Chennai Express: Why Vishal Dadlani is wrong about Yo Yo Honey Singh
Vishal Dadlani has expressed his displeasure with Yo Yo Honey Singh's misogynistic lyrics, but the only way to contain the rapper is to show him the seductive ways of family-pleasing Bollywood blockbusters
Yo Yo Honey Singh is in trouble again.
The Punjabi rapper has become the poster child of our nation's 'rape culture' since the lyrics of his song ‘Balatkari’ shot to infamy. The controversial song may typically not have merited more than a snippet in city tabloids, if it weren’t for the Delhi gangrape in December 2012 which sparked outrage against societal license for violence against women.
As memories of Nirbhaya began to fade, so did the ire against Honey Singh, who continued to enjoy immense popularity in Delhi farmhouses and Mumbai clubs (post 1 am, at least). But he is now back in the spotlight thanks to the Lungi Song in the soon-to-be released Chennai Express.
Composer Vishal Dadlani is reportedly miffed with Shahrukh Khan and the Chennai Express team for including the rapper in the soundtrack. Dadlani’s problems – though he strenuously denied having any – have been attributed by sources in the know to his past objections to Yo Yo’s misogynistic lyrics. "It's hilarious and pathetic, how desperately this tacky rape-rapper is trying to ride on the fame of @iamsrk and #Chennai Express. Poor guy," tweeted Dadlani on June 26 (which is no longer available on Twitter) in response to Honey Singh's statements about working in the movie.
According to Mumbai Mirror, Dadlani soon realised that Yo Yo wasn’t trying to “ride on fame”: he was in fact going to be singing in the Lungi Song.
"They first came to know about it when Honey said on TV that he was composing a racy number for Chennai Express,” a source told the Mumbai Mirror. “They immediately called up the makers of the film but the producers brushed it off as a rumour. It was only after the song was recorded that Vishal-Shekhar learnt about it."
Dadlani is a top composer in the industry, and for Honey Singh to be brought in without his express approval might have stung. But he has also taken a firm and very public stand against Yo Yo Honey Singh’s specific brand of misogynistic Punjabi hip hop in the past. As a judge on the reality show, Indian Idol Junior, Dadlani refused to let a child participant sing one of the rapper’s songs. “I don’t think kids should sing such songs,” Dadlani told the Hindustan Times. “Don’t get me wrong. I have composed Sheila Ki Jawaani, and I don’t have any problems with sensuality. I have a problem with misogyny.”
Dadlani deserves kudos for using his considerable influence in the film industry to professionally ostracise Yo Yo Honey Singh. Yo Yo Honey Singh’s lyrics (especially songs like Balatkari, on which there have been conflicting reports whether they were Honey Singh's or not), are undeniably reprehensible. While such righteousness is somewhat ironic in an industry that profits from female objectification, but Honey Singh's lyrics go far beyond the sexism of songs like Fevicol, and unashamedly express the desire to rape and abuse women who have the audacity to 'tick-tock' around in their heels. There's misogynistic, and then there's Honey Singh's music, which includes lyrics that offer a horrifying play-by-play of a gangrape. Bollywood numbers like Fevicol seem almost adorable when placed in context with the rapper's hits.
But does shutting out Singh offer a real solution?
Yo Yo Honey Singh is a product of the women-hating culture that permeates our society. His popularity is also undeniable, and uncontainable. No matter how many television panels condemn him, Yo Yo Honey Singh is, till the next big thing rolls around, here to stay. This is why even a Bollywood power player like Dadlani has not been able to keep him out of the biggest Bollywood release of the year. Even if he had succeeded, banning him from Bollywood would not diminish his popularity, or prevent his songs from becoming the rape anthems of young men. He is not going to just go away.
If we can't beat a Honey Singh, perhaps we should tame him instead. An outright ban won't silence him, but the seduction of mainstream popularity will require him to abandon the violently sexual hip hop lyrics. ‘Balatkari’ won’t work with family entertainers like Chennai Express. The only way to reform Yo Yo Honey Singh is for Bollywood to domesticate him into an only mildly offensive avatar of his earlier self.
Yes, this is as bad as rewarding him for extremely bad behaviour. But there is no more effective way to shut him up except by stuffing money into that mouth. Better to have him singing a Munni Badnaam Hui than Balatkari for big bucks.