Sunday, January 09, 2011

Lyrical Fortress

Renowned Bollywood lyricist Sameer staggered through the vaulted archway of his study. He lunged for the nearest piece of furniture - a rather hideous chair with purple suede upholstery. Grabbing its arm, the fifty-year-old man heaved himself towards his desk, falling just short. The parquet floor shook. Far off, the last of his guest's cars gunned to life and was driven away. The lyricist lay a moment, gasping for breath, taking stock. I am still coherent. He crawled towards the desk and raised himself up. A voice spoke, chillingly, in his head. "Do not move any further. It isn't worth it." On his hands and knees, he paused, shaking his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the door, the mountainous silhouette of his grandfather clock rose. It struck deep, ponderous notes. Four a.m.

"You don't have to do it. It's only words." Words. In an instant, the lyricist grasped the true horror of the situation. If I pass out, the idea will be lost forever. Instinctively, he reached for a pen.

His mind, under the influence of an evening's worth of whiskey, protested and he felt a searing heat as he was wracked by a massive headache. He fell forward... struggling against the rising blackness. Sameer closed his eyes, his thoughts a swirling tempest of discomfort and regret.

I must pass on the message. Staggering to his feet, he pictured the conversation he has had a short while ago with his friend and thought of all those whose careers had been affected like him... and in parallel of the job that he had been entrusted with. A chain between the two formed in his mind.

Suddenly, now, he knew this was the way to get his point across. Swaying, he gripped the pen.

I must tell the world....

One year later

A relatively unknown management consultant stepped out of his house to buy some groceries. He shivered in the cold evening breeze, and drew his jacket tighter around him.

Although not overly handsome in a classical sense, the twenty seven year old had what his female colleagues referred to as an ‘absolute lack of any sort of’ appeal — wisp of gray in his thick black hair, bloodshot eyes, an annoyingly deep voice, and the strong, carefree smile of someone who was down three vodka shots.

He was trying to make a thorny decision between multigrain bread and brown bread, when the sound of the radio in the store cut into his thoughts. It was a song, something about a comely lass named Dhanno. He forced it out of his head, completed his shopping and returned home.

As he lay in bed that night, the song came back to his mind suddenly, not unlike the manner in which the spicy food he had overindulged in earlier came back to trouble him. After a bit, he drifted off to sleep while it played in his mind, unbidden. With a start, he woke up. He sat up, wide-eyed and sweating profusely. "Oh my god!" he thought. "I see it now! The hidden message!"


Ladies and gentlemen, I have cracked it. While the world might dismiss the song above as just another catchy song from a random movie, there is more to it than meets the eye. And the hidden message is so shocking, I have to italicise the fact. And the fact that it has been dressed up to sound like a typical Bollywood song just adds to the overall deviousness of the situation.

Sameer, the lyricist, clearly sympathises with the international Finance/I-Banking community, and supports a return to the practice of possibly irrational sky-high bonuses.

"WTF?" you ask. Hold on to your pants, take a seat and read on. This doesn't require any more suspension of disbelief than your average Farah Khan movie.

Let's go through the lyrics.

People on the floor, come and get some more, people on the floor...
Take it away!

Clearly, the 'floor' here refers to the trading floor, a common reference in the industry. The line, then, makes blatant sense - come on folks, get yourselves some more money! Even the interjection 'Take it away!' in the song serves to reinforce this point.

O dhanno, o dhanno, o dhanno, dhanno hey

Any fool, even I, can see that Dhanno is clearly a derivative of the word 'Dhan' (which, for my Hindi-challenged friends, means wealth). Which this song clearly celebrates.

Main raaj dilon pe karti hoon, manjale hai dhanno naam mera
(O dhanno, o dhanno, o dhanno, dhanno hey)
Ye soch ke mushkil badh gayi hai jaane kya hoga hashar tera
(O dhanno, o dhanno, o dhanno, dhanno hey)
Mere noorani chehre se, na teri nazar hategi
Na tere din guzarenge, na teri raat kategi, kategi, kategi

Dhanno, the personification of wealth, clearly states (and rather cockily, if I may so) that she rules men's hearts, and goes on to sympathize with the bankers' hashar - the fact that they were very hard hit by the increased scrutiny (and subsequent temporary reduction) of their bonus payments. She further explains her irresistible attraction, pointing out that the greed for money (the 'noorani chehra' a reference to the glint of gold) haunts men day and night, affecting their ability to perform other life functions.

"Meh, big deal," you might say. "A bit of a stretch, eh, guvnor?" you might say if you wanted to affect a fake English style. Patience. Look at what's next.

Apni to jaise taise, thodi aise ya waise
O apni to jaise taise, thodi aise ya waise kat jayegi
Aapka kya hoga janaab-e-ali, aapka kya hoga

Oh, Sameer, you clever clever man, you. To further mask the true message, the lyricist lifts this section from a popular song from the early 1980s, thereby ensuring the controversy about plagiarism and copyrights will distract attention from the lyrics and their underlying meaning. But he didn't think he'd have to contend with me.

In this stanza, we hear the bankers responding, addressing the world at large. They say, in a blissfully carefree way, that they will somehow get away with it through hook or crook ('jaise taise', 'aise ya waise'). They compound this brazenness by mocking the rest of the world, feigning concern and asking them how they will survive in the return to the old world order.

Apne aagey na peechay, na koi upar neechay rone wala
Nai koi ronewali janaab-e-ali, aapka kya hoga

The bankers emphasize that the benefits of the high-bonus regime will be shared by all, not just the top brass at the banks. Everyone around them ('aagey peechey') and at all levels of seniority ('upar neechay') will have no reason for sorrow as they will all gain. They end by once again asking, a smug smile on their lips, how the rest of the population plans to survive.

At this point in the video (1:30), there are some gratuitous shots of assets (really, could they be less subtle?) and wads of cash being thrown about to further emphasize the point.

I rest my case. The interpretation of the rest of this song's lyrics is left to the reader as an exercise.