The “trendy” Punjabi issue invites us to see cultural diplomacy through rose-tinted glasses.
If you’ve recently been tempted to drop to your knees and onto your hands, lift your torso like a cat-camel for hard-hitting dance moves, blame the must-have virus of the week: Kala Chashma.
Salty and suitable for a wedding dance by Norwegian hip hop dance group Quick Style; “fallen for” in the dramatic hilarity of The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon and singer Demi Lovato, improvised with giggling mirth by the Indian cricket team last week, our black chashma is back with a dazzling gaze. If you’ve ever spent 51 seconds of your life debating the “essential” difference between TikTok and Instagram reels, consider that officially lost. Kala Chashma videos are trending on both with similar choreographic enthusiasm.
It helps that the word “trending” exists in the free pop culture dictionary to unpack what’s going on. There’s no other way to describe SmashTalentKidsAfrica’s explosive Kala Chashma cocktail that gives Katrina ‘Kay’, cricketer Shikhar Dhawan and an assortment of the world’s Jane Bens a run for their twirls. How else should we explain actor Ayushmann Khurana’s “Chandigarh chashmapanti” with his band in typical UnZen Punjabi to celebrate India’s cricket victory over Pakistan? Trends help make sense of free Kala Chashma remixes and we-mixes on the internet (in private onyx bathrooms too, who knows) by gym-goers or party girls in scented red saris.
Cross-country, cross-cultural, community-neutral, across demographic and class barriers. In sizes XS to Plus Plus. In the bathroom chappals and sneakers. In a suit and boots. In blinding lehengas and blingy sarees, Kala Chashma’s global style added a walk-in wardrobe to Katrina Kaif’s original look of red navvari saree choli jhatak gold and green bindi. It even sparks a re-seeing for actor Siddharth Malhotra recently parked out of mainstream attention.
Along with Amul Butter’s ‘Kala Chashma, Peela Makhna’ ad (sunglass brands should kick each other), Amar Arshi-sung ditty, originally a 1990s Punjabi song (apparently first written by a policeman) which was remixed for the movie ‘Baar Baar Dekho’ in 2016, became truly baar baar dekho. See again and again.
The “original” movie song (which may be more original than a Bollywood article song) on YouTube has 1.2 billion views while the Norwegian rendition of Quick Style had 49 million views at last. count. The recent Africans already has more than 4 million views on Instagram, more than 317,000 likes and comments that plunder the Dictionary of Social Media Un-imagination—awesome, insane, amazing, cute… The red heart emojis were made by million without Chinese imports. It is saying something.
OK. My intention was not to wax. Let’s remove the rose-tinted lenses for a moment. The addictive fandom for Punjabi music across the globe needs a review once again unlike Rajasthani folk songs or Gujarati garba which have also been tuned to the thrilling funky of Bollywood music. Punjabi music, especially bhangra, was in nightclubs around the world for years before social media dance clubs fell in love with it. Like reggae or African rhythms, it has been an established agent provocateur for social dancing. British-Punjabi or Canadian-Punjabi singers are legitimate music celebrities like their prajis who travel the world – Mika Singh, Yo Yo Honey Singh, Gurdas Mann or Guru Randhawa to name a few. The lively music they create has so much mesmerizing somatic energy that it makes us overlook the ordinary of the lyrics – “tenu kala chashma jachda ae” (sunglasses look really good on you) is a great one example. Poetry Road Romeo to great music.
Yet despite much socio-cultural writing about the intoxicating fun of Bollywood article songs and their choreographic corniness, this particular push by Kala Chashma is a sign of the new face of cultural diplomacy. Especially those renditions without a filmed, bold, Indian wedding with dozens of designer lehengas as a backdrop. We can finally separate it from Indian wedding designer boutiques. Groove-y outside of a hut, in a hotel, or on a yoga mat. If countries were to compete through dance challenges and Kala Chashma was the winner or loser song, we can no longer assume that an Indian would win. This worldwide property of an Indian-Punjabi-filmi song is so cool.
No tussle has emerged so far over who is really behind Kala Chashma’s contagious DNA. Who owns the music or if the song choreography for the movie was copyrighted. Contrary to the “legal, philosophical, moral” concerns of recognition raised around American singer-songwriter Beyonce’s recent “Renaissance,” Kala Chashma is there, free to shake and remake. Not so cool.
Either way, singer Amar Arshi and dancer Katrina Kaif deserve retro-fitted awards for it. They might want to dedicate the trophy to the lyrical Punjab police officer?
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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