Listening to "NaakaMooka" from the soon to be released film "Kathalil Vizhundhen", prompted me to do a research on Gaana songs. Needless to say, i started a search in google for gaana and came across some interesting aspects of Gaana.
The Gaana, a gritty rap-like genre born in the slums, grows away from its Dalit core as sanitised Tamil movie pop. The genre is doggerel in form, rhyming verses and talking about the loves and lives of the slum people. Gaana comes from a mixture of different Tamil dialects and other languages the Dalits of Chennai encounter. Interestingly, Gaana artistes of the slums are known by the part of the city they live in: Puliyanthope Palani, Vyasarpadi Ulaganathan, Vyasarpadi Lekshmipathi, Chindadripet Punniyar, Ezhumbore Antony, 1000 Lights Selvam etc. Like rappers, they dwell a lot on police harassment, addiction and unemployment, the perennials of their life. Most of them are forced to live near burial grounds and other dirty places.
Not quite, actually. Gaana has moved from the slums and burial grounds where the genre was spawned to cinema, commercial gigs and recorded tapes. From an instant improvisational form, the genre has become a distinct, marketable commodity.
Gaana's commodification isn't restricted to the movies alone. Film-maker Rajiv Menon used the genre for a Coca Cola ad in which filmstar Vijay raps a Gaana and drinks the cola to woo a young urban girl. The ad goes like this. "கோக் குடி டா ராப் என்ன டா கானாவிலே கலாய்கலாம்". Menon calls Gaana the "Blues of Chennai". But times truly have changed: while arrack was always the quintessential symbol of Gaana, today it's used to sell Coke too!
Another song that talks about the enjoyment that one gets after listening to a gaana is "vaadi vaadi kai padatha cd" from the film Sachin. There is this line from the song which says "கேளு கேளு இது கானா பாட்டு, உன் கவலைக்கெல்லாம் கஷ்டம் கொடுக்கும் பாட்டு". Interestingly, both the coke ad and sachin had actor vijai in the lead.
After the slums, it is in Chennai's colleges that Gaana flourishes. But here too, it has an almost exclusively Dalit male following. But issues like politics or caste are never addressed here. For, college Gaana is, naturally, all about having a good time. "It's about the two Fs: Friend and Figure".
Meanwhile, Kabilan, researcher and film lyricist, says commercialisation has taken the soul out of Gaana. The Ballad of Alanthoppu Bhoopathy(same guy referred to as aalthotta bhoopathi in the film youth) would run for four hours, including a long dirge (oppari). At the end of it, there would not be a dry eye in the audience. Today's Gaana singers and film songs cannot recreate this, he says.