Kikkli Kaleer Di : On cultural revival

A procession commemorating Dr Rakumar, a kannada filmstar in Bangalore

This is a hasty thought, as I listen to this latest bollywood song Kikkli Kaleer Di . This is from Punjabi folklore sung in jest (probably) by children who play this game of holding hands together and swirl around. Kikkli refers to the game and kaleer means ‘a little girl’. The next line goes as pag mere veer di meaning ‘the turban of my brother’. The song in the bollywood film changes this line but retains the lovely traditional flavour of the song. What surprises me is the manner in which this little song with a very specific regional identity comes back to people via the entertainment industry. It is very little known outside Punjab state and perhaps within Punjab too there would be differences in what people understand of it and regions where kids still play this game and sing this song.

Two observations fascinate me about this process:

1. Not all is wrong with the entertainment industry as an agent of cultural standardization: The belief that a standardization of experience and culture is happening in modern societies around the world including Indian society needs further exploration. It appears to be an impression not accounting for processes like this song which brings back diverse folk traditions – songs, dance forms, poems, costumes, etc back to the current times much in a sense of revival. How else would a specific regional folk song like this one be known to a listener in Bangalore? Many such instances from films can be drawn like this song Navrai Majhi from a recent film English Vinglish. This is a marathi folk song pulled out from the marathi heartland and presented in the film. It may not be complete or even retain its original flavour but it certainly succeeds in bring the forms of usage (words & thought) back into modern forms of use. So in a way, entertainment industry contributes to cultural revival. The manner in which it does so appears to be known yet not acknowledged. Isn’t this similar to how arts and culture flourished in the past as well? That there are centres and public forums which promoted and encouraged performances. In our times films is an institutional equivalent of such centres of performing arts of the old times. I’d like to think that way as it holds promise of a constructive exploration of emergent forms of cultural representation and how it contributes to our idea of modernity.

2.Films engineering social thought: This comes from a frame of reference that films reflect a certain possibility of how relationships, social set-up and context might look like. Also that often films are built on ideas or events that have already taken place within that society and these are reflected back as a film to the very same people. This makes an interesting process to examine as this mechanism is subtly shaping social behaviour. In that sense it would be worth exploring how the recent set of films in India have shaped behaviour as well as opinion. For instance, Chakravyuh a recent release, is based on the Maoist insurgency in the central states of India. It brings forth the oddity of State- people relationship and situations in which the oppressed end up taking arms and fight the State, which in their opinion has already taken sides with the market (elites?). Here is a failure of social contract which appears to have gone past resurrection unless the State undergoes a massive transformation in the way it sees the people. Now, this could get a little vague in direction. The engineering part in the film comes out as a non-direct position that the film takes on this issue. Similarly, the language and dance forms in the songs too tend to effect a mild change which in some cases ends up becoming a major force. For instance, the tamil number Why this kolaveri di. The language and construct of reasoning (if the content can be called as that) has permeated conduct of the younger lot in Tamil Nadu in curious ways.

While I find a meta-narrative to this obvious ‘films have a social impact’ sort of theory, I think it can be said that it would be hasty to reject films as just another source of entertainment which has had a rather ruining effect on Indian society. I sure do not subscribe to that school of thought or the critics in the ‘films have had a corrosive effect on the society’ camp.

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