31 October 2007

Benny Lava revisited

thanks to the sleuthing of an anonymous commenter, i've discovered the true identity of the Benny Lava song. it's by the Indian artist Prabhu Deva, and the title of the song is "Kalluri Vaanil." once you know that, it's easy to find the real lyrics, so i had to do a comparison. note the English codeswitches in the original Tamil lyrics, which i've bolded:

Kalluri vaanil kaayndha nilaavo?
My looney bun is fine, Benny Lava!
Maanavar nenjil meyndha nilaavo?
Minor bun engine made Benny Lava!
En madi meedhu saayndha nilaavo?
Anybody need this sign? Benny Lava!
Ennidam vandhu vaayndha nilaavo?
You need a bun to bite Benny Lava!
so we can see the origin of the name Benny Lava. each instance comes from the Tamil string -dha nilaavo. i'd personally expect something like Donny Lavo, or Denny, or Johnny, but we got Benny instead. the change of an accurately heard [la:vo] to Lava is natural, since it's the closest approximation that's actually an English word.

we can also see that the English comes from a mix of logical correlations and total fabrication. (n)enjil --> engine is highly plausible, as is the entire anybody need this sign line. there's also a fairly uniform interpretation of [v] as [b].
Haikuvae haikuvae... high speedil vandhaaye…
Have you been high today? I see the nuns are gay
Eyebrowai male thookki, I love you endraaye…
My brother yelled to me, I love you inside Ed
Buffalax missed a lot of English words here, only matching i love you (as did i on my first listening). haiku, which is well-established in English, is nevertheless a Japanese loan. i think the CV syllable structure of Japanese helps this blend in with the Tamil lyrics. high speed and eyebrow both get Tamil suffixes (huzzah word-internal codeswitching!), which helps to obfuscate them.
Kalluri vaanil kaayndha nilaavo?
My looney bun is fine, Benny Lava!
Maanavar nenjil meyndha nilaavo?
Minor bun engine made Benny Lava!
Haikuvaai haikuvaai… I love you endraale…
I told a high school girl, I love you inside me
essentially the same as above. the hai of haiku makes one appearance as high in each instance.
I'd love to see you pee on us tonight! (x2)
the mystery line. i have no doubt that there is in fact singing going on here. and the transliteration sounds frighteningly accurate. but no version of the original lyrics includes this part of the song. so the humorous interpretation goes unchallenged here.
Male: April May eppodhum
You fill me up with doom
Female: veppaththil veppaththil
Quit looking up at me!
Male: Endraalum ennangal
You got a minute girl?
Female: theppaththil theppaththil
The puppy had a fee
i would have never noticed April May here. the monosyllable [meɪ] could be practically anything. furthermore it's rare to hear the two words back to back in English, except in a serial list of the months of the year.

a bigger problem starts to emerge here. throughout the rest of the song, repeated words often get completely different interpretations. here veppaththil --> quit looking and up at me, which couldn't be much more phonetically different. there also seems to be a trend of transcribing the aspirated dental stop as a labial, usually [p]. we'll see more of this later.
Female: Dolphin gal thullaadhaa...
Don't think I do love her
Male: Ullaththil ullaththil
We're looking in a pill
Male: vellaththil vellaththil
We're looking in a pill
another easy-to-miss English word, this time because the stress is on the wrong syllable. then there's more craziness with inconsistent interpretation. i think we're looking in a pill is one of the worst transcriptions of the entire song. it breaks up a repeated section into two unrelated pieces, then does the opposite by itself repeating when the original is clearly different. in the entire two lines, there is very little phonetic matching at all except for the final syllable.
Female: Pollaadha aadavaa...
All of them like the bun
Male: Naan pooppandhu aadavaa?
Now poop on them, Oliver!
while the peeing line remains shrouded in mystery, the pooping line is one of the most accurate (phonetically speaking) of the whole song.
Female: unnaale imsaigal undaagum podhum podhum
Ooh daddy, just say it, you know the hole to put it
Male: imsaigal ellaamay inbangal thaanammaa…
Just sing it! You love me! Your pundit got armor!
Female: ichchendra saththangal undagak koodum koodum...
You send me...offended...you know the hole to put it!
Male: saththangal ellaamay muththangal thaanammaa…
Just sing it! You love me! Your pundit got armor!
Female: Puppuppu poochendae… puyalil poraadum…
Who put the goat in there? The yellow goat I ate?
it's getting worse from here on out. ellaamay --> you love me is at least creative and somewhat thematically right. i don't particularly like your pundit got armor for two reasons: first, it's not particularly grammatical; second, the stress on armor is wrong. then there's the dissimilatory nightmare of who put the goat in there, in which four [p]s become [h], [p], [θ], and [g], not to mention the vowels.
Male: Kalluri vaanil kaayndha nilaavo?
My loony bun is fine, Benny Lava!
Female: Maanavar nenjil meyndha nilaavo?
Minor bun engine made Benny Lava!

(i like to swim in it)
(i like to swim in it)
(i like to swim in his beejay)
this interlude is somewhat interesting, since there isn't any actual singing going on, but the tones of the instruments do evoke the spoken word. someone who knows more about acoustics than i do could speak to this better.
Female: pennoda pulse enna?
A nerd to punk a nerd
Male: paarththene paarththene…
I'm bleeding, fucking A!
Female: stethoscope vaikkaamal...
That stuff is pink colored
Male: solvaenae solvaenae…
Some day I sell DNA

Male: sevvaazhai maynikkul
This boar ain't very cool
Female: ennaiyaa ennaiyaa?
You need a Hindi yew
Male: scanning naan seyyaamal
Got into Seattle
Female: sollaiyaa sollaiyaa
I'll lay a friend of yours
Male: naan paarththaal paavamaa?
I fought a barber man
Female: naal paarththu paarkka vaa...
We know what's in butter rum
this section reveals that in some cases where there are doubled words, the vowel quality does sound at least a little different, which i think is mostly due to the stress and pitch changes dictated by the melody. the English words are easy to miss, unless you know that this song is about medical students (in love. with dance troupes. in a field. it's a little pragmatically strained, no?)
Male: urgent aa operation seygindra case um undu
A jet pack operation...send him the crazy Hindu
Female: anbay dhaan naan seyyum operation case alla…
Whatever, my sadist, all baked and cooked alive
Male: Ellaikkul nil endraal en nenjam meerum indru
I lick you, belinda...the ninja made a movement
Female: Kannaalaa nam kaadhal Kargil war por alla
Tell Donna...no collar...i'll do what body loves
Male: tha tha tha thallaadhay… ilamai yerkaadhae…
I put papaya there...you love me inside there
the first time operation is said, it comes through clear as day. the second time is definitely trickier to hear, as it's a bit more condensed. i'm still a little confused about the phrase operation case, because it would rarely come up in English, unless you were talking about a medical malpractice lawsuit or something. i don't know what the common local name for the Kargil war is, so this might not be much of a codeswitch. Wikipedia is no help here, because all of the native articles on the topic are in character sets i don't have installed on my computer, and couldn't read if i did.

i mentioned before the [tʰ] --> [p] change. put papaya is the most salient instance of this.
Male: Kalluri vaanil kaayndha nilaavo?
My looney bun is fine, Benny Lava!
Female: Maanavar nenjil meyndha nilaavo?
Minor bun engine made Benny Lava!
Male: En madi meedhu saayndha nilaavo?
Anybody need this sign? Benny Lava!
Female: Unnidam vandhu vaayndha nilaavo?
You need a bun to bite Benny Lava!
Male: Haikuvae haikuvae…
Have you been high today?
Female: I love you endraayae…
I love you inside me
so there it is, the amazing behind the scenes story of Benny Lava. a couple more youtube links just to wrap it up. first, there is a video with an actual English translation of the Tamil, although it unfortunately doesn't match up with the music. second, there is a similar video which takes the same song and does transliterated lyrics in Portuguese, which actually appeared on the web over a year before the English one.

now, after all that analysis and repeated watching and listening, i'm off to do something else, singing to myself Tamil that i don't understand.


Anonymous said...

Woah, dude, that's some great analysis. You must have tons of spare time :P


Anonymous said...

Awesome man... could you do the correct translation of the song in english by any chance?

Anonymous said...

ooops my bad, its there already. Thanks.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...
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Ed Cormany said...

@rez: that's actually the fake Portuguese video, so it's no better insight to what the original lyrics and meaning are than "i'd like to see you pee on us tonight"

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I think I just got a possible lead on "the mystery line." The name of the film this is in is "Pennin Manadhai Thottu." If a copy with proper subtitles can be found and translated that could possibly be an answer

Unknown said...

Found it here under the name Manadhai Thirudivittai

Unknown said...

DVD Is on its way. It has English Subtitles, I will return with info when I get it.

Ed Cormany said...

great, thanks! i hope the line is subtitled, or it will be a big disappointment!

Anonymous said...

hmmm... "operation case" may be a reference to premarital sex, eh?

Anonymous said...

an operation is commonly referred to as a "case" by surgeons - this is likely the source of "operation case"

Anonymous said...

The lyrics and the actual English translation can be found at http://www.spraci.net/cgi-bin/nread.cgi?group=alt.fr.rec.arts.chanson&id=72925

Anonymous said...

Wow. When I read the real lyrics and listen to the song, I can hear them. That's no fun.

Seriously though, great post.

Joseph B. said...

Indian dentals are farther forward than English dentals, which explains why they can sound like English labials. (English dentals are between Indian dentals and retroflexes, but loanwords from English represent them as retroflexes.)

With poo -> goat, I'm guessing the Indian labial may sound like a labiovelar, with the back of the mouth more closed. Also, lack of aspiration in the Indian p may make it sound less like English p.

Anonymous said...

LOL This must have taken you a good chunk of free time. Nice work.

Though you know, there's one extremely vital thing you forgot to mention that greatly affects the accuracy and viability of this or any other fake lyrics videos - the sound quality of the video itself. Because the sound is a little bit fuzzy (as it usually is with misheard lyrics videos), it makes it way easier to make the fake lyrics match.

Personally, I don't think the fake lyrics in this case are quite as bad as you make them out to be at times. They look worse in printed form than they actually sound, since the only time in misheard lyrics videos when the sound really doesn't match the words are when the creator tries to use a soft consonant in a place where the singer used a hard one (or vice versa). For example, in the Numa Numa misheard lyrics vid on YT, the line "no share misspeak" is set to lyrics that clearly sound more like "no share me meek". It's really blatant and not convincing at all, but I didn't notice any such obvious flaws in Buffalax's work. Of course, that's just my geekity opinion, built upon listening to way too many misheard lyrics vids lately. :P

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to watch the Portuguese version, as the writer actually tried to make cohesive Portuguese sentences out of the words, which ruins it to some extent (since not all of the sounds match up).

Take, for example, the Tamil -dha nilaavo, better known as Benny Lava, or now… "desse lago" (translated as "of that lake"). We start at:

/dʰɑː nilɑːvo/ and end at /dɛsi ˈlɑːɡuː/,

an odd transition where you can see a lot of leniency in interpretation. Another example from it:

"Como é que sai que sai desse lago?"
Translates literally as "How is it that you leave of taking your leave of this lake?" The original is:

"Maanavar nenjil meyndha nilaavo?"

They're both questions, but the sounds are way off.

Anonymous said...

alright alright . i've sent off the lyrics to my father in india .. will respond if he can get it translated ! lol ..

Anonymous said...

This is a total killjoy. Who cares how scientifically accurate it is? As long as the subtitles roughly match the lyrics phonetically, and it's funny, then does it really matter? Stop analyzing and have some fun!

Anybody see the "Nipple Nipple" video yet? That ones a killer!

Anonymous said...

Agree with the above post. I like the English version better...

I always browsed for misheard lyrics, but this one beats all of 'em!

PS: Thankfully, I didn't care to read the 'original' lyrics.

Anonymous said...

This was actually a little interesting. But what I want to know is... who's the main girl? She's kinda cute! :D

Angel H. said...

But what I want to know is... who's the main girl?

Me too! Me too! I love her voice!

Anonymous said...

To the above posters, her name is Jaya Sheel. ^_^

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Wow... so much.. spare time. Do some sleuthing and find out who Benny Lava's chick is in the video. She's a hottie.

Wesley said...

Wow. I didn't know even what the song was about. I know the two were in love (perfectly obvious), but I was pretty surprised to learn that they were medical students. And I didn't know that so many English words were hiding in there. I knew about haiku and I heard operation as plain as a nuke in one's backyard, but all the others were definitely hidden thanks to accents. Thanks for the analysis!

-Freaky Wesley

Anonymous said...

I want him so bad... benny lava! if you are ot there Prabhu Deva Sundaram please contact me!!!!! I love you

Raja said...

Good research...! You have got the accurate translation..!! Kudos...!

Anonymous said...

For more information,

The actual translation and lyrics are found at the following website -


More about the actor / dancer at:

Anonymous said...

I am Brazilian and had a look at the Brazilian Portuguese version. It is not as phonetically accurate as the English one, and unlike the latter, some parts had to employ very awkward (mis)spellings, as well as lots of slang, and a few are even just meaningless sounds.

Also unlike the Buffalax version, and as poster Jellyblob pointed out, the "author" Gamali tried to create meaningful phrases that one could actually say under the right circumstances and don't sound as absurd as the English ones.

However, there was one moment when I laughed really loud: the "I put papaya there" part became "tá tá tá a arder" (very loosely, "it doesn't stop to feel burning") - at the exact moment when Prabhu Deva appears to scratch his eyes... :'-D

It should be said that mondegreens have always been a traditional form of humor here in Brazil. One once made by comedian Renato Aragão became a classic: he did that to "Feelings," with original singer Morris Albert (who is Brazilian) singing it live with him on TV, as he "translated" the lyrics...

The initial lines "Feelings, nothing more than feelings / trying to forget my..." became "Filho, não demore filho / traz esse foguete, mãe" ("Son, don't be late, son / bring [here] that rocket, mom") :-)

There are even mondegreens of Portuguese lyrics, often obscene versions of well-known songs - including one of the "Anthem to the Independence" ("Hino da Independência"), which has official status as a kind of secondary national anthem, and could lead to criminal prosecution if sung that way in public.

The national anthem itself is one of the world's longest (VERY few Brazilians know it by heart in its entirety), and this discourages mondegreens, but I've heard some of the first few lines...

Kranti Kumar Vangipuram said...
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Anonymous said...

Awesome analysis of a brilliant piece of work. I especially liked the usage of linguistics and phonetics, done like an expert.

BTW: For the person who mentioned the female singer's voice - please note that NEITHER of the voices belong to the actual actors - the songs in ALL Indian movies is sung by specilist singers called - "Playback singer".

Comments on "operation case": A "case" as in a medical "case" (not a legal one) is just that - a "case". Example: in Indian English usage someone with a mental problem would be called a "mental case", someone with a dental problem would be a "dental case" someone who needs an operation (for whatever - gall stones to tumor removal) would be an "operation case", someone who needs to be in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) would be "ICU case" and so on ad infinitum ...

Anonymous said...

Two of my Tamil-speaking friends tell me that that the mystery line is just gibberish: apparently this is common in Tamil film songs, such as the first 20 seconds (and possibly later as well, I haven't seen the rest) of this song. I also found a blog post about gibberish in Tamil songs (and others). :)

Great post, thanks for the observations!

Sky Minor said...

Wonderful interpretation of an interpretation.

Anonymous said...

That's a good one Rez'... "Pennin Manadhai" sounds like it could be "pee on us tonight"

Anonymous said...

wow my family use to speak like that...wow!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this analysis! I've been searching for the original song on YouTube for quite some time. All i could find was buffalax's version and it made me want to kill people. Even when i searched for what i though was the real song all i got were remixes and other dubs. Also searching "Original" or "without subtitles" came up with videos with subtitles, which was very annoying.
To all the people that support buffalax, he it the one wasting his time on the internet, and wasting all of our time on his crappy lyrical graffiti.
It is not a killjoy at all, its a real translation and those of you that like the brainless immaturity a two-year-old would generally have with trying to deal with their surroundings can just take it for face value and go master bait in a corner till you die. Meanwhile letting other people take care of you and your major misconceptions about the world. Take it for its cultural content and stop slandering or putting words in someones' mouth to make genuine pieces of art easier for you to take into your mentality.
It reminds me of Ostrich nominalists trying to deal with the world. Just totally shutting out everything and only opening the door for something that is already sugared up enough to pass through your defense mechanisms for life.
People who take the side of someone who has no respect for other races (or different forms of music) is the reason why the world is as crappy as it is. Everyone walks around thinking that they have a good understanding about everything when really all they have done is put a mask over reality. Its not that i don't have a sense of humor, i just have an eye for certain injustices.
The way i see it is that these actors have spent years learning how to dance and sing and put all these people in combination to make this video, and everyone would rather watch them suck on their thumbs because its funny? (maybe people just need to downgrade it to their level) When is the last time you went to another country and learned another language? I doubt you could barely live on your own, let alone do anything special with your life that requires any talent. Why does everyone feel the need to neglect all sources of actual understanding and compassion for everything around them?

ARAK said...

Venn Nilavo = Benny Lava

Venn Nilavu = White Moon in Tamil

Naan pooppandhu aadavaa? = Now poop on them Oliver

Naan pooppandhu aadavaa? = Shall I play badminton?

Anonymous said...

I have lived in Tamil Nadu for a year and a half and I love their cinema. This whole Benny Lava phenomenon is just exposing a whole lot more people to their art. Let's not be too precious and appreciate the entertainment on many levels.

graciela. said...

Great analysis! As a native Spanish and English speaker I obviously can't understand or differentiate the Tamil words from one another. What Buffalax hears, is what I also hear for the most part. Your linguistic analysis is great in understanding some of the reasons for the strange lyrics. But I also think that people who are offended are missing the point that this linguist is hitting. It's not a racial or derogatory issue. It really is about language and what it sounds like to someone who doesn't speak Tamil. It's interesting that Buffalax didn't just make up gibberish (as in words that don't exist) for the song but actually tried to find words he could understand to hear the song. And hey, Prabhu Deva is now exposed to an entire segment of people who never heard of him before.

I hope Buffalax does a song in Spanish. I won't be offended. So bring it on!

Anonymous said...

I love Prabhu Deva, he later became one of best Choreographers and won two National Awards for Choreography. What really saddens me is that he is been made fun of just because someone cannot understand the language - Is that right?

Anyways for those who wants to see some of his choreography watch these, the first one he is in the video, in the other Actor Hrithik Roshan :-



Unknown said...

As a speaker of Urdu and Punjabi as well as English, Spanish and Tagalog (and fragments of a few other Asian languages) I am still mystified by the Dravidian languages...this is a great analysis you've put together here, and helps de-mystify the Tamil a bit...thanks for your great work!

Emily said...

Fascinating post! I thought the Buffalax "subtitles" sounded off in places, and it's good to have that intuition confirmed.

I also heard "I love you" and "operation" but not the other English borrowings, though I wondered if those hearings were influenced by the subtitles.

Anonymous said...


enjoy the translated flash video version of the Tamil Song, from a TamilMovie industry, which gave A. R. Rehman, the oscar awardee.



Unknown said...

How about this one? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1ylkdldauc

Shakeb said...

You mentioned aspirated T sound in article.

Actually Tamil do not have aspirated sounds . In the transliteration above 'th' and 'dh' are refers to dental sounds.'t' and 'd' refers to retroflex sounds (English T and D sound retroflex to Indian ear, so we pronounce as such.

Moreover, 'zh' sound is pronounced like American English r.