DISCLAIMER: In many places, I will put fans in inverted commas in the article because honestly, these are not AR Rahman’s fans or music fans. A true fan of the man would know how much of Rahman’s discography is in Tamil and how he is Tamil Nadu’s gift to Bollywood and not the other way around, and finally, because these so-called ‘fans’ are in all probability, Bollywood (music) fans. Call me arrogant, but I’m ready to even call these idiots out on being music aficionados altogether.
Some may argue that what is written underneath is of no use since it has lost its timeliness but I’m going to go ahead anyway because, to me, the matter is still as ridiculous as it was a few weeks ago.
On 8th July, some ‘fans’ walked out of AR Rahman’s concert in Wembley because the Mozart of Madras (yes, that’s his epithet) sang 12 Tamil songs and only 16 songs in Hindi. They then went and did the new normal – rant on Twitter. Fun times.
Look, I completely understand that lyrics play a significant role for most people to appreciate a composition and when that choice is taken away because of a language gap, it makes things difficult. However, the melody part of it along with the arrangement of instruments and vocals remains, and ‘music knows no language/no boundaries/no barriers’ is not a cliché. Scroll through Coke Studio Pakistan’s videos, and on most videos, you’ll see unanimous appreciation and a random Moroccan or Peruvian commenting ‘I no understand what singer is saying, but I love it. Love from my country to yours’.
What makes Bollywood fans such entitled brats to completely disregard a language and a man’s heritage to actually make a fuss about him singing ‘South Indian songs’? Also, here’s some general advice to these ‘fans’ – When you buy tickets to a concert titled ‘Netru Indru Nalai’, just assume that there will be some music in the language the title is in.
A final piece of advice, from my personal experience. I watched a Malayalam film called ‘Charlie’ with subtitles, and I enjoyed it a great deal. Gopi Sunder has made the music for it, and it is incredible enough to feature on my personal list of my favourite Indian albums. That movie changed my life because it gave me the exposure to watch the films from Kerala and listen to the beautiful music that comes from ‘God’s own country’. Not just that, since then, I have wanted to do the same for other regions in the country. I had no idea of the copious amount of great music out there I was completely oblivious to. And why? Because I had no idea what they were singing about? You know what, when I listen to Pularikalo, I enjoy the saxophone prelude and Shaktisree Gopalan’s voice, And when I get curious to know what is being sung about, I make an effort to find out the meaning of the song. It’s that simple.
Considering the growing wave of nationalism in the country, if you carefully look at this absurd controversy, the language elitism — or the phenomenon where the determination of whether a language is superior has been decided by people based on association with a particular social class, region or community — is glaring. It must be noted that the imposition of a language was commonly practised by the colonisers. Currently, people are debating over whether Hindi should be made the one national language of the country. Something like this completely alienates the millions of people who don’t consider Hindi their first language.
If these ‘fans’ felt alienated in a concert with a large chunk of it in a different language (the especially deluded ones believed majority of the songs were in Tamil, when as mentioned before, 12 were in Tamil and 16 in Hindi), consider the alienation that will be imposed on the people in non-Hindi speaking states of India, where much to our utter shock and ignorance, Hindi is not their first language (gasp!).
In a country where many people do not communicate in the same language, the implications of acting like there is only one proper manner of communicating are vast. When we pride ourselves so much on ‘diversity’ and ‘vibrancy’, can the ‘one nation one national language’ diktat really work?