Boss-ass grandmas are enjoying a boomlet in American comedy. But with the rap song ‘Nani’ that dropped this week on YouTube, which your own grandma has probably received in her WhatsApp group by now, the concept may have achieved its pinnacle. It’s a beautiful, casually affectionate piece of work about desi life in the States, but it’s also a joke about the stereotypes of that life, including its doting and long-suffering grannies. Like, only an alien from outer space would think of Madhur Jaffrey as a long-suffering anything, right?
The idea for a song that celebrates both nanis and the iconic Miss Madhur in a very two thousand and nineteen way (the video is awash in canary yellow hoodies) belongs to Mr Cardamom, previously known as Young Cardamom, co-author of the belt-able, danceable Ugandan hip-hop of Young Cardamom & Hab. The New York Times names him as Zohran Mamdani, but he signs his emails to us as mC and tells us that he made the song as a tribute to his own grandma, and also to “wonder who my Nani would be if she surreptitiously ran a criminal enterprise and found inspiration in the Ying Yang Twins.”
On screen, the enormously charismatic Jaffrey lip-synches to mC’s playback - peak Indian! - and his whispered rap becomes her wry and menacing inner voice. Things make more sense as they get increasingly surreal: it’s the logic of the meme, another hallmark of our times. “Somehow, she was down with the concept, and to pull a classic ‘in &as,’” mC writes. Your own nani might like to groove to it, if she doesn’t mind the swearing in “F**k top five and f**k top three, I’m the No 1 nani, don’t f**k with me.”
mC is a busy New Yorker with a full-time job: it took him two years to make ‘Nani,’ “so that’s a good indication of my ridiculously slow rate of production thus far.” That could change, now that this epic endeavour is not just out of the way but making waves internationally; it’s “definitely given me more belief than I’ve had in a while,” he says. He’s been a hip-hop lover ever since he received Jay-Z’s The Blueprint for his birthday. His tastes in music now range from Anatii and Bad Bunny to the music of Udta Punjab and Gully Boy. But it’s too soon to talk about what he’ll do next. (He’s talking to the producer of ‘Nani’ about another idea, but that’s all he’ll say.)
‘Nani’ makes you hungry. It takes place in diner-class New York, among the vegetable markets and halal carts of Jackson Heights, often unfairly caricatured by other New York desis. It features a sight gag about rap that’s also a (big, drippy) wrap. Jaffrey is the doyenne of posh Indian cooking, but ‘Nani,’ to mC’s eternal credit, doesn’t make it look like she’s slumming. She smokes, slaps and schemes her way around this universe like a frail but dauntless Viking. That’s what makes the whole thing weirdly - even bizarrely - hopeful. Our parents may bear responsibility for the world we grew up in, but in these haunted times, our grandparents are a reminder not only of surviving the worst, but of sailing past it in style. Brb with a mutton biryani.
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