Honey Singh's 'Makhna' and morality brigade: Prevalent finger-wagging infantilises musician's fan base

Palash Krishna Mehrotra

Jul 18, 2019 16:04:14 IST

August 2019 marks the fifth anniversary of Yo Yo Honey Singh’s seminal Punjabi pop-rap album, Desi Kalakaar — a magnum opus that punched a hole in the sky. The lavishly mounted videos accompanying the songs had all the elements of Bollywood Goldiee masala: from appearances by Sonakshi Sinha and Gulshan Grover to choppers and car chases.

The album marked a culmination of sorts for Honey. He was at his peak, established at the top. His songs were playing in every house party, kiddie party, kitty party, wedding, mundan and the kanwariya monsoon rollercoaster. He had separate careers as a solo rapper, a standalone star, as well as a Bollywood artiste, and in his own words: “Shuru kiya maine as a music director/ Aaj mere yaar dost bade-bade actor/ Waise Bollywood mein aati roz picturein/Par superhit picturon ka Yo Yo X-Factor/ Middle class boy aaj superstar hai/Chartered mein ghoome aur chaar badi car hai.

Then, Yo Yo came crashing down. To quote The Libertines, ‘the highs and the lows, and the tos and the fros’, had left him dizzy. Honey vanished into the eye of a storm that raged around his sudden disappearance. When he broke his silence, it was to tell the world that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Ever since, Honey has slowed down the pace. He might no longer be the national ‘infuencer’ he once was, but he isn't a one-hit wonder either. The hits kept coming, though not in a rush; Honey catered to his Gujarati and Punjabi fan-base, including a tender ballad penned by his mother, and continues to rake it in.

Until this month, when Yo Yo was booked by the Punjab police for ‘vulgar lyrics’ in a song called ‘Makhna’.

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I fancy myself as a bit of a Honey Singh expert. His songs boast of impeccable harmless credentials. Word got around that I liked Honey Singh, so much so that the Indian arm of an international trade publisher offered me a book deal: a biography of Yo Yo. I was up for it, except that no one could track Honey down. Honey was clinically depressed and AWOL. I tried, the publishers tried, but no dice. The publisher suggested I write the biography using secondary sources but I was clear that it wouldn’t be possible unless I spoke with Honey himself.

 Honey Singhs Makhna and morality brigade: Prevalent finger-wagging infantilises musicians fan base

Honey SIngh returns to stage after a three-year hiatus. Image via Facebook/@YOYOhoneysingh

This story has no ending; I’ve never met Honey till date, but there is an interesting corollary. A year after I was offered the book, I found myself in a consultation with Delhi’s top psychiatrist. I explained to him my condition; he listened patiently and did the necessary.

It was only later that I realised who I’d met. It was Yo Yo’s psychiatrist! This was the man who’d ‘fixed’ Honey Singh and given him back to us. Honey has spoken of how he’s had to change several doctors before the right diagnosis and combination of medicines could be found. In an interview Honey referred to the said doctor as a ‘farishta’, an angel.

While I’d not managed to meet God himself, I’d met his guardian angel by accident.

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This brings us to the manufactured outrage around the song ‘Makhna’, which had left me cold on its release. The new Honey material is formulaic, tame, diluted, auto-tuned. From a mental health perspective, it’s good that he’s getting work done and bringing in the ‘views’ and ‘likes’. For me though, he’s past his prime — although one never knows.

In a conservative society like ours, Honey added a touch of Punjabi mischief and bling to our dal-chawal/curd-rice lives. All pop music comes out of a raging innocence. Honey spoke to his female fan base directly in songs like ‘Blue Eyes’: "Suna tere college mein mere gaane ban hai/Padne likhne ka na tera koi plan hai/ Pass kara du, phone ghuma doo/ Teri principal bhi Yo Yo ki fan hai!"

It was on ‘Brown Rang’ that he sided with the natural complexion of desi girls (“Gori gori kudiya nu/ Koi muh laave na” and “White chicks na I don’t like them anymore”) and rapped about getting over the pan-Indian obsession with white skin and fair women. It’s a theme he continues on ‘Makhna’: “Silicon Valley vali ladki ko main pakadta nahin/ Brown girl se mera dil bharta nahin/ Gori gori skin ke liye main marta nahin”.

A rap song, or any song for that matter, is a work of fiction. When the rapper says ‘I’ it’s not a reference to himself but to his persona, a character he’s inhabiting.

In ‘Makhna’, Honey (or his persona) refers to himself as a ‘shikari’, a hunter, and a ‘womaniser’ (this has raised hackles); brings in a reference to having put on weight (“Mera weight ho gaya hai thoda bhari”), a direct side-effect of anti-depressant medication; before delivering the punchline — “Dar mat, main nahin Illuminati”.

That last word is ripped off from Madonna’s sarcastic refrain in 'Illuminati', from her 2015 album Rebel Heart: “It’s like everybody in this party, shining like Illuminati”.

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Hold that word ‘Illuminati’ in your head, we shall come back to it. Let’s talk about the case that has been registered against Yo Yo by the Mohali police. Singh has been booked under section 294 (punishment for obscene song and acts) and section 509 (punishment for word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the IPC, Mohali Senior Superintendent of Police Harcharan Singh Bhullar told PTI.

In addition he’s been charged under section 67 (punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and relevant sections of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986. This followed a complaint lodged by the state’s Women’s Commission.

Why is Honey being made an example of, for what are hardly his most outrageous lyrics yet?

Punjab, under the Congress, has been coming up with the most illiberal of ideas. Last year it wanted to appoint a ‘culture commission’ with the express intention to monitor vulgarity and obscenity in songs that were ‘polluting the environment’. It was supposed to be helmed by Navjot Singh Sidhu, who has spent most of his living years as the sidekick on chat shows, laughing at lewd ‘wife jokes’ (along with the rest of the nation).

Attempts have been made to drag Honey into jail earlier as well. He was absolved in a case which involved a random song he had nothing to do with, called ‘Balatkari’. A show of his was cancelled in Delhi under the guise of ‘public pressure’ (although the singer's manager contended that Honey had withdrawn from the event). Honey has often been an easy target for the liberal illuminati, which is notorious for not having its finger on the public pulse, but instead wagging its finger patronisingly at everyone, telling the people it infantilises what they ought to do. No wonder it’s been rendered politically irrelevant around the world.

You cannot tell people what to listen or watch. What special secret knowledge makes you feel superior to what the masses like?

When millions make something into a phenomenon, you cannot tetchily tell them that they are lesser beings who have been manipulated. You can avoid the song or film on aesthetic grounds (I haven’t seen it). Or you can ‘enjoy’ it like the others. There’s a third way: Try and understand why people like this artefact of pop culture, rather than sit in judgement on their choices. As someone messaged me from the North-East: ‘Kabir Singh is the shit in Arunachal. With the ladies.’

The free market is the final arbiter; capitalism the ultimate censor. On You Tube ‘Makhna’ stands at 209 million views. Kabir Singh, at the end of its third week, has become the biggest grosser at the box office for the first half of 2019. It’s earned upwards of Rs 255 crore, surpassing Uri. How’s the josh for bad boys amongst the Indian public? High, Sir.

Do you think the public needs to be protected?

No, Sir.

Do you think they can handle it?

Yes, Sir.

Good. Then let’s get back to serious business.

The writer is the author of The Butterfly Generation & the editor of House Spirit: Drinking in India

Updated Date: Jul 20, 2019 09:28:56 IST