Benny Lava And Globalization

In this day and age of easy multimedia dissemination, there's no real place to hide. On the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's Thriller, I went hunting for evidence of its influence on desi dance and Bollywood on YouTube. If anything, I found the South Indian film industry to be far more overt in their "homage." But globalization is a two way street and one particularly egregious copy of Michael's moves, once intended for a regional Indian film audience, is now available for all and sundry. In fact it was a huge viral video hit. By now you must have seen it already but here goes anyway:

Now, here's the part about the two way street: after it gained in popularity, YouTube users began taking the video and adding their own twist. Like farts. Or splicing in the original Thriller video such that you can now see the desi version with Jackson warbling on the soundtrack juxtaposed against Michael dancing with the audio from the Tamil soundtrack. The latter actually works better, IMHO:

The best remix, however, was done by popular YouTube prankster, buffalax. He added subtitles, not intentionally bad translations a la Wayne's World, but vaguely phonetically accurate transliterations with hilarious results:

This was a big hit by itself, garnering over 2 million views. Interested, I dug into buffalax's back catalog. He's done Punjabi bhangra as well (Daler Mehndi's video for Tunak Tunak but his greatest hit was for a dance sequence from South Indian star Prabhu Deva. It's a scene from the movie Pennin Manathai Thottu. Entitled Crazy Indian Video .. Buffalaxed, this clip was a monster YouTube hit, garnering around 3.7 million impressions:

As you see in the opening credits, Buffalaxed has no idea about the context of the original video, nor does he care. His is a strictly phonetic deconstruction of the Tamil lyrics and it's brilliant. Blogger Pramodh writes:

Mike Sutton is a 24 year old dude from Ohio. His hobby is to find some foreign videos in YouTube and make up the lyrics just the way they might sound in English. The twist is that he makes the lyrics hilarious. And he calls himself Buffalax in YouTube. On August 18 2007 he relased a video and called it a "Crazy Indian Video Buffalaxed!" And in a few months its popularity in the internet went up so much that Urban Dictionary decided to add the term Benny Lava in their Lingo. So far it had 2+ Million views and still going strong.

Searching for views on Benny Lava, I found an interesting trend: bloggers (by and large non South Asian) and YouTube commentators found it to be hilarious. But some also noted their enjoyment of the actual dancing in the video itself. An interesting way of crossing over: come for the humor, stay for the moves. Pramodh adds:

Prabhu Deva the actor in the video is now known as Benny Lava all over the internet. Yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend who studies in Ohio. She said that some of the students performed the Benny Lava dance in her school.

This subtitling approach by buffalax has inspired others but by and large, it seems to be a one trick pony. Buffalax's recent efforts in other languages haven't really garnered anywhere near as many hits. Still, it's another example of the ebb and flow across cultural divides that a megabazaar like YouTube can produce.

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- February 15, 2008 1:45 PM // Bollywood , Dance , Diaspora , Humour , India