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

Margaret Jenkins @ YBCA

Here are some pictures from yesterday's final performance of Slipping Glimpse from the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. This was a collaboration with the Kolkata based Tanushree Shankar Dance Company. Following an initial meet at Kochi last year where:

Many hours were spent trying to communicate concepts as well as steps. We were privileged to learn from Padma and the Indian dancers about their respective forms. We talked about making work, the nature of audience, the definitions and varieties of modern dance and the space that both our arts embrace. Western dance, more often than not, takes over space, moves through and around it: The more we have, the more pleasure abounds. The classical Indian forms look for center within and on the stage. Little space is needed to give voice to that art.

We spent most of our days creating the 13-minute work for our performances. Our goal was to explore how to share our vocabularies with an eye to the evening-length work premiering at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in May. The Indian dancers will travel to the United States to be part of this larger dance.

Subsequent choreography involved the exchange of video materials and DVDs across India and the USA between the troupes prior to the dancers once again uniting for the actual performances. Talk about globalization in action :-) Demand was unexpectedly high with nearly all the performances getting sold out. The images are from the 10 minute prologue of the show:

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- May 28, 2006 10:12 AM // Bangla , Bay Area , Dance

Triptyque Sans Titre

When it comes to evaluating dance as performance, particularly modern ones, I am the first to admit my critical faculties are woefully short. In particular, the absence of narrative often forces me to gauge such pieces purely on visceral impact. And on that criteria, I have to say Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula's latest work, Triptyque Sans Titre. performed at the Yerba Buena Center on Sept 17th, is particularly effective. I can't say whether it's any good or not but I do know it left an impact. Loosely billed as the flashback memories of an amnesiac who has a story to tell (but has now forgotten it), the piece is an exploration of the horrors of colonialism and internecine warfare suffered by the people of Congo. As befits the title, there are three main parts each accompanied by a live soundscape from the musician Joachim Montessuis. Armed with a laptop, a mic and one or two electronic gadgets, he crouches on the floor amidst a landscape of naked electric bulbs hanging from the ceiling and plastic bags littered all over. The pattern is the same each time: a drone in the beginning which grows and ebbs and finally builds to a shattering crescendo (so much so that the Yerba Buena management provided earplugs to patrons prior to the start of the show), finally falling away to silence when we can finally hear the dancers chant. The dancers run to and fro, perhaps suggesting escape from external enemies, fight with each other, cover themselves with bags and then, at the end of it all, come together in unison, suggesting a rapproachment of some sort. A projector throws up pictures of babies and families, the real victims of the Congo war. Strong stuff.

PS - The San Francisco Bay Guardian has a review here.

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- September 26, 2005 6:01 PM // Bay Area , Dance , Review