How the viral song ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ captured the untold stories of landless Tamil farmers

How the viral song ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ captured the untold stories of landless Tamil farmers

How the viral song ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ captured the untold stories of landless Tamil farmers

housing estate at sunset
Deepthi Suresh

Deepthi Suresh

13th September 2021

 

As I listen to the first few seconds of the new viral song, ‘Enjoy Enjaami (Enjoy, My God) that took the internet by surprise, it reminds me of Africa. It hints at the red earth. It hints at the exploited, toiling away under the sun on lands that will never be owned by them. But this is no African rap. The similarities are by design and choice only because this story has been experienced for years and years by the poor all over the world during the colonial era. The initial tempo sets the stage, and you are immediately drawn into the music. You wonder, is this an Indian song? What language am I hearing? Why did it garner over 80 million views on YouTube, sung by Australian-Sri Lankan singer Dhee and Indian Tamil rapper Arivu in less than a month since its release? The song from the state of Tamil Nadu in the very south of the Indian subcontinent was an instant hit and inspired hundreds of covers, song reactions and personal dance videos.

 

The world-class visuals depicted in the song masterfully captures the story of Arivu’s grandmother. Rap has always been the musical voice of the oppressed, poor, and disenfranchised. This song strikes the right chord with its listeners from its very first beat. It tells you the story of colonial India, which used to be a market for cheap labour. As history goes, thousands of poor Tamils migrated to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the 19th century to work in the tea, coffee, and rubber plantations. With time, the virgin forests of Ceylon made way for the city roads and development, and it was the sweat and blood of the Tamil migrants that made all of it possible. However, as the migrant workers became expendable, they were forcibly sent back to India with no prospect of finding jobs there either. Once there, they took up different trades like masonry and painting. Rapper Arivu’s grandmother Valliammal is from the lineage of these workers.

 

 

‘Enjoy Enjaami’ celebrates the lives of common ancestors. Rapper Arivu finds his inspiration from Dr B.R.Ambedkar who is considered the chief architect of the constitution of India, also one of the greatest philosophers, civil rights activists and statesmen of the 20th century. Arivu pays tribute to the nonviolent resistance of ‘Mahad Satyagraha’ in March 1927, spearheaded by Ambedkar to assert the rights of the Mahar community to access public water. Ambedkar questioned why the ‘untouchables’ were prohibited from drinking water from a lake, where birds and beasts were allowed to drink. The lyrics – “The lakes and ponds belong to the dogs, foxes and cats too’’ echoes the demands that Dr Ambedkar had fought for.

 

As you listen to the song, it takes the listener through the journey of human civilisation and questions the role of an individual in space and time. One is posed with the question of self-importance and superior assumptions of their own identities while in reality share a common heritage with every being that played a role (ancestors including) in the journey of the human civilisation as beautifully explained in the following lyrics.

 

“ The land guarded by my ancestors
The devotee that dances
The earth rotates around
And the rooster crows
Its excretions fertilised the forests
That turned into our country
Then our home too”

 

Although the word imagery is lost in translation, the sentiment, emotion, and oppression of our ancestors are not lost in the tune itself. ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ is the history of life itself and how the oppressed survived.

 

 

Featured photo by Tom Thain

 

 

Why does Hollywood still think body shaming is hilarious?

Why does Hollywood still think body shaming is hilarious?

Why does Hollywood still think body shaming is hilarious?

crowded cinema theatre
Ciara Phelan

13th August 2021

 

Although Hollywood is known as the forefront of creative media, and the home of the best and the brightest creatives, Hollywood film and television continuously fall victim to cheap gags and stereotyping. In this day and age, we are bombarded with stereotypes and tropes such as the funny fat friend, the sassy Black woman, the nerdy Asian, all of which are tasteless and unnecessary. The list is endless. One of these recurring themes in modern media is the use of body shaming as a comedic device. Women are commonly victims to this endless criticism, although men are not excluded from it, and it is seriously damaging the way we view our own bodies, and compare ourselves to those around us. Unfortunately, this cycle does not seem to have an end in sight, as these anti-fat messages are still being instilled in children, teenagers, and young adults to this day. 

 

An almost iconic problematic movie is Shallow Hal (2001). Shallow Hal is troublesome on a multitude of levels, but the worst and most central aspect of the story is Hal’s hatred of fat women. He is hypnotised to only see inner beauty, thus seeing larger girls as slim and gorgeous. Why has beauty become synonymised with slimness? To rub salt in the wound, the gorgeous Gwyneth Paltrow is cast as the love interest, and is seen in a fat suit for segments of the movie. The use of fat suits is less of an attempt to be relatable and inclusive to all sizes, and more to advertise the actor’s thinness and to literally objectify fatness. Paltrow even said in an interview that she found her experience in the fat suit “so sad, so disturbing” because nobody would look her in the eye. The loss of thin privilege is an intensely dehumanising experience for those who are used to being conventionally attractive. It’s an equally humiliating experience for those watching the film, seeing their body shapes being peeled off so effortlessly by the thin actor underneath and their lives being parodied by people who do not understand.  

 

Another favourite Hollywood trope is a storyline involving a larger woman suffering a life-threatening head injury, and is then so confused and disoriented that she sees herself as appealing – how unbelievable! In the film, Isn’t It Romantic (2019), Rebel Wilson plays a character who wakes up inside a romantic comedy after she hits her head. Only after the accident, does she notice attractive men making grand romantic gestures in order to gain her attention. Is it really so far-fetched that attractive men, such as characters played by Liam Hemsworth, find women with a physique like Rebel Wilson attractive? Similarly, in the film I Feel Pretty (2018), Amy Schumer plays a character who falls off a spin bike, and wakes up with a newfound sense of self-esteem and confidence. In each film, the entire comedic aspect of the story is the fact that the “fat ugly girl” either believes she is attractive, or believes that men see her as attractive after she hits her head. Hollywood somehow still finds it hilarious to think that a larger woman could be seen as attractive, could have an ounce of self-worth, or could be the star in her own romantic story.  

 

For generations, people of all shapes and sizes were ingrained with fears of becoming fat and the social consequences of it.”

The current ‘ideal’ female figure is made up of a set of unattainable contradictions – ultra-slim but not too bony, curvaceous but not too broad, wide hips but a small waist, strong but still dainty and graceful. We are unknowingly surrounded by anti-fat messages such as these, and the damaging effects of this reach far beyond women who are heavier-than-average and it instead harms all those who view it. For generations, people of all shapes and sizes were ingrained with fears of becoming fat and the social consequences of it. Studies show that 40 per cent of primary-school-age girls are dissatisfied with their body size, with children as young as three years-old demonstrating an investment in the thin ideal, and five- and six-year-old children reporting a desire to be thinner and to diet. 

 

Body image issues are not exclusively a woman’s issue. Studies have shown that a surprisingly high proportion of men are dissatisfied with, or are preoccupied with worries regarding their appearance. A study in the US found that the percentage of men dissatisfied with their overall appearance is now at 43 per cent, almost tripling in the past 25 years and that now nearly as many men as women are unhappy with how they look. Men are forced into silence regarding their worries out of fear of being seen as weak. In recent years, a number of celebrities have spoken out about their struggles with eating disorders: ex-Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston, Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, and Zayn Malik have all spoken about their battles with anorexia; Russell Brand, John Prescott, and Elton John have also spoken about bulimia. 

 

Male bodily dysmorphia manifests in a way that is totally different to women – while women are told to slim down, men are told to tone and bulk up. This has been heightened by the “superhero effect,” and the intense training that goes into portraying a superhero on-screen. Stars like Hugh Jackman, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pratt have all been seen to shed pounds and transform into the ideal male body type. Research has shown that 90 per cent of teenage boys who go to the gym do so to “bulk up.” Men, although equally insecure about their bodies as women are, are more likely to suffer from ridicule regarding both their bodies and their feelings regarding their image. Although the body positivity movement has benefitted women in the sense that society calls out and cancels those who insult women for their size, men do not enjoy the same benefits and continue to be mocked and taunted for not looking like those we see in television and movies. 

 

Men are also severely affected by these cheap laughs. In Avengers: Endgame (2019), as Thor battles with his own inner demons and his fear of failure manifesting in the demise of his home, he (like many others) reached for alcohol and high-calorie snacks as a means of comfort. Marvel could have taken this as an opportunity to shine a light on mental health, trauma, and substance abuse but instead Thor is illustrated as a non-stop fat joke. He is introduced in the movie with his shirt off, showing his prominent beer belly, in an attempt to parody Chris Hemsworth’s usual captivating shirtless scenes. This further perpetuates the idea that fat people have “let themselves go,” or are “lazy,” or whatever other nasty stereotype, and totally belittles the body positivity movement. “Fat Thor” seemed to be the butt of every unnecessary joke or comment throughout the movie, and this alienated members of Marvel’s loyal fanbase.

 

Whether conscious or unconscious, there is an inherent bias within our society that benefits those who are slim and villainises those who are larger. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that we have grown to become more accepting, with Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson being two highly-paid and highly-respected actresses in Hollywood, but we must not ignore those moments within pop culture that reinforce the damaging stereotypes about larger bodies. We must demand better storytelling, and reprimand those within the industry who think that they can continually profit from cheap gags with no repercussions. We must protect those who are hurting because of this humiliation, and let future generations live the lives that we dreamed of where they are freed from this harmful gaze.  

 

 

 

Featured photo by Krists Luhaers

This article was supported by: STAND Arts & Culture Editor Deepthi + Programme Assistant Alex

 

Empowering women through female rap music

Empowering women through female rap music

Empowering women through female rap music

smiling woman taking notes and listening to music
Kate Bisogno

4th August 2021

 

Since its inception in the 1970s, the hip-hop industry has been inarguably male-dominated, yet women have consistently played a significant role in the development of its culture. Icons Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot paved the way for contemporary artists such as Nicki Minaj and Doja Cat, who have changed the narrative surrounding women in rap today. Figures like these are beginning to shift a culture that for decades has been criticised for its over-sexualisation of women. The recent increase in the popularity of female rap through platforms such as Tiktok has led listeners to view the music as both empowering and progressive. However, many still argue that the sexual and arguably aggressive lyrics of women in the industry further perpetuate the misogynistic connotations of hip-hop. Regardless of the stance that one may take on the topic, it seems as though there is an undeniable depth to our beloved hot girl summer anthems.

 

Men within the hip-hop industry have fuelled misogyny through lyrics which both objectify and over-sexualise women, facing little backlash. Yet when female artists discuss similar topics, they receive rather extreme reactions. These double standards were evident when Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion joined forces to create the unforgettable anthem WAP. The internet exploded with both criticism and praise for the duo. In response to the backlash, Megan stated that “some people just don’t know what to do when a woman is in control and taking ownership of her own body.” Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion had completely reversed the narrative. Not only were they speaking about sexuality in a manner that had, for the most part, been exclusively associated with men, it was even said that the lyrics ‘objectified men’, causing many to acknowledge how it may feel for women to listen to the degrading lyrics of many male artists. 

 

The empowering hits continued with the release of Megan Thee Stallion’s debut studio album Good News in late 2020, featuring icons such as Beyoncé and SZA. Saweetie and Doja Cat kicked off 2021 by promoting female independence with their single Best Friend, highlighting the importance of women supporting one another, rather than falling victim to the toxicity of comparison – another ideology that is intrinsically linked to the male portrayal of women through media.

 

“The notion that there can only be one woman at the top is beginning to dissolve as we witness new female faces rise to stardom in the industry.”

Although women within the hip-hop scene are no strangers to public abuse, their overwhelming success and praise is indisputable. The notion that there can only be one woman at the top is beginning to dissolve as we witness new female faces rise to stardom in the industry. Long-time favourites such as Nicki Minaj and newcomers like City Girls receive similar levels of success to their male counterparts which speaks volumes to the growing female presence within the industry.

 

Instead of condemning male rappers, these artists are turning the tables and using the sexualisation of women to their advantage. Through female rap, women are given the option to reclaim power over their sexuality and obtain a new sense of confidence. To denounce this fact would be to silence one of a woman’s innate powers. Why should women be shamed for expressing their sexuality in a way that men have been doing for decades? A woman is a multifaceted being. Female rap incorporates both a woman’s female and masculine energies simultaneously. Yes, women can listen to Taylor Swift and feel all their feelings, but we can also channel a healthy inner aggression that resides in many of us by aligning ourselves with the shameless energies of Flo Milli or Rico Nasty. The women of the hip-hop industry are reversing the narrative. Instead of being silenced while men profit off of female sexuality, they are using it to empower both themselves and others.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Soundtrap

This article was supported by: STAND Women Editor Ellen + Programme Assistant Alex

 

Mare of Easttown changes the way we look at murder mysteries and legends

Mare of Easttown changes the way we look at murder mysteries and legends

Mare of Easttown changes the way we look at murder mysteries and legends

woman holding a clapperboard
Deepthi Suresh

20th July 2021

 

It is a privilege to witness legends perform. Kate Winslet is a legend on every count that I can think of. I must confess that I have been a diehard fan of her since her role in Peter Jackson’s masterclass, Heavenly Creatures released in 1994. Articles were popping up on digital media describing Kate Winslet’s performance in the HBO series, Mare of Easttown as priceless, sensational, brilliant, and so on with a subtle tone of surprise among the reviewers and the audience. Why were they surprised?

 

Before I digress into listing down the very many triumphant acting laurels that Kate Winslet has achieved in her life, I focus my thoughts on the stunning murder mystery, Mare of Easttown. The HBO limited series is a character study set in Pennsylvania, the not so perfect cousin of Boston or New York. The elegant, accented Brit makes it seem like a piece of cake with the way she can nail the look, sound and feel of the townspeople of Delaware County. Winslet plays the lead character of Mare Sheehan, the town police detective who has been called to investigate a murder to start with. But it becomes clear that the audience is in for a ride much beyond the mystery of a murder in this seven-part drama series. This character study showcases the grief and trauma of a divorced woman’s loss of her son to drugs and suicide while raising her grandson in the face of a custody battle with his mother who has been on and off the rehab herself. It also takes in ordinary strains of a common life that routinely pushes Mare’s buttons as she sways through her painful journey. Mare is also burdened with a prior unsolved case of a missing girl and another girl while the investigation is underway.

 

What makes the show special is its achievement in the understanding of what real life could look like while in the guise of a murder mystery.”

What makes the show special is its achievement in the understanding of what real life could look like while in the guise of a murder mystery. Although, with each episode, the storytellers spin interesting webs to garner the attention of the audience and we are taken into the lives of the usual suspects and strangers as our doubts are raised and then lowered through the hour-long episodes of Mare’s police work. But this was not a murder mystery to begin with. You are not investing your time to find how it all ends but instead, how the journey takes place. How does Mare get back to normalcy after losing her marriage, her son, her daughter who moves away for college and her relationship with her best friend? These are the questions that cloud your mind while you embark upon this story.

 

Mare of Easttown has also been raving up the discussion on how female bodies are portrayed in TV shows. The Oscar-winning actress who has never been shy of performing nude scenes goes one step ahead and decides to portray a middle-aged woman’s body accurately in a sexual scene despite being offered the technologically induced magic of perfect bodies which has been the norm. She believes that the audience connected to her character in part because she is “a fully functioning, flawed woman with a body and a face that moves in a way synonymous with her age and her life and where she comes from.” Kate Winslet’s weight has been the talk of the tabloid media since her rise to stardom in the 1990s and she has frequently spoken about the pressures on actresses to maintain a particular appearance. In 2008, she told Vanity Fair about her early years of acting: “I was fat. I didn’t know any fat famous actress. I just did not see myself in that world at all, and I am being very sincere.’’

 

Winslet refines the character of Mare into multiple layers that could have easily been missed by other performers. She elevates every character around her with her sincerity and trueness to human emotions. The subtle expression on her face after being pleasantly surprised by a kiss or, the time when she breaks down in the middle of the night longing for her mother who hugs her after a near death experience, makes you realise the powerhouse of talent and ease with which legends like her are made of. Mare of Easttown celebrates emotions in the rawest sense possible and somehow, this brings you peace.

 

 

Featured photo by Jon Tyson

This article was supported by: STAND Arts + Culture Editor Deepthi & Programme Assistant Alex

 

I May Destroy You: Letting go or making sense of it?

I May Destroy You: Letting go or making sense of it?

I May Destroy You: Letting go or making sense of it?

Arabella from I May Destroy You
Deepthi Suresh

27th May 2021

 
 

Chaotic, complicated, heart-wrenching, mesmerising. These were some words and thoughts that were running through my mind as I watched this mind-blowing twelve-episode series made for HBO and BBC One. Written and co-directed by the charismatic talent, Michaela Coel, who also plays the lead role of Arabella, I May Destroy You is one of the best performances I have seen in recent times. Millennial-life related shows may raise eyebrows at times as, more than once, various showrunners have only ventured into time-tested stereotyped life routines of the millennial. There has hardly been a fresh take on stories that one could easily relate to. Coel however, has championed the intrinsic issues we might face, through multiple layers of clever screenplay and direction. This show makes you think. This show makes you introspect. This show has my respect. 

 

Arabella is a free-spirited young East Londoner who owes her book agents a draft of her upcoming book. But the night longingly makes her abandon her laptop. She quickly slips into a late-night crew party as she drifts to a place called Ego Death Bar. There are shots going around. The night quickly blurs and disintegrates. The audience wonders why Arabella seems dizzy and clawing her way out of a door. But we are not given enough time to ponder, as the next scene cuts to Arabella at her writing desk. She has a minor injury on her forehead that needs cleaning up, but she manages to meet her deadline. Setting the tune of the show are the clouded scenes whizzing through Arabella’s mind, of a man sweating and panting with flared nostrils in a bathroom stall.  For those brief seconds, as the memory flashes through her mind, she is in shock. Arabella is a victim of date rape drug. 

 

Coel broke into TV at 28 through her BAFTA award-winning comedy Chewing Gum about a girl desperate to lose her virginity. While pulling an all-nighter drafting the second season of the show, Coel decided to take a break to meet up with her friend at a bar. Her drink was spiked, and she was sexually assaulted by two men. She finds herself returning to consciousness at the Fremantle Media production office, where she had been working earlier. Her phone was smashed, and she goes on to finish the episode that she has been writing and eventually realising what she had gone through in her drug induced state. She portrays her real-life horrific incident in the show with ease and courage.

 

“I May Destroy You takes the viewer through a journey of despair, blankness, and an attempt to understand what had happened and what might happen in her life going forward. The truth of this show does not lie in showing what happened but in how it felt…how it feels.”

I May Destroy You also bravely touches upon how a gay man encounters sexual assault and finds it excruciatingly embarrassing and uncomfortable to register a complaint, and how a woman visiting an exotic place gets played by charming locals into a threesome, leaving her with a feeling of being used. Is locking your friend in a room with their crush during a party at your home the right thing to do? Did your friend consent to it? Was it a harmless thing to do? The question of consent moves to varying degrees in all our lives depending on the circumstances or situation. One might be forced to ponder deep into its meaning during a harmless conversation with friends. The question of consent is a difficult subject but is in grave need of discussion in mainstream media and this show touches upon all the right notes for the audience to hopefully understand and engage with the topic a bit more. 

 

The art of letting go is probably the toughest motion a victim of trauma must adapt to. Nevertheless, it is a universally accepted coping mechanism. But the question is, how do you do it? What is the right way? The finale of I May Destroy You will bowl you over with its beautifully translated trials and errors through its top-notch screenplay to well, let go. The title, in all its vagueness, is what makes the show special. It is the vagueness of our own understanding of what does or does not happen to us, that shines through our lives as we try to go forward in the best way we can. 

 

I May Destroy You is a much watch. 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by BBC Studios on Twitter

This article was supported by: STAND Programme Assistant Rachel

 

Do we need a Gossip Girl reboot?

Do we need a Gossip Girl reboot?

  ARTS + CULTURE
Do we need a Gossip Girl reboot?
Gossip Girl
Grace Donnellan
13th April 2021

 

When Gossip Girl first hit our screens in 2007, much of the world was still enthralled by the wealth, materialism, and hyper-capitalism of the economic boom. While some were predicting an imminent crash, they were largely ignored. Television shows like My Super Sweet Sixteen, The Hills and The Simple Life had all been large successes. And so, Gossip Girl, with its window into the lives of the Upper East Side’s uber wealthy, fitted neatly into the cultural context of the time.  

 

The first season of Gossip Girl was hugely popular and earned accolades such as “the greatest teen drama of all time.” At this time many were feeling the benefits of economic growth and for those not yet benefitting wealth seemed like an achievable aspiration. We could laugh at the ridiculousness of the lives of Gossip Girl’s Upper East elite, while also using them as aspiration porn. The first season also utilised Brooklynite Dan Humphrey as a moralising force who granted us an outsider’s perspective. 

 

Then in 2008, the economic and cultural landscape changed utterly after the financial crisis. The excess portrayed in Gossip Girl became more jarring than aspirational. The showrunners were left with a choice whether they would alter the show to reflect the recession or whether they would lean into the ridiculousness as a form of escapism. They seemed to attempt to do both. As the seasons progressed, Gossip Girl still maintained the character’s glamorous lifestyles, but at the cost of their empathy and nuance. 

 

The protagonists in Gossip Girl, who we are supposed to root for, are Chuck and Blair. Chuck is a bad boy who personifies the worst elements of wealth and privilege. He sexually assaults numerous characters, including 14-year-old Jenny, and on one occasion gets violent with Blair. Blair is a bitter elitist. While in the first season we see a softer side of her character, in the post-recession seasons the writers double down on her classism and meanness. And yet Blair and Chuck get everything they want by the time the show finishes. We are supposed to adapt to their worldview and feel happy for them, despite neither character exhibiting real growth. The less affluent characters are not painted in as forgiving a light. In the court of Gossip Girl fans, Dan and Jenny are considered the worst characters. While Dan is pretentious and irritating at times, his behaviour pales in comparison to the Upper East Siders. In the finale, it is revealed that Dan has stooped to the manipulative, scheming level of his peers and only then, after a brief period of repentance, is he rewarded. The audience internalises the worldview that the behaviour the affluent characters used to get ahead is okay because they are rich and that the worst sin you can commit is to be moral or poor. 

 

Often reboots are made to tap into our nostalgia surrounding the original. But any nostalgia surrounding Gossip Girl does not exist anymore. The aspirational thinking promoted by the show died with the financial crash and would be even more incredulous now. Many young people who might have enjoyed the show felt the impacts of the recession in their homes as teenagers and have grown into socially conscious adults. It would be hard to argue that they would be interested in a show about vapid, wealthy elites. In any case, why should we even make such a show?

 

“In today’s world many of the heroes of Gossip Girl look more like villains, should we not be rooting for better characters?”

The only way a Gossip Girl reboot could work would be to totally subvert the themes of the original. This seems unlikely as Jordan Alexander, a reboot cast member, said that the reboot would be “staying true to the essence of Gossip Girl but with a completely different take on it.”  This essence is a world where wealthy characters manipulate and scheme for their personal gain and the less affluent characters are demonised or forced to assimilate.  

 

Another major issue regarding the original was the lack of diversity. The only main character of colour was Vanessa, who was not meant to be liked. The reboot features a heavily BIPOC cast which is a welcome change. However, it could be considered tokenistic to reboot a show that originally ignored race with a now diverse cast. Who is this reboot serving except for the consciences of the original show’s creators and the white people who enjoyed it without criticism? Would it not be better to platform stories by and about people of colour, as opposed to inserting them in a white hand me down? 

 

There is no denying that Gossip Girl is an entertaining show. It has retained relevance, to a certain extent, due to its ridiculousness. And while it can still be enjoyed with hindsight, is it the kind of television we should be making today? Arguably not. 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo created using Canva