In 1998, a very knowledgeable bloke posted a simple query in the ever-interesting Tamil Film Music Page (TFMPage.com). He asked, “Why does ARR always begin songs with a word repeated twice?” That got everyone thinking. Frenetic lists were made. Before someone could rattle off Chaiya chaiya, Mustafa Mustafa, Ennavale ennavale, Humma humma, Rukumani Rukumani, Urvasi Urvasi and Columbus Columbus, another geek discovered that Ilayaraja was equally guilty of replicative words. Janani Janani, Mayilae mayilae, Manidha manidha and Sendhoorapoovae sendhoorapoovae were stacked up as a riposte by a Rahman fan.
As a wise observer noted, neither could be blamed as the tradition of using irattai kilavi (twin words) has been around since the time of Tolkappiyam (the first known work in Tamil literature). And if you care to look around, you’ll notice it everywhere, even today. Tamilians use pala pala to indicate ‘glow’, moru moru to emphasise crispness, modhu modhu to cue roly-poly-ness, vala vala for yakking, and kisu kisu for gossiping.
Forget Tamil, twin words is a phenomenon right across India. One can find hundreds of examples in Kannada, Telugu, Bengali and Hindi. It’s so prevalent that two IIT Kanpur scholars, RMK Sinha and Anil Thakur, have actually put out a research paper on the topic.
The gist of their findings is: if the pair is a noun like ghar ghar or bachcha bachcha, the intention is to quantify things—although in case of chor chor or bachao bachao, the idea is to get more attention. Numeral replications like ek ek and aadmi aadmi are done to create a group feel. Adverb and adjective replications such as dheere dheere, choti choti and naya naya are meant to intensify the meaning. Onomatopoeic repetitions like ghanan ghanan (downpour), jhar jhar (flowing) and dhak dhak (heartbeat) are used to capture natural sounds. And pronoun repetitions like jahan jahan and jab jab are used to amplify the focus.
Bollywood has been a fast learner of these tricks. Which is why many blockbusters featured twin words in their titles. One can recall Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Andaaz Apna Apna, Bol Radha Bol and Bhaag Milka Bhaag. My gut feel is Twenty20 sounds a lot sexier than test cricket because of the tautology. Brands like Tata, Pass Pass, Toto, M&Ms and 50/50 are beneficiaries of the same principle, too. In conclusion, all one can say is that if one wishes to capture mindshare, it helps to say things over and over!