Gowri Jayakumar is at her Feminist Fiercest on ‘Kaadal Mannan’
The Pune musician questions ideals of womanhood on the standout hip-hop single off her upcoming EP under the moniker Pulpy Shilpy
One morning, about a year ago, Gowri Jayakumar’s mother was listening to “Paattu Paadava,” a song from the 1961 Tamil film Then Navilu, starring cult actor Gemini Ganesan. While the song was playing in the background, Jayakumar and her mother got into a minor argument. “She was irritating me, she was asking me some annoying questions or something,” remembers Jayakumar.
That moment of conflict, a familiar one in any mother-daughter relationship, served as the unusual inspiration for Jayakumar’s excellent new single as Pulpy Shilpy, “Kaadal Mannan.” The track, which was produced by Jayakumar in its entirety, samples “Paattu Paadava” at the beginning. “Mr Gemini, what you planting in my momma’s head?/It’s been a decade six times over/Your tribe’s comin’ at me instead,” Jayakumar raps slickly over a syncopated beat.
Though there are repeated references to Ganesan, who Jayakumar describes as the screen “Romeo” of his time, the song’s true focus is a complex exploration of motherhood and the expectations of maternity placed on Indian women. “No Mr Gemini to save me from my plight,” Jayakumar spits in the song’s final verses. “The mother is a metaphorical figure in this song. Not my mother, it’s just a general mother,” says Jayakumar, speaking over the phone while on an evening walk in Pune, where she lives. “If you watch any [TV] serial or anything in this country, it has this thing that a woman needs to be like this [motherly] image.”
“Kaadal Mannan” marks a sonic departure for 31-year-old Jayakumar, who has previously performed as a singer-songwriter under her given name and the monikers Kozmi Cow, Mama Kitty and Run Pussy Run. The single is her debut track as Pulpy Shilpy and is her first foray into hip-hop and production, although from its polished edges and smart composition, you’d never be able to figure that out.
Jayakumar initially chose the name Pulpy Shilpy for her experimentation with production as a way to keep her identity secret. “When I started doing this, I was making a lot of shit stuff, and I really didn’t want anyone to know it was me,” she says. “So I [thought I’d take up] some shady name. I was making a lot of shitty beats without any clue, you know? But at some point, I was like, okay, I need to get into this production scene a little more seriously.”
Though “Kaadal Mannan” gives off the impression that Jayakumar is a far more experienced hip-hop artist than she is, she isn’t sure that the rest of her debut Pulpy Shilpy EP–yet-to-be named, slated for an October release–will contain any more rapping from her end. If this track is any indication, though, wherever she goes, we’ll gladly follow.