Karky and the kids: How Baahubali’s ‘Kiliki’ language was born

The inception of film lyricist Madhan Karky’s CLIQ, which is the source for the language Kiliki in the 'Baahubali' movies

The origin of Kiliki, a unique language created by Madhan Karky for the superhit film Baahubali, does not begin in Hyderabad or Chennai. It begins a little more than 7,000 kilometres from India — in a little pretty home in Australia.

That is where, many years ago, Karky was baby-sitting a few Tamil children in his spare time. “I used to teach them the languages I knew,” he recalls, “They found a lot of differences and complications in each language. Why do we have to remember the gender of an object too?”

The phonetics of the English language and the way each letter is interpreted in Tamil proved to be a challenge for ‘teacher’ Karky. “Any language can easily be mastered if it follows a certain logic; but traditionally-spoken languages don’t have that simplicity.”

A thought passed by Karky’s mind: Why not create a simple language for these children? “We named it ‘CLIQ’ because we wanted it to be as easy as a mouse click,” he smiles.

The children thought it was cool: they read it as ‘See, I Like You.” Karky and the kids got together to develop a small book that contained 50 words, and even conceptualised a song in that language. It turned out to be an exercise only for a few weeks.

A new creation

Cut to many years later, Karky remembered CLIQ when director SS Rajamouli described the war sequences he had written for Baahubali. “Since the tribes were a brutal lot, he (Rajamouli) did not want them to speak in an existing language, lest it hurts people who speak it.” The minute Rajamouli uttered the words, “Let’s create a new language”, Karky’s mind flashed back to that little pretty room in Australia many years ago.

A simple Kiliki explainer

A simple Kiliki explainer  


He rushed back to his laptop, opened that file and started polishing it. The challenge he had now was to retain the emotions in this new-spoken language that needed to be understood by the audience without the use of subtitles. “That was difficult,” recalls Karky, “If you take current-day languages like Tamil, the sound of a few words have a certain pleasantness because of the place of articulation (how we utter them) though its meaning might be very different.” He cites the example of two words: sakkarai (sugar) and nilavembu (a bitter tonic). “A non-Tamil speaker, would tend to think that nilavembu is a sweet word while sakkarai is a ‘harsh word.’ The sweetness of ‘sakkarai’ is not in the word.”

Karky wanted to have this correlation in Kiliki. “When I created a word, I wanted soft sounds or hard sounds, depending on the meaning,” he recalls.

Kiliki was thus developed over three months, with Karky and Rajamouli doing a lot of back-and-forth on how it should pan out. “There was a lot of challenges while it was being shot too; I remember Nasser sir recalling the first time he heard the tribes speaking this... he said that he was taken back,” says Karky. That reaction of Nasser and the others during the shoot was not captured, but what was chronicled was the overwhelming response that the audience gave when the film released.

Karky and the kids: How Baahubali’s ‘Kiliki’ language was born

Beyond barriers

When Baahubali hit screens, Kiliki was one of its talking points. Karky not only got a lot of appreciation, but also several enquiries on social media. “People wanted to know how to learn it; some of them wanted it to be a secret language with which they could communicate with their loved ones.”

Thus, Karky sat down to challenge himself and develop what he describes as the ‘world’s easiest language.’ After a two-year effort, it’s online today — at — and can be learnt by anyone. The lyricist-dialogue writer plans to create an entire universe around this language, and hopes that it will be one “that will unite the world, beyond caste, religion and country.” “I wish Kiliki will become the language of people.”

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 11:16:48 PM |

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