriers; its dubbed version in Hindi was a success as well. AR Rahman (Or Raguman as he was in Tamil) became an overnight sensation and he grew to be a significant presence in films.

Come 2011, kolaveri comes out of the blue.  No prior announcements; no news of a new music director. The song just springs forward on the internet and is on the lips of millions of hypnotized youtube viewers. It has gotten tons of made-up versions of kolaveri  going. It has made the word kolaveri a household one. Even CNN has a story on kolaveri calling it the best song of 2011. The rage is not over yet.

It is worth taking a look at the three chartbusters machana pattingala, china china aasai and kolaveri under the same light.

Each of these hits is a product of its times.

Machana pattingala showed a departure from the prevailing – almost stagnant musical trends of the mid 1970s. Chinna china aasai showed intentionality, catapulting the filmsong world into the world of meaning, the intention to convey something. And convey successfully it did. The amount of happiness generated  by this song even 20 years after its creation is just amazing. It also brought to the forefront, clarity in recording, intentionality in the delivery of every sound that made up the composition.

Kolaveri is a product of the internet age where even two year olds search through youtube. The movie is not even released. The song is not even a full fledged song in the conventional sense. While machana pattingala relied on an established play back singer, aasai relied on the pretty voiced minmini as a play back singer; kolaveri goes for the jugular; it relies on the rustic voice of the protagonist hero dhanush himself and engages him in a slow rap, a chant, a simple tune all creating a sense of youthful  musical nonchalance.

If annakkili was a product of the waning days of the Emergency, Roja a symbol of liberalization, Kolaveri is a symbol of the unrestrained freedom of expression and unprecedented levels of outreach in the era of globalization.

PS. At the time of writing this article, Kolaveri has touched about 39 million hits on youtube.

About the author

Kanniks Kannikeswaran