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Campaign songs in Tamil Nadu adapt to changing tunes of virtual electorate


(This story originally appeared in on Mar 12, 2021)

The AIADMK’s propaganda team recently released a short video as part of the campaign, or rather ‘counter campaign’ against the DMK. ‘The 2020 DMK Awards’ compiled shots of a dancing M K Stalin with the Todas captioned ‘Ungalil yaar adutha Michael Jackson’ (‘Who among you is the next Michael Jackson’). It also nominated a rather disgruntled-looking Duraimurugan as the ‘vintage villain’.

For years, parties such as the DMK and the AIADMK had resorted to songs inside and outside of cinema to endorse their leaders and key ideologies.

Today however, the poignant melodies of the yesteryears have paved the way for crisp, taunting material that is also creative in its approach – like what the AIADMK released – or VFX-laden, high tempo music videos with charged lyrics.

The transition can be singularly owed to the age of tech, says political analyst Ramu Manivannan. “There was a time when songs were used as crowd-pullers. Today, what parties need is material that can resonate with the electorate privately, in the comfort of their homes.”

The briefing for years has been to highlight the shortcomings of the ruling party and the ways in which we would set them right, says singer songwriter Iraianbu Kuthos. “If our party was in power, we would sing praises of its achievements and poll promises,” adds Kuthos, who penned the DMK’s new propaganda song ‘Stalin daan vararu, vidiyal thara poraru’ (Stalin is on his way with solutions).

This style of material comes highly recommended by poll strategists and is put together by not just ardent party insiders but film students and professionals too, many times at a solid budget.

“Our new numbers have reached lakhs of young people. To appeal to them, our presentation too has become cinematic,” says Kuthos.

The songs are sometimes preceded by memes, teasers and ‘first-look’ posters due to their ‘shareability’ on social media, where much of the debate and hoopla takes place during the election season.

‘Vandhan Oruvan Vandhan’, a new release by Naam Tamilar Katchi, is a good example. It has been penned by Murali Manohar, a film student and former associate to director Shankar, who calls himself an ardent NTK fan. A few months ago, he and his brother Prabakaran, a music composer, decided to put together a fan-made song, which quickly became their ticket to recognition from party chief Seeman. “He gave us the green flag and party funds to make a full-fledged music video,” says Murali.

What they gave back is a robust anthem that employs the heated, revolutionary language akin to the one Seeman is known for, to throw light on topics that often fire up those mass gatherings – the legacy of Tamil Tiger supremo Prabhakaran, Tamil nationalism and farmer rights, among others.

During election time, the brief is to highlight the achievements of the party, says T Subha, senior copywriter with city ad agency Madarth, who wrote lyrics for a new music video on ‘Smart City Kovai’ for the AIADMK. “I was asked to write the song with social inclusion as the core theme, while highlighting other success stories,” says Subha. The party’s popular new campaign song, ‘Vetri nadai podum Thamizhagame’ too stays true to this structure, highlighting the party’s educational and employment policies.

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