Arya Prakash sat at her home in Hyderabad that March day and rewrote the definition of the Malayalam word 'Vedi'. Google would tell you it's a slang for whore or slut, but Arya defined it as ‘a woman way out of your league and/or doesn’t give a flying f"#$ about your 17th century judgements’.
She put it in a neat white font over a black background and posted the image on the month-old Instagram page 'Popcult.tribe', a digital space for Malayalam pop culture that Arya runs with three others.
The post is one of the 100 made on Pop Cult by a team of four, that includes Arya, who has a hilarious blog called silma reviews she writes with a blogger called The Last Caveman, full of fun takes on Malayalam movies of different times. Charles Andrews, a quiz master who would pop up on television sometimes, had read her blog and pinged her to tell her he loved it. They talked of pop culture and realised they had both been waiting to start something like Pop Cult.
“The third member Aashiq Bava is Charles’s acquaintance, and he takes care of the funding. The fourth – Kishan Bhas – is a designer and video editor we hired,” Arya says on the evening Pop Cult posted its 100th post.
Pop Cult team; From Left: Charles, Aashiq, Kishan
A few days before Vedi, Pop Cult posted definitions of Feminichi and Kuru Pottal – the first is used as slur on feminists, and the second is when someone is frustrated to the core.
Pop Cult defined Feminichi as ‘Title conferred to any woman who has an opinion’ and Kuru Pottal as ‘The burning feeling inside a mallu misogynist’s chest when Parvathy’s new movie releases’. They mean actor Parvathy and she was one of the first to share these definitions, along with other celebrities like Rima Kallingal and Aashiq Abu.
“Yes, when they shared it, it brought visibility to the page, a lot of others began sharing it, some began writing to us, some confided,” Arya says. It was not just women that opened up, there were also men owning up to using these derogatory terms on women once upon a time, and feeling bad about it now.
“We had a strategy, on what we wanted to do, and not to do things that are already done. Apart from the movie characters on Instagram and Tinder profiles, there are also movie mashups of Hollywood and Mollywood (these would show Malayalam movie posters carrying popular Hollywood titles and vice versa, in a way that matches the images). Then there is a section called mango peel news which would be satirical news (mango peel in Malayalam is a funny term called maanga tholi, used for sarcasm),” Arya says.
One of the newest additions is a spoof horoscope endearingly called Kumbidiscope, after the character Kumbidi, a fake astrologer in the movie Nandanam. Sample the entry for Saggitarius.
April is the month you will finally realize resolutions do not happen unless you do something for it. Start with showering daily.
The movie character profiles have also been a hit. Chinnu, the female lead in Queen, is described as “Chinnu, 18: Chinnu likes to sing, Chinnu likes to dance, Chinnu likes friendship, Chinnu likes Chinnu’s name. If you swipe left, Chinnu will be sad.”
The admins, like the actors who speak their mind on social media, had not been spared of abusive comments. “There is some backlash and hatred. When we defined Kuru Pottal, some people began calling us Paru Cult. Then there is the usual trash talk and men asking if you would call your mother or sister Vedi. We don’t usually engage with them, except when it turns abusive, and then we delete it,” Arya says.
The context is fun but it's having its impact too. A woman – who blogs under the name sentranced – read Arya’s definition of Vedi and says she found closure. She had horrible memories of the word Vedi, when sneering teen boys and girls called her that in school, for being ‘over-sized’. Arya’s cool new definition helped her release ‘a truckload of weight’ off her head, sentranced wrote.
Arya says she felt warm content knowing her words could do this – bring closure, solace, a pat to the hurt past of another.
The content on Popcult has evolved in the past few days. It is now mostly on Malayalam movies – Instagram profiles of movie characters, Tinder profiles too (with the funny swipe lefts and rights), quizzes on movie titles and so on. Pop Cult Dictionary defining words like Vedi is only one part of it. But it is perhaps that which doubled and tripled their views from a few hundreds to a few thousands.
The Pop Cult team next plans to do videos. In a little more than a month they have already done much more than they planned. “In one line, the idea is to make Malayalam pop culture universal,” Arya says.