Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Aaja Nachle and the lyrics controversy: To ban or not to ban?

Mind Rush takes a closer look at the Aaja Nachle lyrics controversy and asks "Ban ya Boycott?"

Aaja Nachle Ban ControversyMy brother was a huge, and I mean HUGE, Madhuri Dixit fan in his younger days. So while I thought she was passably cute, I was planning to see her comeback film for the sake of my brother.

Then the controversy over the lyrics hit. I tried to figure out first hand what the offending lyrics were. I soon realized that every major desi newspaper, while covering this issue, refused to actually print the offending lyrics. It took some online sleuthing to find them.

Ki sone mein usko ranga gai
Mein ranga ke atariya pe aa gai

Mohale mein kaise mara mar hai
Bole mochi bhi khud ko sonar hai
Sab ko nacha ke nachle
Aaaja nach le nach le mere yaar tu nach le
Jhanak jhanak jhankar

First off, what were the lyricists thinking? Clearly, this song puts down a whole community, and one that has been historically oppressed in Indian society. That this film was cleared by the Censor Board and various other bean-counting folks tells you how insensitive the "haves" and the privileged people are. The ban had an interesting effect. Various stakeholders of the film came out of the woodwork to apologize and also delete the offending lyrics. The usual excuse of "We didn't mean it that way..." was offered.

But the ban left me wondering. Should the government ban a film that offends many people? (This ban has now been lifted in some states.) Is this an example of hate speech calculated to oppress and hurt Dalits? Or an example of thoughtless insensitivity? Or should we even care about intention if the effect is the same.

Would it not be better for the offended groups to organize a boycott of the film, thus giving the power to the "aam janta"? Mostly, should we give the government power to step in and decide what is too offensive for our eyes and ears and minds? Can a group of individuals decide what an entire society should or should not be protected from?

Maybe some of you reading this can't relate and are rolling your eyes. Before you think this controversy and thus this blog post are a tempest in a teacup, let me also pose this question: What if you were a Dalit and then heard these lyrics? What if you had lived your life hearing caste-based insults hurled at you? What if you struggled each day to be treated with dignity? Would you still feel the same way about the ban?

I invite you to share your (thoughtful) reflections and comments.



Anonymous said...

I had this conversation with someone on my blog just the other day and i'll say it again here: it's a good point that if you've been at the receiving end of caste based epithets (something that's very common in the north) then you're likely to have a thin skin about it.
However, in this particular case, I call BS for a number of reasons:
1) The soundtrack has been out for ages now and nobody had anything to say until the movie hit the screens with the attendant media glare. the moment that happened, that very friday, the ban was declared, a letter sent to the PM and then and only then, was the Censor Board asked to explain itself. Coincidence? I dont think so.
2) Mochi is the Hindi word for cobbler. There's at least one chain of stores that I know of that calls itself Mochi's. If the term itself is now deemed offensive and too steeped in caste politics to be used by just anyone then we need to find an alternative word in the Hindi language and teach our kids that word. Because I don't know what else to call a cobbler now and who knows? I might just need one on one of my trips to the North.
3) If the word itself isnt offensive and its the context that makes it offensive, then look at the context: cobbler passes himself off as a goldsmith because he'd like to score with the girl. Is he doing this fearing a caste bias? You can make a case for that POV but i'd say it's more simply that he thinks she'd rather have jewelry than chappals. This is further borne out by the fact that the Halwai gives her stuff on tab.
4) As far as I know, all cobblers arent Dalits. What makes sense in one part of the country doesn't necessarily relate elsewhere.
5) I clearly have way too much time on my hands :D

Anonymous said...

Amrita,thank you for ur insightful analysis of the whole situation.I didn't even know why was that line considered offensive until I read ur comment.

Since the controversy started after the movie hit the cinemas,I was thinking may be the choreography was suggestive(don't ask how would anyone do that) and not the lyrics,bcoz it makes no sense to raise this issue now,when we've been listening to the music for so long.I think you've just the right time to spread the awareness:D

Still,I'd like to hear others pov:)

Anonymous said...

I am sorry that people have to go thru with this bias.I do read that such things happen.
I am wary about commenting becos I dont want this to become a big argument. So I can only speak for myself(and I am sure many other drifters here think likewise):
1. I have friends of various religions/castes/economic backgrounds and we never let it affect our friendship.In fact we dont even think of each other as being from different backgrounds.We are just friends,period!
2. I just realised that terming myself time and again as a Tamil Iyer may have offended someone....please note that I was saying this more to make fun of my image as a stereotype elderly matriarch of the drift!
3. When I think of a successful person, I consider what he/she has achieved, rather than what his background is, and what he has inherited.
4.Most of my friends and I dont even know many of the lyrics of songs. We just hum along.We know some words of the mukhda, and for the antara its all humming!
5. I dont think the lyricists intentionally meant any harm to anybody. With so many songs being churned by the hour, they have to find words and tunes which are different. So this may have just rhymed perfectly.
6. Finally, you Mindrush are such a wonderful writer and have given us such lovely write-ups, that we only think of u as a successful fellow-drifter who entertains us with his/her(?) posts.
So just take it easy, and get back to your fun-writing....thats what we are all here for!!!
You rock!Keep rocking!

Anonymous said...

Saritha, we seem to be having some telepathy...both coming online at the same time to comment!!!Happened this morning too!!!

Anonymous said...

Amritha, dotn worry, like you, even I seem to be having all the time!

Anonymous said...

I never agree with a ban whether there is a good enough reason behind it or not. We should trust the collective will of the people to not see a movie/read a book if it is offensive to them.

Make your point through the media (and God knows politicians have the bully pulpit) and let the movie goers decide for themselves if they want to indulge in it or not.

Now for a ban like this I always wonder what is behind it. Is it truly that someone is offended or is a politician doing it to cement his/her constituency. Remember the Irani govt. talking about banning Rushdie's book without reading it.

Or is a part of the marketing strategy of the movie. You create enough discourse that people are interested in seeing the movie.
This is used in the US often(The passion, any of the Michael Moore movies).

Anonymous said...

Mind Rush, you raise a great topic as usual.

I agree with Joules, bans are dangerous things and no government should be allowed to indulge in them willy nilly. Where do you stop it? Anything is always offensive to somebody.

Your point about hate speech needs some thought. Can this be considered hate speech? Because hate speech is one thing that should come with some consequences by law. Thinking this through in the Indian cultural context I would not call this a hate speech compared to some other communal types of speech we unfortunately hear too much.

These lyrics (and hundreds of others like them passed off as 'folk' songs) are completely insensitive in how we think about people and perpetuate bias. In many ways this maybe more dangerous because it is more insidious and harder to combat.

Anonymous said...

Nooooooo!This is not exactly,how one would want to start their day at aspisdrift.No offense,but the last paragraph is too hot to handle.

Unknown said...

Actually I'm loving this - because when it comes to staring down important issues, I stutter. So I'm glad someone does it for me here.

And after reading everyone's comments including something Sidekick is doing for us soon: I'm convinced everyone here is more articulate than me. Which is good - less pressure.

Amrita, I was discussing this with my sis-in-law who mentioned the store as well. And I remember seeing the hoardings and thinking hmm..how retro-pretentious-cool is this!?

Tania said...

Trust the politicians to make an issue out of anything.
For all going against the ban , let me take the other side for debate sake.( I am loving this already)
1.We say that the collective junta should take a stand against this rather than the govt.But who do you think the Dalits have for representing them?The BSP or the BSP politicians? The yuppie who is also a Dalit by birth would not mind this and go watch the movie. But why even use the mochi and the sonar term in the lyrics( who is the lyricist btw).
About the music being banned before the movie was released, many people do not listen to the entire song or in these Hinglish days would not even know the meaning of the term.

Tania said...

And one final note for Indian, I applaud Mindrush for writing the last paragraph.We sit in our Laz Boys or couture drawing rooms to criticize everything that the Govt. does. But had we been the mochi in the village who goes to see his favorite Madhuri movie in the gaon ki Thetar and comes out with the fellow villagers saying " Arre XYZ, tumhara to Madhuri ne bhi mazaak bana dala". How ever metaphorical the "Mochi bhi samjhe khudko sonar" might be, the name calling is uncalled for. Period.

Anonymous said...

Aspi, I was quite surprised that u posted a blog which has the potential to escalate into a volatile situation. Doesnt go with the drift-image I thought!
I can understand ur reluctance to comment...I kept hovering around here, waiting for someone to comment first!
I think its time to get back to fun on the drift....there r plenty of forums to discuss serious political issues...
Please give us a fun-write-up on something so that we get on to lighter topics!

Anonymous said...

Mmmm, I am thinking that Mind Rush has taken her role as the counsellor very seriously here and consequently, she has become very serious about all topics. I will read my books on Freud and then advise Mind Rush how to keep her mind away from such violent influences.

Anonymous said...

Ok,Freud says that if you become a counsellor,you absorb a lot of negative energy of your subjects. I see,thats why you have become so angry. So practice breathing exercises first.Visualise all the anger getting out.Try some feng-shui to bring in positive energy into you.(I say this, not Freud.)I do not know why feng-shui was not present during Freud's time.Let me read some more and then advise you.

Tania said...

Taking your hint on bringing up ligter topics I have a question for Mindrush's Love Chakker. I saw Jaya haggling in RS over the govt asking her to give an itemized invoice for all the Abhi Ash brouhaha fiasco. Maybe MindRush can advise Mama Bacchan about discussing some important issues rather then the above in RS.
BTW, meeru Telugu matladutaru, ekkada nerchukunnaru? :)

Anonymous said...


I empathize with you(and with mindrush) for taking a stand on this controversial issue.Amrita rightly pointed out how this whole thing has taken a political route rather than logical.

Who is going to decide what is good for the whole society?One billion People,an NGO,a financial institue,or a student body.I believe in the regulatory system and expect the govt to act like one.It now boils down to the question,are you voting for the right person to give him the power to decide what is good for you?How many excercise their right to vote,at all? A different topic,altogether.

In 'Laagan', when an achuth is treated equally while playing Cricket,do you think the same frined you mentioned would have said,"Aamir ne tujhe itna samman diya hai,main bhi doonga aur hum saath mein Cricket kelenge".People are just waiting for a slight provocation to start off a riot or burn effigies,so do you think they'll appreciate what Aamir Khan has done,considering it was one of the biggest hits ever?

No,I am not rolling my eyes about this issue,it is very serious and I have taken a stand.I just want to know can we think of toning down the seriousness here?And I am sorry,I am not rich enough to own Laz Boys or Couture. ;)

ppl said...

I agree that the lyrics have the potential of hurting the feelings of a severely marginalized community. But this particular hullabaloo is more a case of diversion politics than empathising with those on the fringes.

Clearly in recent politics (last few weeks) bigger more disturbing cases of the weak and unrepresented getting mowed down literally by those weilding power and influence have happened. (Nandigram, tribal woman beating).

Yet banning a Madhuri movie is the step taken to restore the dignity of the marginalised group.
Another case of a section of people manipulating the media, creating a crisis to take the focus away from the real issues at hand.
The 'mochis' deserve so much more from their leaders than the mere banning of a movie. Such symbolic gestures not only curb free speech (where will it stop) but also dilute the real plight of those less fortunate.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Great post, Mind Rush ---- I’m going to disagree with yr point of view but I like the questions you’ve raised! Also lots of insightful comments in response here. Since I’m late to join this party --- I’ll mooch off some of them :). Anu g, Indian, clearly you’d like to nip any volatile discussion in the bud but at the risk of stirring controversy – I like the change of pace with the serious questions. I love the hilarious light hearted discussion but I dig the analytical stuff too. Mind Rush I hope you continue to raise provocative social questions.

Amrita, great observations – the timing of the ban definitely smacks of politicking; a case of political opportunism in bolstering vote banks.

As to intent, Amrita and Anu G make good points on the lack of intent here. I’d point to one I see as more compelling – the economic one. Yash Raj is a business house first and foremost and they hope to make their profits fm the masses. Also, AN was supposed to be about connecting with audiences in smaller cities and going beyond the multiplexes. Whatever the outcome of that objective, I doubt very much that they’ll deliberately hurt minority sentiments. Joules, I don’t think YRF would risk possible backlash fm the type of buzz marketing we see in the US.

As for thoughtless insensitivity --- that goes to the question of context that Amrita raised. BTW, not sure that finding another word for mochi will help --- like a rose by any other name, a mochi by any other is just as offensive! The fact is the caste system evolved from a division of labor; the guy that does the least respected of jobs, is also the lowest of the low in term of social strata. So does being more politically correct by not referring to the profession at all help? I’m not sure how we’d accomplish that should we need to refer to a cobbler – It’d be as ridiculous as when Prince refused to use his name and went by a symbol ---- remember the allusions to the artist formerly known as Prince! Even if we could somehow accomplish that, the answer sadly is no. I think the evidence fm numerous social psych studies is that prejudice is implicit and unconscious. For instance, by referring to the blind as visually challenged, we’re not suddenly more sensitive to their plight; we just don’t overtly refer to it as such. In terms of our attitudes and behavior we’re just as likely to be insensitive.

So what then is the solution? Clearly there is a disenfranchised class that needs help. Unfortunately the solutions are the tough ones (education, poverty eradication et al), the ones that politicians love to do an end- run around. Leera, totally agree that of all the serious discrimination issues that state govts can weigh in on, they choose the least socially impactful but most media worthy one.

Anonymous said...

Sidekick, I have seen too many light discussions ending into serious quarrels in real life, so I tend to be wary of them.I am married into a family where politics is heatedly discussed. I keep away with the constant refrain that by discussing the issues here,the world is not going to change.So i prefer to keep away.This is my personal take.No offence meant to anyone.U guys want to fight it out, go ahead!Only ensure things dont become ugly! Thats the advice of the seniormost drifter.(I think!).

Anonymous said...

Tania, I've lived in Hyderabad so I can speak a little Telugu.Please dont ask me to, cos its bad!

Anonymous said...

Loved all the thoughtful comments above. Great points made by all!

Anu G, don't worry..Love Chakkers of celebs are cooking in the crockpot but not forgotten.

Unknown said...

Well said anu g. One pattern I've noticed: people who tend to get upset and throw personal stuff around also tend to get deeply hurt and leave.

This might be a process of natural selection we might have stumbled on - thus leaving only those who can express themselves eloquently and without slighting others.

tulip said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

anu,Iam not sure if you are the senior most or not,but Iam sure you are the sensible most:)I can say this on the behalf of all(I hope) drifters.

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

nehal, a direct link to whatever you want us to see would be better.