Why this kolaveri di: a universal tune?

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If you had to pick one video that dominated Indian, Asian and even international internet waves toward the end of 2011, you’d have an easy task at hand. Why this kolaveri di – a Tamil-English soundtrack from yet-to-be released Tamil film 3 – is a viral sensation of sorts in India. The trend has now crossed borders with versions in Pakistan, Nepal, China and Britain.

Why this kolaveri di had over a million hits on YouTube a week after it was released on 16 November. On the day of publishing this article, the number has climbed to a whopping 30 million views. The video features Tamil actor Dhanush singing to woo back his disgruntled lover. Kolaveri in Tamil means “rage that can kill” and the song is simply about a guy pleading with his girlfriend to forgive him and return to loving ways.

Viral phenomenon
In the couple of months since the official online release of the song, it has been declared the biggest viral phenomenon in India – a country where only 100 million of its one billion population have access to internet.

Social networks played their part in fetching the song a huge fan following. A week after its release, #kolaveri was one of Twitter’s top trends in India. Today, the song’s Facebook page has over 100,000 followers and what's more, it has earned a Wikipedia page for itself.

Soon accolades came its way – YouTube awarded the song the Recently Most Popular Gold Medal Award and CNN chose it as the most popular video of 2011.

Indian versions
However, the most noticeable aspect of the song is its reproducibility. Hundreds of versions of Why this kolaveri di have surfaced over time. Its sing-along style and catchy tune have been credited for this trend. Within weeks of the original song’s release, Hindi, Punjabi, Marathi, Malayalam, Bengali and Gujarati versions debuted on YouTube.

Kolaveri’s essence has also been moulded to suit the needs of its creators or, shall we say, re-creators. When Indian agriculture minister Sharad Pawar was slapped by an angry protester over the inflation of food prices, a version of the song entitled, Sharad Pawar Slap Song gathered a lot of viewers on YouTube. Another version called Why this kolaveri di exam version ridiculed examinations – an integral part of the Indian education system.

Across borders
The kolaveri fever has also crossed borders. A band of five men in Pakistan recently composed a song, to the tune of Why this kolaveri di, ridiculing the current state of politics in the country. The song entitled Where is democracy ji talks about the plight of commoners in Pakistan, while politicians have thriving, prosperous careers. “This song-u for poor-u public-u, we don’t have-u choice-u,” a line from the song goes.

A Sri Lankan born artist in London, Arjun Coomarasamy, popularised the song in Britain by creating an English version of it called How could you do this to me. Arjun’s version has so far got over two million hits. Similarly, a couple of Nepalese versions of the song have also made it to the popular video-sharing portal.

In another overseas version, a Chinese teenager strums his guitar in a shy attempt to imitate Dhanush. “Why this kolaveri, kolaveri, kolaveri da...” the teenager sings while fumbling around the chords.

Universal appeal?
A YouTube search for Why this kolaveri di delivers hundreds of versions of the song. Has the composer, Anirudh Ravichander, magically created a tune that appeals universally? Maybe that's food for thought. Meanwhile, here’s the original song: