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Indian songs ride high-speed humor train to China

Updated: 2023-08-15 08:35 ( China Daily )
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I don't sing in the shower. I perform. And, like a tape running on loop, I have been performing one song for the past few weeks, albeit in three languages (apologies to my neighbors). My uninhibited release of endorphins, or the feel-good hormone, is not spurred by my emotional connection with the original French track, or by the fact that its Indian version features a famous actor from my hometown, but by a hysterical parody made by a group of Chinese vloggers.

T'es OK, T'es Bath, T'es In (You're OK, You're Great, You're In), a peppy number released by the French band Ottawan in 1980, managed to fossilize the ethos of an era. The moving lyrics, which go on to say how "life is easier when lived together" and how "happiness is less fragile when you're in love", resonated with fans (including me) of probably one of the music industry's most short-lived genres — disco.

Systemic racism and homophobia in the United States led to the birth of disco in underground clubs in the late 1960s, and the up-tempo music — characterized by repetitive vocals and syncopated beats — reached its peak popularity across continents in the 1970s. The disco craze died quickly after 1979, but not before it left a lasting impact on music production worldwide.

In 1982, Indian composer Bappi Lahiri made synths burst and cascade over a succulent bass line with his T'es OK remake — Jimmy, Jimmy, Aaja Aaja (Jimmy, Please Come to Me) — for the Bollywood blockbuster Disco Dancer, a movie that made Calcutta-born actor Mithun Chakraborty a household name not just in South Asia, but also in the former Soviet Union. The film was inspired by another cult classic, the John Travolta-starring Saturday Night Fever (1977).

I don't recall the year I first heard Jimmy, Jimmy in my hometown, but I distinctly remember the evening a couple of months ago when a colleague in Beijing introduced me to its viral parody.

The sidesplitting vlog on WeChat, roughly one-minute long, shows a canny street food vendor trying to steal customers of a fellow vendor by rustling up a spicy puffed rice snack. One of the quickest ways to earn fame on social media is through comedy, and this Chinese group hits the nail on the head. The song's wordplay on "Jimmy" to exploit multiple meanings including jie mi (give rice) is pure genius. The trope of cross-dressing also works if one is prone to believe that a man in a woman's dress is funny because he mocks the norms imposed on gender-fluid individuals.

Out of curiosity I subscribed to the group's WeChat channel, and oh boy, it's a scream! For those of us who've heard the original tracks, the entertainment quotient is double.

Close on the heels of Jimmy, Jimmy in terms of popular Indian songs in China is another Bollywood hit, Ankhein Khuli Ho Ya Ho Band (I See You, My Darling, Even With Eyes Closed), from the 2000 love saga Mohabbatein. The creators of the parody dump all the romance and allow the lyrics to freely delve into "gut feelings".

In the video clip, a patient consults a doctor who reviews a bunch of test reports and silently shakes his head. Fearing the worst, the patient is on the verge of tears and that's when the doctor reveals that all he needs is a glycerin enema.

Zoobi Doobi (onomatopoeic words), from the 2009 Bollywood box-office marathoner 3 Idiots, is third on China's popularity meter. While the fast-paced Indian number is itself a rib tickler, the Chinese takeoff is no less amusing. The parody uses the gold-digger cliche, but the hint of sexism doesn't defeat the song's main purpose — to elicit laughter.

Music is a potent mood-altering substance, and when laced with Chinese slapstick humor, it can be highly addictive. I am suffering from the common side effects, which include head bobbing at work, toe tapping and finger snapping in the shower, and selective hearing impairment everywhere else. The doctor says I am beyond repair.

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