The vathyaar dialect

Still from Bommalattam

Still from Bommalattam  

Actor-film historian Mohan V Raman spoke on the charm of the Madras bashai at his recent talk

What connects Cho Ramaswamy, Kamal Haasan, and Dhanush?

They’re actors from different times, but they have all spoken the ‘Madras Baashai’, which includes a generous contribution from many other languages.

It’s this special dialect spoken by film personalities across times — from ‘Loose’ Mohan to Rokesh (‘Danga Maari’ lyricist) — that formed the theme of actor-film historian Mohan V Raman’s talk at the Madras Week Celebrations.

When Cho Ramaswamy and Manorama did a little jig in the popular ‘Va Vathyare’ number in Bommalattam (1968), everyone took notice. “Muktha Srinivasan (the director of the film) wanted to use the slang in the song…. but lyricist Vaali said that it might be difficult for him, and roped in M.L. Govind to provide the apt words to go with it,” narrated Mohan. And thus were born lines like ‘Jambaar Jakku, Na Saidapetta Kokku’ that evoke a smile to this day, and the word ‘Vathyar’ that would go on to describe an actor-chief minister.

A lot of languages were spoken in Madras a few decades ago, and somewhere down the line, all these contributed to a slang that came to be called Madras bashai. “This conglomeration of dialects formed the slang. Even Mumbai has its own Hindi — which is a mix of Gujarati, Marwadi and Parsi dialects,” he added, citing the film Munna Bhai MBBS as an example in the context.

Mohan even drew references to the Cockney rhyming slang spoken in London. “It is said that people speaking this slang did not want others to know what they were talking,” explained the actor, “While we may say, ‘Mind your head as you go up the stairs’, a Londoner might say, ‘Mind your loaf as you go up the apples’ in the Cockney slang.”

Closer home, filmmakers and actors developed their own style of rendering the Madras bashai. Like Chandrababu, who perhaps brought the slang to Tamil cinema in its fullest form. “Sivaji Ganesan spoke it in Bale Pandiya and Kamal Haasan has experimented with the slang in many of his films,” mentioned Mohan.

Today, Madras baashai still thrives — primarily in North Madras — and young lyricists like Vyasarpadi-based Rokesh use it in songs that go on to become superhits. “His ‘Danga Maari’ from Anegan and ‘Aaluma Doluma’ from Vedalam use the slang liberally — the latter was actually written while watching some women fight for water (‘Aaluma Doluma’ means a sneaky troublemaker).”

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 1:07:40 AM |

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