Stereotyping/ Cultural appropriation comes easy to everyone, and its funny to watch it play out among people of the same yet multi-cultural country. Despite belonging to a single piece of land, Indians are vastly different from each other in terms of what they speak, what they wear and what they consume -literally and figuratively. So the 'idea' of what the 'other' side is like is often stereotyped, especially in media representation.
For example, Kollywood's idea of North Indians is often a monotone representation of Hindi-speaking settlers of Tamil Nadu. And Bollywood's idea of South Indians (which includes Kannadigas, Malayalis, Tulus, etc) is taken only from the Tamil, Telugu-speaking settlers of Mumbai. Ironically Mumbai is the capital city of Maharasthra, which is the Southern most state of the Hindi-speaking India, yet they get even the remotest variation of the Hindi populace right.
While the laments from all sides have always existed, the year 2013 brought an open discourse on this subject after a Hindi song called the 'Lungi Dance' went viral. Yo Yo Honey Singh who was a rising Bollywood musical star then, had penned the number as a homage to Tamil superstar Rajinikanth, and it was part of a Shah Rukh Khan produced movie called Chennai Express. Rajinikanth's second daughter Soundarya even had an input in the song, and the makers took her suggestion to include the 'Thalaiva' chant in one of the Lungi Dance versions.
L: A poster fom the Chennai Express movie that featured the Lungi Dance song; Seen in the background are Tamil henchmen who according to the storyline work for the heroine's father R: Online criticism of Rohit Shetty's 2022 movie Cirkus, part of which took place in Ooty, Tamil Nadu
Rohit Shetty, the director of Chennai Express is a habitual includer of anything Tamil in his movies. But his 'inclusivity' and 'homages' have sometimes irked the Tamil side due to it being overtly appropriated. Shetty's intentions are harmless, but have been called out by sections of the entire South, especially because he himself has South Indian roots.
With this as pretext comes Yentamma, a song composed by Payal Dev, with lyrics by Shabbir Ahmed, rap by Raaftaar, vocals by Vishal Shekar, Payal Dev and additional lyrics and vocals by Aditya Dev. Yentamma is part of a Salman Khan starrer called Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan and the movie is a remake of a Tamil hit called Veeram. For the song, the makers roped in Telugu stars Ram Charan and Venkatesh Daggubatti to dance alongside Salman and Pooja Hedge in traditional South attire in a palette one usually sees in Telugu movies.
A tweet mistaking veshti - a formal attire, for a lungi which is a casual PJ-type clothing:
Lungi Dance is always fun... Watching @BeingSalmanKhan, @VenkyMama, #RamCharan and @hegdepooja in a colourful avatar dancing to the tunes of South Indian music is such a pleasant feeling... And finally some good choreography for Salman... #Yentamma from #KKBKKJ is a CHARTBUSTER!… pic.twitter.com/gnLsvdvhZd— Rahul Raut (@Rahulrautwrites) April 4, 2023
The lyrics are a mix of Hindi and Telugu despite not one native Telugu contributor involved in the making of the song. The intention to pay a Telugu homage is understandable, given director Siva who originally wrote Veeram has Telugu roots. But the appropriation that has creeped in [it would be difficult to find a Veshti-clad South Indian man with the Salman-Khan level of thigh exposure], has definitely lead to another set of eyerolls down South.