Tamil Cinema in the Twenty-First Century: Caste, Gender, and Technology 9780367199012, 9780429244025

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Tamil Cinema in the Twenty-First Century: Caste, Gender, and Technology
 9780367199012, 9780429244025

Table of contents :
Half Title
Series Page
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
List of Figures
List of Tables
List of Contributors
Cinema, India, centenary
Tamil cinema in the new millennium
Thematic overview: continuities and changes
Part 1 Caste
Chapter 1 Contested narratives: Filmic representations of North Chennai in contemporary Tamil cinema
The city as a ‘historical space’
City in Tamil films
The ‘territorial stigmatisation’ of North Chennai
Symbolic ghettoisation and the stigmatised neighbourhoods of North Chennai
Destigmatising the territorial stigma
Chapter 2 Conscripts of cinema: The dangerous and deviant Third Wave
The new Madurai genre
The two waves and the conscripting Third Wave
Beyond the ‘type-hero’ and the ‘neo-nativity’ film
Dangerous and deviant heroes as conscripts of cinema
Madurai in the Third Wave
Plot summaries
Chapter 3 Being Dalit, being Tamil: The politics of Kabali and Kaala
Kabali’s story1
Detour: the absent Periyar in Kabali
Reading Kabali
Karikaalan, aka Kaala
Kaala in and beyond the Dravidian framework
Conclusion: Tamil becoming2
Part 2 Gender
Chapter 4 When Madhi dances like Dhanush: Gender representations in Irudhi Suttru
Irudhi Suttru and the New Wave of women-centric films
Is Irudhi Suttru a feminist manifesto?
Vaa Machaney, an introduction kuthu song for the heroine
Madhi, an angry young woman
The gender trouble of a boxing heroine
‘Who’s the hero?’: from flawed masculinity to male saviour
Conclusion: what is Madhi the name of?
Chapter 5 Redefining the mass hero: The rise of the engineer as ‘hero’ in contemporary Tamil cinema
The appearance of the mass hero in Tamil cinema: defining the paradigms of masculinity
From mass hero to realist masculinity
The evolution and meanings of technical education in Tamil Nadu
The Tamil male engineer as a neoliberal subject: reading gendered behaviour
Engineer heroes in Vaaranaram Ayiram, Nanban, and V.I.P.
The neoliberal subjectivity of the contemporary mass hero: individuality, bromance, and the male body
The male body: subverting traditional masculinity and the invention of new idioms
Chapter 6 White is the new brown: Constructing Amy Jackson as a desirable object in Tamil cinema
The Westernised woman
Complications: whiteness as an aesthetic of beauty
Case study 1: Jackson as an aesthetic of beauty in Gethu (2016)
Stigma and the appeal of a Caucasian female actor
Case study 2: Thangamagan
Jokes at the expense of Hema’s Western-ness
Referencing Hema’s fundamental difference from the native hero
Setting up the archetype for the traditional woman
Intimacy as facilitated by Western-ness
Chapter 7 Misogyny: A content analysis of break-up songs in Tamil films
Songs in Tamil films
Women’s bodies and objectification
(Insincere women’s) love versus (sincere men’s) friendship
Vilifying all women
Conclusion and limitations
Chapter 8 Religiously middle class: Ammaṉ films and the new middle class in contemporary Tamil Nadu
Ammaṉ films
The middle class of Ammaṉ films
Ammaṉ films as a pedagogical tool
Ammaṉ films as a reflection of middle-class anxieties
Part 3 Technology
Chapter 9 Will the real Kollywood fan please stand up? : Tamil film fandom in the new millennium
Fan club activity in the early 2000s
Cinema spaces
The figure of the fan revisited
New media, new desires?
Chapter 10 Post-millennial Tamil cinema: Transitional generation and the traces of continuity
The transitional generation
The key signifiers of the transitional and markers of the contemporary Tamil cinema
The hero and the family
The transitional generation and traces of continuity
The transitional generation and authorship
Realism and relationships
Chapter 11 A rumble in the movie halls: Cinema in the ‘orphaned’ state
Cinema politics post-1990s2
Cinema politics in the ‘orphaned state’
The economics of Tamil cinema
Chapter 12 Tamil platform cinema
YouTube India screen ecology
Tamil screen ecology
Tamil platform cinema

Citation preview

Tamil Cinema in the Twenty-First Century

Tamil Cinema in the Twenty-First Century explores the current state of Tamil cinema, one of India’s largest film industries. Since its inception a century ago, Tamil cinema has undergone major transformations, and today it stands as a foremost cultural institution that profoundly shapes Tamil culture and identity. This book investigates the structural, ideological, and societal cleavages that continue to be reproduced, new ideas, modes of representation and narratives that are being created, and the impact of new technologies on Tamil cinema. It advances a critical interdisciplinary approach that challenges the narratives of Tamil cinema to reveal the social forces at work. Selvaraj Velayutham is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, Macquarie University, Australia. Vijay Devadas is Associate Professor in the School of Communication Studies, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand.

Media, Culture and Social Change in Asia Series Editor Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Editorial Board: Gregory N. Evon, University of New South Wales Devleena Ghosh, University of Technology, Sydney Peter Horsfield, RMIT University, Melbourne Chris Hudson, RMIT University, Melbourne Michael Keane, Curtin University Tania Lewis, RMIT University, Melbourne Vera Mackie, University of Wollongong Kama Maclean, University of New South Wales Laikwan Pang, Chinese University of Hong Kong Gary Rawnsley, Aberystwyth University Ming-yeh Rawnsley, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London Jo Tacchi, Lancaster University Adrian Vickers, University of Sydney Jing Wang, MIT Ying Zhu, City University of New York The aim of this series is to publish original, high-quality work by both new and established scholars in the West and the East, on all aspects of media, culture and social change in Asia. For a full list of available titles please visit: https://www.routledge.com/MediaCulture-and-Social-Change-in-Asia-Series/book-series/SE0797 67. Ethnic Minority Children in Post-Socialist Chinese Cinema Allegory, Identity and Geography Zhenhui Yan 68. The Chinese Internet The Online Public Sphere, Power Relations and Political Communication Qingning Wang 69. Tamil Cinema in the Twenty-First Century Caste, Gender, and Technology Edited by Selvaraj Velayutham and Vijay Devadas

Tamil Cinema in the Twenty-First Century Caste, Gender, and Technology

Edited by Selvaraj Velayutham and Vijay Devadas

First published 2021 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2021 selection and editorial matter, Selvaraj Velayutham and Vijay Devadas; individual chapters, the contributors The right of Selvaraj Velayutham and Vijay Devadas to be identified as the authors of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record has been requested for this book ISBN: 978-0-367-19901-2 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-429-24402-5 (ebk) Typeset in Times New Roman by Deanta Global Publishing Services, Chennai, India

For Leela & Ravi


List of figures List of tables List of contributors Acknowledgements Foreword: A refreshing look at Tamil cinema

Introduction: Tamil cinema in the twenty-first century: continuities and changes

ix x xi xiv xv




Caste 1

Contested narratives: Filmic representations of North Chennai in contemporary Tamil cinema

17 19



Conscripts of cinema: The dangerous and deviant Third Wave




Being Dalit, being Tamil: The politics of Kabali and Kaala




Gender 4

When Madhi dances like Dhanush: Gender representations in Irudhi Suttru SHAKILA ZAMBOULINGAME

67 69

viii Contents 5

Redefining the mass hero: The rise of the engineer as ‘hero’ in contemporary Tamil cinema




White is the new brown: Constructing Amy Jackson as a desirable object in Tamil cinema




Misogyny: A content analysis of break-up songs in Tamil films




Religiously middle class: Ammaṉ films and the new middle class in contemporary Tamil Nadu




Technology 9

Will the real Kollywood fan please stand up? Tamil film fandom in the new millennium

145 147


10 Post-millennial Tamil cinema: Transitional generation and the traces of continuity



11 A rumble in the movie halls: Cinema in the ‘orphaned’ state



12 Tamil platform cinema






0.1 0.2 0.3 4.1 9.1 10.1 10.2 10.3

Still from the film Pariyerum Perumal (Horse Mounting Deity, 2018) featuring actor Kathir in the role of Pariyerum Perumal. Courtesy Gnanam Still from Aramm (Virtue, 2017) featuring actor Nayanthara as District Collector Madhivadhani. Courtesy Gnanam Still from the film Super Deluxe featuring actor Vijay Sethupathi as Shilpa. Courtesy Gnanam Still from Irudhi Suttru (The Final Round, 2016) featuring actors Ritika Singh (Madhi) and Madhavan (Prabhu). Courtesy Gnanam Capturing the celebrations of the release of Petta (Hood, 2019) and Viswasam (Faith, 2019) at Rohini Theatre, Chennai. Credits Roos Gerritsen, 2019 Screenshot from the film Pisaasu (Ghost, 2014). Courtesy of Director Mysskin Screenshot from the film Aadukalam (Playground, 2011). Courtesy Director Vetrimaaran Taramani (2017) film poster. Courtesy Director Ram

4 5 7 71 148 170 173 175


4.1 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4

Typical boxing movie and Irudhi Suttru’s narratives comparison List of songs Words used to describe a woman/women References to women’s bodies Lines that vilify all women

77 119 120 121 125


Lisa Blake is a doctoral candidate at McGill University’s School of Religious Studies. Her current research, which was made possible through a doctoral scholarship from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Société et Culture (FRQSC), focuses on the late-nineteenth-century development of a Tamillanguage print tradition for the goddess Māriyammaṉ. She has taught at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, USA. Karthikeyan Damodaran is Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at the School of Creative Liberal Education, Jain (deemed-to-be) University, Bangalore. His research interests include Dalit politics, caste, commemorations, Urban Cultures, and Tamil Cinema. He is the author of numerous articles on Dalit politics and Tamil Cinema. Vijay Devadas is Associate Professor in the School of Communication Studies at Auckland University of Technology. His research is focused on the interface of media–culture–society, and his publications address key social, cultural, and political debates and issues across cultures and media platforms. His publications explore indigenous media in Aotearoa; Tamil cinema, media, and neoliberal politics; and media, terror, and sovereignty. Swarnavel Eswaran is Associate Professor in both English and Media and Information Departments at Michigan State University. His research focuses on the history, theory, and production of documentaries and the specificity of Tamil cinema and its complex relationship with Hollywood as well as popular Hindi films. His recent books are Cinema: Sattagamum Saalaramum (2013), an anthology of essays in Tamil on documentaries and experimental films, and Madras Studios: Narrative, Genre, and Ideology in Tamil Cinema (2015). He is an accomplished film-maker, and his recent documentaries include Nagapattinam: Waves from the Deep (2018), Hmong Memories at the Crossroad (2016), Migrations of Islam (2014), Unfinished Journey: A City in Transition (2012), and Kattumaram (2019).



Roos Gerritsen has worked for over 15 years as an anthropologist at Leiden University and Heidelberg University. Her work on Tamil fan clubs and visuality has been published with AUP (2019) as Intimate Visualities and the Politics of Fandom in India. She has also published in Ethnos and Visual Anthropology. Currently, she is working in the fields of smart city, food, and migration in different capacities. She has started her own company that guides cities, organisations and companies with social innovation projects. Hugo Gorringe is Senior Lecturer in Sociology and the Co-Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on the interplay between caste, politics, and Dalit movements in Tamil Nadu. He is the author of Untouchable Citizens (2005) and Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste and Political Power in South India, as well as numerous articles or chapters on identity, violence, space, caste, and politics. Having grown up in Tamil Nadu, he has a long-standing interest in Tamil cinema. Vasugi Kailasam is currently Assistant Professor (Tamil Studies) in the Department of South and South East Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research concerns postcolonial literature and the cultures of contemporary South Asia. Specifically, her work examines global Tamil literatures and visual cultures and focuses particularly on narrative form and its connections to South Asian cultural identity formations, race, and ethnic politics. Premalatha Karupiah is Associate Professor of Sociology at the School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia. She teaches research methodology and statistics. Her research interests are in the areas of beauty, culture, femininity, educational and occupational choices, and issues related to the Indian diaspora. Her articles have been published in leading journals. Dickens Leonard presently teaches at the Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad, India. For his PhD, he researched on the writings of the nineteenth-century Tamil intellectual Iyothee Thass at UoH. He recently received the Fulbright post-doc grant (2020–2021), and he plans to work on a monograph titled ‘Ethical Dimension of Caste-less Community’ that extends his PhD in the United States. He was formerly a DAAD-visiting PhD fellow (2016) at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Georg-August University, Goettingen, Germany. He has published on contemporary Tamil Films as well as on anti-caste thought in renowned journals such as SAPC, EPW, and Social Scientist. Karthick Ram Manoharan is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC). He is the author of Frantz Fanon: Identity and Resistance (2019) and a co-editor of the volume Rethinking Social Justice (2020). He is currently working on the political thought of Periyar E.V. Ramasamy.



Maya Ranganathan is a media researcher currently working at Macquarie University, Sydney. Her area of specialisation is South Asian media, particularly Indian media. She has co-authored two books on Indian media: Indian Media in the Age of Globalisation (2010) and News Media (2015). She has published extensively in academic journals on media and political communication in India. Her work draws from over a decade’s experience as a journalist in Chennai, India, during which time she also wrote on Tamil cinema. Meenaatchi Saverimuttu is a PhD candidate at Macquarie University under the supervision of Dr Jane Simon. Her research interests include film studies, gender and queer studies, postcolonial theory, and audience studies. Meenaatchi’s doctoral thesis focuses on the unique convergence of genre, narrative, and reality in Tamil films, called cinematic excess, and examines how these excessive characteristics call for a new approach to cinema, unaddressed by Western film studies. Selvaraj Velayutham is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, Macquarie University. His research interests are in race and ethnic relations, Tamil transnational migration, and the sociology of everyday life. He is the editor of Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry (2008) and has published widely on Tamil cinema and Tamil diaspora and transnationalism. Shakila Zamboulingame is a doctoral student and a history/geography professor in Paris. Her thesis project is a study on women’s representations in Tamil cinema through gender studies and cultural studies. She is especially interested in examining the evolution of female characters in recent Tamil cinema. Since 2016, she has run a blog on the analysis of Tamil cinema named 1916, About Tamil Cinema: https://1916tamilcinema.wordpress.com. Her other research interests include war photojournalism and visual culture in contemporary societies.


It is now 12 years since the edited volume on Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry (2008) was published. A groundbreaking book in many ways, it was the first compendium of scholarly work on Tamil cinema that brought together new writings on various aspects of Tamil cinema to a global readership. It provided an overview of the history of the Tamil film industry and critical insights into the social role, representations, and cultural meanings and circulation of Tamil films. Since then, the Tamil film industry, audience, and Tamil society have undergone major transformations. This long-overdue second edited volume interrogates the continuities and changes taking place in Tamil cinema. We would like to thank Peter Sowden at Routledge, who has been extremely supportive of both book projects. We want to thank all the contributors in this volume. We are especially proud that we have an equal number of genders contributing as well as a whole bunch of emerging scholars. We are also delighted to bring together the works of Indian and international scholars on Tamil cinema. We would like to acknowledge Indira Arumugam, Maunaguru Sidharthan, Lavanya Balachandran, and Rajan Krishnan for their editorial assistance; Swarnavel Eswaran for his comments on the introduction; and Lewis Rarm for his excellent research assistance. We are honoured that the eminent Tamil cinema historian Theodore Baskaran accepted our invitation to write the foreword to the book. We would like to thank our respective institutions, colleagues, and last but not least our families for their continued encouragement and support for this project.

Foreword A refreshing look at Tamil cinema S. Theodore Baskaran

Historically, cinema in India was stigmatised as a plebeian preoccupation and did not receive any serious examination. During the freedom struggle, leaders like Gandhi and Rajaji despised cinema. E.V. Ramasamy Naicker also did not hide his contempt for it. The academia in Tamil Nadu too did not see cinema as a worthy scholarly pursuit. My own interest in Tamil cinema began in the mid-1970s when I received an Indian government research fellowship to document the origins and pioneers of the Tamil film industry. I conducted archival work at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune and the Tamil Nadu Archives in Chennai and published The Message Bearers: Nationalist Politics and the Entertainment Media in South India 1880–1945 in 1981. By this time cinema had completely taken over Tamil Nadu and M.G. Ramachandran had become the chief minister. This phenomenon of star-politician and the interaction between cinema and politics in Tamil Nadu attracted the attention of some scholars that include Robert Hardgrave, C.S. Lakshmi, M.S.S. Pandian, and Sivathamby Karthigesu. Later, Venkatesh Chakravarthy, Sarah Dickey, Lalitha Gopalan, and Stephen Hughes interrogated the cultural and social aspects of Tamil cinema. Selvaraj Velayutham’s (2008) Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry was an important publication that helped propel greater interest in the study of Tamil cinema. This new volume is further testament to the expansion of Tamil cinema research by both Indian and international scholars. Though Tamil cinema has remained predominantly in entertainment mode, in the past two decades one can observe a measured change in both form and content. The two persistent characteristics of this cinema – orality and frontality, both hangovers from company drama days – are beginning to disappear. The easy availability of foreign films in CD forms and the internet have helped the change in the scene. The influence of Korean, Iranian, and Latin American films has also been a factor in bringing about a change. Miniaturisation of equipment like lights, camera, and digital photography has greatly helped film-makers to move out of the studio context. This physical freedom has also helped them venture into new areas in terms of content. Dalit issues have been handled in a number of films such as Rajiv Menon’s Sarvam Thaala Mayam (2018). An iconoclastic approach to life has been celebrated cinematically in Thiagarajan Kumarajara’s



Super Deluxe (2019). Politically conscious and articulate film-makers like Pa. Ranjith, Vetrimaaran of Asuran (2019), and Mari Selvaraj of Pariyerum Perumal (2018) fame are active on the scene now. The 12 essays in the book, by young scholars from all over the world, focus on various aspects of contemporary Tamil cinema, including gender, class, caste, religion, fandom, generational change, and the arrival of the digital age. They bring refreshingly different approaches to screen studies like never before. What makes them authentic is that a lot of Tamil sources have been tapped. Traditionally, academic works on Tamil cinema depended on English sources and to that extent were limited in their dimensions. The Malayalam film-maker Shaji Karun said: ‘the language of cinema is discovering itself. A hundred years is practically nothing for any art form’. Being such a young art form, theoreticians are constantly in the debate on the nature of cinema and on the direction it is going. The set of sparkling new essays contained in this collection offers some hints into what is ahead. S. Theodore Baskaran Tamil cinema historian

Introduction Tamil cinema in the twenty-first century: continuities and changes Selvaraj Velayutham and Vijay Devadas

Cinema, India, centenary The year 2013 marked the centenary of cinema in India, following the screening of the first Indian silent film Raja Harishchandra (The King Harishchandra) on 3 May 1913 at Coronation Theatre in what was then Bombay. Numerous events were held across the globe to celebrate the birth and honour the achievements of the Indian film industry. It is instructive that these commemorations were bestowed upon the Hindi language cinema, popularly known as Bollywood, thus constituting Indian cinema as Mumbai-centred and all else as regional. The centenary was dominated by a refusal to discuss and deliberate other histories, stories, and creative practices that disrupt the normalised understanding of the centenary. As Bhaskaran (2013) observes, ‘the centenary of Indian cinema is fast being reduced to a celebration of Hindi films, largely Bollywood’. That said, the South Indian Film Chambers of Commerce (SIFCC) organised a state-sponsored four-day event in Chennai in September 2013 to honour its own personalities from the Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada film industries to mark the centenary of Indian cinema. This is an interesting juxtaposition for the Tamil film industry whose foundational claim has been based on its linguistic and cultural difference encapsulated by a long period of Dravidian-based films (see Hardgrave 1973; Pandian 1992; Devadas and Velayutham 2008). The point is that the state-funded centenary celebration is one amongst other possible centenaries of Tamil cinema – the first Tamil silent film Keechaka Vadham (The Extermination of Keechaka) was released in 1918 – and importantly that centenary celebrations exemplify how cinema, its histories, became an institution for the state to articulate its identity. In Chennai it became the ideal platform to articulate the significance of the contribution of cinema from the South to Indian cinema to underscore the importance of using cinema to advance Dravidian culture and politicise film culture. At the celebrations, the then Chief Minister Jayalalitha, for example, also took the opportunity to note that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Dravidian Progressive Federation, DMK) had a stranglehold on Tamil cinema for a long time until her party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), came into power and enabled cinema to thrive.


Selvaraj Velayutham and Vijay Devadas

It can be argued that the Bollywood/Hindi cinema’s disregard for the particular histories and contributions of South Indian/Tamil cinema to the corpus of Indian cinema is also evidenced by the limited engagement with these cinemas in Indian scholarship. Commonly labelled as regional cinema, Tamil and other non-Hindi language cinemas remain in the shadows of Bollywood in terms of popularity and academic research. Statistically though, more than 200 Tamil films are produced every year, including multilingual and dubbed films in Tamil Nadu, and the Southern Indian cinemas (Tamil and Telugu combined) generate as much revenue as Bollywood. Most recently, the historic drama Bahubali: The Beginning (2015) and Bahubali: The Conclusion (2019), which were shot in Telugu and Tamil, became the highest-grossing films ever in India, ushering a new interest for and recognition of the South Indian cinemas. The YouTube music video ‘Why This Kolaveri Di?’ (2011) by actor/singer Dhanush and produced by Anirudh became one of the most streamed songs of all time and went viral and resulted in a countless number of copy versions sung in other languages across the globe. The iconic ‘superstar’ Rajinikanth, who primarily acts in Tamil cinema, has remained the highest-paid actor in India for well over two decades. And the Tamil music composer, Oscar and Grammy award-winner, A.R. Rahman, who is referred to as the ‘Mozart of Madras’, is a global phenomenon. In another first for the Tamil film industry, Kochadaiiyan (The King with the Curly Mane, 2014) became India’s first photorealistic motion capture film depicting the appearance and likeness of their respective actors. The creativity of those involved in Tamil cinema crosses linguistic, cultural, social, and cultural borders, and in that sense, it is a global cultural industry. As such, understanding the economic and cultural contribution and significance of this cinema is thus long overdue.

Tamil cinema in the new millennium More than a decade ago, Velayutham (2008) published Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry to draw attention to this globally less-known Indian cultural industry. The book provided an overview of the history of the Tamil film industry and cinema and critical insights into the social role, representations, and cultural meaning and circulation of films of Tamil Nadu. It also examined cinema as a vehicle for the propagation of Tamil language, culture, and identity; a platform for Dravidian/Tamil ethnolingusitic nationalism and political ascendency; and a medium for reproducing patriarchal, class, and casteist privileges and sometimes challenging these normalising tendencies and giving voice to the marginalised and underprivileged. In recent years, Tamil cinema itself has undergone a generational change with the entry of new and young film practitioners reaching out to a millennial audience, a shift in the technologies used, and a dispersal of the platform of screening. As we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, it is an opportune time to revisit some of the persistent themes and indeed explore emerging trends within Tamil cinema. Tamil Cinema in the Twenty-First Century critically engages with the continuities that dominate Tamil cinema and identifies the transformations to ascertain the

Introduction 3 impact of these changes and speculate the future of this film industry. Do old forms of structural and societal cleavages like gender, class, caste, and ethnicity, political affiliation, urban and rural, locality, regionality, and nationality loom large? Are they being transformed, challenged, and renegotiated? What new ideas, modes of representation, and narratives are being created? How are new technologies impacting Tamil cinema in terms of production, distribution, and consumption? To this end, we sent out a call for papers, inviting Tamil cinema scholars to contribute to this volume on Tamil Cinema in the Twenty-First Century. We anticipated that we would receive a variety of papers reflecting the diversity of Tamil cinema itself. But to our surprise, the submissions we received fell neatly into three broad categories – caste, gender, and technology – which thus appear in the subtitles. The specific interest in these topics/themes is indicative of their significance within Tamil culture and society and Tamil cinema. For instance, we know in recent years at least that caste conflict and the politicisation of caste are in the ascendency; gender discrimination and violence continues to haunt Indian society; and, finally, India’s technological and digital transformations are profoundly reconfiguring everyday life. These issues are obviously not new concerns for scholars of India. They are central to this book precisely because Tamil cinema scholars are intent on exposing the historical continuities and perpetuation of caste and gender violence/inequalities; new representations of caste and gender identities; and technological advances both enabling and proliferating new modes of production, circulation, and consumption of Tamil cinema. At the same time, we want to emphasise that other forces too are influencing cinema: patriarchy, India’s economic expansion, the rise of the middle class, Hindu fundamentalism, corruption and red tape, rampant urbanisation, ecological disasters, and an exponential growth of media and communication industries. Their impact on filmic text and representation can also be gleaned in the arguments presented in the chapters. Here we offer a snippet of the recurring themes and new developments specific to Tamil cinema: ··

A key development in Tamil cinema recently has been the emergence and success of Dalit-themed films which were previously ignored. According to the noted Dalit film-maker, Pa. Ranjith, the absence of Dalit film-makers and Dalit-themed films can be attributed to the ideological leanings of the Tamil film industry, for whom everything is seen from the perspective of business. People want their films to be sold. Dalit-themed films are not being made more often because several attempts in the past have failed to interest the audience. It’s a very biased industry, and film-makers fear the restrictions they have to face. (Pudipeddi, 2019) Dalit-themed films were initiated by Pa. Ranjith with Attakathi (Cardboard Knife, 2012), Madras (2014), Kabali (2016), and Kaala (Black or Death,


Selvaraj Velayutham and Vijay Devadas


2018) directed by him, and Pariyerum Perumal (Horse Mounting Deity, 2018), produced by him, is part of Tamil cinema’s evolution in its treatment of caste (Figure 0.1). And director Vetrimaaran’s Asuran (The Demon, 2019) about a Dalit community, loosely based on the pre-eminent Tamil (Dalit) writer Poomani’s novel Vekkai (Heat, 1982), was influenced by the Kilvenmani massacre that occurred in 1968 in the Thanjavur District. It would be remiss to conclude that the success of Dalit-themed films signals that casteism is not an issue in the Tamil film industry and Tamil society. The chapters by Damodaran and Gorringe, Leonard, and Manoharan in this volume demonstrate that caste dynamics and the representation of Dalits in Tamil cinema remains a contested issue. Tamil cinema continues to perpetuate a hegemonic masculinist discourse, reflected in the continued dominance of male heroes such as Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Vijay, Vikram, Ajith, and Surya and the perpetuation of a mass-hero culture, which began with M.G. Ramachandran (MGR). The mass heroes ‘are portrayed as supermen able to do many things at a time — things they are otherwise incapable of, like talking in many languages, singing, dancing, fighting, handling weapons, etc.’ (Jesudoss 2009). The mass heroes in their role as vigilantes or police officers act as moral crusaders and fight injustices. At the same time, as Leonard and Kailasam demonstrate in their chapters, new forms of masculinities are starting to appear in Tamil cinema – the angry and deviant; the educated, middle-class, urbane, and metrosexual male.

Figure 0.1 Still from the film Pariyerum Perumal (Horse Mounting Deity, 2018) featuring actor Kathir in the role of Pariyerum Perumal. Courtesy Gnanam.

Introduction 5 ··

While Tamil cinema remains patriarchal, dominated by male heroes, and has a penchant for hero-centred narrative actors, the industry has in recent years released a number of women-centric films, including Magalir Mattum (Ladies Only, 2017), Aramm (Virtue, 2017), Irudhi Suttru (The Final Round, 2016), Aruvi (Stream, 2016), Amma Kanakku (Mother’s Calculations, 2016), and 36 Vayadhinile (At the Age of 36, 2015) (Figure 0.2). The re-emergence of this genre, which was the hallmark of directors such as K. Balachander and Balu Mahendra in the 1970s, has been lauded by reporters and directors such as Anita Udeep and Lakshmy Ramakrishnan and actors such as Amala Paul. For them, women-centric films go against the dominant patriarchal representational tropes of portraying women in Tamil cinema that glorify stalking and normalise body shaming (Poorvaja, 2019). While the rise of womencentric films must be celebrated and has been framed as feminist films by Krishnakumar (2017), for example, who writes, ‘to me, simply by virtue of placing women at the front and centre, these films are somewhat feminist’, it must be noted that while this is a welcome difference, the majority of

Figure 0.2 Still from Aramm (Virtue, 2017) featuring actor Nayanthara as District Collector Madhivadhani. Courtesy Gnanam.

6 Selvaraj Velayutham and Vijay Devadas



commercial Tamil films continue to subscribe to misogynistic, patriarchal, and reductive representation of women as suggested by Zamboulingame, Saverimuttu, Karupiah, and Blake in this volume. While positive depictions and the empowerment of women in Tamil cinema are emerging and remain tenuous, the same cannot be said of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community or transgender subjects (Thirunangai and Aravani in Tamil). LGBT characters are virtually absent in Tamil cinema, and where they do appear in films such as Thiruda Thirudi (Thief Thief, 2003), Thirupaachi (2005), and Paruthiveeran (Cotton Champ, 2007), transgender characters are insulted and ridiculed. They are ostracised from their families, engage in sex work, or act as a source of self-gratification (Mangayarkkarasi 2019). As Priya Babu, the head of Transgender Resource Centre in Madurai, points out, Tamil cinema ‘rarely speak of topics such as jobs, education and transgender love’ (The Hindu, 2017). Films such as Narthagi (Female Dancer, 2011) and Paal (Milk, 2016) feature transgender subjects in a positive light, but an ‘A’ censor rating (screenings are limited to those over 18 years old at restricted venues) and poor commercial success have made them unnoteworthy. In Pariyerum Perumal, the protagonist’s father is a folk dancer who performs in drag. As activist and transwoman, Kanaga Varthan (2018) observes, ‘Pariyerum Perumal is an honest attempt to humanize gender non-conforming individuals and appeal to a mainstream heteronormative audience’. A more recent film Super Deluxe (2019) (Figure 0.3) draws the audience into the world of Shilpa, who has undergone gender change surgery and returns home to a shell-shocked family. But her son and wife embrace her for who she is. As she navigates the outside world accompanying her son to school, the audience bears witness to the unease, abhorrence, intimidation, suspicion, and sexual abuse experienced by transgender persons on the streets. The film is pathbreaking for the journey we take is through her eyes, a rarity in Tamil cinema, which enables us to affectively connect with how a transgender person navigates a society that views gender only in binary terms. This is a significant first step in the portrayal of Thirunangais and Aravanis in a commercially successful Tamil film. Tamil cinema continues to be dominated by big-budget masala films. The production cost of Raavanan (Ravana, 2010), for example, was estimated at Rs. 55 crores by IMDb (Internet Movie Database) and that of Thuppakki (Gun, 2012) at Rs. 65 crores, while Kaala (Black or Death, 2018) starring Rajinikanth was made on a budget of Rs. 80 crores. While it goes without saying that big-budget films are not necessarily profitable, it is worth noting that in 2019 the three most profitable films were Viswasam (Faith), Petta (Hood), and Kanchana 3, ‘big-budget extravaganzas made by established production houses’ (Pillai, 2019). This is precisely why production houses such as Eros and Fox Star Studios have entered into the regional film industry, begun producing Tamil films, and entered into partnership with established Tamil film producers and directors. In 2011, Fox Star Studios, in partnership with A.R.

Introduction 7

Figure 0.3 Still from the film Super Deluxe featuring actor Vijay Sethupathi as Shilpa. Courtesy Gnanam.



Murugadoss, produced Engaeyum Eppothum (Anywhere, Anytime) and in 2013 released Vathikuchi (Matchstick). While established production houses continue to dominate the Tamil screenscape, the Tamil screen ecology is undergoing a transformation enabled by digital technologies and platform multiplicity. As discussed by Devadas and Velayutham (in this volume), digital developments have engendered new modes of production, distribution, and consumption, a proliferation of films and amateur creativity. Additionally, the circulation of Tamil films has transformed for theatres are no longer the only platform for distribution: the entry Over-the-Top (OTT) and streaming services and the Direct-to-Home (DTH) platform have facilitated the dispersal of cinema into small screens. The expanded distribution networks have enabled the creativity of amateur film-makers to flourish, broken down the hegemony of production houses, and fostered the possibility of exploring issues and topics beyond those seen previously in Tamil cinema. At the same time, there has been a backlash to this, witnessed, for example, in 2013, when Kamal Haasan sought to release Vishwaroopam on the DTH platform a day before the theatrical release, and exhibitors and distributors threatened to boycott the film. This compelled a compromise, and the film was subsequently released on DTH one week after its theatrical release. While the Tamil screen ecology is shifting, enabling a more divergent Tamil cinematic landscape to emerge, the commercial Tamil cinema circuit remains highly regulated by a complex crony-capitalist network that




Selvaraj Velayutham and Vijay Devadas controls production, circulation, and distribution; a symbiotic association with political parties and politicians; a culture of favouritism and gatekeepers regulating opportunities; and rampant nepotism. These, coupled with a commercial cinematic culture that promotes big-budget films, with familiar stars, narratives pandering to the mainstream audiences, and abeyance to the masala genre, provide little opportunities for documentarians and amateur and independent film-makers to break into the commercial circuit. The films of Leena Manimekalai (Maadathy, An Unfairy Tale, 2019; Sengadal, The Red Sea, 2011), Dharani Rajendran (Gnanaserukku, Pride of Wisdom, 2018), S.P.P. Bhaskaran (Insha Allah, God Willing, 2019), Vaishnavi Sundar (Pava, 2014), Divya Bharathi (Kakkoos, Toilet, 2017), and Swarnavel Eswaran (Kattumaram, Catamaran, 2019; Nagapattinam: Waves from the Deep, 2018), to name but a few, struggle for visibility in the commercial scene because the subject matters they engage with do not conform to the norms of the commercial film industry. Take for instance Manimekalai’s feature film Maadathy, which is about the Puthirai Vannar community who occupy the lowest in Dalit hierarchy. Using members from the community as the cast, it powerfully engages with gender and caste-based violence that the community confronts on a daily basis. This uncompromising and realistic film premiered at the 2019 Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, but it has not made any inroads into the commercial Tamil cinema circuit. In essence, while masala films continue to dominate commercial Tamil cinema, a New Wave of Tamil films are making an appearance. These films ‘fuse the energy and entertainment of a mainstream film (without its formulaic excesses) with the complexity and sensitivity of an art film (minus the excessive artiness)’ (Kalorth 2006, 94). This New Wave, which can be conceptualised as a hybrid genre, relies upon conventional commercial cinema aesthetics and blends this with realism and unknown actors to produce films whose ‘visual language … seems to be real, the cultural and social subtexts are more hinted, which take the audience closer to the character, the violence, romance, [and] rituals’ (Kalorth 2006, 92). Films such as Autograph (2004), Kaadhal (Love, 2004), and the spoof film Tamizh Padam (Tamil Film, 2010) are examples of this emerging hybrid genre. Finally, the recent decade has witnessed an explosion of Tamil short films which are finding their way into Indian and international film festivals as well as the internet (e.g. YouTube). Short films which are typically produced on a low budget and with affordable technological devices such as a mobile phone have paved the way for parallel screen ecology. As Devadas and Velayutham argue in their chapter, short films are becoming very popular as they are made by young people and watched by their peers.

Thematic overview: continuities and changes The brief outline we have provided above articulates the tensions that animate Tamil cinema in the new millennium, which are also examined in the papers



selected for this volume: some highlight the role of cinema in the reproduction of dominant ideologies, and others point to the ways in which it is changing perceptions and practices and pushing the boundaries of prevailing social norms. In his article ‘Dalit Cinema’, Suraj Yengde makes the following observation: ‘the Indian film industry is an inherently caste-based, biased, mechanised product of technological industrialisation in which Dalit inclusion is not a moral concern’ (2018, 503). This is an astute comment that also implicates the Tamil film industry for its complicity in perpetuating the caste system and making ‘invisible’ caste discrimination. Tamil cinema has had a vexed relationship with caste, and, as Devaki (2019) points out, it is not surprising that a canvass of Tamil films confirms that ‘just a few castes and occupational categories are represented and these portrayals scarcely ever compare to real social classifications’. The dominant caste becomes ‘the center of the stage’, and ‘low caste/marginalized/Dalits are not even … [on] the scene and become voiceless for all this time, heard by none’ (Devaki, 2019). But a spate of recent films is giving voice to low caste and Dalits. The three papers in the first section interrogate the articulation of caste in Tamil cinema, connecting caste discrimination and violence to the spatial politics of lived places and identity construction in contemporary Tamil society. Significantly, the papers underscore caste as a key structuring modality of the social life of Tamils, and which enforce, maintain, and challenge social divisions within Tamil society. Karthikeyan Damodaran and Hugo Gorringe focus on filmic representations of North Chennai – a recurring site in a number of films in recent years – as its neighbourhoods are undesirable, lack proper working infrastructure, and are a breeding ground for criminal activities. Tamil cinema’s preoccupation with particular spaces and places began in the 1980s and 1990s as the village was celebrated and idealised in nativity films (Kaali 2000). Then, the southern city of Madurai and its surrounds were showcased as the hotbed of caste violence and an antithesis to Chennai, depicted as the location of modernity, progress, and cosmopolitanism (Krishnan 2008). The recent interests in North Chennai, as Damodaran and Gorringe argue, ‘cater to a voyeuristic (middle class) audience instantaneously both attracted to, and repulsed by, an imaginary about the ghetto as a zone in need of state intervention (often police violence), explication and transformation’. The stigmatisation of North Chennai and its inhabitants as social outcasts can only be possible because West and South Chennai are imagined as affluent and upper-caste neighbourhoods. Damodaran and Gorringe challenge the problematic representations of North Chennai by highlighting the contested narratives inherent in films like Madras (2014), Vikram Vedha (2017), and Vadachennai (North Chennai, 2018). Dickens Leonard, in his chapter on conscripts of cinema, shifts our attention from North Chennai to the city of Madurai, which has prefigured as the backdrop for a number of caste-centric films in the post-2000s. He too traces the shifts in the ways in which Tamil cinema addresses its audience. The First Wave challenged the idea of a ‘national’ audience through its assertion of Tamil-ness/Tamil identity. The Second Wave, predominantly in the 1990s, sought to reconfigure


Selvaraj Velayutham and Vijay Devadas

the ‘Tamilian’ as inclusive and inhabiting the national space, especially through Mani Ratnam’s Roja (Rose, 1992) and Bombay (1995). The Third Wave, which is central to Leonard’s argument, is marked by the recurrence of dangerous and deviant heroes and excess of casteist articulations with the city of Madurai as its main backdrop. Third Wave cinema then is the fetishisation of the anti-hero or angry and downtrodden hero who is indelibly etched as lower caste and criminal. While Leonard’s Third Wave cinema bears the hallmark of the disdain for the lower caste, Karthick Manoharan’s chapter speaks to the potency of caste politics, especially Dalitism, in his close reading of Rajinikanth starrers Kabali (2016) and Kaala (Black or Death, 2018), both directed by Pa. Ranjith. While these films were anticipated to be pro-Dalit and represent many symbols of Dalit identity, Manoharan suggests that Pa. Ranjith’s real aim was to convey an alternative progressive Tamil nationalism, which brings together a paradigm of social justice that is inspired by Ambedkarite and Periyarist thoughts. In other words, rather than pursuing Dalit emancipation and empowerment as antagonistic or separate to Tamil identity, according to Manoharan, Pa. Ranjith’s Kabali and Kaala seek to ‘move from the Dalit location to the Tamil location, refashioning both’. The second section examines the dynamics of gender politics in Tamil Nadu – subtle pushing of boundaries, reproduction of gender discrimination and violence, and marginalisation of women. Shakila Zamboulingame in her chapter undertakes a close textual and semiotic reading of the film Irudhi Suttru (The Final Round, 2016), directed by a woman and the first Tamil boxing film with a female protagonist. The film appears to complicate traditional gender norms and relations as the lead actor, Madhi, is depicted as irreverent and rebellious and constantly questioning traditional notions of Tamil womanhood. However, as Zamboulingame demonstrates, Irudhi Suttru is a film that ultimately reinforces the cultural ideals of Tamil femininity (Madhi wears a saree to please her love interest and is subdued by her male coach) as actively complicit in reproducing male domination. For Zamboulingame, Irudhi Suttru is not a feminist manifesto, but in the convention of mainstream commercial cinema, male heroism finally overshadows female heroism. The figure of the heroine in Tamil cinema has been widely discussed (Lakshmi 2008; Chinniah 2008). Quite remarkably, as Velayutham (2008) points out, most Tamil cinema heroines, have, for the most part, come from outside Tamil Nadu. The casting of North Indian actors as heroines primarily for their ‘physical beauty’ and sex appeal is now commonplace. Into this mix enters Liverpudlian Amy Jackson who has risen into prominence in the Tamil film industry since her debut in the period-drama Madrasapattinam (Madras Town, 2010). Meenaatchi Saverimuttu in her chapter interrogates the fantasy of Jackson’s femininity (white/Western) and her transformation on screen as an Indian/‘Tamil’ (tanned skin, dark hair, etc.) and posits that ‘while the glorification of Jackson’s fair skin is the obvious reasoning behind her popularity, it is equally matched by Jackson’s Western sensibilities and her willingness to enact in on screen acts that Tamil women may be reluctant to participate in’. The Indian feminist writer C.S. Lakshmi (2008) observes that ‘women in Tamil cinema are obliged to carry their

Introduction 11 bodies only in particular ways in clear categories: pure and impure’. Non-Tamil heroines like Amy Jackson are able to perform across these binaries and indulge in the male sexual fantasy, while a Tamil heroine retains her purity both on and off screen. When a heroine – to safeguard her dignity – rejects the romantic and sexual advances of the hero, she mutates from being an object of desire to an object of hatred. This finds expression in break-up songs, a common storyline of many Tamil films in recent years. Break-up songs are performed by the hero wallowing in the rejection of love under the influence of alcohol. Premalatha Karupiah’s content analysis of break-up songs reveals that they are akin to the hate music genre as they vilify and denigrate women. She argues that break-up songs normalise misogyny because the anger and hatred vented out by the hero are represented as legitimate expressions of love. Significantly, because these songs appear in U-certified films, meaning they are available for viewing across all age ranges, the social impact of this is even more acute for the songs perpetuate a masculine understanding of love, relationship, and intimacy. Karupiah’s chapter then is another telling example of how women are positioned in Tamil cinema: simultaneously as objects of masculine desire, hate, and anger. Karupiah’s chapter reaffirms that Tamil cinema in the millennium continues to perpetuate sexism and misogyny and male chauvinism. Tamil culture is inherently patriarchal and one in which women’s agency is silenced. Lisa Blake in her chapter turns our attention to the genre of Ammaṉ or goddess films and in particular their appeal to Tamil Nadu’s middle-class women. Blake argues that Ammaṉ films are premised on the fear that the new middle class would abandon Indian culture and tradition in favour of materialism and Western cultural influences. In other words, these films seek to entrench Hindu culture as an antidote to neoliberal global culture. While the genre of Ammaṉ films has been a feature of Tamil cinema for some time, for Blake, its resurgence in the early 2000s reflects an emerging tension between middle and non-middle classes. This is played out in films that focus on the South Indian village goddess Māriyammaṉ, whose supernatural powers enable upwardly mobile middle-class families to negotiate the perceived, manufactured chasm between middle-class mobility, consumption practices, and faith. Through religious faith, the contradiction between material and spiritual growth is reconciled, and women, as Blake suggests, are taught how to be ideal middle-class women, wives, and devotees. The structuring of female subjectivity through this genre ultimately performs a pedagogical task: of teaching Tamil women how to be properly middle class, to strike a balance between material wealth aspirations and religiosity. The chapter by Vasugi Kailasam examines three Tamil films that focus on what she calls the rise of the engineer hero, a genre that draws on established conventions of the mass hero seen in commercial Tamil films, but which situates the masculine hero as a professional. The latter staging breaks the conventions of the representation of the mass hero as working class but rather as middle class, educated, and urbane. For Kailasam, the new white-collar hero is the product of India’s economic liberalisation drive that started in the 1990s. The engineer hero is an embodiment of the neoliberal self – young, enterprising, self-refashioning,


Selvaraj Velayutham and Vijay Devadas

creative, and striving to secure their own future. He is above all a metrosexual, with a lean and ‘toned’ body, and in that instance appears ordinary: the young man next door. This remaking of masculinity can be explained in part by the entry of many new and young actors into an ever-expanding Tamil film industry amidst aging mass heroes and generally appealing to rising middle-class and urban male audiences. The final section on technology examines the impact of new technologies on different aspects of Tamil cinema: publicity, fandom, narrative, production, and consumption. The aim is to demonstrate how the intersection of digital technologies is transforming the Tamil cinema landscape and enabling a rethinking of Tamil cinema in the new millennium. Given the symbiotic relationship between cinema and politics in Tamil Nadu, Maya Ranganathan explores the multiple ways in which Tamil cinema in the new millennium perpetuates and simultaneously challenges the articulation of structural and social ruptures that are integral to Tamil society. From stage theatre to radio to cinema, technology has been pivotal for mass propagation and thoroughly exploited by the DMK and AIADMK and other aspiring actor-turned politicians. However, Ranganathan argues that the cinema–politics relationship needs to be re-evaluated in light of the fragmentation of the Tamil political landscape following the deaths of the two most powerful Dravidian leaders, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi in 2016 and 2018, respectively, the entries of film stars into electoral politics with the promise of an alternative to Dravidian politics, the kinds of films that are being made currently that shift the political public sphere, and the transformations in the business of cinema enabled by new technologies. Through a critical overview of the shifting Tamil cinema ecology, Ranganathan’s chapter sets the ground for future investigations of how to articulate the cinema–politics relationship in Tamil Nadu in the twenty-first century. The changes in the cinema–politics nexus also play out in the cinema–fandom relationship. Tamil movie fans typically manifest themselves by putting up images of their star in public spaces. From movie releases, their hero’s birthday, or celebratory occasions, fans exhibit myriads of painted cut-outs, vinyl banners, or posters. These relatively ephemeral image technologies are part of the relays between the medium of cinema, which has produced several film star-politicians in Tamil Nadu and street-level appropriations of these iconic figures into more intimate and affective modes of engagement. Roos Gerritsen’s chapter examines these modes of engagement in times of change. Transformations in image technologies, films, and spaces of viewing have changed the cinematic landscape since the 2000s. These transformations have resulted in interruptions and disappointments, as well as new potentials for fans. Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork with fan club members, image-makers, and film theatre staff, Gerritsen explores the ways in which images and image technologies have fashioned fandom in the new millennium. They indicate the shifting perspectives, the coming and going of images, and the different strategies and relationalities that articulate around the film. She argues that instead of considering transformations as part of a neoliberal imaginary, pushing out the more personalised, grassroots use of

Introduction 13 images, we have to think in terms of layered articulations that produce a varied array of visual strategies in public spaces. In the context of Tamil cinema, the discourse surrounding digital technology foregrounds and critiques its schizoid nature; on the one hand, it has democratised the media and has made film-making accessible and affordable, leading to the possibility of engaging with rare subjects hitherto unheard of and experimenting with form; on the other hand, it has led to a spate of films which are often amateurish in terms of their screenplays and production values and technical finesse. In this context, Swarnavel Eswaran shines the spotlight on three film directors who belong to a transitional generation ushering new techniques and explorations through digital technology. He shows how despite such a paradoxical pull at the core of digital cinema, the last decade has seen the intervention of directors who have made a difference to mainstream Tamil cinema. Eswaran closely examines three directors who have carved a niche for themselves within the Tamil film industry as directors who have worked within the mainstream with a style of their own with respect to form and content: Mysskin, Ram, and Vetrimaaran, particularly with respect to their landmark films: Nandalala (2010), Onayum Aattukuttiyum (The Wolf and the Lamb, 2013), and Pisaasu (Ghost, 2014) [director Mysskin]; Katrathu Tamil (Tamil Learnt, 2007), Thangameengal (Gold Fish, 2013), and Taramani (2017) [director Ram]; and Polladhavan (Ruthless Man, 2007), Aaadukalam (Playground, 2011), and Visaranai (Interrogation, 2016) [director Vetrimaaran]. Swarnavel’s close reading of these films and directors situates their creativity as one that straddles the transition from celluloid to digital technology, arguing that these key films are enabled because of digital technologies. Put another way, Swarnavel argues that the digital ushers in a new economy of production fosters experimentation of techniques and forms and enables the directors to creatively reinvent established narrative structures in Tamil cinema. It should be noted, as Swarnavel suggests, that the digital should not be equated with a rupture from previous narratives, aesthetics, and forms: rather, the work of these directors marks a transitional moment which draws from the past, that is, era of the celluloid, while ushering a new future enabled by digital technologies. The final chapter in this section examines the proliferation of Tamil films on YouTube from three key perspectives – production, text, and consumption – and locates this within the larger context of Digital India. Vijay Devadas and Selvaraj Velayutham interrogate how digital technologies (mobile phones, social media, and video-sharing platforms, in this case YouTube) have engendered new modes of production, creativity, texts, and consumption practices, enabling a rethinking of the idea of Tamil films and by extension Tamil cinema. They trace the circuits to demonstrate that the digital intervention has been transformative: it has democratised production, circulation, and consumption and challenged the hegemonic practices of Tamil cinema. At the same time, the authors argue that the YouTube Tamil Film Ecology is intimately connected to the global Tamil cinema industry variously. They critically explore these intimate connections in relation to notions of celebrity culture, film festivals and awards, production, and narrative to argue that while the YouTube Tamil Film Ecology is transformative, it is not distinct or


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disconnected from the Tamil cinema juggernaut. Their relationship is much more complicated and complex, intertwined, and distinct. In making this argument, Devadas and Velayutham mobilise the notion of Tamil platform cinema to propose that scholarship on the dispersal of cinema enabled by digital technologies, the proliferation of a micro-screen culture, which articulate this screen ecology as different and new, must be tempered: the example of the YouTube Tamil film ecology tells us that it is both dispersed and connected. The chapters in this volume offer fresh insights into the work that Tamil cinema is doing today. They are also able to show us vital transformations as well as deep continuities characterising its production processes, aesthetic representations, ideological underpinnings, and the reception of its enjoyable products. Importantly, they represent a growing interest in Tamil cinema scholarship both within and outside Tamil Nadu and make a significant contribution to Indian cinema studies in general.

References Bhaskaran, G. 2013. “Mumbai Movies Hog Indian Cinema Centenary Celebrations.” Hindustan Times, May 17. Accessed 15 February 2020. https://www.hindustantimes. com/bollywood/mumbai-movies-hog-indian-cinema-centenary-celebrations/storygNWroysph8JCgceOlgllPN.html Chinniah, S. 2008. “The Tamil Film Heroine: From a Passive Subject to a Pleasurable Object.” In Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry, edited by Selvaraj Velayutham. New York: Routledge. Devaki, V. 2019. “Caste and Tamil Cinema: Now and Then.” Indian Ruminations: Journal of Indian English Writers, February 5. Accessed 15 February 2020. https://www.ind ianruminations.com/contents/articles/caste-and-tamil-cinema-now-and-then-dr-v-de vaki-chennai/ Hardgrave, R. 1973. “Politics and the Film in Tamilnadu: The Stars and the DMK.” Asian Survey 13 (3): 288–305. The Hindu. 2017. “Tamil Cinema Portrayed Transgenders in a Bad Light.” November 20. Accessed 27 January 2020. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/tamil-cine ma-portrayedtransgenders-in-a-bad-light/article20559646.ece Jesudoss, P. 2009. “Tamil Cinema.” Communication Research Trends: A Quarterly Review of Communication Research 28 (4). Accessed 15 February 2020. http://cscc.scu. edu/trends/v28/CRT_v28_n4_Dec2009.pdf Kalaroth, N. 2016. “Screen Shifts in Recent Tamil Cinemas: The ‘new’ New Wave.” Research Scholar: an International Refereed e-Journal of Literary Explorations 4 (2): 91–97. Kapse, A. 2015. “Afterthoughts on the Indian Cinema Centenary.” South Asian Popular Culture 13 (1): 61–64. Krishnakumar, R. 2017. “2017 Was Not the Perfect Year for Feminism in Tamil Cinema, but It Was a Great Beginning.” Scroll.in, December 30. Accessed 15 February 2020. https://scroll.in/reel/863130/2017-was-not-the-perfect-year-for-feminism-in-tamil-cin ema-but-it-was-a-great-beginning

Introduction 15 Krishnan, R. 2008. “Imaginary Geographies: The Making of the ‘South’ in Contemporary Tamil Cinema.” In Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry, edited by Selvaraj Velayutham. New York: Routledge. Lakshmi, C.S. 2008. “A Good Woman, a Very Good Woman: Tamil Cinema’s Women.” In Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry, edited by Selvaraj Velayutham. New York: Routledge. Mangayarkkarasi, M. 2019. “Portrayal of Transgender People in Tamil Cinema.” Research Review: International Journal of Multidisciplinary 4 (2): 669–672. NDTV. 2013. “Jayalalithaa Felicitates Tamil Film Legends at Indian Cinema Centenary Fete.” NDTV, September 22. Accessed 15 February 2020. https://www.ndtv.com/sout h/jayalalithaa-felicitates-tamil-film-legends-at-indian-cinema-centenary-fete-535336 Pandian, M.S.S. 1992. The Image Trap: M.G. Ramachandran in Film and Politics. New Delhi: Newbury Park. Patel, R. 2013. “Centenary Celebrations of Indian Cinema Starts on September 21 in Chennai.” Truthdive. Accessed 20 March 2020. http://truthdive.com/2013/09/19/cen tenary-celebrations-of-indian-cinema-starts-on-september-21-in-chennai/ Pillai, S. 2019. “Is It Time Tamil Cinema Managed Its Budgets Better?” The Hindu, May 8. Accessed 20 March 2020. https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/a-lookat-tamil-cinema-budgets/article27065340.ece Poorvaja, S. 2019. “The Rise of the Female Star: Women in Kollywood in the Last Decade.” The Hindu, December 23. Accessed 10 January 2020. https://www.thehindu. com/entertainment/movies/the-rise-of-the-female-star-women-in-kollywood-in-thelast-decade/article30377906.ece Pudipeddi, H. 2019. “Kaala, Aramm, Pariyerum Perumal: Dalit-Themed Films Are Getting Mainstream Acceptance in Tamil Cinema.” Firstpost, January 6. Accessed 20 January 2020. https://www.firstpost.com/entertainment/kaala-aramm-pariyerum-perumal-dalitthemed-films-are-getting-mainstream-acceptance-in-tamil-cinema-5843831.html Varthan, K. 2018. “Why We Need to Talk About Puliyagulam Selvaraj, Father of Pariyerum Perumal.” Accessed 4 April 2020. http://orinam.net/selvaraj-father-of-par iyerum-perumal/ Velayutham, S. 2008. “Introduction: The Cultural History and Politics of South Indian Tamil Cinema.” In Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry, edited by Selvaraj Velayutham. London: Routledge. Yengde, S. 2018. “Dalit Cinema.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 41 (3): 503–518.

Part 1



Contested narratives Filmic representations of North Chennai in contemporary Tamil cinema Karthikeyan Damodaran and Hugo Gorringe

In contemporary Tamil films, the representation of North Chennai as a spatially distinct, masculine, homogeneous, and violent urban ghetto has turned the slums and kuppams (residential areas associated with Dalits) in the neighbourhood to dangerous spaces that feed the casteist anxieties and desires of Tamil imagination.1 This marks the criminalisation of the neighbourhood and its inhabitants as pathologically anti-social. Such films cater to a voyeuristic audience, instantaneously attracted to and repulsed by an imaginary of the ghetto as a zone in need of state intervention. These films show how inner-city places become encoded as territories, and how gangs mark out their turf with their insignia and daily gatherings at particular sites, with particular individuals, specific gestures and the like. Space here plays a prominent role and is marked by social relations. As Foucault (1980, 148) puts it, ‘a whole history remains to be written of spaces – which would at the same time be the history of powers – from the great strategies of geopolitics to the little tactics of the habitat’. Building on the insight and drawing upon Wacquant’s (2007) idea of territorial stigmatisation, we discuss how Chennai’s northern part – constituting largely working-class populations among whom the historically marginalised Dalits and fishing communities are the most prominent2 – has been tainted through filmic representations. Next we discuss about the emergence of ‘Dalit cinema’ (cf. Yengde 2018), which challenges those representations. Films like Madras (2014) challenge the stereotypical representation of Dalit social and spatial life in mainstream Tamil cinema. This chapter will discuss such contested narratives focusing on key films based in North Chennai. Before offering our analysis of the films, it is, however, important to look at Chennai as a landscape in both physical and cultural terms.

The city as a ‘historical space’ Chennai (formerly Madras) is the fourth largest Indian city and the main business and commercial hub of South India with India’s fourth biggest port. Despite its claim to modernity, the city continues to be shaped by both its colonial and cultural past. Nield (1979, 218) argues that it has ‘never quite abandoned its association with rural south India’, and charts how the city was shaped by the

20 Karthikeyan Damodaran and Hugo Gorringe dual operating logics of colonialism and caste. She notes how early maps of the city show Fort St George surrounded by an area called ‘the White Town’ and opposed to the area labelled ‘Black Town’. This, in turn, was further subdivided on caste lines: ‘One large paracheri in the Black Town housed several thousand untouchable residents; but most members of this ritually impure caste had to find dwellings on the outskirts of the town and village centers’ (Nield 1979, 227). The spatial ordering of an internally segregated black town next to a walled fort acts as a precursor, and the city in its postcolonial condition maintains its spatial discrimination in the form of a developed South and neglected North. In this sense, it conforms to what Selby and Peterson (2008, 2) describe as ‘an identifiably Tamil disposition or range of attitudes, a Tamil habitus (in Pierre Bourdieu’s terminology) regarding space and place’. As Mines puts it in the context of Chennai city, ‘the legacy of earlier times continues to underlie the developing urban landscape and to influence social relationships’ (2006, 89). Today, M.S.S. Pandian (as quoted in Srinivasaraju 2007) observes, there is an ever-increasing divide between the prosperous South and the derelict North. He states that the socio-economic maps plotted by the Madras Office for Architects and Designers illustrate the divide clearly, showing how the modern clusters of ATMs and international restaurants have cropped up in the southern part of the city while one can hardly find an ATM in the North. Harriss (2005) likewise explains that the new economy and the service industries and the new consumer culture associated with it are primarily located in South Chennai. The appearance of the globalising city can hardly be seen in the northern city areas which are principally working-class areas, largely inhabited by Dalit, Christian, Muslim, fishing, and other oppressed communities. A 2013 The Hindu report shows that for most branded fast food chains and cafes, north Chennai still seems to be a blind spot. The most popular consensus is that much of the population in north Chennai is working class and therefore not the ideal market segment for these outlets. (Khan 2013) Arabindoo (2008) argues that this divide builds on colonial foundations, which privileged South Chennai, and were continued in postcolonial years with favourable policy changes of urban development in the economically prosperous South Chennai. Chennai is infamous for its ‘sacred spaces’ of temples which occupy the landscapes of South Chennai. Famed elite cultural organisations like the Madras Music Academy and Naradha Gana Sabha are all located in South Chennai. Harriss (2005) argues that these are all emphatically Brahmin organisations strongly supported by non-Brahmin upper castes, which have arguably reaped the benefits of the Dravidian movement. Saharan, Pfeffer, and Baud (2017, 281) note how the percentage of slum dwellers increased from 19% in 2001 to 28.5% in 2011, which was above the rate at which the city as a whole was growing. They also observed

Contested narratives 21 the privileging of South Chennai in terms of infrastructure projects and developments, noting how other locations ‘did not witness much urban developmentrelated growth or investment in its vicinity’, and began to show ‘characteristics of a “forgotten” neighbourhood in dire need of intervention’ (Saharan et al. 2017, 281). In the contemporary context, Chennai as a globalising city is marked by a pattern of separate residential and productive clusters. During the last two decades, corporate global capital investment has turned Chennai into a ‘neoliberal city’ (Harvey 2008), and the Lefebvrian ‘right to the city’ is constricted by the spatial action of private corporate interests (Khan 2013). This is a form of social stratification scripted on space, which also implies a stratification of mobilities and immobilities. The urban form as described by Lefebvre (1996) is not merely physical but also psychological and social at the same time. Crucially for this chapter, this segregated nature of Chennai city largely marked by its caste/class character has percolated into the filmic imagination. North Chennai, thus, was more or less neglected in Tamil films initially, before finding space as a villain’s den or locale inhabited by gangsters. The area then becomes the site in which the protagonist (largely upper-caste male hero) engages in a sanitising process by getting rid of ‘criminals’. Whilst the dynamics are specific, this has its precursor in representations of the city in Tamil films in general which carried an inherent bias against cities and life in the city. It is to the interplay between Tamil films and cities that we now turn.

City in Tamil films Most pre-1980s Tamil cinema had a decidedly anti-urban bias. The countryside was presented as a pastoral idyll, while the city featured as a metaphor for social decay. From the late 1970s, in what Sundar Kaali (2000) names the Neo-Nativity genre, films foreground and romanticise the everyday life of the village. They portrayed the countryside as a relatively safe place, whilst the city was showcased as harbouring lumpen elements, criminals, prostitutes, and corrupt and powerhungry politicians. In the 1990s, however, this emphasis changed and a range of young directors inspired by global cinema started to make films set in the pettai (space) or ‘area’ rather than the village (Vasudevan 2017). ‘With the liberalisation of the Indian economy and the rise of an Indian middle class’, as Velayutham (2008, 4) puts it, Tamil cinema has shifted its orientation towards tapping into the sensibilities and taste cultures of this new film audience. The representation of modernity, progress, affluence and global consumerism is its major preoccupation . . . [and] the urban space and ‘the city’ now serve as the primary backdrop for most films. During the later period, there was a change in the way cities were portrayed, with an emphasis on spaces promising freedom and economic mobility – albeit


Karthikeyan Damodaran and Hugo Gorringe

containing spaces of economic impoverishment and segregation. In this manner, the city as a signifying space has performed a dual function, both real and imaginary. Following Balshaw and Kennedy’s (2000) use of Lefebvre and Soja, we note how images or textual representations of reality may be attributed a false ‘epistemological precedence’ over the realities of lived social space. As space conceals the relations of power, this is an important concern. The city thus becomes inseparable from its representations. Representation here works in a wide variety of forms to produce and maintain (but also to challenge and question) common notions of urban existence. The films mentioned above provide selective representations of the city and shape the metaphors, narratives, and syntax, which are widely used to describe the experience of urban living in a certain spatial condition. Within this framework, the investigation of visual and textual representations of urban space is not merely a study of images of place or narratives of urban consciousness, but an understanding of the importance of culture, which then gives us particular readings and visual practices for approaching the spatiality of the city. There is an intricate relationship between urban space and subjectivity. Given the central sociopolitical significance of film to Tamil political culture, our focus here is on spatial representations and the impact of this. In terms of effect, places carry certain notions of belonging, localised stories, and representations bearing associated memories, which provide cultural and historical values and meanings for urban individuals and communities. So, questions of visibility in terms of representation form an important part of subjectivity. Visuality and visual experience, according to Jay (1988), are part of ‘scopic regimes’, which are contested terrains marked by questions of power and ideology. Cinema disseminates certain techniques of visualising and seeing the city, which is important given the subject’s relation to urban space. Questions of legibility/illegibility and visibility/invisibility come through as struggles for power and identity. ‘Categories of spatial duality’ – of inside/outside, of self/other – serve to ‘naturalise the symbolic order of the city, reproducing social divisions and power relations’ (Balshaw and Kennedy 2000, 11). The distinctive geographies of social difference and power relations and space in cities thus act as a platform through which urban identities are formed (Mitchell 2003). In terms of formation of identity, the city as a site of intersubjective and collective encounters is marked by its spatiality. The films to be discussed are marked by an ‘obsessive visuality’, which characterises the representation of urban Dalit identity and community. The fetishisation of the authenticity of North Chennai in terms of spatial representation is a major concern. For members of subaltern communities who are territorially stigmatised, questions of representation shape how they are viewed and treated in everyday interactions. Such representations, we argue, fuel the processes of class categorisation and social distancing that Frøystad (2006) analyses in her research. In the following section, we examine how North Chennai has been stigmatised in recent popular commercial films, but before that we will discuss how it formed part of these filmic representations.

Contested narratives 23

The ‘territorial stigmatisation’ of North Chennai North Chennai is Chennai’s oldest part, including Georgetown, Vyasarpadi, Tondiarpet, Tiruvottiyur, Perambur, Royapuram, Ayanavaram, Korukkupet, Ennore, Old Washermenpet, Manali, Puzhal, Moolakadai, Basin Bridge, Park Town, Periamet, Pulinanthope, M.K.B. Nagar, Kallikuppam, Kosapet, Villivakkam, and Kolathur. North Chennai today has a high working-class population, and is famous for its ‘fishing harbour, colonial structures and matchbox houses as also for its robust labour and Dalit movements and its underworld’ (Raman 2018). In terms of filmic representation, as Raman (2018) points out, however, ‘if it’s Madras or Chennai, it was always neighbourhoods from the southern and western parts of the city’, which normalised the invisibilisation of the North. North Chennai has long been neglected by government authorities and does not fall under the rubric of development, and this neglect was reflected by the film world. Whilst historian Venkatachalapathy offers a pragmatic rationale for the absence of North Chennai in Tamil cinema noting that ‘there is just no place to shoot in north Chennai’ (Raman 2018), our contention is that socio-cultural considerations and stereotypes have been more prominent in decisions about where to locate films. Tamil cinema from the early 1990s onwards carried references to North Chennai’s neighbourhoods as part of the emerging Gaana subculture3 of songs, which emerged out of lower-caste groups. Theodore Baskaran pointed out that ‘North Chennai is now getting its representation through gaana paatu and in movies based entirely on the locality like Irudhi Suttru [The Final Round, 2016]’ (Sripathi 2017). During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tamil movies often represented North Chennai through shady characters and the ‘dangerous’ spaces of working-class neighbourhoods which were never really part of the filmic imaginary of Kollywood. Only in the last two decades has a shift occurred, following which many North Chennai-based films have been released. It is important to ask how those films represent North Chennai both spatially and culturally. Nothing exemplifies the continuing North–South Chennai divide more than these lines from a song in Pudhupettai (New Hood [also the name of a place in Chennai], 2006): ‘Pudhupettai, Kasimedu, Ennooru, Vyasarpadi – enga area. Anna Nagar, KK Nagar, T Nagar, Boat Club – unga area’. The song through spatial demarcation of ‘our area’ and ‘your area’ points to differences in terms of culture and economy; the North is working class and ghettoised, while the South is booming with its highly aspirant middle-class population and wealthy neighbourhoods. North Chennai, we argue, has become synonymous with images of deviance, violence, and disorder in an increasingly dominant image regime that offers cinema audiences a voyeuristic experience of urban slums and the lives of the poor. Gemini (2002), directed by Saran and loosely based on two gangsters from North Chennai, was one of the first films to reinforce the association between North Chennai and criminality. The Hindu newspaper noted that ‘Saran’s latest from the house of AVM with Vikram and Kalabhavan Mani modelled on North Madras rowdies Vellai Ravi and Chera who were given an opportunity to reform


Karthikeyan Damodaran and Hugo Gorringe

themselves by the police has been the biggest hit among Tamil films in the last two years’ (Pillai 2002). Writing about the rivalry between Vellai Ravi and Chera, another news report says that BV Colony in Vyasarpadi was where it all started: According to police records, local groups from the Colony led by Subbiah and Benjamin were among the first known gangs formed in the 70s. … In the mid-80s, Benjamin was murdered in north Madras. In retaliation, Benjamin’s men, led by ‘Vellai’ Ravi, hacked Subbiah to death at MKB Nagar. Subbiah’s nephew Chera alias Che Rajendran, a dismissed cop, took on Ravi and his men. And the cycle of violence continued. (Peter 2013) Following Gemini’s success, North Chennai has become a familiar background for films, including Pudhupettai, which traces the growth of a youngster Kokki Kumar from a small time criminal to a dreaded gangster who enters mainstream life as a politician.4 Kumar aspires to become the MLA of Egmore (a reserved constituency) and seeks an election ticket, but he is insulted when his request was trivialised. However, the film’s end credits show that Kokki Kumar later becomes an MLA and a minister. The title Pudhupettai acts as a metaphor for a stigmatised locality and spatial neglect. Other films that reinforce the stigma attached to the space include Polladhavan (Ruthless Person, 2007) in which a middleclass guy (with whom audiences are expected to identify) accidentally encounters gangsters from North Chennai. Aaranya Kaandam (Jungle Chapter, 2011), Attu ([Nickname of a person], 2017), Vikram Vedha ([Good and evil metaphor], 2017), and Vadachennai (North Chennai, 2018) all focus on aspects of Chennai’s underworld, offering neo-noir thrillers that cement the metonymic association between the area and crime. Bhooloham (Earth, 2015) and Irudhi Suttru have the potential to offer an alternative reading of the space, focusing on North Chennai’s boxing culture. Both offer stories of sporting prowess but continue to fuel stereotypes by representing the area as rough and dangerous. Whilst there are occasional exceptions, such as Ezhil’s romantic film Deepavali (Divali, 2007), the dominant cultural representations in these mainstream films – as even these brief descriptions illustrate – have contributed to the construction of North Chennai as a den of pathologies and debauched cultural values. These films make a claim to a realist depiction of the urban space defined by crime, poverty, violence, and drugs. For example, the gang leader in Kaakha Kaakha (To Protect, 2003) says, ‘from Ennore to Tambaram the whole city is ours now’. It is the first in the trilogy of cop films, which showcase North Madras residents as a perennial problem to the globalising cityscape of Chennai. Yennai Arindhaal5 (If You Know Me, 2015), the last in the trilogy, follows the same pattern where a righteous cop takes on a gang of notorious criminals from North Chennai. The claims to realism framing the films suggest sociological and ethnographic accounts of the ghetto space that objectify its inhabitants. As a consequence, such films purport to show the truth about these places and leave viewers with the illusion of a privileged knowledge of hidden parts of Chennai city. These

Contested narratives 25 films, we argue, consciously or subconsciously engage in territorial stigmatisation (Wacquant 2007), which has real-life effects. Territorial stigmatisation, Wacquant states, is not a static condition or a neutral process, but a consequential and injurious form of action through collective representations of particular places. It operates differently in different urban settings and political formations, meaning it is important to understand the role of symbolic structures in the production of inequality and marginality. Wacquant’s (2007, 115–117) empirical analysis illuminates the realities of spatial taint in both the hyperghetto of inner Chicago and the declining housing estates of outer Paris. In both places, residents echoed urban denizens, public officials, and the commercial media in disparaging their own neighbourhoods. The territorial stigmatisation pushed them to devise strategies of self-invisibility to protect themselves from association with a tarnished place, such as hiding their address, avoiding bringing outsiders home, retreating into the family sphere and curtailing their involvement in local outfits, and migrating out at the first opportunity. Wacquant draws on Goffman’s view of stigma as ‘discrediting differentness’ flowing from the ordinary gaze of others in face-to-face interaction. He links this to Bourdieu’s (1991) theory of symbolic power as ‘performative nomination’ by an authority capable of making its representations stick. In combining the two, Wacquant spotlights space as a distinctive anchor of social discredit. Territorial stigmatisation is a deeply consequential form of ramifying action. We argue that Tamil film representations of North Chennai engage in such tainting through stories of violence associated with drugs and gang warfare set in decaying urban locales. Wacquant cites Bourdieu’s observation of how ‘the stigmatized neighbourhood symbolically degrades those who live in it and degrade it symbolically in return’ (Bourdieu as cited in Wacquant 2007, 69). In what follows, we will look at some recent films and analyse how they engage in territorial stigmatisation.

Symbolic ghettoisation and the stigmatised neighbourhoods of North Chennai Though all of Pushkar-Gayatri’s films were set in North Chennai, we focus on Vikram Vedha (2017), which captures the conflict between Vedha – a North Chennai don from the predominantly Dalit locality of Vyasarpadi – and an obsessively vigilant cop. The film, shot in Vyasarpadi, Kasimedu, and Royapuram, takes us to the heart of North Chennai. The film’s art director, Vinoth Rajkumar, said that ‘North Chennai is completely different from other parts of the city, be it in terms of the people or the places’ (Raman 2018). The Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board tenements have become ubiquitous in any film about North Chennai. There is a sense of disorderliness in these constructions, which in turn inspires the attention of film-makers. For Rajkumar, ‘be it the buildings or background, there is no order in the locality. Organised structure brings in beauty and indicates a different class of people. In North Chennai, there are shanty houses and housing boards. The location brims with character’ (Raman 2018). Both the director and art director explain the spatiality in terms of its being ‘colourful’


Karthikeyan Damodaran and Hugo Gorringe

and the aesthetics of being ‘disorderly’, which fits within their scheme of filmic representation or imagination. However, the framing of such scenes and shots goes beyond the aesthetics to the political as it engages in a territorial taint; the spatial disorderliness is seen as a characteristic of the disorderliness of the people. There is a spatial narrative in Vikram Vedha in which Vedha, a notorious gangster who has committed 18 murders, represents and guards the neighbourhood and is, in turn, protected by both the people and its spatial structure. The song ‘Tasaku Tasaku’ sets this out explicitly: ‘On the corner of Bay of Bengal near Vannarapettai’s cemetery road signal lies our fortress MKB Nagar that houses a thousand families and is guarded by a lion called Vedha’. The streets of North Chennai mark the perimeters of the gangster’s territory. The scenes shot at Vyasarpadi showing Vijay Sethupathi’s den demonstrate how the spatial structure of the neighbourhood is difficult for the police to enter and navigate, foregrounding the area as a dangerous zone. Through aerial shots, the film shows how the spatial arrangement of the neighbourhood provides much needed escape routes for criminals and also helps them avoid surveillance. The closely knit semi-dilapidated barrack-like housing structures from the bird’s-eye view present a dehumanised geometry. People are invisible or insignificant. From below, on the streets, the Dalit underclasses who live in these slum clearance projects make sense of North Chennai as the city’s underbelly. These concrete multi-storeyed buildings were erected under the DMK government in the 1970s to replace thatched-roof huts. The physical degradation of the housing is attributed largely to the use of cheap construction materials and rapid construction techniques as part of the populist welfare schemes. Apart from Vikram Vedha, films like Attu and Aranya Kaandam also offer such representations. The different aerial shots and other images foreground abandoned and defunct industrial houses6 and showcase structures and other signs indicating both dilapidation and social decay produced as a form of voyeuristic entertainment. In one tongue-in-cheek exchange, Vedha asks whether the Mills were constructed to create jobs or as spots for criminals to fight in – again pointing to the derelict nature of the location and the way in which the Mills have come to dominate film depictions. North Chennai, in such portrayals, is a dangerous no-go zone. Various scenes indicate that the whole neighbourhood connives with the criminal activities, from underage school children to elderly women who are essential parts of the nefarious activities. For example, the strong portrayal of schoolchildren being used for crimes and smuggling drugs (Vikram Vedha, 2018 and Attu, 2017) showcases how the material space produces deviancy. In the film Attu such class-based characterisations are tied to caste as we see smuggled heroin being driven into the Dalit colony. One of the things that these filmic representations do is to shift these communities from being neighbourhoods ‘in difficulty’ or ‘in danger’ to ‘dangerous neighbourhoods’ (see Bonelli 2001). The construction of a spatial imagery is key here: North Chennai has earned a reputation of being a dangerous zone. Representations of violence, misogyny, and caste stereotypes came to dominate

Contested narratives 27 the genre and contributed to its economic success, and North Chennai is portrayed as a space of paralegals and illegals. In Vadachennai, the spatial and economic limitations of the neighbourhood are visually reproduced through the protagonist Anbu’s characterisation and how – following the death of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran – the residents of the neighbourhood loot the local electronics shop. The symbolic ghettoisation of these neighbourhoods has grown stronger in both political discourse and the media. On a regular basis, North Chennai youth are portrayed as highly dangerous, a menace to the peaceful order of the city. For example, in the film Vadachennai, the fishermen were shown using boats for smuggling, hiding, fleeing after a murder, and for drug-peddling, but not a single scene shows them engaged in fishing. What these films convey is that all the youth of North Chennai are actual or potential criminals. Though the area does have a higher incidence of crime, Vikram Vedha co-director Gayatri attributes the higher rates of crime in the area to economic reasons. Film scholars, however, have shown how films themselves may shape everyday realities and imaginaries (Vasudevan 2017; Damodaran and Gorringe 2017). Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, local residents feel that the film world plays a role in fuelling crimes in the region. Zubeida, a Vyasarpadi resident, for example, said that the influence of films has had a psychological effect and served as a tool to boost the ego of men in a locality where crime was already prevalent (Raman 2018). Such depictions render these youth likely targets of police brutality, especially as young men in these areas may play-up to the stereotypes. Though such bravado is not an appropriate form of symbolic capital, it nevertheless provides a certain sense of masculine pride. In light of this, some residents of North Chennai have collectively questioned mainstream and social media representations and detailed how territorial stigmatisation affects their lives. Everyday interactions, for example, with employers, the police, and outsiders are inflected by prejudicial opinions of their residence. It is hardly possible for North Chennai-ites to disregard the scorn they are subjected to due to the social taint of inhabiting such spatially demarcated neighbourhoods when searching for employment, dealing with public agencies, or even during marriage arrangements. Just as the ‘symbolic denigration’ of French banlieues cast them as instruments of governmentality and ‘objects of intervention’ (Dikeç 2007, 21), the residents of North Chennai have become victims of symbolic denigration. In response, residents have created forums and associations in these neighbourhoods demanding a full stop to such representations. In Is This the Vadachennai You Know: A Vyasarpadi Youth’s Lament, a young resident stressed how territorial stigmatisation ‘follows’ them and ‘invades’ their social life outside their area. He notes how negative external perceptions of North Chennai set him apart from colleagues and make him ‘known’ in a way he has little control over (Muthunayagam 2018). Following the release of Vadachennai, local residents uploaded a highly critical video saying: ‘If Vetrimaaran wants to make money, he can do that by making any kind of a film, but not by degrading the people of an entire region’. The film suggests, ‘All of us have weapons loaded in our bikes and are longing for


Karthikeyan Damodaran and Hugo Gorringe

bloodshed and violence’. Similarly, founder-president of Tamilnadu Milk Dealers and Workers Association, Ponnusamy, pointed out that youth of the area have been shown in such a way that they do not respect their parents, they hang out with antisocial elements, fall in love even in school and kill anyone they hate. This is not the right way of film-making. (Mathevan 2018) Following such criticisms, the film crew inserted an apology prior to rolling the credits a week after its release. It reads: This film is not a complete account of North Chennai’s geography or its people or their politics. It’s a compilation of accounts that support the screenplay of the film. If the film’s characterisation or flashback accounts are found to hurt any individual or a community, we regret the inconvenience and apologise for the same. Before the release of Vadachennai, the film-makers charted public opinion about the neighbourhood. Unsurprisingly, there were mixed views. A minority defended the neighbourhood as a place of solidarity and community, but few said that they would choose to settle down there. Responding to such debates, art director Ramalingam argued that film-makers need to stop looking at North Chennai through the prism of violence. Criticising this tendency, he warns that ‘as cinema is a fashion and is effective, high-risk youngsters from the locality watch films and only get triggered to act more violently’ (Raman 2018). Ramalingam similarly observes that movies based there don’t capture the vibrancy of the area, which is home to numerous boxers, footballers, carrom players, jugglers, and hip-hop enthusiasts.7 As de Certeau (1984) suggests, the city is never univocal. Discursive struggles over representation are as fiercely fought and as fundamental to the activities of place construction as bricks and mortar (Harvey 1996, 322). As these comments from directors and residents suggest, the dominant representations do not go uncontested. Within the film world, the entry of Ambedkarite film-maker Pa. Ranjith has offered a strong challenge to such narratives. In the following section, we discuss his films and what they imply for our understanding of North Chennai and how it is represented.

Destigmatising the territorial stigma Pa. Ranjith has transformed Tamil cinema through his bold portrayals of Dalit life8 within the mainstream. He has inspired a new generation of Dalit film-makers in Tamil cinema who are bringing Dalit subjectivities9 to screen, thus remaking the social aspects of the medium. Ranjith’s films Madras (2014), Attakathi (Cardboard Knife, 2012), and Kaala (Black [or Death], 2018) not only render visible people and places hitherto denied the right to represent themselves – they do so without harbouring any illusions concerning the ideological nature

Contested narratives 29 of representing the so-called ‘underclass’. Here, Madras stands out. The film’s narrative style and cinematic form confront spatialised and historicised anxieties, interrogating assumptions behind dominant representations of North Chennai and its inhabitants, and highlight the socio-spatial inequities between different parts of Chennai. Space plays a central role in determining the aesthetics of the film and is profoundly constitutive of the protagonists’ subject formations. This is not novel in itself as space is central to many Tamil films. Analysis has shown how certain geographies get identified with violence, such as southern Tamil Nadu (Krishnan 2014; Damodaran and Gorringe 2017). More generally, the constitution of spaces as Ooru (village), ‘area’ (usually meaning estate), and pettai (or colony) (Vasudevan 2017) highlight the interplay between caste, class, and space in cinematic representations. Whilst such formulations clearly index caste, when it comes to urban space, especially large cities in India, the histories of the oppressed castes on whom the cities depend have never been told. This is where Ranjith’s intervention matters. As Kuttaiah (2018) notes, ‘when Ranjith tells the stories of Vyasarpadi or Dharavi — auto-constructed neighbourhoods laden with histories of oppressed castes — he is insisting they are the stories of Chennai and Mumbai’. In what follows, we argue that Madras (2014) provides an impetus to reimagine the space in a completely different lens. The film, which is one of the most extensive portraits of North Chennai, was shot in Vyasarpadi and Perambur and revolves around a disputed stretch of wall that political parties compete over for advertising space in a struggle that takes both spatial and political forms. Madras echoes the films discussed above in that North Chennai is marked by violence and conflict played out in the densely packed housing, but the violence in the film is inseparable from politics. Ranjith’s Vyasarpadi features IT professionals, music lovers, football players, and working women who possess great levels of freedom within the domestic space. It showcases the vibrancy of the community; the youth can be seen engaged in sport, for example, and life is marked by festivals and processions. Madras (2014) poignantly captures these aspects of everyday life and places its emphasis on caste and space and how they are politicised. The move is significant on two planes: it not only reimagines and represents a stigmatised space, but also offers an everyday portrayal of Dalit lives. Speaking about the recent Hindi film Article 15 (2019), which focuses on caste violence, Ranjith said: ‘I have a problem in showing Dalits as landless, colourless, dirty people with no dignity and as those who need to be saved. Don’t I have a voice?’ Madras showcases Dalits’ everyday lives and also suggests that Dalits form the core of the city’s identity and asserts that through the title song in the film Enga Ooru Madrasu, Idhukku Naanga Thane Address u (Madras Is Our City and We Are Its Label). The film proclaims North Chennai’s culture to be the culture of Chennai and argues that you cannot script a story of the city without them. By doing so, the film decentres the traditional focus on Mylapore, Adyar, West Mambalam, or other richer parts of the city. This reclaiming of the city and its history and celebration of Dalit contributions to culture as well as brick and mortar structures is key.

30 Karthikeyan Damodaran and Hugo Gorringe The film also deals with how the marginalised are exploited by the politics of representation. Conceptualising the relations between urban space, politics, and the subjectivities (both individual and collective) constituted within it, the film illustrates how the contemporary struggles for power are located within the field of cultural production in a spatially complex environment marked by a politics of representation (cf. Bate 2009). Vyasarpadi is spatialised by caste, political and economic crisis, social fragmentation, and crime and violence, leaving little space for Dalit autonomy. It showcases the mounting anxieties among the contemporary Dalit youth about Dalit politics and how it gets subsumed under Dravidian politics (Gorringe 2017). In Madras, Anbu (the protagonist’s close friend) is an aspiring politician managing both his real estate business and the politics of Makkal Viduthalai Kazhagam (People’s Liberation Federation) from his office (AR Real Estates). As against most representations of politicians in Tamil cinema, he is not an epitome of toxic masculinity but speaks about the importance of gaining political power, helps his wife to fetch pots of water, helps out in the kitchen, and plays football with his friends. As a politically conscious person, he reminds his friends that ‘even if we don’t have money power, they (ruling governments) are afraid of us because of our man power’. This echoes Vada Chennai’s (2018) stress on community – emphasising where the strength of the subaltern lies – but it avoids the tainting that occurs in Menon’s film. It also departs from Deepavali, which similarly stresses community bonds, focusing on marginal communities rather than elites. Anbu believes that capturing the disputed wall would transform things and provide political recognition. However, Kali, the protagonist who works in the IT industry disagrees: Once you capture the wall, are things going to change, would this place become like Anna Nagar? … The people around us want us to remain like this forever. People here speak about Tamil solidarity but when it comes to caste and religion they take an antagonistic stance, then what? Go and educate your children.10 These lines speak about the political condition of Dalits and how the ethnic solidarity promised by Tamil nationalism gets trumped by caste differences. Anbu responds to Kali: isn’t this your locality? You are an educated person right, what have you done for it, once you get settled in a good job you will move out and settle elsewhere but for me this is my land I will stand up for it. Through Anbu’s character, Ranjith emphasises the need to stop the outward migration fuelled by territorial stigma. When his political rivals murder Anbu, Kali is confronted with the dilemma of whether to live there or leave. His parents ask him to abandon North Chennai for another area reinforcing the trope of a danger zone, but Kali rejects this position. Instead, he transforms the disputed

Contested narratives 31 wall space into a local school and the political mural into an inspiring message emphasising education, local governance, and development. Madras shows that the Dalit struggle is not only economic; it is also about recovering dignity and pride in a marginalised identity. Ranjith showcases how the public spaces of the city and the institutional structures of democratic power are influenced by caste, both demographically and culturally. He reveals how the political apparatus of the state and representative politics systematically excludes Dalits, fisherfolk, and other marginalised subjectivities in the expressive cultures of music, literature, clothing, and sport. One of the effects of territorial stigmatisation, this reminds us, ‘is the “dissolution of ‘place’”, that is, the loss of a humanized, culturally familiar and socially filtered locale with which marginalized urban populations identify and in which they feel “at home” and in relative security’ (Wacquant 2007, 69). In foregrounding the humanised aspect of Dalit lives, Dalit aesthetics like gaana songs and dance, and the feeling of a communal life represented in Attakathi and Madras radically transform our understanding of North Chennai. Even architectural aspects gain spatial importance in the way they are used and represented. For example, in the earlier films (Aaranya Kaandam, Attu, and Vikram Vedha), we saw how abandoned buildings were represented as spots for crime, but in Madras they form the background for romance, sport, and community as well. The basic geographic components of territory, possession, and group identity that play such an important role in the representation of Chennai’s urban spaces remain the same in the two genres of film, highlighting the wider politics of representation. Whilst the earlier films stigmatised North Chennai, Ranjith seeks to challenge established stereotypes even as his films are anchored in those tropes. Crime and violence are also central to Ranjith’s films, but they are explicated in terms of wider politics and underdevelopment and, crucially, they are not the dominant representations of the space.

Conclusion This territorial stigma imposed on North Chennai residents has multiple implications. It translates into social stigma bringing in the notion of personal embarrassment and influences various aspects of everyday life affecting interpersonal relations, job opportunities, social life, and schooling. As Wacquant (2007) notes, there is a strong correlation between symbolic degradation and environmental neglect. Areas, which are marked as crime-prone and sensitive, are also seen as spaces for the deviant, which should be avoided by outsiders and ignored by commercial firms, thus accelerating decline and abandonment. These mainstream films create or reinforce a ‘territorial taint’ (Wacquant 2007). Ranjith, by contrast, attempts to destigmatise North Chennai and its working-class neighbourhoods. Traditionally, Tamil cinema, as an industry, was both made up of and (at least implicitly) aimed at caste Hindus and its representational strategies were developed to speak directly to these groups. The lack of any specific references to Dalit icons speaks volumes. The difficulties of challenging this established


Karthikeyan Damodaran and Hugo Gorringe

‘commonsense’ (Damodaran and Gorringe 2017) were highlighted by Ranjith who recalled how he faced interventions from producers stating that any reference to Ambedkar – through word or image – would result in Madurai11 and southern districts burning. The assumption was that audiences in these areas would not countenance the symbolic portrayal of Dalit assertion (Personal Communication with Ranjith in Madurai 2015). Dalit characterisation in Tamil cinema, including those recurring caste stereotypes as unclean, lazy, polluting, and lack of agency, should be read as constructs produced by multiple ‘cultural voices’, not only by the caste-based presumptions of their makers and primary caste audiences. In an earlier paper, we analysed the portrayals of southern Tamil Nadu as suffused with violence and noted how ‘Madurai Formula Films’ both reflected and reinforced caste dominance (Damodaran and Gorringe 2017). Our argument here is that just as those films serve to naturalise intermediate caste markers and narratives, the North Chennai films act to stigmatise a place and its people. In both cases, the reel-life projections have real-life consequences. Against this backdrop, we welcome Ranjith’s rich account of everyday life in the slums. In highlighting that it is not just criminals who live there, his films give the world a fuller vision of Chennai’s thriving on Dalit communities, thus engaging in a process of destigmatisation and rendering Tamil cinema more representative of its diverse audience.

Notes 1 In contrast to these marginalised and dangerous spaces, Tamil cinema offers the contrast of idyllic and upper-caste spaces on the one hand, and the freedom offered by distant, foreign locations on the other. For further discussion of the interplay between caste, space, and terminology, see: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamilnadu/seri-kuppam-have-become-derogatory-words-over-the-years/article7598052.ece 2 A socio-economic survey conducted by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) in 2016 found that there was a 51.85% increase in slums in Chennai city from 2001 to 2014. TNSCB’s survey conducted in 1,131 slums spread across 17.28 km2 in the city found that North Chennai has the maximum slums in the city numbering 470. The study also found that 52% of the slum population belonged to Scheduled Castes (Philip 2016). Also see (De Wit 1996, Vithayathil and Singh 2012, Roberts 2016). 3 Gaana songs emerged as a subculture on the fringes of Chennai’s slums offering an evocative, reflexive rendering of social issues by the city’s poorest and marginalised and is also largely seen as a Dalit aesthetic form. Ramakrishnan’s (2004) research on Gaana claims that it could have been influenced by the Tamil music tradition of death rituals like Oppari (Wailing) and Dirge or Maradi Pattu (beating their chests and wailing). Ramakrishnan and famous gaana singer Marana Gaana Viji (2009) say that Gaana songs were originally part of the death ritual of Dalits in Chennai, the songs would either be rendered in the house of a dead person while performing the rituals or at the Sudukadu (cemetery). For more details, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1X5 EngLzSHI 4 Though titled Pudhupettai, which is an area in Central Chennai, the film actually is set in North Chennai, and the rise of Kokki Kumar is shown in the film through newspaper clippings and the map of North Chennai, illustrating how Kumar spreads his tentacles invading his enemy territory represented through colours green and red (for more details, see Karthik 2018; Sripathi 2017; Raman 2018).

Contested narratives 33 5 Though there isn’t any particular reference to the spatial location of the gangsters in the film Yennai Arindhal there are enough clues within the frames to identify their location. For example, the famous song ‘Adharu Adharu’ in the film, which covers the antagonist’s wedding, captures the camaraderie and togetherness as a community. The wedding happens in the corporation-built community hall in Kasimedu, which is predominantly a fishing community neighbourhood in North Chennai. 6 The old Buckingham and Carnatic Mills renamed as Binny Mills is now defunct and has become a favourite shooting spot for films based in North Chennai. 7 These can be read as counter portrayals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Um Mo8VE69U 8 Though Dalits featured in mainstream cinema, they have either been portrayed as submissive and the butt of jokes (Damodaran and Gorringe 2017), or have been subject to Gandhian style paternalism. In such films, an external figure enters the Dalit neighbourhood and inculcates good values and ethics. Most of Ve. Shekhar’s films carry such messages. 9 Pariyerum Perumal, which captures the agonies of an aspiring Dalit lawyer, is a beautiful portrayal of Dalit subjectivity. See Damodaran (2018). 10 This is a mockery of the infamous line in film Thevar Magan in which Kamal Haasan’s (violent) protagonist exhorts fellow (dominant caste) Thevars to take to education and not sickles (cf. Rajan Krishnan 2008). 11 Similarly, during the launch of Pariyerum Perumal, he recalled how producers questioned the representation of Ambedkar’s image on screen, as it might result in theatres burning across Madurai region: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jXHENpj1Ns

References Arabindoo, P. 2008. ‘Absent Societies: Contouring Urban Citizenship in Postcolonial Chennai’, PhD diss. London School of Economics and Political Science. Balshaw, M. and Kennedy, L. 2000. Urban Space and Representation. London: Pluto Press. Bate, B. 2009. Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic. New York: Columbia University Press. Bonelli, L. 2001. ‘Des quartiers en danger aux “quartiers dangereux”’ [From neighbourhoods in danger to ‘dangerous neighbourhoods’], Le Monde Diplomatique February: 18–19. Available at: https://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2001/02/BONELLI/1842 (Accessed 25 August 2020). Damodaran, K. 2018. ‘Pariyerum Perumal: A Film That Talks Civility in an Uncivil, Casteist Society’, The Wire, October 12. Available at: https://thewire.in/film/a-film-thattalks-civility-in-an-uncivil-casteist-society (Accessed 05 June 2019). Damodaran, K. and Gorringe, H. 2017. ‘Madurai Formula Films: Caste Pride and Politics in Tamil Cinema’, South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal. Available at: http:// journals.openedition.org/samaj/4359 De Certeau, M. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by S. Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press. De Wit, J. 1996. Poverty, Policy and Politics in Madras Slums: Dynamics of Survival, Gender and Leadership. Delhi: Sage Publications. Dikeç, M. 2007. Badlands of the Republic: Space, Politics and Urban Policy. Oxford: Blackwell. Foucault, M. 1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972– 1977. Translated and edited by Colin Gordon. New York: Pantheon Books.


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Frøystad, K. 2006. ‘Anonymous Encounters: Class Categorization and Social Distancing in Public Places’, In: Geert De Neve and Henrike Donner (eds.), The Meaning of the Local: The Urban Neighbourhood in India. London: Routledge. Gorringe, H. 2017. Panthers in Parliament. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Harriss, J. 2005. ‘Middle Class Activism and Poor People’s Politics: An Exploration of Civil Society in Chennai’, London School of Economics Working Paper Series 05-72. Available at: https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/137958/WP72.pdf Harvey, D. 1996. Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference. Oxford: Blackwell. Harvey, D. 2008. ‘The Right to the City’, New Left Review 53: 23–40. Jay, M. 1988. ‘Scopic Regimes of Modernity’, In: Hal Foster (ed.), Vision and Visuality. Seattle: Bay Press. Kaali, S. 2000. ‘Narrating Seduction: Vicissitudes of the Sexed Subject in Tamil Nativity Film’, In: S. Ravi and Vasudevan (ed.), Making Meaning in Indian Cinema. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Karthik, K.N. 2018. ‘Pudhupettai – The Bible for All Vada Chennai Movies’, Medium, October 21. Available at: https://medium.com/@knkarthik1729/pudhupettai-the-bible -for-all-vada-chennai-movies-b87e12210f6d (Accessed 8 March 2019). Khan, Z. 2013. ‘North Chennai Is Still off the Brandwagon’, The Hindu, September 2. Available at Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/north-chen nai-is-still-off-the-brandwagon/article5083125.ece (Accessed 12 February 2019). Krishnan, R. 2008. ‘Imaginary Geographies: The makings of “South” in Contemporary Tamil cinema’, In: S. Velayutham (ed.), Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry. Abingdon: Routledge, 139–153. Kuttaiah, P. 2018. ‘How Pa Ranjith’s Kaala Changes the Way We Imagine the City’, The Caravan Magazine, June 24. Available at: https://caravanmagazine.in/film-television/ pa-ranjith-kaala-changes-imagine-city (Accessed 09 March 2019). Lefebvre, H. 1996. Writings on Cities. Oxford: Blackwell. Madras. 2014. Dir. Pa. Ranjith. Studio Green. Mathevan, S. 2018. ‘Vada Chennai Brings about Another north-south Divide’, News Today, October 19. Available at: https://newstodaynet.com/index.php/2018/10/19/vada -chennai-brings-about-another-north-south-divide/ (Accessed 16 March 2019). Mines, M. 2006. ‘Temples and Charity’, In: Geert De Neve and Henrike Donner (eds.), The Meaning of the Local: The Urban Neighbourhood in India. London: Routledge. Mitchell, D. 2003. The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space. New York: The Guilford Press. Muthunayagam, L. 2018. ‘Idhudhan Ungalukku Therindha Vada Chennaiya? Vyasarpadi Ilaignarin Manakkumural’ [Is this the only North Chennai you know? A Vyasarpadi youth’s lament], The Hindu Tamil, October 29. Nield, S. 1979. ‘Colonial Urbanism: The Development of Madras City in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries’, Modern Asian Studies 13(2): 217–246. Peter, P. 2013. ‘‘Madras’ Crime Gangs: Low in Number, High on Terror’, The Hindu, August 23. Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/madras-crimegangs-low-in-number-high-on-terror/article5049711.ece (Accessed 19 February 2019). Philip, M. 2016. ‘Slums in Chennai Increase by 50% in a Single Decade’, The Times of India, January 18. Available at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/506 18951.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst (Accessed 05 May 2019).

Contested narratives 35 Pillai, S. 2002. ‘Age of Rage’, The Hindu Friday Review, May 31. Available at: http:// www.hindu.com/thehindu/fr/2002/05/31/stories/2002053100910200.htm (Accessed 20 February 2019). Ramakrishnan, V. 2004. Chennai Gaana. Chennai: Marutha Publications. Raman, G. 2018. ‘‘More Madras than Chennai’: What Draws Tamil Filmmakers to the North of the City’, The Scroll, October 20. Available at: https://scroll.in/reel/889119/ more-madras-than-chennai-what-draws-tamil-filmmakers-to-the-north-of-the-city (Accessed 26 February 2019). Roberts, N. 2016. To Be Cared for: The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging in an Indian Slum. Berkeley: University of California Press. Saharan, T., Pfeffer, K. and Baud, I. 2017. ‘Urban Livelihoods in Slums of Chennai: Developing a Relational Understanding’, The European Journal of Development Research 30(2): 276–296. Selby, M. A. and Viswanathan Peterson, I. 2008. ‘Introduction’, In: Martha Ann Selby and Indira Viswanathan Peterson (eds.), Tamil Geographies: Cultural Constructions of Space and Place in South India. New York: State University of New York Press. Srinivasaraju, S. 2007. ‘Schizoid Cityscapes’, Outlook July 16. Available at: https://ww w.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/schizoid-cityscapes/235099 (Accessed 09 May 2019). Sripathi, A. 2017. ‘Tamil Films: How North Chennai Marks Its Presence While Kodambakkam Thrives’, Hindustan Times, February 23. Available at: https://www.hin dustantimes.com/regional-movies/tamil-films-how-north-chennai-marks-its-presentwhile-kodambakkam-thrives/story-TrsZN4P2BCWrIz61aOOBsK.html (Accessed 12 May 2019). Vada Chennai. 2018. Dir. Vetrimaaran. Wunderbar Films. Vasudevan, N. 2017. ‘Between Ooru, Area, and Pettai: The Terms of the Local in Tamil Cinema of the Twenty-First Century’, Positions 25(1): 145–172. Velayutham, S. 2008. ‘Introduction: The Cultural History and Politics of South Indian Tamil Cinema’, In: Selvaraj Velayutham (ed.), Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry. Oxford: Routledge. Viji, G. M. 2009. Naan Santhitha Maranagal [The Deaths I Have Faced]. Chennai: Karuppu Pirathigal. Vithayathil, T. and Singh, G. 2012. ‘Spaces of Discrimination: Residential Segregation in Indian Cities’, Economic and Political Weekly 47(37): 60–66. Wacquant, L. 2007. ‘Territorial Stigmatization in the Age of Advanced Marginality’, Thesis Eleven 91(1): 66–77. Yengde, S. 2018. ‘Dalit Cinema’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 41(3): 503–518.


Conscripts of cinema The dangerous and deviant Third Wave Dickens Leonard

This chapter seeks to study a component of popular contemporary Tamil cinema, especially foregrounding the films that represent Madurai in the first decade of this century. With a special focus on Kadhal (Love, 2004), Veyil (Torrid Sun, 2006), Paruthiveeran (Cotton Champ, 2007), and Subramaniapuram (2008), it examines whether, and how, they offer ‘new’ ways to understand contemporary Tamil and Indian cinema. Such films are often described as part of a ‘New Wave’ (Anand 2005; Sebastian 2008) that successfully produced the ‘new Madurai genre’ (Hariharan 2011). They definitely are new in that new faces that don Tamil cinema also dawned with them. They are also new in terms of their realistic and tragic depiction of violence and caste bigotry in Madurai, though there has been a critical conduit from earlier films. Importantly, these films entail, to use a hackneyed term, certain markers of difference as well. From 2004 onwards, there is a steady but sure failure of herocentric mega budget films in Tamil. Krishnan terms this trend as the death of the ‘type-hero film’, whereas low-budget, award-winning, ‘alternative’ as well as ‘popular’ productions create a new trend in contemporary Tamil cinema (2010A, 6–11). This could be seen as an extension of the ‘nativity films’ of the late 1970s, where rural contextualisation was treated as an ‘ideological investment centered on the rurality of its plot-events and roles’ (Kaali 2000, 168–9). In fact, in the late 1990s, directors such as Bala, Cheran, and Thangar Bachan had made films that portrayed rustic and marginal lives but relatively ‘alternative and realistic’ depictions. Though many studies have theorised ‘Dravidian cinema’ and there are also many articles on individual films later, very few scholars have worked on Tamil cinema after the 1980s, particularly foregrounding caste and criminality in the Tamil contemporary films (Devadas and Velayutham 2008). This is perhaps a Third Wave which offers new ways to understand Madurai and contemporary Tamil cinema.

The new Madurai genre Madurai is the third-largest city in Tamil Nadu and one of its oldest. In the screen history of Tamil cinema, Madurai has played an important yet changing role as a narrative space. The mythological films such as Avaiyaar (1953), Poompuhar

Conscripts of cinema


(1964), and Thiruvillaiyadal (1965) depict Madurai as a centre of literary activity and temple town in the 1950s. In the historical films such as Madurai Veeran (Madurai Hero, 1957) and Madurayai Meeta Sundara Pandiyan (Sundarapandiyan Who Freed Madurai, 1978), M.G. Ramachandran acts as the Madurai hero who secures and protects it as a separate region from external forces. Later ‘Dravidian’ cinema uses Madurai as a narrative space for political articulation. Director Barathi Raja in the 1980s set Madurai village as an actual rustic space to narrate his stories. Madurai-based popular films after Devar Magan (Son of a Devar, 1992) predominantly narrate and depict a particular caste culture as the actual culture of Madurai.1 In the early 2000s, Kadhal, Veyil, Paruthiveeran, and Subramaniapuram set Madurai as an actual narrative space in their films, where caste and criminality participate discursively. The representations of the rustic milieu, Madurai dialect and dress code, folk performances and spectacle spaces, caste articulation, and childhood as a flashback are significant pointers that distinguish them from other filmic trends. They were at once celebrated as box-office hits as well as critically acclaimed award-winners.2 These films, therefore, could be seen as destabilising and critiquing the neat homogeneities that cinemas in India have hitherto constructed. I do not, however, describe these films as ‘New Wave’ because the term particularly refers to a global phenomenon on which there exists a canonical body of work. New Wave as a blanket term refers to La Nouvelle Vague coined by critics for a group of French film-makers of the late 1950s and 1960s, influenced by Italian neo-realism and popular Hollywood cinema. A New Wave is usually a historical moment within a national cinema. The most famous example is the French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague), essentially a group of young critics turned film-makers who broke with the past traditions and made exciting, experimental, and innovating films. Although never a formally organised movement, New Wave film-makers were generally linked by their self-conscious rejection of classical cinematic form and their spirit of youthful iconoclasm. New Wave is also an example of European art cinema. Many also engaged in their work with the social and political upheavals of the era, making their radical experiments with editing, visual style, and narrative part of a general break with the conservative paradigm. New Wave in India is seen as a specific genre which is known for its serious content, realism, and naturalism, with an eye on the sociopolitical climate of the times.3 They are specifically regarded as ‘new cinemas’, which are thematically different, and they produce ‘micro-narratives’ of the nation – alternative and minority stories – which are generally excluded by the ‘Bollywood film representations’ (Devasundaram 2018, 1).4 Since New Wave Indian cinema has a particular history in India, the term does not qualify to describe the present phenomenon in Tamil cinema as well, even though Kadhal, Veyil, Paruthiveeran, and Subramaniapuram are ‘offbeat’ and different. In want of a better term, I demarcate the selected films as significantly belonging to the Third Wave,5 since Tamil cinema can be categorised into three waves.

38 Dickens Leonard

The two waves and the conscripting Third Wave Dravidian cinema in the 1960s is the First Wave, where political address, spectator identification, star/fandom, and linguistic reorganisation at a historical juncture necessitated a new way to understand and conceptualise Tamil cinema (Baskaran 2009). The First Wave directly contests Indian cinema that ideologically constructed a ‘national’ audience. The Second Wave refers to a shift in the relationship between Tamil cinema and Bombay cinema in the 1990s with the emergence of directors Mani Ratnam and S. Shankar in the context of ‘Mandal, Mandir and Market’.6 Various studies of these films identify a negotiation for a new space for the ‘Tamilian’ with respect to the Indian nation-state, as an entity who is reconfigured onto the global arena (Vasudevan 2000; Prasad 2004; Rajadhyaksha 2009).7 Such films in a highly globalised context were seen to work as a conduit between ‘Tamil-ness’ and new trans-regional national elite at par with its global counterparts. The Second Wave addressed the aesthetic differences that marked Tamil cinema and aligned its stylistic form closer to the Hindi cinema. Apparently, two waves of studies on particular films such as Parasakthi (1952) and Roja (Rose 1992) represent the two waves as a phenomenon distinctly (Pandian 1992, 2005; Chakravarthy and Pandian 1994; Pandian and Krishnan 2006; Niranjana 1994a, 1994b). As the Third Wave is marked by the recurrence of dangerous and deviant heroes and the excess of casteist articulations within Madurai as a visual-narrative space, it signifies an apparent detour (Leonard 2015). The Third Wave films raise different questions to Indian cinema in general and Tamil cinema in particular. The film narratives, in fact, contest the construction of the homogeneous ‘ethno-specific’ Tamil state/nation. If Dravidian cinema interrupted the ‘Indian’ cinema’s project of discursively constructing a sense of a national people through the cinematic medium, the Third Wave offers a different version of the ‘ethno-specific’ Tamil country. At the same time, it deconstructs the urban, professional, and cosmopolitan secular-spectatorial address that the Second Wave constructed. Hence, the Third Wave finds its currency in its critique of the First and Second Waves. A ‘new’ trend was established by rebel directors such as Barathi Raja, Bhagyaraj, Balachander, and Balu Mahendra way back in the late 1970s but for a short period.8 Kaali describes films by the above directors as belonging to the ‘neo-nativity film’ genre, where the hero was reconstituted in the rustic space (2000, 168–90). This was most probably caused when the film industry that relied on the star system found itself at a loss as M.G. Ramachandran entered into fulltime party politics. Moreover, during the emergency in India – 18-month time period from 1975 to 1977 – the political dream of a Tamil nation almost shattered and the Dravidian parties moved their gear into electoral politics. Thus, these new genres had already contested the earlier Dravidian iconography. Kaali posits that one of the salient features of the ‘neo-nativity film’ is a certain displacement of a narrational agency from the hero to the village as a collective actant, where the portrayal of the village changed and there was greater care for verisimilitude and details. Shooting in actual exterior locations became

Conscripts of cinema


a dominant film-making practice during this time. But this phenomenon is only seen as an intervention after which the star system was revived by Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. The Third Wave, however, particularly deals with criminality and caste, and they could be categorically described as Con-Scripts: ‘Con’ as in convicts and also conned; ‘scripts’, of course, refer to film script/scripting. The term ‘conscript’ refers to someone who is compulsorily enrolled or drafted for service. The phrase ‘conscripts of civilization’ (Diamond 1974, 151) refers to the ‘primitive’ cultures that engage in the ‘civilization’ project becoming ‘conscripts of civilization, not volunteers’ (Asad 1992, 333). But such cinematic representations also reveal the ambiguity and ambivalence with regard to prevalent notions of caste and criminality (Dhareshwar 1993). Perhaps, the criminal and caste subjects also become, in and through these representations, ‘conscripts of modernity’ (Scott 2004, 98–131), who are coerced into civilisation but continue as corrosive objects and agents (Ansari 2001). Could identities and spaces marked by caste and crime become conscripts of modern cinema itself? Conscripted representations were indeed inaugurated in the early 2000s by director Bala who arguably ‘re-wrote the Tamil hero’ (‘Exclusive’ 2009). He is acknowledged to have initiated an avant-garde trend in characterisation, spatial representation, and film narrative. All his films depicted tragic ends with deviant characters as protagonists, such as a college rowdy who goes mad (Sethu 1999), a henchman who is killed by his mother (Nandha 2001), the relationship between a scavenger, a cannabis dealer and a small-time crook (Pithamagan 2003), and an agora (Naan Kadavul 2009). It can be argued that the Third Wave films, like Kadhal, Veyil, Paruthiveeran, and Subramaniapuram, can be seen as an extension of the ‘neo-nativity film’ as well as director Bala’s trend in contemporary Tamil cinema. The recurrence of conscripted heroes and the excess of casteist articulations within Madurai as a narrative space raise specific questions seeking different interpretations. Theoretical categories such as Indian citizen-spectator, secular-modern identification, and the Dravidian/Tamil heroic subject have all undergone considerable alteration in these films. Thus, the Third Wave indicates a momentous intervention in understanding Indian cinema in general and Tamil cinema in particular. With the release of Kadhal, Veyil, Paruthiveeran, and Subramaniapuram, not only is there a slow but an absolute death of the ‘type-hero’ in Tamil cinema, but these films also actualise the Madurai region as a cinematic imaginary through its authenticity markers, like dialect and cultural practices explicitly, which earlier films constructed as a ‘trope’ (Krishnan 2008, 140). The characterisation and setting in the Third Wave films naturalise the markers as actuality. For instance, Kadhal and Subramaniapuram open with shots that contextualise the screen space as Madurai. Shot sequences depict the city’s landmarks as the credits run before the story begins. The narrative space is contextualised in actuality by depicting the consensual notions of culture and through a loud display of cultural markers like dress, food, and, most significantly, the dialect.


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Beyond the ‘type-hero’ and the ‘neo-nativity’ film Tamil cinema devised the ‘type-hero’ as one of the popular images in its screen history.9 Usually, popular Tamil cinema is male hero-centric. A greater part of the frames centre around the hero. The ‘type-hero’ substantiates heroism in popular film narratives. ‘Hero-ness’ is ideally composed and influenced by the sociopolitical as well as the historicity of a genre (Maderya 2010, 1–6). Usually, ‘heroness’ in popular Tamil movie is demonstrated through the hero’s ‘modern’ as well as ‘traditional’ attitude towards women, education, and exhibitions of physical prowess. These qualities are usually idealised through contrast with the villain and the sidekick. Worship of the mother, care for his sister, and faithfulness towards his wife are intrinsic to the ideal image. The ability to physically vanquish the wrongdoer and protect the family is a crucial aspect of the hero-ideal. This reminds us of the folk heroes of the countryside who are remembered from generation to generation through popular heroic ballads.10 This reconfiguration of the rustic hero is not a new phenomenon in Tamil cinema. By the 1970s–1980s, the male protagonist, in the neo-nativity films, evidenced arrested development, mental inadequacy, and physical failure; and he needed to be supported by a dominant female character (Kaali 2000). The heroic subjects in Kadhal, Veyil, Paruthiveeran, and Subramaniapuram are different representations; perhaps they are extensions of the neo-native rustic hero. Like the neonative heroes, they offer diverse identifications to the audience, as they are not, of course, citizen-spectator identifications. They are unlike Roja’s urbane hero – a representative of the ‘Indian secular’ – with whose desire the state’s interest and the Hindu patriarchal culture coincide.11 The heroic subjects, like the neo-nativity heroes, are dysfunctional ‘non-heroic’ representations. However, their tragic portrayals symbolise a site of fragmentation of the homogenised citizen-subject identity (that went into construction), which is particularly intercepted by markers of caste and criminality. Murugan (Barath) in Kadhal, Murugesan (Pasupathy) in Veyil, Veera (Karthi) and Sevvazhai (Saravanan) in Paruthiveeran, and Azhagar (Jai) and Parama (Sasi Kumar) in Subramaniapuram are exemplary characters, who are beyond type or neo-native heroes. As they are represented as dangerous and deviant and their portrayals raise different questions, they can arguably belong to another genre as well. Beyond the typical and the neo-native heroes, they act as conscripts of cinema; and they question spectatorial identification and the processes by which not only individual subjectivities are constituted, but also entire communities are made and unmade.

Dangerous and deviant heroes as conscripts of cinema The heroes of the selected films, namely, Murugan – Kadhal, Murugasen – Veyil, Veera – Paruthiveeran, and Azhagar and Parama – Subramaniapuram, are emblematic of deviance and danger. They are rowdy sheeters, who are unemployed and vagrant, at once getting into disputes when getting drunk. Their bodies are marked by ‘excess’ that resist normative transformation into citizen-subjects.

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They are also subjects where the camera locks caste into their identities, especially when their romantic escapades end in violent trauma. Their representations provide the citizen-spectator a dangerous/deviant ‘other’ as an identification to (dis) engage with. Through exclusion, they signify the reconfiguration of the Madurai hero as a conscripted subject. Hence, as outlaws, their deaths and murders are unaccountable by law. Their murders are mutilations which erase them from the cinematic social-imaginary. In Kadhal, Murugan is central to the romance plot. However, the story is specifically about his failed aspirations. The progression of the narrative action is also the regression towards his breakdown. Murugan becomes insane at the end of the movie. His degeneration into deviance is signified by loss: devoid of a home, without familial and friendly relationships, lack of material support, and plummet from a social standing. Murugan’s earlier image of a diligent mechanic in charge of a shop, who is respected in the town for his work ethic, is in stark contrast to the latter one into which he plunges. The loss of supportive spaces – familial, material, and social – is critical to his devolution into dysfunctionality. Murugan, son of a ‘lower’-caste widow, lives with his mother in a slum, works as a mechanic but falls for an ‘upper’-caste girl. This would problematise the caste-ridden structures in Madurai. The movie, however, portrays that this yearning when realised in the city loosens the shackles of caste ascription. A glimpse of this vision is evident when Murugan and Aishwarya get married in Chennai city. Murugan’s aspiration receives support from the displaced, mansion-dwelling, working-class collective in the city despite caste/class differences. The collective support in Chennai is in stark contrast to the collective opposition in Madurai. The movie depicts a spatial binary on screen – Chennai as the urban pedestal of ‘modern’ governance and Madurai as its ‘other space’, where caste is produced as a spectacle (Leonard 2015). Unlike Murugan who is devoid of any collective in Madurai, Chennai city offers a working-class collective for his friend Stephen (Sukumar). Even when Stephen comes to Madurai, he is a fragment of the ‘modern-economic-urbane’ marker who is embodied by ‘branded’ shirts, pants, and goggles. His demeanour symbolises a remarkable/marketable difference from Murugan in Madurai, who is marked by dirt, greased outfits, overgrown nails, and unruly hair. Though Stephen as a hawker exemplifies incessant industriousness in the city, just like Murugan as a mechanic in Madurai, his subjectivity is mutually constructed and mediated by the urban, displaced, working-class collective, who then go on to help Murugan and Aishwarya at times of violent crisis. The individual aspirations of a poor, ‘lower’-caste youth are particularly razed by dominant caste agents of power in Madurai. The absolute degeneration of Murugan – the hero – into madness is depicted as an effect of this. The decisive moment of this erasure, in the movie, is the scene where the dominant caste collective accuses Murugan and Aishwarya of transgressing the caste boundaries. The fact that the heroic subject is made mentally insane through the articulation of caste bigotry is an important facet to understand the problems of spectator identification/citizen-subject. Murugan’s deviance is structurally located in his

42 Dickens Leonard caste status according to the cinematic apparatus. Hence, his caste-located body becomes a conscript of cinema. Murugesan, in Veyil, is an extension of Murugan. He is a prodigal son of the working-class, yet dominant intermediary caste, father Sivanandy Devar (Ravi Mariya). As an adolescent, Murugesan falls in love with Thalaivar (MGR’s cinematic image) cinema. Later, as an adult, he falls in love with a girl outside his caste. On both occasions, he is opposed vehemently by the dominant members of the village/society. As a runaway kid, it is the cinema theatre – the ‘modern’ entertainment space – that becomes his alternative home. Working as a projectionist, the theatre at once stands for ‘the smallest parcel’ of his world as well as the totality of the world which is projected there. Murugesan’s aspirations were to earn money and return home to prove his family that he has not wasted his life. However, he becomes a conscripted subject when he returns to his family after many years. As a testimony of failure, Murugesan is considered a deviance – a crisis in the patriarchal/casteist set-up – as he had emasculated his role as the eldest son of the family. Murugesan is a binary of his younger brother Kathir (Barath), who single-handedly runs an advertisement agency and becomes the backbone of the family. Kathir supports his sisters to study and is successful in his romance. In comparison to Murugesan, he serves as the popular ideal hero of Tamil cinema. However, Murugesan narrates the story and is therefore central to the film narrative. His failure as a son, brother, and lover is a critique of the responsible, family man as the heroic subject. His character embodies deviance in the ‘modern’ familial set-up as he swerves from the consensual norm. He is disrespected by his father, misunderstood by his sisters, and displaced inside the family. Murugesan fails to resuscitate the roles he lost as a deviant subject. Only through his death, the family recognises/relocates his place within the home. At the movie’s end, he positions himself, through his death/erasure, as a ‘lost’ member of the family in the death anniversary poster. The fact that the family’s patriarch Sivanandy Devar recognises Murugesan after his death is probably because of the sacrificial element that is implicit in his erasure. Murugesan is not necessarily remembered because he is killed as a ‘dysfunctional’ member of the family, but his death is a sacrifice which saved Kathir, his brother, the sole breadwinner of the family. That is, perhaps, more important than his erasure itself. Interestingly, Murugesan’s deviance is centred on his lack of control over his pleasures and instinct. He seems to give way to his instinctual drives right from his young age. For instance, as a young boy, he prefers to play bambaram12 along with his friends and then sell goat’s blood, which is his errand. He bunks school for a show at the cinema house; he gets down from the lorry, on the way to Madras, later Chennai, when he sees Thalaivar’s poster near a cinema theatre; and he decides to have consensual pre-marital sex with his lover during work hours at the theatre. In all these critical moments of the narrative, Murugesan loses control over his instinctual desires. Loss of control over pleasure in the ‘modern’ spaces – school and workplace (cinema theatre) – steers Murugesan’s conscripted

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character towards his death. The representation of Murugesan as the narrator of the story is a critique of the popular Tamil hero. However, Veera’s (Paruthiveeran) conscription is marked by his lawless attitude and excessive violence. His aspiration, in today’s world, serves as a critique of the ‘modern’ citizen-subject and the danger it implies. He wishes to be a rowdy in Madras city under the vigilant lens of the media against and within the ‘modern’ judiciary-legal code. The criminality and violence, that he is part of, challenge the police. It is not contained by it. In fact, Paruthiyur exemplifies decentralised despotism. The articulation of caste bigotry by the dominant members in Paruthiyur makes him a defying ‘dangerous individual’ who is justified to be killed. His uncle Kazhuvathevan (Ponvannan) despises him for being an offspring of an inter-caste marriage. The markers of a criminal, as well as an inter-caste orphan, make him excluded within the village. Veera is a doubly marked figure. He is represented as a conspicuous, inappropriate figure cast out by juridico-legal codes of the modern state as well as by the normative cultural codes of the village. For instance, under the surveillance of a battery of police, Veera enters the screen dramatically. Amidst drum beats, clad in white dhoti and shirt, with the ash mark on his forehead, he comes dancing to tunes completely engrossed until he is identified and stopped by the police. He is inspected thoroughly. His attire is soiled; his face and mane are smeared with colours. His façade is transformed, and he is ‘re-signified’. As if trying to play according to the re-signified image, he attempts murder at the village festival. Dirtied and knife-held, Veera performs his act violently in front of the village gathering. The villagers accuse the mere presence of his body of making the festive occasion in the village vulnerable to violence. Veera is ‘dysfunctionally’ dangerous. He is not a productive member of the family or the village community. He is depicted as a burden and a danger to the village community due to his violent and criminal acts. Veera’s state of being is perhaps linked to the mark he bears. His mother’s tribe had the stain of a denotified past, that of a criminal tribe’s mark. Veera ascribes the identity of a criminal who is a habitual offender according to the law. He is socially ousted by the dominant members of the village. The ‘Criminal Tribes Act’ (1871) was extended to the Madras Presidency in 1911. Later, it was repealed. The former ‘criminal tribes’ were de-notified, and the act was replaced as the ‘Habitual Offenders Act’ (1952) of the Government of India. The former ‘criminal tribes’ became habitual offenders in the eyes of the state. The movie significantly documents the scenarios and mindsets left behind by the act in rural Tamil Nadu. Veera’s body, other than being violent and lawless, is also significantly a marker of caste defiance. Defiance and deviance are overlapped in the representation of Veera as a dangerous, conscripted individual. Veera’s inter-caste status is portrayed as a significant troublemaker to the village collective. Being an orphan/ criminal/inter-caste, he is seen at the site of liminality. He is expunged from the caste society and juridico-legal code while being marked through it. As an outlaw, he is excluded from the protection of the law. As an inter-caste, he is located outside the caste structures.


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Azhagar and Parama (Subramaniapuram) are conscripted heroes too. They are seen as wastrels by their family members. Azhagar’s mother reprimands him for not working and earning like others. Parama is disliked by his brother’s family. They are mired by a passion towards violence, chivalry, and arrogance. As henchmen, they are used by politicians and criminals. In due course, they are betrayed and murdered. Azhagar and Parama in Subramaniapuram exemplify as dangerous rowdy sheeters. They are referents of the most hardened and desperate criminals whose record is kept in a police station. As an inappropriate figure in the Indian modern urban space, they represent the ‘reified, estranged figure of modernity’ (Dhareshwar and Srivatsan 1996, 201–31). They are also lumpen figures – the subhuman ‘other’ from whom the global middle class differentiates oneself.13 The movie portrays that they are present due to the criminalisation of politics. Defined by the law and society as dangerous individuals, they are marked by their ‘excessive’ bodies that do not discorporate. They are present in spaces that are always and already criminalised. They are a threat to the upper caste/middle-class, familial/social space. Hence, they are wiped out from the social-imaginary. Though Azhagar and Parama are all functionally able bodied, they perish to hatred, revenge, and betrayal in the gory drama, while Dumka – a differently abled orphan – limps to ‘functionality’ on screen. The village collective is not a homogeneous, bound entity. Fissures infest the village, even as violence is often masked and anonymous. For instance, the ‘profane’ henchmen of Subramaniapuram, in anonymity, direct their vengeance on the committee chairman on a celebratory night at the village fest for his ‘noble’ hypocrisy. And they pick up a bloody fight at the cinema theatre, which is immediately prone to group clashes. It is never a homogeneous fan collective. It is an excellent example to understand that though the village stands as a collective, the fissures and differences constitute it in the Third Wave – especially when dangerous and deviant heroes conscript Madurai.

Madurai in the Third Wave Madurai provides meaning as an ‘Other space’ (Foucault 1986), as these films contain the expressive bodies of subaltern/lower caste and rowdies as conscripts within yet outside. It is a spectacle space that signifies decentralised despotism, yet these films imply that the familial space ought to be barricaded from the dangerous/deviant individuals who spatially comprise caste and criminality. Hence, these films constitute an altogether ingenious spectatorial address that contests the First and Second Waves. Although these films destabilise dominant spectatorial address, the tragic ends attempt a shift towards the security of the familial space. Their erasures seem to recover the lost familial space back to the ‘modern’ Indian state. Though the films dislocate the domestic, familial space – for instance, the helpless, ‘lower’caste Murugan in Kadhal; a displaced, vulnerable Murugesan in Veyil; an orphan/ criminal/inter-caste Veera in Paruthiveeran; and the careless rowdy sheeters in Subramaniapuram – the deaths relocate the systemic (casteist) structure. They do

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not destabilise the caste order within the narrative space, though the films seem to have a realist caste critique in its narrative, as they actually express a melodramatic mode of address (Chakravarthy 2010, 12–21). The tragic ends of these films uphold the structure of casteist patriarchy indeed, and they preserve the absolute control and purity of the familial space in the social-imaginary that it represents. I extend this hypothesis to reflect that though these films portray caste and criminal spaces to destabilise them, they indirectly protect them. For instance, Veyil’s opening scenes depict the villain rearing pigs in a pen. This is in contrast to Sivanandy Devar’s – Murugesan’s father – vocational space. He is a butcher who sells goat meat. Though both spaces depict an occupational association, the cultural connotations they raise are caste–conflict binaries. Veyil contains villainy at a culturally ‘lower’-caste space. This recurs in Paruthiveeran as well. Kazhuvathevan supplies goat meat to hotels, wine shops, and festivals. His domestic space also converts into an occupational space. However, the Kurathi’s (the Kurava tribe grandmother of Veera) business is stamped by her outcaste/exterior status. Even the policemen mark the ascribed identity over her crime. Her domestic space is signified by the presence of a pig pen and gambling toddy drinkers. Profanity is contained in her space as a contrast to the Oor. Kazhuvathevan’s business network is depicted as an ‘upper’-caste network. This is similar to the business and governmental network of Aishwarya’s father in Kadhal. The actuality of Madurai space appears to be marked by caste identity in the Third Wave. Paruthiyur and Subramaniapuram as rustic spaces entail caste purity. In fact, the erasure of the ‘profane’ subjects, from the narrative, appears to entitle the sacredness of rustic space. For instance, Kurathi lives outside Paruthiyur, on the outskirts, where the illicit toddy business happens. Kadhal Murugan as an outcaste is ideally enclosed-off in his actual presence at the Cheri, where his house is coded with an ambedkarite blue. Thus, he is thrashed like a stray dog in the outskirts. Kurathi is also killed outside the Oor, and Veera’s parents are killed in an accident on the outskirts. Veera is beaten to death at the village periphery. Azhagar and Parama are murdered outside Subramaniapuram. The Third Wave apparently constructs the defying ‘profane’ subjects in outcaste spaces, outside the Oor and Puram of Madurai. In fact, they eliminate the dangerous subjects and construct the rustic space as a caste ‘pure’ space.14 Apparently, these films ‘implement Manu dharma treatment to the caste defying subjects in these spaces’ (Shrirasa 2010; Chandran 2010). For instance, the women protagonists actively desire the ‘lower’-caste men in these select films, while they intervene with casteist patriarchy. Yet, in their individual struggles, they fail to the dominant structures of the caste collective. The films represent them as failures of an individual woman’s aspiration against casteist patriarchy. The strong, expressive women portrayals intercede with patriarchy at moments only to be erased (Kadhal, Veyil, and Paruthiveeran) or made use of by others (Subramaniapuram). The films protect the caste purity by repudiating the mixture of blood between caste-defying individuals. The caste structures within the film narrative protect the women as sacred objects of caste purity as they repudiate the women subjects from marrying ‘other/outcaste’ men.


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Cinema participates in this discourse where the sociopolitical structures protect land and property through caste-marital alliance. The narrative and characterisation do not disturb or displace the dominant caste structures. In fact, they recover and uphold them. The films offer sympathies and individual rescuers as a response to this recovery. The camera acts as a cultural apparatus that profess the security of property through caste marriage alliances. For instance, Murugan and Aishwarya; Murugesan and Thangam; Veera and Muthazhagu; Azhagar and Tulasi: their love affairs are punished horrendously. Their tragic ends are bloody mutilations as they are linked to the articulation of caste norms as an actual culture in the Madurai genre.15

Conclusion Murugan, Murugesan, Veeran, Azhagar, and Parama are losers in that they are portrayed as deviant. They are a constant intrusion to the protection of the caste spaces. At the moment of their deaths, they are portrayed as unproductive members of the family and as dangerous individuals to the social-imaginary. In sum, it is explicitly caste that makes them ‘dysfunctional’ and felonious. Their deaths are indicators of terrible violence, and they, as individuals, are outside the protection of modern law. They are killed by individuals or collectives who are not particularly accountable to the law. For instance, all the protagonists are killed or attacked by men from the influential dominant collective. The murders of Veera, Murugesan, Azhagar and Parama, and Murugan are bloody mutilations. Murugesan is slashed by knives; Veera is beaten to death; Azhagar and Parama are betrayed and butchered to death. Their bodies and minds are fragmented. Though Murugan is trounced, his life is spared and he goes insane. They are defigured and erased from the secular-modern ‘Indian’ social-imaginary. However, the Third Wave heroes are not unlikely and situational heroes, who are deviant because of certain deficiencies, be they physical, psychological, or sociocultural. More likely, the Third Wave heroes’ deviance is defiance itself in that the spectator-subject is given to understand that they are not amenable to civilisation and citizenship. They are represented as vile conscripts or infestations whose unruly acts are well within the purview of the state while they themselves remain beyond its pale, unworthy of salvation. This spatial discourse, however, dangerously justifies the reproduction of caste through contemporary cinematic cultures and has indeed impressed upon a wave of films on Madurai in the early twenty-first century. ‘Madurai-formula films’ are also ‘deleterious consequences of a culture that emphasizes masculine caste pride and celebrates caste honor and violence’ (Damodaran and Gorringe 2017). In other words, they are left alone to protect themselves against the carnage. Though they embody excessive caste and crime, they remain as ‘no bodies’ when defined by caste norms and legal apparatus. They are excluded as well as included by the same norm. As heroic subjects, they pose a challenge to the narrative of the citizen-subject. The films provide the citizen-spectator a dangerous/deviant ‘other’ as an identification to disengage with. Through exclusion,

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they signify the reconfiguration of the Madurai hero as a conscripted heroic subject. Indeed, while the ‘new Madurai genre’ articulates caste as an ‘other’ of the Indian modern, it also protects, at the same time, the casteist norms in their recurring narratives. These films reproduce Madurai by reconstituting the conscripted hero in the caste and criminal spaces (Leonard 2015). The depiction of caste norms, as the actual culture of Madurai, in these films goes on to constitute the common sense of caste (Damodaran and Gorringe 2017). The ‘othering’, thus, is based on this overlap, so much so, murders, honour killings, political caste alliances, statements, and activities that are considered normalised and generalised seem to be produced through cinematic cultures. However, the spectre of caste in the twenty-first-century Tamil cinema is slowly but powerfully exorcised by the relentless efforts of directors such as Pa. Ranjith and Mari Selvaraj, who counter these waves to rescript the emergence of a ‘Casteless Collective’.

Plot summaries Kadhal (Love, 2004) is a tragic-romance about an inter-caste love affair that is set in Madurai city. The film captures the travails of runaway lovers and their ‘secured’ return homeward. The narrative constructs Madurai as an entity steeped in caste conflict and violence. The slang and cultural practices portrayed differentiate this film from other contemporary films. Kadhal also attempts to naturalise itself by proclaiming that it is no make-believe but a real story. This naturalisation is also more effective as a new cluster of actors, unfamiliar and unknown, add ‘authenticity’ to their roles – reportedly, some of them were just picked off the street. Veyil (Torrid Sun, 2006) is a tragic-romance set in a village near Madurai. The protagonist and narrator Murugesan highlights the historic changes that have undergone over a period of time in the place he lives in. Unlike other popular films, this one distinctively presents the narrative of a wretched, prodigal son’s life through a confessional mode. The film presents Madurai as a bloody locale of violent business deals. The police and systems of justice are shockingly absent from the whole narrative. The experiments in the narrative mode, such as childhood memories as flashbacks and ‘unusual’ characterisation, mark this film as different from others. The film depicts cinema theatre as a spectacle space. Paruthiveeran (Cotton Champ, 2007) is a tragic-romance set in Paruthiyur, a village near Madurai. The film portrays the love affair between the daughter of the village chief – a dominant caste patriarch – and her cousin, a seasoned rowdy who is of mixed birth. The village is represented as a space of caste/clan violence, bigotry, and brash slipshod indolence. The folk performances within the film are famously rendered in a ‘documentary’ mode, further signifying the rustic difference from an urban lifestyle. Combined with the flashback narrative mode, it is an excellent example of ‘ethnographic realism’. Subramaniapuram (2008) is a racy thriller that recounts the tragic encounters of three young rowdy sheeters. The film depicts the Madurai town of the 1980s and


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the party politics that individuals and families are caught up in. Subramaniapuram portrays the lives of five henchmen who are used by their powerful acquaintances and friends. The new shades in characterisation of these henchmen clearly distinguish them from the type-heroes earlier popular Tamil films created. Cine-fan culture and village fest recur as spectacle spaces. The narration is predominantly through the flashback mode.

Notes 1 Films such as Ghilli (Risk Taker, 2004), Red (2004), Virumaandi (2004), Kadhal (2004), Veyil (2006), Sandaikkozhi (Battle Rooster, 2006), Paruthiveeran (2007), Subramaniapuram (2008), Vennila Kabbadi Kuzhu (White Moon Kabaddi Team, 2009), Goripalayam (2009), and Aadukalam (Playground, 2011). 2 Incidentally, Kadhal and Veyil were produced by the famous director S. Shankar. Balaji Sakthivel and Vasantha Balan worked as assistants in his earlier films. These films were Shankar’s premier productions. Paruthiveeran’s producer K.E. Gnavelraja is related to actor Karthi’s family (Karthi is brother to better-known actor Surya and son to veteran actor Sivakumar). The movie was dropped many times before it was completed, with the aid of its director Ameer Sultan. Subramaniapuram was produced by its director Sasi Kumar. All four films were not produced by big, established production houses but by individuals relatively new to the industry. The economic and production aspect of the ‘New Wave’ trend is an interesting phenomenon to study. Apparently, this is similar to the crisis in the mid-1970s where it manifested at the economic aspect of film production as well. Kaali states that film-making activity went down considerably as the leading production companies experienced considerable setbacks and opted either to close down business or cease active work temporarily. It is also noted that when MGR announced his return to film in the late 1980s, the whole situation had changed so drastically that he had to review his decision and give up his acting profession completely (2000, 169). 3 The films of the likes of Apu Trilogy (Bengali) by Satyajit Ray, Meghe Dhaka Tara (Bengali) by Ghatak, and Do Bigha Zameen (Hindi) by Bimal Roy were the ones which created a wave of new cinema. 4 Devasundaram interestingly distinguishes the new cinemas as indies (2018, 1). Such an argument however cannot hold contiguous because post-1990s, perhaps, ‘Bollywoodization of Indian cinema’ (Rajadhyaksha 2008) has affected all the major film industries. Thus, one may argue that instead of a structural departure from earlier modes of film-making, what we also witness are waves of movement across the time period, and there are multiple responses even within the same industry. 5 Though the phrase ‘Third Wave’ tempts one to reflect on the alternative ‘third front’ in Indian politics, unfortunately I do not use this particular phrase with such a connotation. 6 This refers to the period where the rise of caste and religious movements shifted attention to identity politics as well as to the economic reforms of 1991 that sparked off major debate over the future of state-led development, liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation (Hardgrave and Kochanek 2008, 197). 7 For a detailed account of the three waves, see my article that uses the concept heterotopias to analyse the recurrence of spectacle spaces in the construction of Madurai genre and the production of caste in contemporary films (Leonard 2015). 8 Similar films were also made in the other South Indian cinemas. An example is Bharathan in Malayalam, whose films were acclaimed for their ‘realistic’ portrayal of rural life in Kerala and were termed as ‘middle of the road cinema’, which took a middle path between art house and commercial cinema. Some of his early films include Rathi Nirvedam (1978), Thakara (1979), Lorry (1980), Chaamaram (1980), Parankimala (1981), Marmaram (1982), and Ormakkayi (1982).

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9 Rajan Krishnan analyses the formation and death of the hero-types in Tamil cinema in a Tamil article. He gives the example of the cinematic image of MGR, which is distinguished as an ‘adventurous type-hero’ from the character hero/actor type, often portrayed by Sivaji Ganesan. Post-1970s, Rajini Kanth signified the ‘angry young man’ action hero image which was an extension of the ‘adventurous type-hero.’ Krishnan concurs that MGR was the most effective representative of the ‘adventurous type-hero’ from 1948 to 1977, and Rajini Kanth as the ‘action type-hero’ dominated the screen from 1984 to 2004 (Krishnan 2010A, 7-11). 10 For instance, Pandian discusses the folk ballads of Muthupattan, Chinnanadan, Chinnathambi, Jambulingam, and Madurai Veeran, to name but a few, who were essentially low-caste men, to argue MGR films have appropriated the ballads and reconstituted to construct the hero-ideal (Pandian 1989, 62-68). 11 See the academic debates for a whole year in 1994 on Mani Ratnam’s Roja by Tejaswini Niranjana, Venkatesh Chakravarthy, and MSS Pandian, S.V. Srinivas, and Rustum Bharucha in Economic & Political Weekly. The movie received wide commercial and critical acclaim in 1992 immediately after the Babri Masjid demolition as it grabbed attention of the wider Indian audience. The movie deals with contemporary issues of separatism in Kashmir and wider notions of Indian nationalism. The academics critiqued the constructions the film posed to the questions: who is an Indian? What defines him/her? And what is the ‘state’ of the Indian nation? 12 Bambaram is a game played by spinning tops in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. It is also known as Lattu in Urdu. The game is more common amongst the boys. 13 The term lumpen refers to the category lumpenproletariat which is used in Marxian social theory. It situates the figure outside any social semiosis of class. A lumpen is precisely one whose relationship to money is unmediated by any value, any bonds of class solidarity, or ties of community (Stallybrass 1990, 65-94). 14 Valentine Daniel refers to Oor as the sacred geographical space marked by the temples of a village. The term Oor is defined in a person-centred manner: a place is named and referred to according to the people who populate it. Oor is where higher castes live, and therefore it is considered pure and respectable in contrast to a ‘colony’ or cheri (1987, 63-94). 15 Widespread criticism on these films appears in Tamil little magazines. For instance, Chandran comes down heavily on these films for being casteist. He equates these films to those of Mani Ratnam, Sankar, Kamal Haasan, and Selvaraghavan for its ideological currency (2010). Shrirasa analyses that how in recent filmic representations, Madurai comes to stand to signify Devar caste culture as the normative culture of Tamil Nadu. Apparently, he also observes that many producers and directors belong to the Devar community in the Tamil film industry, which is based in Chennai (2010).

References Anand, S. 2005. ‘Politics, Tamil Cinema Eshtyle.’ Outlook India, 30 May. Ansari, M.T., ed. 2001. Secularism, Islam and Modernity: Selected Essays of Alam Khudmuri. New Delhi: Sage. Asad, Talal. 1992. ‘Conscripts of Western Civilization?’ In: C. Gailey Griner (ed.), Dialectical Anthropology: Essays in Honour of Stanley Diamond. Vol. 1. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida. Baskaran, S. Theodore. 2009. History Through the Lens: Perspectives on South Indian Cinema. Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan. Chakravarthy, Venkatesh, and M.S.S. Pandian. 1994. ‘More on “Roja”.’ Economic and Political Weekly 29(11): 642–644.


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Chakravarthy, Venkatesh. 2010. ‘David Leanin Ryan’s Daughterum (1970) Manvaasanai Cinimavin Vaniga Vadivamum.’ [David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter (1970) and the Economic Structure of Nativity Cinema] Kaatchi Pizhai 1: 12–21. Chandran, Tha. 2010. ‘Kaadhalum Kadhal Sarndha Nilamum.’ [Love and Land in Kadhal]. Thirai Vimarsanam, November 10. http://www.keetru.com/index.php/2018-01-12 -06-00-39/2014-03-08-04-36-23/2014-03-14-11-17-58/10900-2010-09-05-08-15-20 (Accessed 1 March 2020). Damodaran, Karthikeyan, and Hugo Gorringe. 2017. ‘Madurai Formula Films: Caste Pride and Politics in Tamil Cinema.’ South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, June 22. https://journals.openedition.org/samaj/4359#quotation (Accessed 24 August 2019). Devasundaram, Ashwin Immanuel, ed. 2018. Indian Cinema Beyond Bollywood: The New Independent Cinema Revolution. New York: Routledge. Devadas, Vijay, and Selvaraj Velayutham. 2008. ‘Encounters with “India”: (Ethno)Nationalism in Tamil Cinema.’ In: Selvaraj Velayutham (ed.), Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry. London & New York: Routledge. Dhareshwar, Vivek. 1993. ‘Caste and the Secular Self.’ Journal of Arts and Ideas 25(26): 119–126. Dhareshwar, Vivek, and R. Srivatsan. 1996. ‘“Rowdy-Sheeters”: An Essay on Subalternity and Politics.’ In: Shahid Amin and Dipesh Chakrabarty (eds.), Subaltern Studies IX. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Diamond, Stanley. 1974. In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books. ‘Exclusive: Bala on Naan Kadavul, God and Faith.’ 2009. http://specials.rediff.com/mov ies/2009/mar/10slde1-bala-on-naan-kadavul-god-and-faith.html. (Accessed 7 January 2019). Foucault, Michel, and Jay MisKowiec. 1986. ‘Of Other Spaces.’ Diacritics 16(1): 22–27. Hardgrave, Robert L., and Stanley A. Kochanek, eds. 2008. India: Government and Politics in a Developing Nation. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth. Hariharan, K. 2011. ‘Getting on the Virtual Bridge.’ The Hindu (Sunday Magazine): 2. Kaali, Sundar. 2000. ‘Narrating Seduction: Vicissitudes of the Sexed Subject in Tamil Nativity Film.’ In: Ravi Vasudevan (ed.), Making Meaning in Indian Cinema. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 168–190. Kadhal. 2004. Dir. Balaji Sakthivel. S Pictures. Krishnan, Rajan. 2008. ‘Imaginary Geographies: The Makings of ‘South’ in Contemporary Tamil Cinema.’ In: Selvaraj Velayutham (ed.), Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry. Oxon: Routledge. Krishnan, Rajan. 2010. ‘Kathanayaganin Maranam [Death of the Hero].’ Katchipizhai 1: 7–11. Leonard, Dickens. 2015. ‘Spectacle Spaces: Production of Caste in Recent Tamil Films.’ South Asian Popular Culture 13(2): 155–173. Maderya, Kumuthan. 2010. ‘Rage against the State: Historicizing the “Angry Young Man” in Tamil Cinema.’ Jump Cut 52: 1–6. Niranjana,Tejaswini. 1994a. ‘Whose Nation? Tourists and Terrorists in “Roja”.’ Economic and Political Weekly 24(3): 79–82. Niranjana, Tejaswini. 1994b. ‘Roja Revisited.’ Economic and Political Weekly 29(21): 1299. Pandian, M.S.S. 1989. ‘Culture and Subaltern Consciousness: An Aspect of MGR Phenomenon.’ Economic and Political Weekly 24(30): 62–68.

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Pandian, M.S.S. 1992. The Image Trap: M.G. Ramachandran in Film and Politics. New Delhi: Sage. Pandian, M.S.S. 2005. ‘Parasakthi: Life and Times of a DMK Film.’ In: Ravi Vasudevan (ed.), Making Meaning in Indian Cinema. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Pandian, M.S.S., and Rajan Krishnan. 2006. ‘The Brahmin and the Citizen: Shankar’s Anniyan.’ Economic and Political Weekly 30(30): 3055–3060. Paruthiveeran. 2007. Dir. Ameer Sultan. Studio Green. Prasad, M. Madhava. 2004. ‘Reigning Stars: The Political Career of South Indian Cinema.’ In: Lucy Fischer and Marcia Landy (eds.), Stars: The Film Reader. London: Routledge. Rajadhyaksha, Ashish. 2008. ‘The “Bollywoodization” of Indian Cinema: Cultural Nationalism in a Global Arena.’ In: Aswin Punathambekar and Anadam P. Kavoori (eds.), Global Bollywood. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Rajadhyaksha, Ashish. 2009. Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid: From Bollywood to the Emergency. New Delhi: Tulika. Scott, David. 2004. Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Engagement. Durham: Duke University Press. Sebastian, Pradeep. 2008. ‘Beyond Old Kollywood.’. The Hindu, January 13. Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-sundaymagazine/beyond-old-ko llywood/article1436927.ece (Accessed 23 February 2019). Shrirasa. 2010. ‘Maduraiyai Mayyamitta Thiraipadangal’ [Movies based on Madurai]. Thirai Seidhigal, October 28. Available at: http://www.keetru.com/index.php/2018-0112-06-00-39/2014-03-08-04-36-23/2014-03-14-11-17-57/11160-2010-10-27-21-27-14 (Accessed 1 March 2019). Subramaniapuram. 2008. Dir. Sasikumar. Company Productions. Stallybrass, Peter. 1990. ‘Marx and Heterogeneity: Thinking the Lumpenproletariat.’ Representations 31: 65–94. Vasudevan, Ravi, ed. 2000. Making Meaning in Indian Cinema. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Veyil. 2006. Dir. Vasanthabalan. S Pictures.


Being Dalit, being Tamil The politics of Kabali and Kaala Karthick Ram Manoharan

The success of Rajinikanth starrers Kabali (2016) and Kaala (Black, 2018) was expected. There were considerable hype and corresponding expectations prior to the release of these films. Apart from the usual excitement that a Rajini movie generates in the Tamil public, Kabali and Kaala were anticipated by intellectual circles owing to their critically acclaimed director, P. Ranjith of Madras (2014) fame. This anticipation was based on an understanding that these films would be pro-Dalit movies. But contrary to such readings, Ranjith’s products have gained a universalist focus, that of an alternative progressive Tamil nationalism and a radical politics of social justice. In this chapter, I discuss how Ranjith negotiates and reimagines the identities of ‘Dalit’ and ‘Tamil’, through a paradigm of social justice that engages with Tamil nationalism, Dravidianism, and anti-caste thought. I begin with a very brief overview of how lower castes and lower-caste struggles have been depicted in Tamil cinema and how, of late, some forms of Tamil nationalist tensions are being expressed in both politics and cinema. I read Kaala and Kabali in this light. To provide a political background to this reading, I discuss why the image of Periyar is curiously absent in Kabali. I also argue that Kabali and Kaala reflect a historico-political context where limitations of Dravidian politics are being addressed by emerging actors in the political theatre of Tamil Nadu and conclude that these films express a desire for a new Tamil becoming. Heroes fighting for lower castes against caste oppression have figured much in Tamil cinema, but heroes fighting as lower castes against caste oppression have figured less. One of the earliest films to show this was D. Yoganand’s Madurai Veeran (1956), based on the eponymous Arunthathiyar folk deity in South Tamil Nadu. Starring MG Ramachandran (MGR), this was one of the most successful films of the cine-politician’s career. However, while the lower-caste hero is a just and noble character who is unjustly persecuted for his liaisons with women of nobility, he does not challenge caste as a system. As Pandian observes about such ballad-like MGR films, the subaltern protagonist in the film, that is, MGR, establishes what is considered to be just within the system, and thus reaffirms and vindicates it instead

Being Dalit, being Tamil 53 of developing a critique of it. It is, thus, a world of transformed exploiters with untransformed property and power relations. (2015, 60) In fact, despite 50 years of Dravidian rule that swore by progressive anti-caste values, very rarely have the heroes of Tamil cinema shown to be eliminating casteist bigots, while criminals, corrupt politicians, vile businessmen, and ‘anti-nationals’ are routinely bumped off. One does wonder how much hegemony the Dravidian ideology had over the Tamil culture industry. It is only much later, in bandit films like Iraniyan (1999) and Kovilpatti Veeralakshmi (2003), both of which failed at the box office, that protagonists are implied to be from the Dalit castes, and the casteist villains are shown as being killed. Interestingly, these films were released at a time when the Dalit movements in Tamil Nadu were quite militant. While the main Dravidian parties were largely focused on politically outmanoeuvring each other through populist measures, Dalit parties like the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (Liberation Panther Party) (VCK) brought back the general question of caste oppression and more specifically the plight of Dalit castes into public debate. Thirumavalavan, the charismatic leader of the VCK, captured the imagination of Dalit youth through his powerful speeches as well as catchy slogans like adanga maru (refuse to be tamed), athu meeru (break the barriers), and thiruppi adi (strike back). However, this militancy soon faded out and the Dalit parties had to ally with the Dravidian parties to remain politically relevant – though one can legitimately argue that without political participation, they could not bring their demands to mainstream attention. In parallel, violence against Dalits by fringe casteist outfits like the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) became more frequent after 2000. This was reflected in films like Kaadhal (Love, 2004) and Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu (Vennila Kabadi Team, 2009), where collective political resistance is underplayed and Dalits are shown as individual victims of casteism. Another key shift in culture and politics happened in 2009. In the aftermath of the 2009 massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka, Tamil nationalists in Tamil Nadu began taking a more aggressive posture, often questioning, even denying, the progressive aspects of the Dravidian movement. As Pillai notes, the emptiness of the rhetoric of Tamil nationalism of the Dravidian Progressive Front became too obvious when it sat quietly in coalition with the Congress party, sharing power at the centre, apart from ruling over the state when thousands of Tamil civilians died under the most tragic of circumstances in recent history. (2015, 259) He further notes that the silence of the DMK over the genocide of the Eelam Tamils marks ‘the complete erosion of the Dravidian ideals with its underpinnings of linguistic and cultural unity’ (2015, 260), and he goes on to discuss certain ‘dystopic’


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Tamil films that emerged in the past few years, which he suggests were quite different from the films of the initial Dravidian cinematic utopia (2015, 272–88). The post-2009 articulations of Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu, as I shall discuss further in the chapter, did not pay adequate attention to questions of social justice, which was the central plank of the Dravidian movement. For Thirumavalavan, however, ‘Tamil nationalism free of caste has always been a core principle’ (Gorringe 2017, 293). Not only does Thirumavalavan have high regard for Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE, but he has also played no small role in popularising the militant Eelam Tamil leader in the public sphere in Tamil Nadu. Much to the chagrin of Indian nationalists and despite criticism from their allies, the VCK under Thirumavalavan has unabashedly held Prabhakaran as their inspiration. This also is an explanation for Thirumavalavan not being content with the VCK being a Dalit party alone and aspiring instead for a broader Tamil nationalist base. While their success in this endeavour has been limited, this prominent Dalit party has consistently tried to reimagine a different form of Tamil nationalism. It is here that a critical reading of Ranjith’s Kabali and Kaala is important as these films address the tensions between the Dalit and Tamil identity and try to arrive at a progressive synthesis, towards a Tamil assertion that is simultaneously anti-caste and rooted in ideas of social justice. Ranjith notices an unresolved tension within the Dravidian project, and he unhesitatingly states his political criticisms about the same: The Periyar movement in Tamil Nadu was about Brahmins and non-Brahmins. But once the middle castes captured power, they too aligned with the Brahmins. They did not fight the system further because then they began enjoying power. Instead of destroying Brahminical ideas, they began following them because that’s what gave them power. And everyone is happy to have free labour. Think of the irony: a movement which began as Brahmin and non-Brahmin has now become about Dalit and non-Dalit. (Ranjith 2018) One could say that Kabali and Kaala were attempts to propose an alternative to the Dravidian project, the envisioning of a new utopia. Cinema played an important role in the Dravidian movement, along with theatre and poetry. For me, too, cinema is political. I will not accept that a film is just something you watch and leave. It is a mass medium that connects with every lay person. Cinema is how parties are born, how leaders are created, how a movement is fanned. It can be used by people to claim their freedom. And I use it against the Brahminical system. (Ranjith 2018) This chapter seeks to interrogate the politics behind Kabali and Kaala. Contrary to popular readings of both as ‘Dalit cinema’, I contend that there is a strong Tamil

Being Dalit, being Tamil 55 nationalist subtext in both films, a desire for becoming a community. Though Ranjith does romanticise the ‘benevolent gangster’ image in both the films, the lower-caste gangster is a metaphoric portrayal of those outside the system wanting to transform the system. Both films do not celebrate a narrow identity politics of Dalit separatism or Tamil chauvinism but try to make a move from the Dalit location to the Tamil location, refashioning both. I begin with a discussion of Kabali and the nature of Tamil nationalist politics contained in the film. I then proceed on to Kaala and its politics of social justice. I argue that while Kabali was more about identity assertion, Kaala was more about identity as an expansive category of resistance. The former was a rebuttal to the supremacy claims of the intermediate castes of Tamil Nadu, and the latter was a challenge to Hindu nationalist politics.

Kabali’s story1 Ranjith’s first movie Attakathi (Cardboard Knife, 2012) was a light-hearted romantic comedy located in a Chennai suburb. Madras (2014), which won the director much fame, was based in the predominantly urban working-class area of North Chennai. In contrast to his first movie, Madras had strong political overtones and dealt with the social and political ambitions of subaltern classes. In interviews, Ranjith has claimed that the movie is about Dalits in an urban scenario. However, as far as Kabali is concerned, he has denied that it is a Dalit movie, arguing that when films like Chinna Gounder and Thevar Magan are not branded as Gounder or Thevar films, neither should Kabali (News18 Tamil Nadu 2016). We can see that he is attempting, despite social limitations, to speak the language of a broader identity rather than just asserting marginality. Kabali is about the struggles of the Malaysian Tamils against repression by the Malaysian state, the racism they face from the relatively well-off Chinese, and also the internal divisions of caste. The stress throughout the film is on Tamil unity. The Tamil nationalist subtext is too obvious to miss. Kabali is the story of a Malaysian Tamil gangster who fights for the rights of the Tamils in that country. Being originally part of an anti-establishment labour movement led by a charismatic Tamil leader, Tamilnesan, Kabali takes over the leadership of that movement after the leader is assassinated by other Tamils working for a Chinese mobster. Later, in the course of a gang war, Tamilnesan’s son betrays Kabali and gets killed by him. A series of violent events separate Kabali from his family, and he is reunited with them later in the movie through another series of violent events. Though little is revealed about the Kabali gang’s criminal activities, they are shown to be running several social services for the Malaysian Tamils, which include education, health care, rehabilitation for drug addicts, and so on. Kabali also attacks other gangs who are involved in drug smuggling and the flesh trade. The Manichean division between the moral and immoral gangsters is evident. And on the side of the immoral gangster, a Chinese don, are Tamil collaborators who abuse Kabali for his ‘low’ origins. In the end, Kabali triumphs over them all,

56 Karthick Ram Manoharan only to be assassinated by another Tamil from his own side who turned over to the Malaysian state.

Detour: the absent Periyar in Kabali There are images of several leaders shown in a few scenes in the movie to establish Kabali’s anti-establishment tenor: Ambedkar, Che Guevara, Malcolm X, and Mandela. However, one crucial leader who is curiously absent is Periyar. Incidentally, Periyar has toured Malaysia and has conducted anti-caste meetings there. He visited the country on invitation from the Tamil Reform Committee in late 1929 and was reported to have been welcomed by tens of thousands of Tamil at Penang (Chidambaranar 2016, 156). His visit is said to have been instrumental in the formation of the Adi Dravidar Sangam and the Tamil Self-Respect Association. One observation on the omission of Periyar is that his inclusion may have potentially ruffled Rajinikanth, who is reputed for being a devout Hindu and has also been known to express sympathy for the Hindu Right in the past. However, Ranjith’s omission also needs to be seen in the wake of contemporary Tamil nationalist discourse in Tamil Nadu. A debate which is being played out in the most unfortunate manner among activist circles in Tamil Nadu is the question of Tamil nationalism against Periyarism as if there is an inherent irreconcilable antagonism between the two. The theoretical godfather of a dominant trend of Tamil nationalism is one ‘Arinyar’ Guna, incidentally an intellectual from the Dalit-Paraiyar caste, who, among other things, has opined that the Arunthathiyars – the lowest Dalit caste in Tamil Nadu – were ‘illegal entrants’ as they were not ‘pure Tamils’. The followers of his theory believe in a ‘pure Tamil’ ethnic entity: that there are certain castes which are Tamil and certain other castes which are non-Tamil. This variant of Tamil nationalism is fuelled by ethno-chauvinism, xenophobia, ressentiment towards whoever are identified as ‘impure Tamils’, hyper-masculinity, and implicit casteism (or explicit, with the likes of the Vanniyardominated PMK). The accusation of these Tamil nationalists is that Periyarism and Dravidian politics are politically bankrupt. It is of concern that many of these Tamil nationalist groups are trying to appropriate the political symbols of the LTTE while being totally ignorant of the radical emancipatory politics of the Tigers. While they are indeed opposed to the Sri Lankan state, their position on caste, gender, and class leaves much to be desired. In their unmasked hostility to the Dravidian legacy, they share a common stage with the Brahminical Hindu nationalists, although they differ in the content of their articulation. As the academic Sriramachandran notes in defence of Dravidian politics: While a non-Brahmin identity located the ‘evil’ in the conceptual scheme of Brahminism, only seeking to curtail the identity based rights and power holding of Brahmins, the politics of privileging an autochthonous Tamil identity

Being Dalit, being Tamil 57 seeks to locate the evil in all contaminating emigrants who cannot claim origin in Tamil land. (2018, 52) The social composition of the Tamil nationalist groups by and large consists of lower-middle-class intermediate castes and some representation of Dalit castes. These are aggregates of individuals who feel left out by the mainstream Dravidian parties, who have a naïve consciousness of Tamil pride as a resistance to oppression but are not theoretically acute enough to form a radical alternative to the mainstream political parties. Given that all the Left parties in the state, parliamentary and likewise, have consistently failed to address the class and the caste question in a manner that takes into account the specificity of Tamil Nadu, those who seek an alternative to the mainstream political parties find it in the rhetoric of the Tamil nationalist speakers. While contemporary Tamil nationalist leaders like Seeman of the Naam Tamizhar Katchi (NTK) have attracted big crowds at events, the 2016 Tamil Nadu state elections show that they have failed to win in a single constituency. They also did not win any seats in the 2019 general elections, though their vote share has increased marginally. Also subscribing to some vague Tamil nationalistic ideas are casteist parties like the Pattali Makkal Katchi, which cater only to a singlemost backward caste group, and a few Dalit groups which once had some promise but have turned sectarian and are considerably watered down now. These castebased groups have no greater significance beyond their limited constituencies. Tamil nationalist outfits like the NTK capture considerable attention with flashy events and demonstrations. A spectacle is created but without a grounded theoretical content. There are little or no discussions on ideology or on geopolitics – a crucial question, considering the strategic location of the Tamil population. What instead is often articulated is Tamil pride and offences against it, the glory of Tamil pasts, and vague promises of a utopian Tamil society. This Tamil nationalism appears as an alternative to the mainstream, but in effect does little to dent the dominant ideology. Often, it ends up degenerating into a particularist caste politics. A real radical politics, Slavoj Zizek argues, is determined not by what it is fighting against but by what it is fighting for. What is needed, he says, is the ‘absent Third, a strong radical-emancipatory opposition’ (2014, 121). But the function of an effective ruling ideology lies precisely in the suppression of the radical core that has the potential to generate such an opposition. The conscious or unconscious omission of Periyar in a cultural product that seeks to address the problems of all Tamils prevents the product from achieving its full potential. Kabali’s Tamil nationalism does appear a step in the right direction. But its radicalism can be strengthened by the inclusion of the informed insights of Periyar. Modern Tamil nationalist thought in Tamil Nadu has contributed little to anticaste thinking. On the other hand, Periyar developed a strong critique of caste and displayed a nuanced understanding of the Dalit question. As I argue elsewhere,


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apart from supporting proportional representation and economic and political empowerment of the Dalit castes, he also endorsed religious and secular forms of Dalit militancy (Manoharan 2020). Without anchoring itself in an egalitarian anti-caste ideology like Periyarism, Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu could end up being a legitimation of the dominant castes, fractured by inter- and intra-caste divisions. This criticism apart, it is of much political interest to consider how the Tamil nationalist subtext has been handled by Ranjith in his Kabali.

Reading Kabali Films that have an exclusive focus on Tamils living outside India are a rare find in Kollywood. While there have been Tamil nationalistic films, rarely have they addressed political concerns of Tamils outside India, or even outside Tamil Nadu for that matter. As Velayutham rightly observes, ‘the population of the state of Tamil Nadu remains the single largest market for Tamil films. For these audiences, films depicting diasporic Tamils appear to be less attractive. For them, Tamil cinema is about Tamils for Tamils in India’ (2008, 178). In this, Ranjith has to be lauded for making a film where the plot is centred in Malaysia and Tamil Nadu figures only momentarily (albeit significantly, for it is in Tamil Nadu that the reunification of the Kabali family occurs). The Malaysian Tamil community, however, is not shown as a unified lot. Kabali makes frequent references to how divisions among the Tamils are their weakness. Kabali emerges as the Leader with a capital ‘L’ who tries to bring about unity among all Tamils, irrespective of their particularist caste differences, despite the hurdles posed by the Other. It is important to note here that the Tamil lower castes in Malaysia are descendants of indentured labourers who were brought there by British colonialists to work in rubber estates. They were socially and economically below the kankanis (accountants), who were usually from the Tamil middle castes, and the Chinese immigrant population. In postcolonial Malaysia, more than caste, it is multiracial politics that Tamils face as a challenge. Kabali is however using casteism among Tamils in Malaysia to make a comment on casteism in Tamil Nadu, especially by dominant castes against the Dalits. Kabali’s self-definition here is important. He says he is a Tamil, from a subaltern background, and laments that Tamils carry the baggage of caste wherever they go. Only the Other – be it the rival Chinese don or his supposedly upper-caste Tamil stooges – abuse him for being of a lower social rank. In one poignant scene, the gangster Veerasekaran (Kishore) confronts Kabali and asks him if he is from an ‘aandai parambarai’ (a community that has ruled). Kabali kills him and tells him that he is not from a community that has ruled but that he will rule, nevertheless. This is an obvious reference to the rhetoric of Vanniyar casteist groups who fashioned themselves as an ‘aandai parambarai’, to compensate for their historically low social and economic status, and often unleashed violence on the Dalits as an assertion of their superiority. By killing Veerasekaran, Kabali is symbolically demolishing this notion.

Being Dalit, being Tamil 59 It is only in the gaze of the Other that Kabali is shown to be inferior. He identifies his own Self primarily as a Tamil, fighting for the rights of all Tamils, a believer in strength through unity. The Other sees a lower caste in Kabali; Kabali sees a Tamil in his Self. Here you have the classic Fanonist position – the racist Other (in this case, the casteist) seeks to lock the oppressed in a particularist, inferiorised identity, but the oppressed seeks his emancipation through a genuine universalism that unsettles all identities. Partha Chatterjee writes that caste politics has not found a ground ‘on which it can be superseded by a new universal form of community’ (1994, 208). Kabali is precisely a struggle to find that community in a Tamil nationalism that would sublate particularist caste identities in a universal Tamil body-politic. Universalism is most offensive and, indeed, most radical when it is proposed by subalterns who wish to break particularist identities of their own selves and also of their erstwhile superiors.

Karikaalan, aka Kaala It would seem a contradiction for a Tamil polity built on anti-Brahminism how seldom a Brahmin has been shown as a villain in its film industry. On the other hand, popular Tamil cinema has mostly seen the figure of the honest Brahmin being harassed by unscrupulous non-Brahmin villains – Shankar’s Gentleman (1993) and Anniyan (Stranger, 2005) are two prominent examples. It was only in P. Ranjith’s Kaala (2018), released a year after the centenary celebrations of nonBrahmin politics that one could see a (Hindu fundamentalist Chitpavan) Brahmin shown as a villain who murders those who oppose him and is eventually killed by the people he oppresses. Karikaalan, also known as Kaala, is a don based in the Dharavi slums of Mumbai and commands much respect and adoration among the people of Dharavi. The name has a symbolism of its own. ‘Kaala’ means black, time, and the god of death. Black is also the colour associated with Periyar’s Self-Respect movement. Karikaalan was the name of an ancient Chola king who is said to have laid the foundations of the Chola empire – incidentally, this Chola king was also called Thirumavalavan, the namesake of the VCK leader. Besides, ‘Karikaalan’ was the nom de plume for the DMK leader Karunanidhi and the nom de guerre for the LTTE leader Prabhakaran. The former is seen by Dravidianists as a fighter for social justice, while the latter is an icon for Tamil nationalists and Dalit militants. Kaala’s home bears pictures of Dalit leaders like Ambedkar and Rettamalai Srinivasan and also Lenin, after whom his youngest son is named. And the streets of Dharavi are adorned with icons of anti-caste leaders. It is also significant that the film is set outside of Tamil Nadu in Mumbai where Tamils are a minority, who were once harassed by Marathi-Hindu nationalists. Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan (Hero, 1987) was also based on a Robin Hood–style Tamil gangster, inspired by the real-life story of the don Varadarajan Mudaliar. It was set in the slums of Mumbai and addressed the discrimination against the Tamils in that city. However, one critic notes that while Nayakan celebrates individual heroism and hides caste by focusing solely on poverty, Kaala eschews individual glorification, ‘re-instates


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the importance of seeing caste in a caste society’, and places the oppressed castes as the agents of change (Rajamani 2018). Kaala is the story of the resistance of Dharavi’s slum dwellers to their eviction, and the role that Kaala plays in it. Where Kabali was centred on the hero, the people are the heroes in Kaala, and Kaala functions in the role of an organiser. The film begins with people protesting against a plan to evict them and construct high-rise buildings in their locality. When the goons of the antagonist, Haridev Abhyankar (Nana Patekar), try to chase them away, Kaala and his men arrive and beat them back. In a flashback, it is revealed that Haridev Abhyankar or Haridada was responsible for the murder of Kaala’s father. Haridada is shown to be a strongman in a Hindu nationalist party who is keen on development and public cleanliness, an obvious dig at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ‘Sab ka Vikas’ (development for all) and ‘Swachh Bharat’ (Clean India) campaign. But his real agenda is to bring Dharavi, which has long resisted him, under his control and ‘cleanse’ it by removing the slum settlements. Haridada tries to coerce the people of Dharavi through the Kautilyan tactics of sama, dana, bheda, and danda – conciliation, bribery, sowing dissension, and force. Yet Kaala manages to outsmart him. When repression intensifies, Kaala and the Dharavi people take to a mass movement to highlight their struggle. After engineering a riot with the assistance of the police and his goons to scuttle this movement, Haridada’s assassins kill Kaala. When Haridada enters Dharavi to lay the foundations for his project, he is surrounded by people dressed in black, wearing masks of Kaala, and he is lynched while black, blue, and red colours fly about – the colours associated with Periyarism, Ambedkarism, and Marxism. As the credits roll, the protests are seen to be spreading to slums in other cities.

Kaala in and beyond the Dravidian framework In the Dravidian tradition, Kaala brings out a subversive reading of Ramayana. A different reading of the Ramayana was attempted before by Mani Ratnam in Raavanan (2010), which revolves around the conflict between a tribal-bandit leader and the state police machinery. The bandit Veeraiya (Vikram/Ravana) kidnaps Ragini (Aishwarya Rai/Sita), the wife of a brutal and inflexible police officer Devprakash (Prithviraj/Rama), and how she is retrieved forms the rest of the story. However, political questions are pushed aside to highlight only the mutual sexual tension between Veeraiya and Ragini. Nevertheless, Ragini’s ‘purity’ is intact throughout and Veeraiya is killed in the end. Kaala reads Ramayana in a contextual and political way reminiscent of the Dravidian movement. In Kaala’s home, there is a copy of the Dravidian writer Pulavar Kuzhandai’s Ravana Kaviyam, a work first published in 1946 that inverted Kamban’s Ramayana and projected Ravana as a tragic hero who was duped by the upper castes. For Kuzhandai, Kamban’s portrayal of Ravana ‘had to be completely turned upside down’ (Zvelebil 1988, 134). The Ravana Kaviyam was well received by the Kuzhandai’s contemporaries in the Dravidian movement, and it reinforced their construction of Ravana as a valiant Tamil hero confronting cunning and casteist Aryan invaders. Periyar in particular was most vocal

Being Dalit, being Tamil 61 in his celebration of Ravana and condemnation of Rama. His earlier Ramayana Paathirangal (Characters of the Ramayana) published in 1930 saw the epic as one that was a racist characterisation of Dravidians as dark-skinned evil demons. Paula Richman writes: In Ramasami’s reading, Rama’s acts of heroism were suspect, while Rama’s foes were shown to have been impelled by appropriate and hitherto misunderstood motivations. For Ramasami, the historically problematic incidents in which Rama departed from rightful conduct, causing problems even for pious exegetes, were the core of the text, colouring everything else. Ramasami directed his most scathing accusations at Rama, characterizing him as hypocritical and power-hungry. (Richman 1995, 636) Haridada too makes his priority clear in a conversation with Kaala. When Kaala tells him that ‘Land to you is power, land to us is life’, he responds ‘power is my life’. Haridada is characterised by Hindu supremacy, caste supremacy, and an attachment to dharma as well as development that goes against the interests of the poor and the lower castes. The Vaishnavite symbolism that surrounds him is hard to miss. Haridada himself is named after Vishnu. The images of Parashurama and Rama in Haridada’s house appear with malice and menace, as symbols of aggressive Hindu nationalism. In one scene, a Muslim activist from Dharavi Zareena (Huma Qureshi) is compelled to prostrate at Haridada’s feet while a statue of Rama ominously looks over her, a reference to the status of religious minorities in a Hindu nationalist state. He controls ‘Manu builders’ (named after the Manu Smriti) and plans to refashion Dharavi as ‘Dandakaranya Nagar’. Dandakaranya in the Ramayana was a forest plagued by demons before Rama and Lakshmana eliminated them from the region. While he launches a murderous assault on the people in Dharavi, Haridada is shown to be listening to a Brahmin priest’s discourse on the Ramayana. And taking after Rama, Haridada claims that he was ‘born to rule’. Haridada tells his granddaughter that Kaala was Ravana and must be killed because it has been thus written in the epic. Kaala is a Tamil hero with anti-caste egalitarian ideals, much like the Ravana in Kuzhandai’s book. And like Ravana, he is killed by treachery. But the story doesn’t end there. The climactic song that plays while Haridada is lynched refers to Kaala as Ravana who rouses the people to rise against oppression. There is something more than the normal Dravidian narrative of Ravana – while Ravana is usually shown as being defeated by Aryan deceit, in Kaala he wins in and through his people. The writer Stalin Rajangam calls Kaala a ‘counter-narrative’ and that in Ranjith’s story, Raavana wins by absorbing the true potential of imagination. A completely contradictory narrative to the Ramayana is made possible in Kaala. Not only does Kaala move away from the climax of the Ramayana, but it also fills the gap left by the Dravidian narrative. (2018)


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Kaala emerges as a utopian document that shows Tamil people’s struggle winning as different from the Dravidian counter-myths of the Ramayana that show the Tamils as losers. At a time of political crisis in Tamil Nadu and India, Kaala seeks to provide an optimistic alternative.

Conclusion: Tamil becoming2 How can we understand the complex narratives of the two films under discussion? Doing so, as I have tried to argue, requires a detailed understanding of Dalit, Dravidian, and Tamil nationalist politics. Both Kabali and Kaala are attempts to break out of Dalit particularism while encoding Dalit perspectives on social justice into a broader struggle for Tamil rights. As discussed earlier, the Dravidian project has faced strong criticisms from both Dalit intellectuals and Tamil nationalists for failing to protect the interests of the groups that they claim to represent. While these critics generally promote Dalit particularism or an exclusionary Tamil nationalism as solutions, Ranjith’s films address the tensions in these articulations and try to construct an identity politics that moves from recognition to redistribution. In Kabali, recognition and identity are the key themes, whereas in Kaala economic marginalisation and oppression on the basis of identity are seen as fundamentally intertwined. Tamil Dalits may be called a ‘bivalent collectivity’ who may suffer ‘both socio-economic maldistribution and cultural misrecognition in forms where neither of these injustices is an indirect effect of the other, but where both are primary and co-original’ (Fraser 2008, 10). Kabali primarily addressed cultural misrecognition and involved an assertion of a progressive anticaste Tamil identity that did justice to the Dalit identity that it contained. Kaala, however, saw the expression of a ‘bivalent conception of justice’ that treats ‘distribution and recognition as distinct perspectives on, and dimensions of justice, while at the same time encompassing both of them within a broader, overarching framework’ (Fraser 2008, 19). This vision of Ranjith is increasingly relevant given the recent political developments in India. Dalit history and the history of Dalit resistance in Tamil Nadu have their own rich narratives, and it is not in the scope of this chapter to explore that. In colonial modernity, Geetha and Rajadurai claim that ‘expression of a distinctive dalit sensibility predated the political expression of nonbrahminism in the Tamil regions of the old Madras presidency and eventually came to constitute an important and decisive flank of the non-brahmin movement’ (1993, 2091). Several intellectuals from the Dalit castes like Iyothee Thaas, Rettamalai Srinivasan, and Masilamani wrote about the oppression that the untouchables faced and the unjust social structure sanctioned by Brahminism. But it should be noted here that these intellectuals, who were either contemporaries of or immediate predecessors to Periyar, were also in favour of an alliance between the intermediate castes and Dalits. The movement for Dalits as a separate entity gained momentum only in the 1990s after the supposed failure of this alliance (Gorringe 2007, 54).

Being Dalit, being Tamil 63 Periyar believed that ‘Dalits had unconditional claim over every advance that the Non-Brahmin movement made’ (Venkatachalapathy 2018, 9). There is indeed much intellectual dishonesty in the accusations against Periyar of being a patron of the intermediate castes and for displaying insensitivity to Dalit particularities. Krishnan and Sriramachandran, acknowledging Dalit criticisms of Dravidian politics, note: ‘Brahmin apologists conveniently located in the media and academic institutions are often keen to appropriate this legitimate criticism of Dalits to discredit Dravidian politics tout court’ (2018, 67). All the same, Dalit specificity needs to be problematised. Dalit particularism is based purely on the social construct that the specific caste is untouchable. A Dalit particularist political project bases itself on the lived experience of untouchability, and its Other is everyone else in the Brahminical social order who is not an untouchable. To draw from Fanonism, not only must a Dalit be an untouchable, but he must also be an untouchable in relation to everyone else. Of late, the project of Dalit unity also seems quite elusive. Of the three major Dalit castes in Tamil Nadu, the Pallars no longer want the Dalit label upon them and identify themselves as a land-owning upwardly mobile caste. The Pallar leader K. Krishnaswamy has rather explicitly stated his opposition to the views of Thirumavalavan on the Dalit question, as reported in The Hindu on 1 September 2018. The Paraiyars are politically militant, but their political formations like the VCK are largely isolationist in practice, despite aiming for a broader base in theory. The Arunthathiyars, the lowest among the Dalit castes, have legitimate grievances that their concerns are suppressed by the other powerful Dalit castes (Bathran 2016). In this scenario, a purely particularist Dalit movement would be counterproductive as it would only accentuate fissures between the Dalits and the other lower castes, as well as within themselves, preventing the emergence of any genuine, universalistic struggle. In this scenario, Kabali and Kaala seem to imagine a new narrative of anti-caste Tamil politics that would be inclusive in its approach and grounded in socio-economic struggles, aspiring for a post-caste society. The 2019 General Elections saw the BJP return to power with a thumping majority. In Tamil Nadu, however, the Secular Progressive Alliance led by the DMK, of which VCK was also a part of, won a massive victory. The demise of M. Karunanidhi, arguably the last great leader from the original Dravidian movement, got many to speculate the end of Dravidian politics as such. Yet interest in Dravidianism, both among defenders and critics, is still vibrant. The public sphere in Tamil Nadu saw issues of regionalism, nationalism, development, social justice, and the politics of caste, linguistic, and religious identity being hotly debated from 2014, when Modi’s BJP first captured power, to 2019 when it was re-elected. It is no coincidence that both Kabali and Kaala were released within this period. The films are not just commentaries on the existing state of affairs but are also visions of what should come. ‘The politics of becoming is yet again at work, promising us newer notions of “diversity, justice and legitimacy”’ (Pandian 2007, 245).


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Notes 1 My earlier review of Kabali was published in the Economic and Political Weekly (2016). 2 I have discussed parts of the following section in greater detail in an earlier article in Interventions (Manoharan 2017) and in my monograph Frantz Fanon (2019, 67–89).

References Bathran, R. 2016. ‘The Many Omissions of a Concept: Discrimination amongst Scheduled Castes.’ Economic and Political Weekly 51(47): 30–34. Chatterjee, P. 1994. ‘Caste and Subaltern Consciousness.’ In: Ranajit Guha (ed.), Subaltern Studies VI: Writings on South Asian History and Society. New Delhi: OUP. Chidambaranar, S. 2016. Periyar: Vaazhkai Varalaru. Chennai: Neer Veliyeedu. Fraser, N. 2008. Social Justice in the Age of Identity Politics: Redistribution, Recognition & Participation. New Delhi: Critical Quest. Geetha, V. and S.V. Rajadurai 1993. ‘Dalits and Non-Brahmin Consciousness in Colonial Tamil Nadu.’ Economic and Political Weekly 28(39): 2091–2098. Gorringe, H. 2007. ‘Taming the Dalit Panthers: Dalit Politics in Tamil Nadu.’ Journal of South Asian Development 2(1): 51–73. Gorringe, H. 2017. Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste and Political Power in South India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Krishnan, R. and R. Sriramachandran 2018. ‘Dravidian Futures.’ Seminar 708: 62–68. Manoharan, K.R. 2016. ‘The Missing Periyar and the Curious Tamil Nationalism of Kabali.’ Economic and Political Weekly, August 13. Available at: https://www.epw.in/ journal/2016/33/web-exclusives/missing-periyar-and-curious-tamil-nationalism-kabali .html (Accessed 25 January 2019). Manoharan, K.R. 2017. ‘Anti-Casteist Casteism? A Fanonist Critique of Ramasamy’s Discourse on Caste.’ Interventions: The International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 19(1): 73–90. Manoharan, K.R. 2019. Frantz Fanon: Identity and Resistance. Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan. Manoharan, K.R. 2020. ‘In the Path of Ambedkar: Periyar and the Dalit Question.’ South Asian History and Culture. doi:10.1080/19472498.2020.1755127. News 18 Tamil Nadu. 2016. ‘Is Kabali a Dalit Movie? – An Interview with Kabali Director Pa. Ranjith’. YouTube, July 26. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCU 4zmHiWeg (Accessed 8 June 2019). Pandian, M.S.S. 2007. Brahmin and Non-Brahmin: Genealogies of the Tamil Political Present. Ranikhet: Permanent Black. Pandian, M.S.S. 2015. The Image Trap: M.G. Ramachandran in Film and Politics. 2nd ed. New Delhi: Sage. Pillai, S.E. 2015. Madras Studios: Narrative, Genre and Ideology in Tamil Cinema. New Delhi: Sage. Rajamani, R. 2018. ‘The Dharavi story in Tamil cinema: How “Kaala” Inverts the “Nayakan” Gaze.’ The News Minute, August 30. Available at: https://www.thenewsm inute.com/article/dharavi-story-tamil-cinema-how-kaala-inverts-nayakan-gaze-87512 (Accessed 15 May 2019).

Being Dalit, being Tamil 65 Rajangam, S. 2018. ‘Pa Ranjith’s “Kaala” Turns the Ramayana on its Head – By Making Raavana the Hero.’ Scroll, June 14. Available at: https://scroll.in/reel/882609/pa-ra njiths-kaala-turns-the-ramayana-on-its-head-by-making-raavana-the-hero (Accessed 10 April 2019). Ranjith, P. 2018. ‘View: The Problem Is the Brahminical System, the Basis of Which Is Inequality.’ The Economic Times, November 24. Available at: https://economictimes. indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/view-the-problem-is-the-brahminical-sy stem-the-basis-of-which-is-inequality/articleshow/66787222.cms (Accessed 19 April 2019). Richman, P. 1995. ‘Epic and State: Contesting Interpretations of the Ramayana.’ Public Culture 7(3): 631–654. Sriramachandran, R. 2018. ‘Pluralization of Political Identity.’ Seminar 708: 49–52. Velayutham, S. 2008. ‘The Diaspora and the Global Circulation of Tamil Cinema.’ In: Selvaraj Velayutham (ed.), Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry. London & New York: Routledge. Venkatachalapathy, A.R. 2018. Tamil Characters: Personalities, Politics, Culture. New Delhi: Pan. Zizek, S. 2014. Trouble in Paradise: From the End of History to the End of Capitalism. London: Allen Lane. Zvelebil, K. 1988. ‘Rāvaṇa the Great in Modern Tamil Fiction.’ Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 120: 126–136.

Part 2



When Madhi dances like Dhanush Gender representations in Irudhi Suttru Shakila Zamboulingame

Would Irudhi Suttru (The Final Round, 2016) be the mudhal suttru (first round) of a feminist revolution in Tamil cinema? This question is as legitimate as Irudhi Suttru was atypical in the context of Tamil cinema when it was released in January 2016. The film narrates the story of Madhi, a fish seller from Royapuram, a slum area in North Chennai. The feisty and free-spirited young woman’s life takes a different turn when she meets Prabhu, a maverick and rough former national boxing coach. He spots her talent and, against all odds, drives her to the status of a boxing champion. Irudhi Suttru seems to differ radically from the traditional twentieth-century kata-nayaki’s representations (Chinniah 2008, 29). Being a women-centric film as it has been labelled, directed by a woman, about a boxing girl, and being a successful mainstream commercial sports drama, one can wonder if Irudhi Suttru reflects a turning point in Tamil cinema for women behind the camera (film-makers), for women in front of the camera (female characters), and, consequently, for women beyond the camera (female audience). In other words, does the film reflect the changing position and emancipation of women in twenty-first-century Tamil society, or is it more an avant-garde attempt to create unconventional female characters? Thus, this chapter seeks to understand the changing representations of women in Tamil cinema focusing on the following questions: How is Irudhi Suttru situated in the context of women-centric films and feminism in Tamil cinema? To what extent does Madhi, the boxing kata-nayaki, show a renewed portrayal of the Tamil heroine and question archetypal gender representations? To what extent does this mainstream film emancipate itself from Tamil cinema’s patriarchal film narratives through a new form of heroinism?

Irudhi Suttru and the New Wave of women-centric films Even though director Sudha Kongara said that ‘Irudhi Suttru is not a femaleoriented film at all’,1 it has often been labelled as women-centric, that is to say, a film whose story focuses on a main female character (or several female characters). Despite its simplistic nature, this categorisation could be a tool to measure the importance given to female leads in Tamil cinema and to understand how

70 Shakila Zamboulingame much the dominant role remains male-centric in movies where female characters are secondary. Yet from the pre-independence era, there is a long history of women-centric films in Tamil cinema. In 1945, renowned musician M.S. Subbalakshmi was the female lead of Meera (1945). Then, the 1970s and 1980s were clearly an apogee as remarkable women-centric films were made by male directors, although they were not labelled that way: K. Balachander’s filmography, for instance, is populated with strong and fighting heroines in films like Aval Oru Thodar Kadhai (She Is a Never-Ending Story, 1974), Avargal (They, 1977), Sindhu Bhairavi (1985), and so many others; other male film-makers like Rudhraiya (Aval Appadithan, That Is How She Is, 1978), Balu Mahendra (Marupadiyum, Again, 1993), or Visu (Meendum Savithri, Again Savithri, 1996) also contributed to the list. After a near disappearance in the 1990s (despite the unique Magalir Mattum, Ladies Only, 1994), there has been a slow but clear revival of womencentric films in the twenty-first century that somehow found commercial success. Despite some examples like Priyadarshan’s Snegithiye (Oh Friend, 2000) or Sasi’s Poo (Flower, 2008) in the 2000s, the movement intensified in the second part of the 2010s with bigger budget films like Mayaa (2015), 36 Vayadhinile (At the Age of 36, 2015), Nayagi (Heroine, 2016), Irudhi Suttru (The Final Round, 2016), Dora (2017), Aramm (Virtue, 2017), Magalir Mattum (Ladies Only, 2017), Aruvi (Stream, 2017), Nadigaiyar Thilagam (The Great Actress, 2018), Kolamaavu Kokila (Kolam Powder Kokila, 2018), Kanaa (The Dream, 2018), Imaikka Nodigal (Unblinking Seconds, 2018), and Kaatrin Mozhi (The Language of Air, 2018). The year 2019 is marked by an acceleration. While there were only four women-centric films on Tamil screens for the whole year of 2016, in July 2019 alone, four women-centric films were released: Ratchasi (Demonness, 2019), Aadai (Clothes, 2019), Oh Baby (2019), and Kolaiyuthir Kaalam (Season of Murders, 2019). There are many reasons behind this New Wave. First, many Tamil actresses like Lady Superstar Nayanthara, Trisha, or Jyothika have a long career with a huge-enough popularity to be a film’s lead and to bring audiences to theatres. Others like Amala Paul or Aishwarya Rajesh who entered the film industry more recently have created a field of possibilities for themselves through their choices of films. Moreover, in a globalised and digital milieu, Tamil actresses’ stardom has become economically viable through advertisements, television, and social media where they can communicate with their fans, stage their life, and build their own public image. It could be argued that there has been a feminisation of celebrity culture. Secondly, women-centric films are now financially viable not only as a submarket but as a mainstream market. As Pillai (2019) argues, these films are more profitable and less risky because their budgets are half of that of male celebrities, take less time to make, and have a reasonable chance of recovering the investment from Tamil Nadu theatres alone. Some actresses even work on a profit-sharing basis, showing their growing financial engagement in their film projects. Thirdly, the social attitudes of Tamil film audiences are changing. Indeed, the fact that Tamil women are more educated, financially independent,

When Madhi dances like Dhanush 71

Figure 4.1 Still from Irudhi Suttru (The Final Round, 2016) featuring actors Ritika Singh (Madhi) and Madhavan (Prabhu). Courtesy Gnanam.

and emancipated could explain the slight feminisation of movie theatre consumers (Srinivas 2002, 161) and, consequently, an increasing demand for womencentric stories which already dominate Tamil television popular culture where drama series focus on female characters. Irudhi Suttru is clearly a part of this New Wave of women-centric films but with some particularities. On the one hand, its female lead is not a renowned actress but a newcomer, Ritika Singh, just like another women-centric box office success released a year later, Aruvi, played by newcomer Aditi Balan. On the other hand, Irudhi Suttru is all the more original in the specific genre of sports drama which is mostly male-centric in Tamil cinema, as shown by movies like Chennai 600028 (2007) about cricket, Ghilli (Risk Taker, 2004) and Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu (White Moon Kabbadi Team, 2009) about kabbadi, and M. Kumaran S/O Mahalakshmi (2004) and Maan Karate (Deer Karate, 2014) about boxing. Above all, the main novelty of Irudhi Suttru is the fact that it is directed by a woman (Figure 4.1). The gender ratio in the Indian film industry is disproportionate as only 9% of directors are women.2 In the Tamil film industry, Kongara remains a rare example, with a curriculum vitae similar to that of male directors: she has been a screenwriter for Revathy’s movie Mitr, My Friend (2002) and an assistant director for Mani Ratnam. That being said, doing a women-centric film is not mandatory for women film-makers. The most recent examples of this in Tamil cinema are Kongara’s first film Drohi (Traitor, 2010), Halitha Shameem’s films, or even more obviously Gayatri Pushkar’s Vikram Vedha (2017), which is a tête-à-tête between two alpha males Vikram and Vedha. However, for her second venture


Shakila Zamboulingame

Irudhi Suttru, Kongara chose to focus the plot, just like many of her female predecessors, on a strong female protagonist.

Is Irudhi Suttru a feminist manifesto? As Sathiavathi Chinniah writes, women-centric film narratives ‘too silently engage in reinforcing dominant patriarchal ideas’ (2008, 29). Indeed, we can ask if this women-centric film is a feminist one, that is to say, a work of art that promotes men and women’s equality by questioning patriarchal film narratives and/or highlighting empowered female characters. Feminist film theory, which appeared in the 1970s mostly in Anglo-Saxon countries with theorists like Moly Haskell and Laura Mulvey, has analysed patriarchal foundations of commercial cinema and, in its wake, many tests have been created as tools to measure women’s representations and feminism in these films. In ‘Fitmus test analysis on women centric Tamil films by women film-makers’ (2018), Natarajan examines three women-centric films directed by women film-makers to understand if they really empower womanhood: Suhasini Mani Ratnam’s Indira (1995), Lakshmy Ramakrishnan’s Arohanam (Crescendo, 2012), and Kongara’s Irudhi Suttru. She used well-known tools such as the Bechdel Test (1985), the Mako Mori Test (2013), the Sexy Lamp Test (2013), the Furiosa Test (2015), and, above all, the Fitmus Test (Female Integrity, Male Utility Sensitivity Test, 2017).3 This particular test is less Western-oriented than the others, as it takes into account specific criteria like female character integrity (consistency throughout the film), male utility (to measure if female characters act for themselves or make decisions for a man), and cultural sensitivity (the culture of a particular social group). According to her study, Irudhi Suttru succeeds the Bechdel, Mako Mori, Sexy Lamp, and Furiosa tests. Main female characters in the movie, that is, Madhi, her sister Laxmi, and their mother, have their own narrative arc and their decisions have an impact on the plot. Regarding the Fitmus Test, the female character integrity is maintained throughout in Irudhi Suttru, which also depicts in a realistic way a North Chennai slum’s specific cultural sensitivity through slang, dress code, gastronomy, lifestyle, and living context. However, the author points out that the question of male utility in Irudhi Suttru is quite problematic as Madhi’s decisions are almost always related to her coach Prabhu. Thus, according to this test, the feminism in Irudhi Suttru is not so obvious as a male character still remains the object of the heroine’s attention. That’s why a detailed analysis of this womencentric sports drama is necessary to understand how far it breaks patriarchal representations and film narratives or, on the contrary, perpetuates them.

Vaa Machaney, an introduction kuthu song for the heroine Madhi first appears as a pathbreaking female character in light of decades of kata-nayaki’s portrayal in Tamil film narratives, successively entrapped in two fantasised stereotypes: the passive subject marked by ‘her feminine attributes of

When Madhi dances like Dhanush 73 accam (fear), madam (tenderness), nanam (coyness), payirppu (modesty)’ and then the pleasurable object who is a ‘modern, scantily clad, mischievous woman’ (Chinniah 2008, 29). According to Chinniah, both of these roles remain secondary in the film plot and both are rooted in the cultural notions of womanhood constructed by the patriarchal order in Tamil society, that is, purity, chastity, and patience, which strengthen women’s power or sakti (2008, 31). She also asserts that there are, at the margin, some different, unconventional, boundary-breaking female protagonists who only emerge when male members of the family are irresponsible or when an injustice has been done. At first sight, Madhi seems clearly far from being a passive subject or a pleasurable object but could be categorised as the unconventional woman ‘who transgresses boundaries’ (Chinniah 2008, 39). This appears in the ‘Vaa Machaney’ (Come, Dude) song sequence where Kongara hijacks the typical hero introduction kuthu song by feminising the genre. Despite the use of expected lexicon such as machaney (dude), dhaadha (gangster), gethu (style), this bluesy song breaks the street kuthu sequence codes and is entirely dedicated to introduce Madhi by warning the audience about her eagerness for life: Senji Vacha Aasai Ellam Theeka Paakkura / Nenjukkulla Rani Aattam Uchi Nokkura / Kedacha Edatha Pudippa / Aduthu Ethuvum Nadakkum Thadukkaathe (‘She is trying to fulfil all her dreams / Playing the role of a queen in her heart / If she can, she will take the place / Anything can happen, don’t stop her’). In fact, in the album of the film, the songs are predominantly written about Madhi or through her point of view like ‘Ey Sandakkara’ (Hey, Fighter), depicting a very proactive woman in love: Thedi kattikkapporen, thaavi ottikkapporen, thaali kattikkaporen (‘I’ll find you and marry you, I’ll jump and hang on you, I will tie the thaali myself’). Thus, Madhi seems to be the antithesis of the Tamil film heroine, short-circuiting traditional symbols of the good woman like the thali (Lakshmi 2008, 16), as she is depicted not as passive subject or pleasurable object, but as an active subject, the heroine of her own life. Moreover, this song sequence also subverts the gendered spatial separation according to which private space is feminine, whereas public space is the reign of masculinity because streets are dangerous for good women’s purity (Lakshmi 2008, 21). It begins with a long shot showing Madhi and Laxmi, plunged in their slum, joyfully and loudly running in the streets, ruling over their area like queens in their kingdom. However, this heroine kuthu song is marked by the spectrum of a mass hero, Dhanush, who is Madhi’s idol, a prince charming type, of whom she keeps a photograph in her wallet: Thalaivan Dhanush’nu ninaipu (he thinks he is Dhanush), says Madhi mocking her coach Prabhu. The fact that Madhi looks up to Dhanush is visually translated with a high-angle shot when she turns back to a poster of the actor’s blockbuster, Velai Illa Pattadhaari (Unemployed Graduate, 2014), to show him, with an expression of a voracious pride on her face, the first bundle of banknotes she earned from boxing. In fact, the song has been conceived as Madhi’s tribute to one of Dhanush’s most popular songs, Otha Sollale (With One Word) in Aadukalam (Playground, 2011): it is no coincidence if the actor appears in the ‘Special thanks’ of Irudhi Suttru. Madhi cannot help but imitate her star’s most known dance steps in the streets or a barber shop (decorated with


Shakila Zamboulingame

posters of Dhanush), making her father move like Dhanush with his own kayili, as she does not wear one herself. One could argue that the omnipresence of a mass hero image in this heroine song is patriarchal, but it is more complex. First, Kongara depicts an unusual female character who wants to be like the powerful, fighting, and winning Tamil hero and not like the regular Tamil heroine who has a secondary position. This reflects what Laura Mulvey notes about the female film audience’s possibility of identification with a patriarchal cinema which objectifies female bodies: women can either accept the sexual object role or identify with the dominant male gaze (Mulvey 1975, 51). Secondly, both Madhi in Vaa Machaney and Karuppu in Otha Sollale are vibrant characters expressing their happiness in a freed street dance as if they were mirror reflections of each other, which disrupts the usual distinction of male and female representations in kuthu songs. Finally, the fact that the heroine invades the screen space and the mass hero is shown as a spectral background presence is symptomatic of a symbolic inversion (conscious or unconscious) of the patriarchal economy of images where women are icons, whereas men are active figures: ‘in a world of sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female’ (Mulvey 1975, 40–41). Thus, we could paraphrase Mulvey to describe Madhi fantasising Dhanush: ‘man as image, woman as bearer of the look’ (1975, 40).

Madhi, an angry young woman Madhi is also defined by constant anger. From her first appearance on screen, this young fish seller from Royapuram is depicted as a strong and fearless girl, kutty satan, bajari, unnaya kadichi kodaiyurum (‘a little satan, an unfriendly prostitute who will even devour you’) says the old boxing coach, Punch Pandiyan. Madhi can speak a crude slang with vulgar metaphors, explode with anger, and beat everyone in her way. As a matter of fact, her anger is especially oriented against men, whether it is a client who touches her fish too insistently, her alcoholic father, or her coach Prabhu. For instance, when they meet for the first time, Prabhu makes a sexist comment on her sister Laxmi’s boxing skills, saying that she’d better go home to wash dirty laundry (Idhellam veetula thuni thovaikka thaan laayikku). Madhi earns money for her whole family and dedicates her life to her sister’s ambition to get a police job out of sports quota in boxing, which is also their parents’ dream. Understandably, these words anger her so much that after hearing them, she beats the male judges of the boxing match her sister lost and also repeats the words ironically to Prabhu when he comes to the fish market, smoking a cigarette: Ponnunganaa thuni thovaikkurudhukku thaan laayikka? Hey, pottanna, dum’u irukkum, vaayu irukkadhu (‘So, girls are only fit for laundrywashing? Hey, if I punch you, you won’t have a mouth to smoke’). Thus, Madhi is an epitome of anger and rebellion who appears as an antithesis of the Tamil film heroine’s previously quoted attributes like patience and fear. Interestingly, Irudhi Suttru’s heroine has many similarities with the angry young man film genre, popular in the 1980s, through Amitabh Bachchan in Hindi cinema and Rajinikanth in Tamil cinema (Chinniah 2008, 35). In movies like

When Madhi dances like Dhanush 75 Mullum Malarum (The Thorn and the Flower, 1978), Thappu Thalangal (Wrong Notes, 1978) or Murattu Kaalai (Raging Bull, 1980), Rajinikanth embodied a renewal of heroism after decades dominated by the MGR – Sivaji Ganesan’s moral and self-sacrificial heroism which was no longer believable for the audience. He introduced a rebellious, violent, irreverent, and proletarian anti-hero fighting with all his rage against a corrupted system (Maderya 2010). Being the incarnation of a subaltern masculinity who rebels for himself and not for the community, the angry young man reflected the political scepticism in the 1980s popular consciousness and was ‘the chaotic image of its time’, as Maderya writes (2010). That’s why this genre was also marked by excessive violence, as shown by murder and rape scenes. Madhi has a lot in common with this archetypal masculinity and has especially many similarities with Mullum Malarum’s Kaali. She is a subaltern proletarian young woman who is constantly rebellious, aggressive in her words and in her acts, and totally irreverent towards figures of authority. In fact, in this Royapuram heroine’s anger, we can also find touches of 2000s figures of male heroism, rooted themselves in the angry young man genre, like the North Chennai gangster hero or the middle-class struggling hero. Interestingly, Madhi’s idol Dhanush has incarnated both figures, as Kokki Kumar in Pudhupettai (New Hood, 2006) and as Raghuvaran in Velaiilla Pattadhari (The Unemployed Graduate, 2014). The filiation between them is thus all the more organic as she is fundamentally an angry young woman. Beyond the example of Madhi, the angry young woman is beginning to take root in twenty-first-century Tamil cinema. Indeed, Arun Prabu Puroshothaman’s Aruvi (2017) is another example of a young woman’s vengeful anger, and Rathna Kumar’s Aadai (2019) could also fall into this genre, especially through the supporting role of Nangeli. Compared to the archetypal Tamil film heroine, Madhi, Aruvi, and Nangeli embody a subversive, threatening, and castrating femininity, which is refreshingly new as well as rooted in mythological and literary avenging women figures like Kannagi. Moreover, their anger is intersectional as it expresses a rebellion against all forms of oppression, be it male domination and sexism in a patriarchal society or socio-economic marginalisation and inequalities in a capitalist system. However, this feminised version differs from the angry young man genre in key ways. On the one hand, the heroine’s chastity, one of the traditional attributes of Tamil kata-nayaki’s sakti (Chinniah 2008, 30), remains a crucial issue in Irudhi Suttru and in Aruvi: Madhi violently defends herself against the boxing association head who tries to abuse her; Aruvi asks for justice to Arulmani, Joseph, and the swamiji after being abused by them. In a certain way, the angry young woman perpetuates the idea that chastity is a cornerstone of Tamil womanhood and one of the main reasons behind their anger. On the other hand, in both movies, violence is not bloody but controlled and transcended through boxing in Irudhi Suttru and through forgiveness in Aruvi. Thus, unlike the 1980s angry young man, the 2010s angry young woman is not a bloodthirsty anti-heroine as if excessive rage remained a masculine attribute. Finally, even though Madhi, just like her male predecessors, seems more concerned with her personal problems than with structural social and gender issues, Aruvi and Nangeli have transformed


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their anger in social consciousness as shown by their remarkable monologues, following Sivaji Ganesan in Parasakthi (The Goddess, 1952) or Dhanush in Velaiilla Pattadhari. And indeed, this emerging feminised genre could be a reflection of the rising issues about women in twenty-first-century Tamil society in the thick of modernisation and globalisation. Even though it remains dominant, patriarchy is questioned in all its forms by growing female emancipation, as shown by the ‘Me Too’ movement in North and South Indian film industries. Thus, Madhi, the angry young woman, seems to consider her whole existence as a boxing ring, and this sport defines her all the more as a transgressive and, to paraphrase Judith Butler’s concept, gender-troubled heroine (1990).

The gender trouble of a boxing heroine Maybe because of its photogeny or its dramaturgy, boxing has been a favourite subject in the history of cinema, as shown by classics like Rocky (1976) or Raging Bull (1980). For a long time, it remained an epitome of troubled masculinity with a singular heroic figure (Woodward 2008, 122). Boxing movies plots are often a mixture of a micro-sociological scale (character’s life) and macro-sociological data (social inequalities, class war, racism) (Dubois 2013; Trimbur 2011). Thus, gender inequalities and patriarchal issues could also fit into the boxing movie formula, as shown by the emergence of international and Indian films on female boxing in the twenty-first century: Karyn Kusama’s Girlfight (2000), Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2004), or Omung Kumar’s Mary Kom (2014). Part of this reduced lineage, Irudhi Suttru was made after years of research by Kongara as reminded in the end credits4 to be as realistic as possible. Indeed, the rise of Madhi, from Royapuram slums where boxing culture is rooted to the world championship, perfectly reflects Indian female boxers’ sociology: coming from an underprivileged social class or/and from geographical and ethnical margins, they usually look at this sport as a space of freedom and of social ascent, a ‘ticket to a middle-class life’ (Sengupta 2009). In fact, this is a leitmotif in films on female boxing: Girlfight is the story of a young Latino-American, Diana Guzman, from a poor area in Brooklyn, who uses boxing to channel her social and personal frustrations; Million Dollar Baby is the more pessimistic tale of Maggie Fitzgerald, born in a poor family from Missouri. It’s through her sister’s boxing career that Madhi develops extraordinary boxing skills and becomes a passionate fighter who can easily quote Muhammad Ali (‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’). Even though she first agrees to be trained by Prabhu only to get money and help her sister’s boxing career, she gradually allows herself to blossom in the noble art. Thus, we can wonder to what extent Irudhi Suttru follows the typical boxing movie’s narrative structure (Grindon 2007, 403–10), which would actually better suit Prabhu’s untold fallen male boxer story (Table 4.1). Above all, Madhi’s boxer identity all the more nourishes the gender trouble in her, as it reinforces her tomboyish way of being. Indeed, boxing is not a sport where muscles remain invisible, within the boundaries of acceptable femininity, just like classic tennis, for instance.5 It requires a believable physicality given by Ritika

When Madhi dances like Dhanush 77 Table 4.1 Typical boxing movie and Irudhi Suttru’s narratives comparison Grindon’s boxing movie narrative structure

Irudhi suttru’s narrative structure

The discovery of the boxer The crisis between family values and his ambition, the reluctant boxer is driven into the ring The promise: the boxer confirms his potential with a victory on the ring The rise: the boxer develops his craft with his coach The deal: the boxer faces failure, rejection, and deception after making bad decisions

Madhi is discovered by Prabhu Madhi’s success in boxing weakens the sister’s ambition. The reluctant Madhi however accepts Prabhu’s deal Madhi gradually confirms her talent in the training sessions Madhi excels in boxing and gets closer to Prabhu After breaking her hand because of her sister’s jealousy, Madhi and Prabhu take their distance; she is a victim of sexual harassment after trusting the boxing association head Not in the movie

The debauchery: the boxer abandons training and chooses decadent life The big fights: the boxer gains a title but runs into new problems before the dramatic second big fight, in which he regains his will and wins The resolution/epilogue: end of career and decline of body

Madhi loses a match against a Russian heavyweight opponent, but, after being rescued by Prabhu, she finally wins against the same opponent Not in the movie

Singh, who was a professional kickboxing fighter before debuting in Irudhi Suttru. Many times in the movie, the actress’s sporting skills appear and sound real. Thus, this physical believability makes Madhi’s gender trouble all the more transgressive, as her androgyny is rare for a Tamil heroine. In Tamil cinema, there have been men with feminised bodies like dancers or transvestites (as a legacy of therukoothu), but women with masculinised bodies are an absolute rarity because they lead to a difficult reconfiguration of gender identities in a patriarchal society, questioning masculinity and femininity as sociocultural constructions rather than innate attributes. As Katharina Lindner writes: ‘If boxing heroes offer the fantasy of a stable masculinity, in response to uncertainty and change, particularly in relation to gender roles, the female boxer’s performance of masculinity certainly is deeply troubling’ (2014, 492). Yet, in contrast with Madhi’s masculinity, her sister Laxmi is more consensual in terms of gender identity: she is feminine, reserved, dressed in salwar when she is not training, and thus appears as an inverted mirror for her tomboyish sister. Madhi’s troubled gender identity also appears in the Vaa Machaney song sequence. It is common in kuthu songs that women are either beside the hero or part of the disciplined group dancers, but they are always lightly clad, be it in colourful dawanis or in some incoherent Western clothes. In this instance, Madhi transgresses these gendered codes by dancing as freely as any boy in her area, dressed in large male pants and shirts. Hence, this character short-circuits

78 Shakila Zamboulingame the male gaze, theorised by Laura Mulvey, as the patriarchal psychic structures of mainstream cinema. The male gaze includes in fact three different gazes that trap the female body as a pleasurable object: the camera gaze on the actresses, the male character’s gaze on female characters, and the audience gaze on these characters, which is conditioned by the other gazes (1975, 33–51). In Irudhi Suttru, Madhi does not usually appear on screen as a pleasurable object through the camera gaze or other main male characters’ gaze. However, the boxing association head Dev Khatri is the only male character whose male gaze is explicitly shown on screen as he insistently watches Madhi’s picture on his pad before trying to sexually assault her. But this objectifying gaze on Madhi’s body becomes itself the object on screen, as the male observer is being observed himself through the camera gaze and thus by the audience. In a patriarchal Tamil cinema imbued with an omnipresent male gaze, sexual assaults or rape scenes are usually shown as another means through which the female body is objectified (Chinniah 2008, 35). Conversely, in Irudhi Suttru, the assault happens off-camera; the sounds only allow the audience to think that Madhi defended herself by injuring Dev Khatri. Beyond that, the male gaze is not only almost annihilated in Irudhi Suttru, but the movie leaves space for what can be called a counter-gaze, that is, a female gaze on an objectified male body. Indeed, from the opening sex scene, Prabhu’s body is somehow exposed and observed, by the camera, by other female protagonists, and especially by Madhi, and thus by the audience. However, as a mainstream movie, Irudhi Suttru could not go too far on this risky questioning of gender boundaries and remains somehow entrapped in patriarchal narratives: this explains the turnaround towards a heteronormative romantic subplot. Indeed, Madhi, who first views Prabhu as a harsh coach and a sexist womaniser, finally falls in love with him so much that she replaces Dhanush’s photo with Prabhu’s in her wallet. Placing Madhi in a predictable falling in love narrative somehow dilutes her gender-troubled transgressive identity. Thus, after the Ey Sandakkara song sequence, she tries to impress her coach by wearing a saree and cooking him a fish curry, fitting herself within the conventional portrayal of Tamil womanhood. In response to Madhi’s quite abrupt love declaration, Prabhu says that he finds her beautiful only in the ring, with a boxing suit and an ugly mouth guard, pointing out the artificiality of her transformation. Finally, in the last part of the movie, this romantic subplot seems to prevail on the main boxing champion plot, giving the impression that Madhi continues only because of her love for her coach, Prabhu, as if her passion for boxing was not enough, as if a female boxing story had to refocus on a male figure through romance. In fact, a lot of women-centric sports dramas have a romantic subplot, which is how the female protagonist signifies her femininity, perpetuating somehow the idea that the worth of a female character is attached to her desirability. Conversely, in male-centric sports dramas, women’s importance in the plot is reduced either to the role of a loving wife like Adrian, in the Rocky saga, or more often in Tamil cinema, to the role of a pleasurable object/ woman-child like Yazhini in Maan Karate or Mythili in M. Kumaran Son of Mahalakshmi. Somehow, as a commercial sports drama, Irudhi Suttru does not

When Madhi dances like Dhanush 79 totally subvert Tamil cinema’s patriarchal film narratives and gender representations, forcing us to wonder if, after all, the film is about Madhi’s heroinism or Prabhu’s heroism.

‘Who’s the hero?’: from flawed masculinity to male saviour Irudhi Suttru’s male characters are all flawed, whether physically or morally, but they all share a similar character arc, finally appearing as good-hearted men. Prabhu is a fallen boxer and a degraded trainer, but also a middle-aged man, mocked by Madhi for his age and labelled as a womaniser. Indeed, the film opens with Prabhu having adulterous sexual intercourse with a married woman and then behaving quite rudely with her, while the boxing association decides to transfer him because of an alleged sexual harassment complaint. Prabhu is also defined by his harshness with others, but he gradually reveals himself through good actions like spending money lavishly to ensure that his students have the proper equipment. Other male supporting characters are also flawed. Punch Pandiyan first appears like a burlesque boxing coach and the funny-speaking, less-talented stooge of the grumpy Prabhu. Then, he serves as an auxiliary character who helps main characters in their action and finds the right words to talk to them. Madhi’s father is, on his side, an epitome of flawed fatherhood: alcoholic, beaten by his wife, and who rudely talks to the women who support his living. However, his character arc has a final positive note as he asks for his wife’s forgiveness and expresses his love for Madhi in the climax. Irudhi Suttru also reproduces the commercial Tamil movie narrative with its male villain, Dev Khatri, who is Prabhu’s arch nemesis. This negative character is pivotal in the plot, embodying all the problems that undermine Indian female boxing such as sports association politics, corruption, sexual harassment, and casting couch. In fact, the film starts with a whole male-dominated sequence which ends with Prabhu’s angry speech pointing out the hypocrisy of the boxing association. Later in the movie, when Dev Khatri tries to abuse Madhi, one can understand that several female boxers, including Madhi’s sister, accepted the casting couch deal, that is, sexual favours in exchange for selections of matches and promotions. Above all, it can be argued that the main male protagonist remains paradoxically central in a film about female boxing. Despite his flaws, Prabhu carries a kind of postmodern male heroism, which is, in fact, built from the beginning as the very first song sequence Poda Poda is dedicated to his bike travel from Hisar to Chennai where he is the much-awaited new coach: the local boxing coach Pandiyan has even prepared a Superman cut-out in Prabhu’s effigy. Thus, in Irudhi Suttru, the female-centric sports drama expected heroinism seems to be overshadowed by the mainstream patriarchal necessity of male heroism and expected screen presence of Madhavan, a much bigger star than newcomer Rithika Singh for Hindi and Tamil audiences. Furthermore, as she is dealing with a flawed and alcoholic father at home, Madhi somehow finds father figures through boxing, as shown by the protective Pandiyan and, of course, by Prabhu who takes her under his wing. And indeed,

80 Shakila Zamboulingame Madhi is portrayed as a woman-child who wears the colourful winter bonnet Prabhu offers her and hugs her lover coach, in the climax, like a child would do with her father. This fatherhood theme is confirmed when Prabhu tells Murali, his mentor and ex-father-in-law, that Madhi reminds him of his younger self when he was found fighting in the streets: similar characters and paternal transmission are very common traits of the boxing movie narrative. Moreover, this psychoanalytical father issue is also one of the seeds of the rivalry between Madhi and Laxmi. Their drunkard father talks about Laxmi as the good daughter and says that Madhi is the bad daughter, even wondering if she was really born to him. Yet this hierarchy reverses through Prabhu’s eyes, which causes Laxmi’s jealousy, pushing her to willingly make Madhi break her hand before an important match and accuse her of having seduced Prabhu to get his training. This female rivalry or impossible sisterhood is another usual trait of patriarchal film narratives. Finally, the fatherly Prabhu is shown as Madhi’s saviour as he has, somehow, tamed the shrew. Indeed, as she gets closer to Prabhu and falls in love with him, Madhi softens her character, is less rebellious with him, calls him master rather than yelling at him. The pre-climax conversation is interesting in that angle: Madhi does not know that Prabhu has saved her boxing career by accepting to resign from his coaching job and asks him why he took her out of Royapuram and made her dream about boxing before finally abandoning her, repeating: Ennakku puriyala master, puriya vei! (‘I don’t understand, master, make me understand’). A clear gender, social, and intellectual hierarchy between Madhi and Prabhu is, thus, revealed. Of course, it reflects real gender inequalities in the Indian female boxing milieu where women fight while the sport’s politics are male-dominated. But above all, the fact that the relationship between Prabhu and Madhi is rooted in an obvious paternalism shows that Irudhi Suttru does not totally emancipate from patriarchal narratives. In fact, this male saviour figure seems to be a leitmotif in Indian movies about female sports. For instance, Chak De India (Go for It India, 2007) is about a disgraced coach, Kabir Khan, who leads the Indian women’s hockey team to victory; Kanaa shows a former star cricketer, Nelson Dilipkumar, who accepts to train the Indian female cricket team, being an inspiration for the main female protagonist, Kousalya Murugesan; Bigil (Whistle, 2019) appears as the story of Michael, a former footballer who decides to coach a female football team. Similarly, in Irudhi Suttru, the presence of this heroic father figure overshadows Madhi’s agency and, even more, her heroinism. She is not transgressive throughout the film, she does not empower herself without the help of a male saviour, and, thus, in other words, she is not the heroine of her own crusade.

Conclusion: what is Madhi the name of? Irudhi Suttru is a crucial movie as it reveals the silent evolution of twenty-firstcentury Tamil cinema. First, the film complicates the traditional gender norms and relations in popular Tamil cinema. Indeed, Kongara has sketched a pathbreaking kata-nayaki, contributing to the renewal of the Tamil film heroine’s portrayal. Madhi is an unconventional, rebellious, irreverent, subversive, and

When Madhi dances like Dhanush 81 gender-troubled boxing heroine who questions the stereotyped and traditional Tamil womanhood attributes. Above all, with movies like Irudhi Suttru, Aruvi, or Aadai, it appears that the angry young woman is emerging as a film genre in the context of the growing importance of New Wave women-centric films in Tamil cinema. Moreover, these angry young women characters must be analysed with an intersectional approach as they combine different identities (gender, class, ability) and, consequently, various oppressions that explain their anger. Demand for women’s stories, profitability of such films, economic and cultural emancipation of women, and changing imaginaries of women in a modernised and globalised Tamil society are some factors that could explain this New Wave of women-centric movies, which also reveals an interesting shift in the history of Tamil cinema. The First Wave of women-centric films appeared in the 1970s–1980s exactly when heroism was in crisis: indeed, after two decades of domination, the MGR–Sivaji duopoly was replaced by the tortured heroes of the angry young man genre. Similarly, this 2010s Second Wave of women-centric films is emerging in a context of the crisis of heroism: after two decades marked by the Rajinikanth–Kamal Haasan duopoly, it’s time for postmodern heroes like those played by Vijay Sethupathi who express a crisis of Tamil masculinity. But despite flawed male characters and unconventional female characters, Irudhi Suttru is not a feminist manifesto, as it remains a commercial mainstream movie where male heroism finally overshadows female heroinism. Yet even womencentric films remain entrapped within the dominant narratives of a patriarchal cinema and do not explore all the possibilities of a real feminist film, reflecting the complexity of female characters on screen in twenty-first-century Tamil cinema. To free themselves from these patriarchal film narratives, maybe the Tamil film industry and audience would need a proper feminist counter-cinema similar to the one French feminist film-makers launched after the May 1968 events. They started a political process of self-representation, of reappropriation of women bodies and images, to claim ‘a camera of their own’, paraphrasing Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece. As Laura Mulvey said, ‘Women, whose image has continually been stolen and used for this end, cannot view the decline of traditional film form with anything much more than sentimental regret’ (1975, 51).

Notes 1 Sudha Kongara: ‘If not Mani Ratnam, it’s Ram Gopal Varma or Shankar’. 2018. YouTube video, 22: 23, Behindwoods TV, 26 February 26. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=V9zbTVW3-sI (accessed 10 December 2018). 2 Cinema and society, shaping our worldview beyond the lens. Investigation on the impact of gender representation in Indian films. 2016. Los Angeles: Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media. 3 The Bechdel Test (1985) is based on three criteria: at least, two female characters, one scene in which they talk to each other, one conversation involving something other than a man; the Mako Mori (2013) has different criteria: a female character with a narrative arch which doesn’t support a male-dominated story, whether she is a subject


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or an object of the movie; the Sexy Lamp Test (2013) says that if the lead female protagonist can be replaced by a sexy lamp without changing the storyline, then the movie cannot be told progressive feminist; the Furiosa Test (2015) requires that a movie had a female protagonist with her own narrative arc and clear female orientations to the happenings on screen. 4 As we can read in the end title card: ‘The movie is based on many true stories … after five years of female boxing in the nation, India won the women world championship in 2016’. 5 ‘Roundtable! First place: women in sports movies’. 2016. Cléo : Journal of Film and Feminism (online magazine), 15 December. http://cleojournal.com/2016/12/15/roundt able-first-place-women-in-sports-movies/ (accessed 28 December 2018).

References Butler, Judith. (1990) 2005. Trouble dans le genre: Le féminisme et la subversion de l’identité (Gender Trouble, Feminism and the Subversion of Identity). Paris: La Découverte. Chinniah, Sathiavathi. 2008. ‘The Tamil film Heroine. From a Passive Subject to a Pleasurable object’. In: Selvaraj Velayutham (ed.), Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry, 29–43. London: Routledge. Cinema and Society, Shaping Our Worldview Beyond the Lens. Investigation on the Impact of Gender Representation in Indian Films. 2016. Los Angeles: Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media. Dubois, Régis. 2013. ‘Boxe et cinéma’. Le sens des images (online magazine), novembre 1st. Available at: http://lesensdesimages.com/2013/11/01/boxe-et-cinema-combatsideologiques/ (Accessed 28 December 2018). Grindon, Leger. 2007. ‘The boxing film and genre theory’, Quarterly Review of Film & Video, 24(5), 403–410. doi:10.1080/10509200500536066. Lakshmi, C. S. 2008. ‘A good woman, a very good woman. Tamil cinema’s women’. In: Selvaraj Velayutham (ed.), Tamil Cinema. The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry, 16–28. London: Routledge. Lindner, Katarina. 2014. ‘Gender trouble in female sports films’. In: Eric Anderson and Jennifer Hargreaves (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Sport, Gender and Sexuality. London: Routledge. Maderya, Kumuthan. 2010. ‘Rage against the state: Historicizing the “angry young man” in Tamil cinema’, Jump Cut, a Review of Contemporary Media (online magazine). https:// www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc52.2010/Tamil/index.html (Accessed 30 December 2018). Mulvey, Laura. (1975) 2017. ‘Plaisir visuel et cinema narratif’ (‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’). In Teresa Castro (ed.), Au delà du plaisir visuel. Féminisme, énigmes, cinéphilie, 33–51. Paris: Editions Mimesis. Natarajan, Tamil Selvi. 2018. ‘Fitmus test analysis on women centric Tamil films by women filmmakers’, Research Review International Journals of Multidisciplinary, 3(1), 105–109, January. Available at:https://www.academia.edu/37037408/Fitmus_ Test_Analysis_of_Women_Centric_Tamil_Films_by_Women_Filmmakers (Accessed 30 December 2018). Pillai, Sreedhar. 2019. ‘Aadai to Kolaiyuthir Kaalam: A look at upcoming Women-centric films in Tamil’, The Hindu, July 10. Sengupta, Somini. 2009. ‘In India, women see boxing as a way up’, The New York Times, August 25.

When Madhi dances like Dhanush 83 Srinivas, Lakshmi. 2002. ‘The active audience: Spectatorship, social relations and the experience of cinema in India’, Media, Culture & Society. 24, 155–173. London: Sage Publications. Trimbur, Lucia. 2011. ‘Tough love: Mediation and articulation in the urban boxing gym’, Ethnography. 12, 334–335. London: Sage Publications. Woodward, Kath. 2008. Boxing, Masculinity and Identity: The “I” of the Tiger. London: Routledge.


Redefining the mass hero The rise of the engineer as ‘hero’ in contemporary Tamil cinema Vasugi Kailasam

Introduction Contemporary Tamil cinema is doubly marked by an awareness of a change in representational strategies and the entry of young, male debutant directors who display a knowledge of world cinema aesthetics. Tamil films released after the early 2000s have consciously moved away from the formulaic ‘masala’ plot structure, which favours a hero-centric narration, to more experimental approaches. Heralded by various names such as the ‘New Wave’ and the ‘postmodern’ shift in Tamil cinema, postmillennial Tamil cinema is experimental and marked by fresh changes in narrative techniques. The New Wave includes the entry of neo-nativity films in the early 2000s, such as Kathal (Love, 2005), Subramaniyapuram (2008), Pithamagan (The Son of Ancestors, 2004), and Paruthi Veeran (The Hero of Cotton Soil, 2007), which use a realist mode of narration to explore ideas of caste and life in the non-metropolitan and Southern spaces of Tamil Nadu. From the mid-2000s, the new wave also featured both urban and suburban spaces through genres such as horror-comedies, neo-noir, and neorealist films. The New Wave of Tamil films use little-known actors, are usually produced under low budgets, and have often found favour in international film festival circuits. Films such as Aaranya Kandam (The Forest Chapter, 2011), Kanchana (2011), Kuttram Kadhithal (The Punishment, 2015), and Kaaka Muttai (The Crow’s Egg, 2015) can be viewed as examples of this mode of film-making. The focus on genre and narrative plot has led to diminished importance for the figure of the male star and his continued relevance to the Tamil filmic imaginary. In this context, the mass hero, a stock Indian popular cinema character prototype1 (Srinivas 2009, 19) organised around the appeal of a male star, who embodies the masses and upholds populist values, had to be reimagined to suit the changing tastes of the audience. This chapter argues that one of the ways the ‘mass hero’ has been reinvented in contemporary Tamil cinema is through the referencing of the male star as a ‘student’ or an engineering graduate, which helps the viewer to place him as an everyman of contemporary, neoliberal Tamil society. Within Tamil cinema, casting the mass hero as an engineer begins in the mid-1990s with the casting of Rajinikanth as an engineer in the blockbuster film Padayappa (1995) and later in another commercially successful film Sivaji (2007).

Redefining the mass hero 85 Sivaji revolves around the efforts of Sivaji Arumugam, a super-rich philanthropist who has made money as an IT professional in the United States and comes back to improve the lives of the people of Tamil Nadu by building a new hospital and university that will offer free healthcare and education. While the engineering profession adds little or no weight to the story, making the hero an engineer marks him as someone who belongs to the middle class, to the masses. It is possible to discern this trend in the 2000s in films such as Unnale, Unnale (Because of You, 2007), Silindru Oru Kadhal (Breezy Romance, 2006), and Poriyalan (Engineer, 2014) which centre around the male protagonist as the engineer. In films of this period, engineering college campuses in Tamil Nadu has become the site of the film, such as in Kadthalil Sodapuvathu Eppadi (How to Fail in Love, 2012) and Minnale (Thunder, 2001). In some other films, such as Uriyadi (Breaking the Pot, 2016), which situates itself in rural Tamil Nadu, the site of the engineering college is used as a space through which the male hero and his friends realise the political power of youth. Similarly, 4 Students (2003) features four male engineering students who cannot stand the corruption in society and so turn into a vigilante force that becomes representative of the urban, university-going, middle-class youth of India who seek to dismantle bureaucratic structures. In some other films, the figure of the male engineer is used to comment and critique upon the nature of the education industry, the stifling of personal choices, and peer pressure. These themes are seen in Five Star (2003), Meesayai Muruku (Twirl Your Moustache, 2018), Ivan Thanthiran (He’s a Strategist, 2017), and Vinaithandi Varuvaaya (Will You Cross the Skies for Me?, 2010). In this chapter, I look at three films – Vaaranam Ayiram (A Thousand Elephants, 2008), Nanban (Friend, 2012), and Velaiilla Pattadhari/V.I.P. (The Unemployed Graduate, 2014) – to examine the rise of the ‘engineer hero’ in Tamil cinema. I argue that these three movies that employ established and commercially successful mass heroes such as Vijay, Surya, and Dhanush posit a new trend in the portrayal of masculinities of the mass hero, primarily through the professional marker of the heroes as graduates of engineering. In particular, the shift from the traditional working-class representation (as popularised by Tamil superstars such as MGR and Rajinikanth) that is accorded to the Tamil mass hero to a white-collar identity, as represented by the profession of engineering, suggests a new tenor in the aesthetics of the mass hero film which is marked significantly by neoliberal values that connote individual enterprise, showcasing of homosocial bonds, and the objectification of the male body. Situated thus, the chapter argues that the rise of the ‘engineer hero’ helps us to identify the evolution of the Tamil mass hero and examine the discourses behind his continued relevance to Tamil society.

The appearance of the mass hero in Tamil cinema: defining the paradigms of masculinity Since its inception, Tamil cinema has been male-centric, a feature which can be observed across different genres of early Tamil cinema such as devotional, mythological, and social films. Arguably, the first successful prototype of the Tamil

86 Vasugi Kailasam mass hero can be observed in films produced in the early 1950s, which were shaped by Dravidian politics. In this regard, it is possible to place Parasakthi (The Greatest Force, 1952), which was written by Pavalar Balasundaram of the Dravidar Kazhagam, with dialogues by Muthuvel Karunanidhi as the successful prototype of the ‘mass’ film, with the film’s hero Gnanasekeran, played by Sivaji Ganesan, as the first Tamil mass hero. Although the movie lacks any spectacular stunt sequences enacted by the male hero (a characteristic staple in a standard Tamil mass film), the film’s political messaging depends on the male hero and his journey to incite mass audiences to cultivate pride in their ethnic Tamil identity and forge Dravidian solidarity. Although Gnanasekaran is from an affluent, upper-middle-class Tamil family who immigrate to Burma, Parasakthi’s narrative constructs him doubly as both a commoner and, simultaneously, a political messiah who can inspire the masses to transform Tamil society. Later, this figure crystallised in the form of MGR, whose entry into Tamil cinema significantly altered the Tamil political landscape. While the mass hero film can be studied as a separate genre, as proposed by Srinivas (2009), it is important to remember that mass film is essentially a narrative mode that works best with the standard ‘masala’ template. In terms of narrative elements, the masala trope, with its characteristics of excess that are encoded through the emotions of melodrama, action, sentiment, and the heterosexual romance plot, ensures the creation of the mass hero image. In addition, it is also important to note the centrality of the camera in the construction of the heroic image of the male star. Using camera techniques such as the introductory scene, which is usually accompanied by song, dance, or stunt sequences, and the use of ‘slow motion, freeze frame shots, repeated jump cuts and trick shots’ (Nakassis 2016, 165) that frame the corporeality of the male star, the mass film carefully calibrates the hero’s image and his unique macho style that incites audiences to adulate the male star as the saviour of the masses. Often pictured in the midst of large groups of people to whom the male star’s dialogues are addressed, the filmic model of the mass film proposes the mass hero as the leader who can effectively speak for the political desires and aspirations of the common people. The depiction of these masses is instrumental in the creation of a ‘mass’ of viewers in the real world that represent the common people to whom the film is addressed. Thus, combined with both escapist fantasy tendencies, in which class struggles created by a feudal order or struggles with the postcolonial state’s apathy towards its citizens can be solved on the celluloid screen, the mass film is believed to have the potential to create a populist belief that can transcend into the political (Rajamani 2017; Srinivas 2009). In this sense, the mass film is a powerful popular cinematic genre that can dynamically merge the reel and the real in such a way that the male star’s onscreen persona becomes his (assumed) real personality.

From mass hero to realist masculinity In the early 2000s, the constitution of male-centric narration in Tamil films underwent a huge transition, with the commercial success of films like Kathal (Love,

Redefining the mass hero 87 2004). Kathal, which was produced by director Shankar on a shoe-string budget, tells the story of an inter-caste couple in Madurai. In its realist narration, the hero essentially embodies a ‘failed’ masculinity due to his affiliative markers of low caste belonging and an eventual destitute state. In their article ‘Desire, Youth, and Realism in Tamil Cinema’, Nakassis and Dean argue that Tamil films produced in the early 2000s show a desire to portray realism that appeals to the middle-class experiences of male youth in Tamil Nadu by resisting the formulaic masala genre of the late 1990s, which was organised around a film star’s ‘cult of personality’ (2007, 90). One of the reasons that they cite for the rise of realism in Tamil cinema is that the ‘masala superstar hero has lost his power to inspire identification’ (2007, 92), which has led to a shift in the conceptualisation of narrative tropes in Tamil cinema. Dubbed variously as ‘Madurai films’ and as ‘neo-nativity’ films (Kaali 2000), these realist plots did not focus on the suave and handsome Tamil hero as the main attraction of the filmic narrative. For the neo-nativity films of this period, the masculinity of the Tamil hero is framed through a narrative interiority. In these films, the hero does not automatically become a representative of the society that he belongs to, which may be defined by locale, social caste, or class. Rather, his personal desires are framed in opposition to these collective structures. In many films, he is in fact even introduced as the outsider as illustrated by the central male character Chithan (Vikram) in Pithamagan (Son of Ancestors, 2003), and is sometimes marked by a sense of failure, such as the male protagonist Murugaesan (Pasupathy) in Veyil (Heat, 2006). By focalising the male hero’s intimate desires to achieve selfhood that are usually located within a heterosexual romance, and not his heroic quest to transform society as the central aspect of the narrative, the neo-nativity film brings in a new vocabulary of masculinity into focus. It can be argued that the rise of the neo-nativity film did not translate to the complete disappearance of the Tamil mass film, nor did it suddenly result in the transformation of the male hero as a character rooted in the rural spaces of Tamil Nadu. And indeed, alongside the rise of neo-nativity films, it is possible to trace a parallel genealogy of commercially successful recent mass films such as Singam (Lion, 2011), where the hero (played by Surya) assumes the role of a police officer, and Maari (2015) (played by Dhanush), where the hero assumes the role of a gangster. Despite these varied trends, it is possible to discern that interest and relevance of the stereotypical mass film with a characteristic macho Tamil hero amongst audiences was on the wane. The consequent box-office failure of many mass hero-oriented films such as Rajinikanth’s Lingaa (2014), Ajith’s Attagasam (Defiance, 2004), and Vijay’s Sura (Shark, 2010) can all be viewed as the outcome of this narrative evolution in Tamil cinema. The mass hero, if he had to win over contemporary Tamil audiences, had to reinvent himself as one amongst the masses; he had to be represented through a different narrative formula. In order to understand how the Tamil mass hero becomes constantly referenced as the everyman of Tamil society by affiliating his position as an engineer, it is important to turn to the histories and the shifting meanings of technical education within Tamil Nadu.


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The evolution and meanings of technical education in Tamil Nadu The growth of engineering education in Tamil Nadu mirrors that of an imperative to invest and broaden local access to technical education and the effect of liberalisation policies within postcolonial India. Shortly after independence, the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru initiated a massive strategy for the development of the newly independent nation-state. The core of Nehru’s strategy rested on ‘technologically driven modernisation’ (Subramanian 2015, 292) that sought to concentrate on the creation and growth of home-grown heavy industries within India. The first five centrally funded technical institutes of education, the IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) which were established during 1951–1961, in which native Indians could be trained ‘with an innate capacity for technical knowledge’ (Subramanian 2015, 292), were central to Nehru’s vision of economic development. It is notable that Tamil Nadu was one of the five states chosen by the central government to set up a campus in Chennai (formerly Madras) in 1959. In 1990, the Indian state had to confront the changing global order by re-envisioning its economic policies through liberalisation reforms. Extending to diverse sectors within the market, liberalisation was achieved through intense privatisation of public enterprises, increase in foreign investment, financial sector reform, and fiscal stabilisation (Ghosh 1995, 12). One of the sectors that benefited from the denationalisation efforts was higher education, particularly through the broadening of private investment in tertiary education. Just a few years before liberalisation reforms were instituted in Tamil Nadu, the ADMK (Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) led by MGR had eliminated the Pre-University Certificate (PUC) examination and replaced it with higher secondary examinations in 1980. In line with his party’s Dravidian ideology that sought for the uplift of the non-Brahmin groups, MGR argued that this educational reform would be fundamental to kickstart a process whereby students from rural backgrounds and caste groups could easily enter into the tertiary education system. Concurrently, this move resulted in a rising demand to create more university-level courses that could translate into white-collar jobs, especially within the field of technical education. To cope with these requirements, MGR granted permits to the setting up of 16 private engineering colleges in the state which were owned by non-Brahmin caste groups such as the Vanniyars, Gounders, Nadars, and Thevars. This trend of caste-based investment in tertiary technical education within Tamil Nadu continued to strengthen in the 1990s and the 2000s, along with the intensification of liberalisation reforms and the burgeoning demands of technical labour within India and abroad. The privatisation of technical education is crucial in understanding the evolution and relevance of engineering education in Tamil Nadu for several reasons. Firstly, the rise of self-financing engineering institutes resulted in Tamil Nadu becoming the key state in producing the largest number of engineering graduates in India. Emerging as ‘extensions of dominant caste networks’, private engineering colleges popularised the neoliberal logic in tertiary education in which parents and their wards are modelled as ‘stakeholders’

Redefining the mass hero 89 or ‘customers’ of the ‘college’ (Hebbar 2018, 4). In return for charging hefty fee structures, these colleges assured students of lucrative job placements for their wards towards the end of their degree. Secondly, by relaxing rigid admission standards, private engineering colleges allowed for varied non-dominant caste groups to enter into technical education, which fundamentally altered the access of technical education to middle-class and lower-middle-class groups. As opposed to the centrally funded IIT’s, in which a majority of students hailed from affluent or upper-caste families (Subramaniam 2015, 295), private engineering colleges contained a large number of middle-class students who began to associate engineering education as the first step to upward social mobility.2 Finally, the widespread access to technical education, which welcomed a large group of the Tamil middle class through the promise of a better future and an opportunity to transcend their place in the social ladder, enabled for a certain kind of individuals to emerge within the Tamil society. This individual, grounded in middle-class values and a neoliberal sensibility, invariably occupies a gendered, heterosexual masculine position as technical education became a preferred career option for men, the breadwinners in the Tamil family.

The Tamil male engineer as a neoliberal subject: reading gendered behaviour There have been varied applications of the term ‘neoliberalism’ in different geographical, social, and cultural contexts. Neoliberalism is broadly conceived as an economic discourse which centres around a narrative of investment in human capital on the part of the individual and the state to both increase employment prospects and drive up national productivity (Foucault 2010; Hill 2010; Huber and Solt 2004). It has also established itself as a discourse that centres around consumption which transforms citizens into consumers (Clarke et al. 2007; Tyler 2013). The effects of neoliberalism on individual lives and its everyday effects in the social sphere have also been of great interest to sociologists and cultural theorists. Harvey (2005, 3) argues the ‘transformation of common sense’, which reveals how capitalism that inserts itself as a subconscious influence to frame one’s identity, gendered position, and individuality becomes crucial to understanding the framing of subjectivities in the neoliberal era. Writing in the context of educational aspirations among the Indian community who migrate abroad for educational purposes, Michiel Baas writes that neoliberalism ‘in its personified form’ is essentially male (2016, 187). He claims that neoliberalism brings ‘to mind the image of a male in a business suit … one who is aspirational and on his way to a high paying job in a financial institution’ (ibid). Through a careful analysis that does not generalise the discourse of neoliberalism ‘to being solely male’ (2016, 184), Baas reminds us that neoliberalism’s overriding emphasis on ‘logic and rationality’ (2016, 186) is inextricably linked to gendered performances of hegemonic masculine behaviour that ‘revolves around ideas of strength, determination and being in control’ (Connell 1995, 45).


Vasugi Kailasam

However, the markers of hegemonic masculinities that constitute ‘ideal’ masculine behaviour are relational. In contexts such as Tamil Nadu where masculinity is rooted in discussions of Tamil ethnic identity, it is not achieved independently. Rather, it is measured in relation to the masculinity of others, to shifting ideas of femininity and patriarchy while at the same time existing within different modalities of class and caste. In this sense, it is possible to read the rise of the engineer hero as representative of the changing political and social landscape of neoliberalism and its effects within Tamil Nadu. The engineer hero is also a reflection of the pressures of Tamil middle class who employ educational aspirations to transcend the boundaries of social class. Coded thus, engineering education becomes a complex intermeshing of personal agency, investment, and hegemonic discourses about gendered behaviour. In a parallel fashion, the engineer hero can also be read as a celebratory figure of youth culture, in which the jubilance and glamour of Tamil male youth is showcased. It is in this sense that Tamil films also appear as an index of Tamil male youth culture as a whole, which anthropologist Nakassis has described as a key ‘citational practice’ (2016, 173). At the most obvious level, citation in a Tamil cinema plot that employs an engineer hero works on a mimetic level of real-life situations which speak directly to heterosexual male audiences who form a large spectatorship base that attend engineering colleges in the state. At the same time, these plots also draw attention to the pervasive presence of film-makers and creators who have an engineering background in contemporary Tamil popular culture. Often, the personal lives of these creators3 become reflected in their choice of narrative plots, which centre around an engineering student or graduate and his life experiences. These plots which employ the male hero as the engineer remarkably perform what Nakassis terms the ‘romanticising of the quotidian’ (2016, 174) in two distinct ways: firstly, this process occurs through the filmic text and its plot, which appears representational of everyday realities; secondly, through the image of the male star, whose speech, mannerisms, dances, and the stunt sequences (essentially, ‘style’) are all centrally embedded within the text to create meaning. An important aspect of this everyday performativity, then, is its ‘interdiscursivity’ (2016, 175). In other words, the citationality of the Tamil film is entangled within the original textual meanings of the film and, by projection, the image of the male star within that particular context that directly references the aspirations, anxieties, and the fantasies of his spectatorship base. Thus, the ‘open-ended, shifting and anticipatory’ (2016, 176) nature of the ‘reanimations’ (2016, 189)4 has the potential to create a whole new dimension of meanings to the afterlife of the Tamil filmic text and its male star. Nakassis’s central argument about citationality is explained through the act of the male star’s ‘stylish acts’ – the ways in which the male star speaks, dresses, dances, romances, or fights on screen. However, the gendered mode of this citationality and the ways in which it validates, shapes, and imagines a range of Tamil masculinities that are located within varied cultural modalities of social class positions, all of which are capable of being endlessly cited and mimed, needs a deeper examination. In line with this argument, I propose to make the following question

Redefining the mass hero 91 central to this analysis of the contemporary Tamil mass hero, who is showcased as an engineering graduate: who is he, and what discourses of masculinity does his presence produce for Tamil popular culture that becomes worthy of citation?

Engineer heroes in Vaaranaram Ayiram, Nanban, and V.I.P. Taken together, Vaaranam Ayiram (2008), Nanban (2012), and V.I.P. (2014) were all produced by three different directors, who appeal to different audience bases of the A, B, and C centres. While the audience fan base of Dhanush and Vijay are largely based within B and C centres, it can be argued that the fan centre of director Gautham Menon and actor Surya are firmly entrenched within the A centres that cater to a largely upper-middle-class, urban audience. Vaaranam Ayiram (2008), directed by Gautham Vasudev Menon, stars Surya in the dual role of a father and a son. A coming-of-age tale, Vaaranam Ayiram (VA) details the life of Surya, who is a mechanical engineer from a private engineering institution called Moogambikai College. When he is on a train back home after completion of his degree, he meets Meghna (Sameera Reddy), who is a computer science engineering graduate from the National Institute of Technology, Trichy. Instantly smitten by her, he soon proposes marriage. The second half of the movie focuses on the romantic pursuit of Meghna, who relocates to the University of California Berkeley to pursue her postgraduate education and her eventual death due to a terrorist attack in Oklahoma. A depressed Surya returns to Chennai and decides to shift careers from the engineering sector to the armed forces. He eventually finds love and marries Priya (Divya Spandana). While the film does not focus exclusively on the study of engineering, it is interesting in its ability to plot the journey of the male protagonist from a boy into a man. Nanban (2012) is another coming-of-age story of three friends in an elite engineering college in Chennai who rebel against the competitive and rigid academic system to choose unconventional lives that urge them to follow their passions rather than a life of materialistic pursuit. Directed by Shankar, the film is a remake (tweaked through several local references to Tamil Nadu’s engineering education system) of the Bollywood blockbuster film 3 Idiots, which was adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s popular novel Five Point Someone (2004). Released in 2012, this film is one of the few films of Vijay that has a multi-star cast.5 Nanban6 follows the genre of Tamil films that are critical of the education system – a trope that has been widely popular and used in recently released Tamil films like Thanga Meenkal (Golden Fish, 2013) and Appa (Father, 2016). Similar to Thanga Meenkal and Appa, Nanban criticises the middle-class pursuit of a secure but uncreative job, as is promised by a professional engineering education. Set in the confines of an elite engineering college in Chennai, Nanban follows the life of three male friends, Pariventhan, Senthil, and Venkat. The movie begins in medias res and flits across the past and the present as Senthil and Venkat detail their friendship with Pariventhan. The narrative traces Pariventhan’s importance in helping them realise their true potential and for teaching them to think out of the box. Emphasising the code of male homosociality, Nanban is a rare multi-star


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film that does not feature the pursuit of the heroine as the main focus of the narrative; it merely remains a subplot. Nanban highlights many socially relevant issues that are native to Tamil Nadu’s education system, which revolve around the reservation system, and the subsequent discrimination against low-caste students, particularly within elite technical institutes. V.I.P. (2014) is a film about a civil engineer, Raghuvaran (Dhanush), who wants to put his technical education to use despite many offers from lucrative offers from BPOs. The story situates Raghuvaran as the ordinary boy next door, who has no special or heroic qualities; he lives with his small family, which consists of his father (Samuthirakani), who taunts him constantly; his mother (Saranya), who continually defends him; and a younger brother (Hrishikesh), who is gainfully employed. With the unexpected demise of his mother, he meets a man who owns a construction company and lands a job as a civil engineer. However, the first major construction project is thwarted by a rival corporate father–son duo. The second half of the film focuses on this conflict, which redeems the ordinary, bespectacled Raghuvaran into a hero who fights a more wealthy, arrogant and materialistic villain, Arun Subramaniam. At first glance, all three films appear to adhere to straightforward formulaic definitions of the ‘mass film’. The three narratives of VA, Nanban, and V.I.P. all have an established male star (Surya, Vijay, and Dhanush) as the male lead; the narrative accords very little space to the heroines of the films and the films employ liberal amounts of melodrama, a staple of the mass film. The films also contain elaborate song and dance sequences, which assured the commercial success of the film upon its release. Of the three films, it is also possible to distinguish a varied social class diegetic. While Nanban and V.I.P., in which Vijay and Dhanush play the respective leads, may be arguably oriented towards the B and the C centres, which are more oriented towards non-urban audiences and comprise low- to middle-class audiences, VA is directed towards an upwardly mobile, upper-middleclass, urban audience that is Anglophilic in its aspirations. A deeper examination of the male heroes and their subjectivities in the film reveals the changing characteristics of the mass hero, who is distinctively framed through the nodes of a neoliberal subjectivity. In all the films, neoliberalism is performed from two key vantage points. The first focalises around the individuality of the male hero and the display of male bonding or bromance, and the other centres around the semiotic refigurations of the male body, which subvert traditional definitions of mass hero masculinity and invent new meanings of masculine behaviour based on the display and subsequent objectification of the male body.

The neoliberal subjectivity of the contemporary mass hero: individuality, bromance, and the male body The logic of neoliberalism rests on the promotion of market ideals that focus on the maximisation of resources. The success of this neoliberal model depends on the notion of the individual as a driven and aspirational figure who embodies self-maximisation. According to Foucault (2010, 226), neoliberal identity hinges

Redefining the mass hero 93 on the idea of an ‘entrepreneurial self’ which manifests as an enterprising subject and being an entrepreneur of the self means being one’s own ‘capital … producer … [and] source of earnings’. Similarly, in her study on the idea of the enterprising subject within neoliberal India, anthropologist Nandini Gooptu argues that a neoliberal environment creates a space in which the quest for individuality is ‘valorised and redesignated’ (2013, 4) as ‘a moral and virtuous quest’ (2013, 5) for individual responsibility and self-actualisation. Thus, enterprising subjects who actively seek to invest in themselves are automatically seen as securing their own futures. In this context of neoliberal enterprise, individual responsibility transforms citizens as active subjects who are capable of transforming their selfpotential into realisable objects of consumption (Mirowski 2013). In all three films, the success of the male hero as an individual hinges on the male hero’s self-determination, grit, arrogance, and ambition. This success is not granted through any discursive structures but is, instead, grafted through his rebellion against established norms, particularly around technical education. For instance, in V.I.P., Raghuvaran’s jobless state, which becomes his identity and the subject of ridicule from his family members, does not discourage him from finding work in another field of business that is unrelated to his educational background. The film foregrounds his desire to take up work in civil engineering, despite failing at many interviews, as a mark of his perseverance. Similarly, in Nanban, in which Vijay plays a student from a poor background, he graduates from a highly competitive engineering institution, only to gift his degree to his father’s employer’s son. This is done to honour a contract between Pari’s father and his employer. Having renounced his degree, Pari sets up a school and pursues pathbreaking scientific research. Although Shankar’s film critiques the race of the educational system that derides creativity, the film endorses the creative and innovative self-fashioning of Pari, who, through his own critical thinking skills and hard work, becomes a world-renowned scientist. On the other hand, VA’s theme of individuality is built around the notion of romance and passion. While Surya is first introduced as an engineering student at the start of the film, he remarks that he is entering that profession because of peer pressure. The film is modelled in such a way that it resembles a quest narrative, charting Surya’s journey through romance and passion that eventually enables him to identify his individuality. In this sense, VA showcases a new type of masculinity, in which the hero does not ‘blame’ the political system or infrastructure for his progression in life; instead, he takes the responsibility upon himself to plunge into action, whether in the pursuit of the heroine or finding his calling as a dedicated, secular Indian citizen who will defend the nation. Showcasing the male hero as a responsible, self-regulating, and autonomous individual, VA brings a specific mode of masculinity that speaks to neoliberal ideals. While individual enterprise is encoded within and through the mode of the male self, these post-millennial mass films do not completely override the imaginative space of the community, which is an important feature of the mass film. Rather, the imaginative space of the community is believed to have the power to effectively transcend celluloid space and allow spectators to envision the hero

94 Vasugi Kailasam as a political leader of the masses. In Nanban, the creation of community is referenced through a valorisation of male homosociality. In the film, Pari is shown as the epitome of male friendship. The film begins amid Pari’s looming absence, but the entire narrative is a story of Pari’s ingenuity and his compassionate, funfilled friendship with his other two male friends. In Nanban, we can see features of the ‘buddy film’, a genre that has been popular in Indian cinema for its showcase of intense love and loyalty between ostensibly straight men. From its origins in primarily action-adventure-revenge-narrative movies such as Thalapathi (The Commander, 1991), the genre has morphed into the ‘bromance’, ‘a postglobalization configuration which deploys the term to describe a certain kind of hip, urban friendship between men’ (DeAngelis 2014, 143). It is this site of male friendship that expands to encompass a community of male youths within the college who function as both addressee and diegetic presence of the masses in this film. In V.I.P., the film explicitly depicts a community of male youth by making Raghuvaran the model representative for unemployed Tamil male engineers. In contrast to the other two films in which engineering education’s employable aspects are not held to scrutiny, V.I.P. comments on the vanishing job prospects of engineering graduates within Tamil Nadu. As Hebbar comments, V.I.P. speaks directly to Dhanush’s spectatorial male fan base as a ‘common subaltern narrative, located firmly in self-financed colleges that run on management fees, where students have arrears, struggle with language, and jobs are not guaranteed’ (2017, 49). When Raghuvaran’s first construction project is thwarted due to Arun Subramaniam’s villainous plot, Raghuvaran rises to the occasion and uses his quick wit to gather a group of similarly unemployed civil engineers over social media to finish the construction within a stipulated deadline. Through the careful placing of the titular song, Velaiilla Pattadhari in which Raghuvaran is pictured amidst masses, the film foregrounds his earnestness and benevolence which highlights his leadership potential. While the presence of a large bonded group of male youths is not staged in VA, it is possible to argue that the sole focus of Surya’s journey and his individualism remains closely dependent on the male figure of his father, also played by the actor Surya. The film narrates their close relationship in a loose, episodic fashion that lacks the traditional racy punch of a mass film. However, the father in VA is not the traditional Tamil patriarch who enforces authority or conservative moral ideals; rather, he is an identifiable, even flawed character. He is a heavy drinker and is laden with debts but is, nevertheless, very vocal about his love for the family. In this sense, the spectatorial investment of the film depends on the personal identification of the viewer with their own paternal figures.

The male body: subverting traditional masculinity and the invention of new idioms In VA, Nanban, and V.I.P., the movies display a marked awareness of metrosexual masculinity, a term that critics use to describe the new focus on the male

Redefining the mass hero 95 physique, particularly the ‘lean and muscular’ body type that is now heralded as the ‘new Indian male’, whose corporeality stands as a symbol of ‘socio-economic success, cosmopolitanism and even professionalism’ (Baas 2018, 449). The new focus on the male physique can be seen in tandem with the growing popularity of physical fitness, gym culture, and, more broadly, what has been labelled the ‘liberalisation’ of urban Indian masculinity in pan-Indian cinema (Deckha 2007, 61). The focus on the hero’s body should be seen as the rise of the male body’s display in popular culture. In the first half of VA, Surya’s screen presence is shaped through spontaneous acts that are marked by uncontrollable energy. Often framed through close-ups and zoom-ins in the first half of VA, the dominant visuals frame Surya with a masculinity that conveys an openness, as opposed to an impenetrability that is characteristic of the hegemonic masculinity of the male mass hero. In the first half of the film, Surya’s character, modelled after the romantic hero, is vulnerable yet persistent in his pursuit of the heroine. In this particular section of the film, which unfurls the romance plot between Surya and Meghana, Surya’s acting style is always coded within an excess of feeling, but one that is carefully enacted to produce an effect of emotional vulnerability. This subtly calibrated emotion is made particularly visible in songs such as Mundhinam Parthene, where the camera often shoots his body in ways that do not typically consist of macho postures. Surya’s open-armed stance and images that frame him with a strumming guitar are examples. In the second half of the film, Surya’s association with the armed forces marks him as a traditional masculine hero who believes in the service of the nation at the risk of his own life. The film does not explain any concrete reasons for his change in career from that of an engineering graduate to that of an army officer except through an indexical reference to his transformed masculinity which changes from a boyish exuberance to a portrayal of manly strength and valour. This is showcased in the song Anal Melae, in which his lover Nithya visits Surya in the army camp. Describing the desire of the heroine for the hero in sensuous lyrics, this song is atypical for Tamil cinema, since it directly positions the hero through the heroine’s gaze and her sexual desire for him. We see that the camera frames Surya in such a way that his body is displayed as an object of heterosexual female desire. The song picturisation does not focus on standard dance sequences but instead is framed through fragmented shots of Surya’s body – with lingering images of his muscular arms and shoulders. When he emerges dripping from the water in one shot, the camera pans to his torso and holds the image for an extended beat before moving on to his face. In VA, Surya is upheld as a new model of the mass hero, one in whom masculinity is the focus – but this masculinity is remade through an objectification and display of the male body. Here, the male body is upheld for a heterosexual, female gaze in which masculine power, authority, and impenetrability are recast for spectatorial consumption. In contrast, V.I.P. depends upon the male hero’s body to distinguish himself as the ordinary boy next door. Dhanush’s slim frame, which is uncharacteristic of a typical Tamil mass hero, has always remained his strength and is seen as a key


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reason for his relatability with the masses. When Raghuvaran is first introduced in the film, he is riding a small bike and appears almost domesticated. Raghuvaran runs errands for the family and watches sappy teleserials with his mother and next-door neighbours. By virtue of his unemployability and nonchalance, he is branded as a loser by his father, the patriarch of the family. While V.I.P. does not completely shy away from action sequences, which are an important aspect of the mass format, it reinvents the form in an almost subversive manner, through the site of Raghuvaran’s slender masculine body. In V.I.P., there are two key action sequences where Raghuvaran is confronted by villains. In the first sequence, which has comedic overtones, he is attacked by a gang of rowdies within the space of his family home. There are no crowds to cheer him on, and the fight is orchestrated with a standout visual gag where Raghuvaran shields himself with a garden hose when threatened with a knife. In the second half of the film, he is again picturised in the midst of a group of hitmen who are sent in by the main villain, Arun Subramaniam. In this fight sequence, Raghuvaran is picturised shirtless, and it is precisely at this point in the film that the ordinary Raghuvaran transforms into the mass hero. After successfully defeating the rowdies with his bare hands, the climactic sequence is followed by a meeting with the villain Arun Subramaniam. In the standard mass film, this particular section of the film would ideally result in yet another fight sequence that becomes a spectacle to establish the final infallibility of the male hero. However, V.I.P. does not employ this formula. Rather, it is in this sequence that Raghuvaran reconciles with the villain and in fact even accepts defeat. By eliminating the display of masculinity that is focalised in the fight sequence between the hero and the villain, in which two male bodies, both seen as inviolable and impenetrable, are pitted against one another, V.I.P. injects a strong dose of realism into the narrative. The spectator is thus still able to imagine Raghuvaran as the ordinary boy and can still empathise with him as the male hero who need not necessarily prove his heroism through his body. By resolving the narrative tension of the fight sequence through dialogues that establish Raghuvaran’s heroism, V.I.P. subverts the traditional model of the mass hero, who violates the villain’s body through violence.

Conclusion This chapter has attempted to demonstrate the evolution of the mass hero in twenty-first-century Tamil cinema by examining the popular casting of the Tamil hero as a graduate or student of engineering. Indexed through a neoliberal sensibility that speaks to the aspirations and anxieties of contemporary audiences, the engineer Tamil hero brings a new vocabulary to frame ideas of male youth. This figure also becomes useful to recast the staple elements of the mass film formulae such as the idea of romance and the positioning of the hero as the representative of collective consciousness by reworking dominant ideals of Tamil masculinity to comment on new ideals and expectations in the wake of neoliberalist sensibility in Tamil Nadu. Cinema, similar to other forms of art which aim to mimic reality, remains true to Adorno’s claim that it is not ‘fixed and definitive in itself

Redefining the mass hero 97 but something in motion’ (1997, 73). With the appearance of new types of Tamil mass heroes such as Vijay Sethupathi, who has simultaneously broken the definitions of what the mass hero can constitute and the narratives that can define him, a new age of the mass hero for Tamil cinema is now here.

Notes 1 S.V. Srinivas notes that the ‘mass hero’ is a character archetype that can be found in Indian cinema after the 1980s. Srinivas locates the origins of this character prototype with Amitabh Bachchan’s popular portrayal of the Angry Young Man in Hindi cinema, whose effects can be seen in South Indian regional cinemas such as the Tamil and Telugu industries. 2 As Hebbar writes, some of the students in these colleges are also beneficiaries of TN Government schemes such as the First Graduate scheme and Free Education schemes which are meant to encourage the entry of members of disadvantaged groups into higher education and enable social transformation (2017, 35). 3 Examples of famous engineering graduate directors in the Tamil cinema industry who have achieved commercial and critical success in the 2000s include Gautham Menon, Nalan Kumarasamy, Karthik Subburaj, and Vijay Kumar. 4 This mode of citationality and participatory fan culture, particularly for post-millennial global popular culture, has acquired new meanings with the introduction of web applications such as Dubsmash. Dubsmash is a free web application that allows users to take a selfie video on their phones, while simultaneously mixing it with any sound—users can lip-sync the dialogue of their favourite stars or films and upload them online. In Tamil Nadu, Dubsmash has emerged as a big hit since its introduction in 2015. 5 Although Vijay has acted in other multi-star films such as Nerukku Ner (1997) and Friends (2001), in which he predominantly played roles of the romantic hero, these films are situated at the start of his filmic career before he attained the status of a ‘mass hero’. 6 It is important to note that Nanban was released after the failure of the film Sura (2010), in which Vijay plays the role of a fisherman. Nanban also holds a significant place in Vijay’s career because it marks the shift in the kind of roles that he chose to take on after the success of Nanban. In the aftermath of Nanban, Vijay started to choose films that were set in urban spaces and ones in which he played more suave roles, such as an army officer in Thuppaki (2013), a medical doctor in Mersal (2016), and an NRI businessman in Sarkar (2018).

References Adorno, Theodor. 1997. Aesthetic Theory. Trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press. Baas, Michiel. 2016. ‘The Neoliberal Masculine Logic: Skilled Migration, International Students, and the Indian “Other” in Australia’. In: Garth Stahl, Joseph Derick Nelson and Derren O. Wallace (eds.), Masculinity and Aspiration in the Era of Neoliberal Education: International Perspectives Vol. 3. New York: Routledge. Baas, Michiel. 2018. ‘The New Indian Male’. In: Knut Jacobsen (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Contemporary India. London & New York: Routledge. Clarke, J., et al. 2007. Creating Citizen-Consumers: Changing Publics and Changing Public Services. London: SAGE. Connell, R. W. 1995. Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity Press.


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DeAngelis, Michael. 2014. Reading the Bromance: Homosocial Relationships in Film and Television. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press. Deckha, Nitin. 2007. ‘From Artist-as-Hero to the Creative Young Man: Bollywood and the Aestheticization of Indian Masculinity’. In: Gurbir Jolly, Zenia Wadhwani and Deborah Barretto (eds.), Once Upon a Time in Bollywood: The Global Swing in Hindi Cinema. Toronto: TSAR Publications. Foucault, Michel. 2010 The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978– 1979, trans. G. Burchell. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan. Ghosh, Arun. 1995. ‘Who’s Afraid of Liberalisation?’ Economic and Political Weekly 30(1): 12–14. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4402220?seq=1 Gooptu, Nandini. 2013. Enterprise Culture in Neoliberal India: Studies in Youth, Class, Work and Media. Vol. 74. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. Harvey, David. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hebbar, Nandini. 2017. ‘Engineering Respectability: The Politics of Aspiration in an Engineering College’. Subversions: A Journal of Emerging Research in Media and Cultural Studies. Vol. 5. http://subversions.tiss.edu/vol-5/nandini/ Hebbar, Nandini. 2018. ‘Subjectivities of Suitability: ‘Intimate Aspirations’ in an Engineering College’. South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal 19(19): 1–18. doi:10.4000/samaj.4578. Hill, Dave. 2010. ‘Class, Capital, and Education in This Neoliberal and Neoconservative Period’. In: Dave Hill, Peter McLaren and Sheila Macrine (eds.), Revolutionizing Pedagogy: Education for Social Justice within and beyond Global Neoliberalism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Huber, E. and F. Solt. 2004. ‘Successes and Failures of Neoliberalism’. Latin American Research Review 39(3): 150–164. Kaali, Sundar. 2000. ‘Narrating Seduction: Vicissitudes of the Sexed Subject in Tamil Nativity Film’. In: Ravi Vasudevan (ed.), Making Meaning in Indian Cinema. New Delhi: Oxford UP. Mirowski, Philip. 2013. Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown. London: Verso Books. Nakassis, Constantine V. 2016. Doing Style: Youth and Mass Mediation in South India. London: University of Chicago Press. Nakassis, Constantine V. and Melanie A. Dean. 2007. ‘Desire, Youth, and Realism in Tamil Cinema’. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 17(1): 77–104. doi:10.1525/ jlin.2007.17.1.77. Rajamani, Imke. 2017. ‘Feeling Anger, Compassion and Community in Popular Telugu Cinema’. The Indian Economic and Social History Review 54(1): 103–122. doi:10.117 7%2F0019464616683482. Srinivas, S. V. 2009. Megastar: Chiranjeevi and Telugu Cinema After N. T. Rama Rao. Oxford & New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Subramanian, Ajantha. 2015. ‘Making Merit: The Indian Institutes of Technology and the Social Life of Caste’. Comparative Studies in Society and History 57(2): 291–322. doi:10.1017/S0010417515000043. Tyler, Imogen. 2013. Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain. London & New York: Zed Books.


White is the new brown Constructing Amy Jackson as a desirable object in Tamil cinema Meenaatchi Saverimuttu

In 2014, Amy Jackson, a British Caucasian model, was named as Chennai’s Most Desirable Woman by Chennai Times, a new daily (Dutt 2015). Jackson, and the way in which she is used to falsely represent Tamil women, has been a point of contention for me since her entry into the Tamil film industry. The model made her acting debut in 2010, playing a British woman in the period-romance film Madrasapattinam (Madras Town). Since this role, Jackson has amassed significant popularity playing Tamil characters. Over the years, Jackson’s skin has been ever so slightly spray tanned, her hair has been dyed black, and her light eyes hidden behind dark brown contact lenses. In the globalised world of 2019, it is perhaps not too surprising to see a foreign presence in a Tamil film. However, Jackson’s cosmetic transformation into a nativised putative Tamil woman is problematic to say the least. What makes Jackson particularly fascinating is the inherent contradiction between her portrayal of idealised Tamil women and her own identity as a Caucasian woman. The female characters Jackson plays are simultaneously Indian and non-Indian; conservative yet modern, she treads the line between the West and India. The image of Jackson is further complicated by the self-referential nature of the Tamil film industry, where it is common for a character to make reference to Jackson as Caucasian, despite her characters being canonically Tamil. Throughout this chapter, I consider how Amy Jackson, an ‘outsider’, as a white woman of British origin, has emerged as a prominent figure within Tamil cinema. I am primarily concerned with the construction of the contemporary Tamil heroine and position Jackson as the latest figure in the sequence of Tamil heroines.1 Here, I consider how Jackson’s ethnicity and Western background may paradoxically make her the ‘perfect’ candidate for portraying the contemporary Tamil woman. The distinction I make between Jackson’s ethnicity and her background will become clear as this chapter unfolds. However, this distinction has an important role in differentiating between ideas of whiteness as an aesthetic and social norms of acceptable behaviour in Tamil Nadu: two factors that equally contribute to Jackson’s appeal. When I refer to Jackson’s whiteness, I refer to her ethnicity, and in particular the colour of her skin, while references to Jackson’s Westernness or background refer to her upbringing and Western background.2

100 Meenaatchi Saverimuttu The two films chosen, Thangamagan (Golden Son, 2015) and Gethu (Style, 2016), illustrate Tamil cinema’s conflicted position in relation to Jackson’s Caucasian identity. Both films contain identical references to Jackson’s characters as the vellaikkari (‘the white chick’)3; however, their approaches to Jackson’s race are contradictory to one another. While debates within whiteness/representation studies vary considerably, the core understanding of whiteness as an invisible norm does not entirely account for Jackson. Although Jackson benefits considerably from a transnational notion of whiteness as the ideal beauty, her whiteness is highly visible – and often emphasised – within the context of Tamil cinema. I begin this chapter by discussing the historical representation of Western/white women within Tamil cinema. Dominant narratives regarding ‘true’ Tamil culture, as introduced and advanced by the Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (DMK, Dravidian Progress Federation), significantly impacted representations of the West in Tamil cinema. Films such as Manohara (1954) and Parasakhthi (The Goddess, 1952) bolster the native Tamil hero as the pinnacle of Dravidian culture. This fervent nativism aids substantially in portraying men as native and women as Other in Tamil cinema (Lakshmi 2008; Chinniah 2008). I begin by discussing feminine manifestations of Western culture throughout the late twentieth and early twentyfirst centuries. I then move on to discuss whiteness as an aesthetic of beauty and how this impacts the portrayal of Jackson as an exoticised figure. Finally, I look to conceptions of stigma and how Jackson’s position as an outsider enables her to participate in intimate acts on-screen without the fear of societal disrepute.

The Westernised woman C.S. Lakshmi’s (2008) observation that the representation of females in Tamil cinema was reduced to a dichotomy of ‘mothers and whores’ holds much significance in understanding Jackson’s representation. Here, characteristics of the virtuous Tamil mother are reified through contrasting female characters whose behaviour is represented as immoral. The films of the 1940s and 1950s easily established this dichotomy. However, in the lead up to and in the aftermath of India’s independence in 1947, colonial tensions manifested themselves more strongly within representations in Tamil cinema. It should be noted that as far back as in the silent era, Tamil films were known to include anti-British sentiments (Baskaran 1981). However, as Dravidian politics took precedence, these ideologies became even more present within films. Representations of the native and the Other became heavily gendered; with males embodying Dravidian identity and females embodying the foreign became the Other. Lakshmi asserts that the emergence of ‘true’ Tamil heroes4 – while no heroine could be categorised as the ideal Tamil woman – shows the depth to which male identity was entrenched in perceptions of Tamil culture. Meanwhile, female identity was ‘of secondary importance, manipulated, venerated and set aside’ (Lakshmi 2008, 17). The representation of women could thus exemplify any aspect of society deemed threatening to the Dravidian patriarchal order. Inevitably, these fluctuations and contradictions in the representations of femininity lead to fractures, allowing even for a figure as perplexing as Jackson to grow to prominence.

White is the new brown 101 The emergence and popularity of the women’s liberation movement in Tamil Nadu in the mid-twentieth century (influenced significantly by Western movements) posed a significant threat to the patriarchal nativism established by the DMK. Consequently, representations, particularly those of ‘bad’ women, began to aggressively conflate the modern with the Western. Barathi (2013) explains the dominant representation of the good/bad women, stating that the heroine will go around in double plaits, wearing paavaadai thaavani, fall in love, and marry,5 while the ‘bad women’ are educated women wearing modern clothes, with competitive and envious spirits (2013, 94).6 Similarly, Lakshmi discusses the dual representation of the good and bad women in the film Velaikaari (Female Domestic Servant, 1949) noting that7 [t]he good woman is poor, beautiful and the epitome of Tamil culture. The bad woman is rich, English-educated, interested in social work and insolent. … The rich girl is a comment on the various women’s organisations in the Tamil region at that time. (Lakshmi 2008, 18–19) Velaikaari clearly reflected and combated the imported social movements of the time, leaving no doubt that women’s liberation was nothing more than a stain on proper Tamil womanhood. Similarly, Barathi notes that in the film Kanavan (Husband, 1968), the heroine Rani vows ‘I will not marry and become a slave to a man’. When a man comes to ‘see her as his prospective bride’,8 she argues ‘that the “seeing the bride” tradition and asking the woman “do you know how to sing, do you know how to cook?”’ is insulting to her in many ways. Her feminist thinking is put forward as a rich woman’s arrogance (2013, 64).9 As these examples show, representations of women who become ‘corrupted’ by the burgeoning women’s liberation movement attempted to convince everyday women that they had no place within such movements. This rejection of women’s liberation in cinema would continue until the 1970s, when seemingly ‘liberated’ women were shown on-screen. This newly liberated woman was ‘presented as someone with a mind of her own but not so assertive that she will take over the job of acting out her ideas’ (Lakshmi 2008, 23). These liberated women brought with them the English-spattered dialogue of modernity, and the ever-present fear that their idealism would ward away men (Lakshmi 2008, 23). Skipping forward to the 1990s, Sathiavathi Chinniah proposes a new breed of heroine: Often projected as the unmarried virgin woman, [the] modern katã-nãyaki is educated, brash and is even capable of taunting the hero. With the elimination of the vamp or club dancer, who in the earlier decades was representative of the negative image of the female in contrast to the good-natured protagonist, the katã-nãyaki of the 1990s assumed a persona that combined both facets. (2008, 37)

102 Meenaatchi Saverimuttu Modern yet chaste, the contemporary heroine (katã-nãyaki) is simultaneously objectified and deified. This usually occurs during the first half of the film. This display of modernity (and, accordingly, display of skin) is often attributed to immaturity: immaturity rectified by heeding the hero’s advice and becoming traditional in the latter half of the film. While this transformation can be glimpsed in earlier films such as Vivasaayi (Farmer, 1967), this trope certainly became commonplace in the 1990s and early 2000s. A notable example of this is Sivakaasi (2005). In the film, the young heroine, Hema, is out shopping and in classic 2000s style, she wears a netted tank top, which reveals the skin on her waist. While shopping, she is groped by a man and she proceeds to beat him with her slipper in the middle of the street. The hero, Sivakaasi, hearing the commotion heads over to disperse the crowd, and lectures the man on harassing women. He then turns to Hema; a short sequence cuts between her exposed thighs and waist and his disapproving face. He approaches her and the following exchange occurs: What’s this? I can’t see your saree or your underskirt, you’re standing here in just your underwear. Hema: These are shorts.10 Sivakaasi: For you they are shorts, for us they are underwear. Sivakaasi (cont.): Also, where is your Jacket?11 You’re wearing just your bra. Hema: This is a sleeveless top. Sivakaasi: Hey! For you it’s a sleeveless, for us it’s a bra. […] Sivakaasi: You wear clothes so that everybody knows how many moles are on your body, but then you get mad when you are touched by strange men. It has become a game for you [girls]. […] Sivakaasi: Look, if you behaved like a woman and came dressed covered up in a saree, men will not look at you as a girl, but pray to you as a goddess. (Perarasu 2005)12 Sivakaasi:

Instead of taking offense to a stranger implying she was asking to be groped on the street, the heroine falls madly in love, rushes home, and immediately begins to wear traditional attire so as to win over Sivakaasi. The irony of this change, of course, is that the saree reveals the same segment of waist that Hema was earlier chastised for revealing. Nevertheless, Hema, while being objectified by the film and displaying modern characteristics, inevitably must conform to Tamil cinema’s traditional archetype, by relinquishing her modernity, if she is to be a good wife and mother. Moreover, the above exchange shows the extent to which the notion of the female as Other is portrayed in Tamil cinema. Sivakaasi notes, ‘for you they are shorts, [but] for us they are underwear’. This clear demarcation between the masculine, native, and respectable us and the female, foreign (Westernised), and immoral you further perpetuates the anti-colonial figurations of male and female characters on-screen. It is thus necessary to consider the emergence of these

White is the new brown 103 impure, hybrid Westernised women alongside the figure of Amy Jackson in Tamil cinema. As a Western woman, the stigma of these negative Western stereotypes is virtually unavoidable and is a vital aspect of the construction of Jackson’s characters in Thangamagan (2015) and Gethu (2016).

Complications: whiteness as an aesthetic of beauty Given the aggressive cosmetic nativisation of Jackson, it is clear that these negative conceptions of the Westernised woman are still very much in play within Tamil film narratives. Jackson’s popularity seems inconsistent with nativist ideas surrounding ‘true’ Tamil womanhood, a conundrum that calls for an analysis of the tension between these anti-colonial ideologies and notions of a transnational model of whiteness as an aesthetic of beauty. Jackson’s looks are a clear indicator of how she became successful: she is tall and slim, and has strong features, light eyes, and pale skin. In some respects, the reoccurrence of Jackson playing Tamil characters in her films can be seen as a form of exoticism. However, in other respects, Jackson’s popularity has a direct correlation with globalised/transnational ideals of beauty perpetuated by transnational (and predominantly Western) cosmetic companies. These companies gained a foothold in India around the 1980s and began to take advantage of Asia’s inherent class/caste-based prioritisation of fair skin by promoting ‘whiteness as an aesthetic of beauty’ through bleaching/lightening creams (Osuri 2008, 109). Goldie Osuri looks at the contemporary example of Aishwarya Rai, a popular female Bollywood actor and winner of a Miss World crown, and the ways in which Rai is presented in Western contexts as a transnational beauty. Often referred to as ‘mysterious and exotic’ by Western media, Osuri points out that it is Rai’s racial ambiguity and the fact that she is not easily traced back to India, which aids her popularity (2008, 116). Similar to Jackson, Rai’s light eyes and skin are enough to distance her from conventional ideas surrounding Indian women. In some respects, Rai effectively, albeit ambiguously, passes as white within a transnational context. Whiteness as an aesthetic of beauty is clearly exemplified in both Rai and Jackson, who are respectively Western-enough and Indian-enough to switch between national and transnational contexts.

Case study 1: Jackson as an aesthetic of beauty in Gethu (2016) Released in 2016, Gethu is another family-oriented masala action film. The protagonist Sethu (Udhayanidhi Stalin) is a disciplined young middle-class man, who is forced to play dirty when his father is wrongly accused of murder by corrupt police officers and gangsters. Jackson plays Nanthini, an aspiring, upper-caste, Brahmin news anchor with kleptomaniac tendencies. Jackson’s role exists primarily to facilitate the romantic plotline, and while she only appears on-screen for roughly 20 minutes, Jackson’s race is somehow still worked into the dialogue. As will be discussed in the second case study, Thangamagan, there is only one overt reference to Jackson’s whiteness; however, this reference carries far more weight


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as it comes from Jackson’s character herself. In the scene where this reference occurs, Nanthini has taken incriminating photos of Sethu urinating on a street corner and blackmails him into accompanying her to a night-time show. Nanthini: Sethu: Nanthini: Sethu: Nanthini:

Be ready at nine o’clock tonight. What for? I want to go out tonight and have a great time! Why do I have to get ready for you to go out? I can’t go out on my own. Even the average girls are getting hit on, I’m like a white chick, what if someone comes and ‘pecks’ me? You’re coming too. (Thirukumaran 2016)13

The simple fact that this reference to Jackson’s whiteness is made by the character she herself plays legitimises the claim, as audiences cannot dismiss it as a simple note on Jackson’s cosmetic looks. It is not that Jackson seems white, she fundamentally is white by her own words, an implication that leads to a greater breakdown of the Nanthini’s identity as Tamil. Through this brag Nanthini distinguishes herself, someone who is like a white girl, from the average, and presumably Tamil, girls. Essentially what Nanthini is stating is that she looks so white that she is more appealing to men. The implication here is Sethu could miss out on Nanthini as she is far superior to Tamil-looking girls. The positive nature of the reference to Jackson’s whiteness in Gethu points towards an understanding of whiteness as a global aesthetic of beauty. There are two parts to my reading of this reference. On a basic level, Jackson’s whiteness is not stigmatised as we have seen it can be when viewed through the nativist paradigm of the Westernised woman. On the contrary, the reference made to the Caucasian Amy Jackson in relation to Nanthini is glorified, fetishised even, as a glamorous rarity that the hero would be lucky to be associated with and should not miss out on. The second part of my reading delves further into the implications of this glorification of Jackson’s whiteness, particularly in regard to how it assists in figuring Jackson as an object of male phantasy in her films.14 In referencing her whiteness, Nanthini alerts the audience, particularly male viewers, to the irresistibility of her difference. Constantine Nakassis (2015), speaking about women who appear on Tamil television, remarks on how the objectification of female bodies in Tamil cinema is made fundamentally easier by marking the difference between the desired on-screen body and the body of a family member. Nakassis quotes a friend, who explains that watching women on-screen is similar to the act of openly ogling women in public. The man explains that ‘when they aren’t our sisters or mothers, we enjoy it. But if others are looking at them [their own family] like that, we get upset’ (Nakassis 2015, 15). Hence, to render women as foreign objects is ‘to figure them as not kin’ (Nakassis 2015, 15). Indeed, it is thus not surprising that the majority of prominent actresses in Tamil cinema are imported from neighbouring industries and that the identity of these women as non-Tamil

White is the new brown 105 heavily influences the portrayal of these women as sexualised objects on screen. The DMK and its offshoot parties promoted the notion of a unified Tamil identity in politics and cinema, which was primarily facilitated by employing familial titles and relationships between party members and the public. Similarly, the kin group discussed by Nakassis is not a personal one; it falls within the nativist model of an essential Tamil-ness. The way in which Gethu exploits this familial model to objectify Jackson is similar to Sara Ahmed’s assertion that [r]ace … ‘extends’ the family form; other members of the race are ‘like a family’, just as the family is defined in racial terms. The analogy works powerfully to produce a particular version of race and a particular version of family, predicated on ‘likeness’, where likeness becomes a matter of ‘shared attributes’. (2007, 154) While Nanthini exists within the Tamil notion of identity, the momentary collapse between her and the white Amy Jackson draws attention to her desirability through her exclusion from the audience’s kin group, signalling to male viewers that she is a viable source from which they can derive sexual pleasure. Other less overt examples of Nanthini’s fundamental difference occur throughout Jackson’s stint in the film, most notably in a scene where Nanthini is compared to her darker skinned friend. In this scene, Sethu and his friend Kanagu have recovered some stolen books from Nanthini and request her to give them the rest. Nanthini states that she has lent them to her friend and she will take them there to retrieve them. Kanagu, presumably impressed by Nanthini’s looks, asks her if her friend is attractive. Nanthini responds that she is very beautiful. Convinced, Kanagu accompanies Sethu and Nanthini to meet the friend. When they arrive, Nanthini goes to get her friend and the books while Sethu and Kanagu wait outside. Excited, Kanagu asks Sethu if he thinks the friend will be a good match for himself. As the woman exits her home, Kanagu’s excitement has completely disappeared, Sethu looks disapprovingly at Kanagu as if to say, you got excited over this? A brief exchange occurs between the two characters: Kanagu: So she’s the ‘beautiful’ one? Nanthini’s Friend: Hi I’m Veena. Sethu’s Friend: Vaenaam (I don’t want [you]).

(Thirukumaran 2016)15

The joke here is that Veena is the antithesis of Nanthini: shorter, darker, and less fashionable, she is quickly labelled inadequate by Sethu and Kanagu. Here Veena is a visual representation of the ‘average Tamil girl’ Nanthini compares herself to in the previous quote. Positioned as mediocre, ugly, and non-Western, Veena has none of the Caucasian glamour held by Nanthini. Ultimately Veena is nothing more than a reminder of Nanthini’s fundamental difference from the audience, further positioning her outside the kin group and as an object of sexual fantasy. While this aesthetic of appearing white may hold some precedence,


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I posit that within the Dravidian paradigm, it is still important to be Indian Tamil, hence Jackson’s cosmetic transformation. As such, while whiteness as an aesthetic can be considered a large aspect of Jackson’s appeal, it does not fully account for her non-Indianness. In other words, why choose a Caucasian actor and make her appear Tamil, when you could pick a Tamil actor and make her appear white?

Stigma and the appeal of a Caucasian female actor These questions bring me to the larger question of what Jackson’s ethnicity and background afford her. Her popularity is evidently not simply because she looks white, it is because she is white. In other words, Jackson not only fits the requirements (thin, tall, fair) for the contemporary Indian ideal of femininity; she is also free from many of the negative associations that come with acting in Tamil Nadu as an Anglo-Saxon woman who grew up in the United Kingdom. Many Tamil cinema scholars have discussed the significance of the stigma of acting within the industry (Chinniah 2008; Dickey 2001; Hardgrave 1975; Mishra 1999; Nakassis 2015). This stigma is thought to have begun around the silent era (Narayanan 2008, 29–30); however, since then, there seems to be a singular reason as to why women refrain from entering the industry, as stated by Nakassis: [O]ne standard argument invoked to explain this stigma is that from its inception India’s film industries have been filled with ‘dancing girls’, a stereotype linked to the historical overlap in personnel between actresses and women from so called Devadasi communities, who through nineteenth-century reform movements were rebranded as prostitutes and relegated to the margins of respectability and community. (2015, 11) Yet again, we are brought back to archetypical notions of chastity and respectability, as discussed by Lakshmi (2008) and Chinniah (2008). The career of acting is, thus, particularly daunting for Indian/Tamil women who wish to live lives in which they eventually marry and have children. To be seen on screen and associated with prostitution are to ruin one’s prospects of living a virtuous life. Displays of these attitudes are perhaps most commonly seen with contemporary female actors who retire from acting once they marry (Hardgrave 1975, 3). Other married female actors are assigned the role of sisters or mothers, even when the hero is of similar age. In many other cases, the heroes are older than the mother actors, as in the case of actresses like Saranya Ponvannan. Despite male heroes such as Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth continuing to act well into their 60s, many of their female co-stars fail to remain successful for longer than a decade. The increased sexual objectification of heroines is perhaps an additional reason for women to not act or to disassociate themselves from their once negative image after, or in the lead up to, marriage. A notable example of this disassociation is the popular

White is the new brown 107 twentieth-century female actor Jayalalitha, who, in attempting to garner votes for nomination as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, encouraged party members to call her ‘Amma’ [Mother], and de-sexualised her image as she strove to shed her tainted reputation as an actress and create an independent political image and following. (Dickey 2008, 79) Jayalalitha had made an image for herself during the 1960s, acting alongside many famous actors, most notably MGR, as the epitome of peppy and beautiful love interests. Throughout her acting career, Jayalalitha became involved in Dravidian politics and was considered the unofficial heir to MGR after he established the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party in 1972 (Dickey 2008; Hardgrave 2008). While her male co-star MGR had no problems earning respect from both party members and the public, the stigma around Jayalalitha’s prior occupation was a hindrance to her political career. As Robert Hardgrave notes: The actress in Tamil Nadu … is a source of ambivalence for most film fans. As the sacrificing and sympathetic wife or as the doe-eyed young heroine, she draws them to her but she is never fully able to escape the ambiance of ‘immorality’. The actor has the benefit of the double standard. (1975, 3) Actors, such as MGR, are able to use their superhuman on-screen presence to influence their off-screen presence. However, it is this duality of image, which critically aids male actors, that is the undoing of most female actors in Tamil cinema. As Chinniah asserts: [F]ilm acting requires a woman to not only step out of the private sphere and enter an unknown public arena dominated by males but more importantly necessitates a female to present her own self as a spectacle for the gaze of both men and women. Therefore, by taking up acting as a film career, a woman immediately detaches herself from other common women. (2008, 40) The sexual objectification of the contemporary heroine furthers the idea of a female actor presenting herself as a spectacle. Hence, for the contemporary female actor in Tamil cinema, the lines between fiction and reality are blurred: non-traditional acts, such as physical touching, kissing, or wearing revealing clothing, become ‘transgressive’ acts, which could ultimately impact a female actor’s respectability in everyday life (Nakassis 2015, 12). It is here that we see the significance of Jackson’s ‘Western’ sensibilities. Jackson has no such problems and has more freedom to kiss co-stars or wear revealing costumes, as she is located outside the tyranny of ideal notions of Tamil femininity


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pushed by Tamil cinema. It is important to note that Jackson is not the only nonTamil female actor within the industry. In fact, the majority of female actors in Tamil cinema are non-Tamils.16 Having said this, the women who conventionally act alongside Jackson as proxies for Tamil women are still Indian, and carry with them similar stigmas to Tamil women. Likewise, Jackson is by no means the first European woman to be presented as an ‘Indian’ woman within Indian cinemas: Aranthai Narayan states that in the Telugu film Thraupathi Vastraapaharanam (The Stripping of Thraupathi, 1936), based on the epic Mahabharata, the actress who played the part of Thraupathi and was stripped of clothing was European. Similarly, Narayan mentions a silent film actor called Marine Hill, an Anglo-Indian woman who went by the stage name of Vilochchana on screen (2008, 29–30). Like Jackson, these women had fewer reservations than Indian women about partial nudity or intimate sequences on screen.17 However, the references to the reality of Jackson’s ethnicity within the diegesis of several films, including Gethu and Thangamagan, make for a unique representation of her characters and are difficult to ignore.

Case study 2: Thangamagan Thangamagan was released in 2015 and is a family drama film that follows Tamizh,18 played by Dhanush, an urban middle-class man and his relationships with his family and friends. True to his namesake, Tamizh embodies much of the Dravidian movement’s ethos: he values family, respects his parents, and, importantly, chooses to speak Tamil over English. The plot starts when Tamizh is a young adult with little motivation in life aside from spending time with his friends and ogling girls. Tamizh spots the half-Tamil Hema D’Souza (Jackson) at the local temple and is instantly besotted by her and pursues her unrelentingly. Eventually, Hema yields and the two have a passionate relationship which ends ultimately when Tamizh’s and Hema’s opinions on family life clash. Soon Hema’s and Tamizh’s families arrange their marriages: Hema marries Tamizh’s covetous cousin Aravind, while Tamizh marries the traditional and innocent Yamuna (played by Samantha Ruth Prabhu).19 Throughout the film, there are various references made to Hema in which she is referred to as white, despite being half-Tamil. Hema’s ethnicity is a source of constant confusion for Tamizh and his best friend Kumaran. Kumaran and Tamizh constantly refer to Hema as the ‘vellaikkaari’ or ‘white chick’, a term that does little to inspire respect from audiences. The constant referencing of Hema’s supposed ethnicity, which so happens to be Amy Jackson’s actual ethnicity, makes audiences hyper-aware of Hema’s fundamental difference to Tamizh. My reading of these references is broken down into four smaller segments, all of which lead to the overall reading of Hema’s Western-ness as fundamentally different from and inferior to the nativity of Tamil characters within the film.

Jokes at the expense of Hema’s Western-ness The first part of the film, which details Tamizh’s relationship with Hema, is littered with references to Hema as ‘the white chick’. Frequently used by Tamizh

White is the new brown 109 and his friend Kumaran, these references serve a few purposes. The first is to justify Hema’s Western appearance: while the character is half-Tamil, the film is aware that audiences are not going to fully believe this fact, especially given Jackson’s recent popularity. When Tamizh asks Hema why she goes to the temple every day when she looks like a white woman, she responds to Tamizh that she is of upper-caste Tamil Brahmin and British descent, and while she may look white, she certainly does not act like a white girl. This justification works in tandem with Jackson’s cosmetic nativisation to make her seem native enough to be a viable love interest for our hero, Tamizh. The inclusion of Hema’s half-British heritage is something the film narrative utilises in the latter part of Hema and Tamizh’s relationship. Additionally, these initial references to Hema’s foreignness are presented as intrinsically comedic. A specific scene which exemplifies how these references are a joke at Hema’s expense is when Tamizh asks Hema for her name: Tamizh: What’s your name? Hema: Hema D’Souza. Tamizh: What?! Hema Kasamusa?20 Tamizh’s deliberate mispronunciation of Hema’s foreign surname, D’Souza, as kasamusa, a slang/derogatory innuendo, ridicules her name for being unpronounceable to a ‘true’ native Tamil person. The nativist dichotomy between the native us and the foreign them is highly visible in this instance. The ridicule of Hema for being not Tamil enough implicitly engages with nativist ideologies, suppressing Western culture and bolstering Tamil identity.

Referencing Hema’s fundamental difference from the native hero In addition to the comedic element of referencing Hema’s Western-ness, the film also employs these references to emphasise Tamizh’s nativity. Tamizh’s nativity is fundamentally linked to his middle-class identity within the film. Hema’s difference plays an important role in emphasising this, with Hema and Tamizh’s relationship ultimately ending as a result of a clash of their respective sensibilities. Hema is considerably wealthier than Tamizh, and she frequents nightclubs. These nightclubs are the antithesis of Tamizh and Kumaran’s usual haunts: foreign dance music plays overhead and the bar only stocks imported alcohol. While at the club the pair settle on the cheapest drink on the menu, a 200-rupee Corona, which Tamizh begrudgingly drinks. These instances of difference set up Hema and Tamizh’s relationship to fail from the start, and cue audiences to Hema’s supposed disloyalty, as she sells out her culture and country by listening to Western music and buying foreign liquor. There is clearly a class dynamic, which occurs quite overtly in this sequence. The majority of audiences, much like Tamizh, cannot relate to Hema’s lifestyle, and it is this clash between tradition and modernity in family life that eventually leads to the disintegration of their relationship.


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Setting up the archetype for the traditional woman The dichotomy between the native and the foreign continues to pervade throughout other elements of the narrative, particularly in the case of the two heroines. Tamizh wishes to stay in his parents’ home after their marriage, while Hema wants to move out into a home where she and Tamizh will live alone. Tamizh accuses Hema of not caring for the elderly, while Hema accuses Tamizh of attempting to control her too much. Eventually, Tamizh marries Yamuna, a traditional woman, who moves in with him after marriage into his parents’ home. While Hema and Yamuna get along within the film, the similarity in their relationships with Tamizh is more than enough for the film to compare them. This comparison is undeniably similar to Lakshmi’s idea of the dichotomous relationship between the mother and the whore figures, as discussed earlier. Jackson’s character, Hema, is very clearly positioned as the bad woman in this configuration; her partly Western heritage comes as yet another indication of her being too modern. Hema’s ideas on marriage conflict so heavily with the predetermined ‘true Tamil’ marriage narrative that she is instantly cast aside by Tamizh. She even goes as far as to assert, as the archetypal feminist activist would do, that she does not wish to be controlled by a man. Tamizh, who is positioned as not at all controlling, but as a man who values tradition, instantly dumps her, deciding to marry Yamuna, a woman who will fulfil the role of a ‘true’ wife. With the introduction of Yamuna, the loyal and innocent housewife, Hema is relegated to the category of the ill-reputed girlfriend. As such, throughout the latter half of the film, Hema is punished for her modern tendencies; she is married off to Tamizh’s greedy cousin, who has no respect for his wife or family and drinks his days away with stolen money. In a critical scene, Hema confronts her husband over his criminal activities, and she is met with a slap in the face. This slap has dual meaning: firstly, it contrasts the manhood of Tamizh with Aravind, emphasising Aravind as a lesser male, based on his lack of respect for his wife and family. Secondly, the slap underpins Hema’s regret over ending her relationship with Tamizh; her loveless marriage to Aravind is positioned as a form of punishment. Tamil cinema’s history of punishing ill-reputed women is very much the contemporary bolstering of the mother–whore dichotomy stated by Lakshmi (2008). A notable example of a similar punishment is that of the heroine from 7G Rainbow Colony (2004), Anitha, a woman who is open about her sexual desires and subsequently dies at the end of the film. Nakassis (2007) states that many viewers, as well as the director of the film, held the belief that Anitha’s death was vital to the realism of the film, particularly in regard to the film’s ending, which diverges significantly from the conventional narratives of masala films (2007, 94). Nevertheless, it is important not to ignore that this punishment is deemed fitting as a result of her ‘immoral’ behaviour, further reinforcing the necessity for women to be chaste in Tamil cinema. In realising her past mistakes, the slap is yet another reminder to Hema, and similar women in the audience, that her grim situation is a result of her non-traditional sensibilities.

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Intimacy as facilitated by Western-ness The last element to my reading is the way in which Jackson is represented in the semi-diegetic song sequences throughout the film. Hema and Tamizh’s relationship is pocketed, quite conveniently, within a song called ‘Uyire’ (Oh My Life). Song sequences in Indian films deliver to the audience moments which exist somewhat outside of the film’s narrative: they, according to Priya Jha, open the genre up ‘to the critical investigations of its contradictions, both in the film space and also in its connections with the … film industry’ (2003, 48). Throughout the song, the two characters partake in several intimate acts, such as hugging and kissing on balconies and rooftops. As discussed, there is a long-held stigma around female actors in Tamil Nadu, for the contemporary Tamil female actor, the line between fiction and reality are blurred; non-traditional acts such as physical touching, kissing, or wearing revealing clothing become ‘transgressive’ acts, which could ultimately impact on her respectability in everyday life (Nakassis 2015, 12). As a foreigner who is not held to the same standards of Tamil femininity, Jackson has no such problems and has more freedom to kiss actors or wear revealing costumes without the fear of societal disrepute. While the real Amy Jackson may have little qualms with kissing or hugging, it is still logical that Hema, as a Tamil woman, would have issues with performing such acts in public spaces. After all, women, fictional characters included, who engage in such activities with men who are not their husbands are not respectable Tamil women. Nonetheless, as Mishra states, the excessive nature of the song, allows for ‘excesses of phantasy which are more problematic elsewhere in the film’ to exist without the consequence to the character or the narrative of the film (1985, 127). Sequences such as ‘Uyire’ function as nothing more than a means of projecting a voyeuristic phantasy for viewers, especially given Jackson’s willingness to participate in these acts. Despite the desirable characteristics Jackson brings with her as a Western female actor, she is still incompatible within the nativist paradigm, and, as such, her character cannot ultimately win the heart of the hero and fulfil her role as a truly traditional Tamil wife. To say that the existence of the real Caucasian Amy Jackson has little impact on the narrative of Thangamagan is to deny all of the layers of meaning the film produces through these references to the reality of her race. In this chapter, I have offered an explanation of how we arrived at Amy Jackson, a white woman who has found a place for herself within the restrictive ideals of Tamil femininity in Tamil cinema. During the latter half of the twentieth century, nativist attitudes began to manifest in Tamil cinema through strictly gendered roles. Conceptions of Tamil tradition, influenced by the Dravidian movement, became primarily characterised by the representation of an extreme form of nativism and masculinity. On-screen femininity thus became increasingly emblematic of foreign (and often Western) culture. The figure of the Westernised woman came to represent many factors, which threatened to infringe upon Dravidian patriarchal order. These women were caricatures of women’s liberation activists and embodied the ideologies of the Western ‘enemy’. While this trope initially


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seemed to pose problems for understanding Jackson’s popularity, the concerns around her ethnicity (Whiteness) could be quickly circumvented through cosmetic nativisation, making her seem less white. Simultaneously, Jackson’s promotion as a glamorous figure on screen is aided by the idea of whiteness as a transnational aesthetic of beauty. The prioritisation of a fairer skin in Asia and the transnational idealisation of whiteness are exemplified in Jackson’s fame. This is no doubt brought into play by Tamil cinema’s increasing desire to depict an authentic image of globalised society. The strict understandings of Tamil womanhood, which impact contemporary female actors, are fortified by the stigma around acting. This stigma prevents Tamil female actors from performing intimate acts on-screen, something that Jackson is free to participate in due to the ‘freedom’ afforded to her by her Western upbringing. While it is important to understand how these two contradictory cultural norms impact Jackson’s popularity, it is equally vital to analyse Jackson as a parallel text due to the presence of extra-textual references to Jackson’s characters as ‘the white chick’. In the case of Thangamagan, references to Hema as ‘white’ impact the way in which audiences react to the Westernised tendencies and values shown to be held by the character. These repeated references work alongside pre-existing nativist narratives to ultimately position the hero Tamizh and his traditional wife, Yamuna, as the pinnacle of ‘true’ Tamilhood. In contrast, Gethu glorifies Jackson’s ethnicity, in the newer tradition of Whiteness as a globalised aesthetic of beauty. Nanthini’s reference to herself as appearing white, an overt reference to the reality of her own race, is here presented as something for a Tamil audience to aspire towards. Her whiteness is treated as an aesthetic perk, which makes her inherently superior to the native, ‘average Tamil girl’. The readings I have derived from these two films show the multiple levels of meaning present in Tamil cinema. It would be simplistic to take one of these two readings as the reading and dismiss the other. Both of these readings clearly exist alongside one another; neither is more valid than its counterpart. The contradictory nature of both of my readings shows that there is no clear-cut answer as to what references to Jackson’s ethnicity signify. Jackson is just one example of how Tamil cinema’s extreme nativist politics are continually at arms with its desire to portray the modernity in Tamil Nadu’s cities. Jackson’s very presence in Tamil cinema is indicative of the existing tensions between postcolonialism and globalisation in contemporary Tamil cinema.

Notes 1 Jackson is not the first non-Tamil actress to have a career in Tamil cinema; indeed, the majority of actresses in Tamil cinema are women from the neighbouring southern states or North India. While Amy Jackson is a notable entry into the industry, the transgression is not new; many of Jackson’s Indian contemporaries are represented as sexualised objects on screen regardless of nationality. 2 I make this distinction between whiteness and Western-ness so as to avoid reducing my discussion of Jackson to the representation of skin colour. As I discuss later in the chapter, my discussion of whiteness is not simply about the politics of representation in

White is the new brown 113 3

4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

15 16 17

18 19 20

terms of skin colour; instead, I position whiteness as connected to issues of power and hegemony. The term vellaikkaari (or vellaikkaaran for males) literally translates to white woman and carries a somewhat derogatory sentiment by virtue of its historical use in reference to colonisers. It is this derogatory meaning which influenced me to use ‘the white chick’ in my translation, over simply ‘white girl/woman’. Having said this, it should be noted that there is no other word for white woman/white man. For example, MGR and Sivaji Ganeshan, or perhaps more recently, Rajinikanth, Ajith Kumar, and Vijay. Paavaadai thaavani – traditional attire worn by young women, usually before marriage. Author’s own translation. Not to be confused with vellaikkaari, ‘the white girl/chick’. ‘See the bride’ refers to a tradition in which the prospective groom and his family will come to ‘view’ the bride before making an offer. Author’s own translation. Here, Hema uses the English word ‘shorts’, the same goes for her use of the word ‘sleeveless’. A common term used for the traditional blouse worn with the saree or the paavaadai thaavani; not to be confused with the Western jacket. Author’s own translation. Author’s own translation. The phrase ‘pecks me’ is a direct translation, the implication here is that another man may see Nanthini and ‘steal’ her away from Sethu. The term phantasy is used in alignment with feminist film theory, particularly Laura Mulvey’s theorisation of scopophilia and the male gaze. Derived from psychoanalytical theory, the scopophilic instinct is defined as ‘taking pleasure in looking at another person as an erotic object’ (Mulvey 1975, 8). Voyeuristic phantasy, as used here, connotes how spectators can derive pleasure from viewing Jackson perform these acts of intimacy. Author’s own translation. As noted by Nakassis, even in the case of female actors who are ethno-linguistically Tamil, these women are usually ‘urban, English-educated Brahmins’ and thus impacted less by the stigma due to class and caste privilege (2015, 10). There are, of course, also examples of Western/Caucasian actresses working within the contemporary Hindi film industry such as Kalki Koechlin (of French descent, but born and brought up in South India) and Katrina Kaif (of half Indian and half British descent, but brought up in the United Kingdom). The zh is used in some English transliterations to denote the hard or retroflex approximant L (ழழ) sound in the Tamil language. I use this alternative spelling to differentiate the character Tamizh from the language/culture Tamil. Samantha has Malayali and Telugu heritage; however, she was born and brought up in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Yamuna’s own ‘true’ Tamilness is further underpinned by the authenticity of Samantha’s Tamil upbringing. A word which has multiple meanings depending on the context, it is usually used to signify ‘funny business’. Given Tamizh’s young age and the context of the question, we can assume Tamizh is using the term as an innuendo.

References Ahmed, S. 2007. ‘A Phenomenology of Whiteness.’ Feminist Theory 8(2): 149–168. doi:10.1177/1464700107078139. Baskaran, S. Theodore. 1981. The Message Bearers: The Nationalistic Politics and the Entertainment Media in South India 1880–1945. Madras: Cre-A. Bharathi, K. 2013. Tamil Cinemavil Pengal (Tamil). Chennai: Vikatan Publication.


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Chinniah, Sathiavathi. 2008. ‘The Tamil Film Heroine: From a Passive Subject to a Pleasurable Object.’ In: Selvaraj Velayutham (ed.), Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry. New York: Routledge. Dickey, Sara. 2001. ‘Opposing Faces: Film Star Fan Clubs and the Construction of Class Identities in South India.’ In: Rachel Dwyer and Christopher Pinney (eds.), Pleasure and the Nation. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Dickey, Sara. 2008. ‘The Nurturing Hero: Changing Images of MGR.’ In: Selvaraj Velayutham (ed.), Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry. New York: Routledge. Dutt, P. 2015, April 16. ‘Most Desirable Woman 2014: Amy Jackson.’ Times of India. Chennai. Available at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/tamil/movies /news/Chennai-Times-Most-Desirable-Woman-2014-Amy-Jackson/articleshow/4692 8377.cms (Accessed 26 March 2019). Hardgrave Jr., Robert L. 1975. ‘When Stars Displace the Gods: The Folk Culture of Cinema in Tamil Nadu.’ Occasional Paper Series 2: 1–25. Hardgrave Jr., Robert L. 2008. ‘Politics and the Film in Tamil Nadu: The Stars and the DMK.’ In: Selvaraj Velayutham (ed.), Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry. New York: Routledge. Jha, Priya. 2003. ‘Lyrical Nationalism: Gender, Friendship, and Excess in 1970s Hindi Cinema.’ The Velvet Light Trap 51(1): 43–53. doi:10.1353/vlt.2003.0007. Lakshmi, C. S. 2008. ‘A Good Woman, a Very Good Woman: Tamil Cinema’s Women’. In: Selvaraj Velayutham (ed.), Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry. New York: Routledge. Mishra, Samina. 1999. ‘Dish Is Life: Cable Operators and the Neighborhood.’ In: Christiane Brosius and Melissa Butcher (ed.), Image Journeys: Audio-Visual Media and Cultural Change in India. New Delhi: Sage. Mishra, Vijay. 1985. ‘Towards a Theoretical Critique of Indian Cinema.’ Screen 26(3–4): 133–145. Mulvey, Laura. 1975. ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.’ Screen 16(3): 6–18. doi:10.1007/978-1-349-19798-9_3. Nakassis, Constantine V, and Melanie a Dean. 2007. ‘Desire, Youth, and Realism in Tamil Cinema.’ Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 17(1): 77–104. doi:10.1525/ jlin.2007. Nakassis, Constantine V. 2015. ‘A Tamil-Speaking Heroine.’ BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies 6(2): 165–186. doi:10.1177/0974927615600625. Narayanan, Aranthai. 2008. Thamizh Cinemavin Kathai. 3rd edition. Chennai: New Century Book House (Pty) Ltd. Osuri, Goldie. 2008. ‘Ashcoloured Whiteness: The Transfiguration of Aishwarya Rai.’ South Asian Popular Culture 6(2): 109–123. doi:10.1080/14746680802365212.


Misogyny A content analysis of break-up songs in Tamil films Premalatha Karupiah

Introduction ‘Adida avale, othada avala’ (Hit her, kick her) and ‘Vidra avala, thevaye illai’ (Leave her, don’t need her) are lines are from the song Kaadhal En Kaadhal Athu Kanneerile (Love, my love is in tears) from the film Mayakam Enna (What Is This Illusion?, 2011). These lines were sung by the protagonist, Karthik, to express his frustration because he fell in love with his best friend’s girlfriend and was unable to pursue the relationship even though she reciprocated the same feeling. In this song he went on to describe her as a curse and the one who destroyed his dreams. He is joined by his best friend, who in consoling his friend, hoped that her life would be destroyed. Here, the protagonist, and his friend accompanied by a group of dancers, danced to the song expressing hatred towards a woman. It conveys the message that it is acceptable to physically hurt a woman if she disapproves a man’s love or attention. This is an example of misogyny in contemporary breakup1 or ‘love failure’ songs in Tamil films. Misogyny is an ideology which reduces women to objects that can be manipulated by men. It can be defined as ‘a property of social systems or environments as a whole, in which women will tend to face hostility of various kinds because they are women in a man’s world (i.e. a patriarchy)’ (Manne 2017, 33–34, emphasis in original). Misogyny is pervasive and can come in various forms, depending on one’s sociocultural location in a society (Adams and Fuller 2016). Some common forms of misogyny are violence against women, verbal derogatory remarks, stalking, cyber-stalking, and trolling. Misogyny is related to sexism in that sexism provides the reason to believe that men are naturally superior to women and hence justifies misogyny (Richardson-Self 2018). Misogyny is not a new phenomenon in the world of music. It has been identified in country music, heavy metal, hip-hop, and rock and roll. The more recent studies on misogyny in music have focused on rap songs mainly in the United States (Adams and Fuller 2016; Weitzer and Kubrin 2009). According to Adams and Fuller (2016, 940), misogyny in music is the ‘promotion, glamorization, support, humorisation, justification, or normalization of oppressive ideas about


Premalatha Karupiah

women’. Misogyny, however, does not happen in a vacuum, it often reflects the social, cultural, and economic system that supports the perpetuation of this ideology in music (Adams and Fuller 2016). This chapter explores misogyny in break-up songs in Tamil films. Quantitative and qualitative content analyses were used to identify the expression of misogyny in 11 break-up songs in movies released after 2010. There has been very limited discussion on misogyny in Indian movies (Chatterjee 2019), and there is a lack of a systematic analysis of misogyny in Tamil songs even though scholars have discussed gender inequality, sexism, and traditional gender portrayals in Tamil films (Chinniah 2008; Karupiah 2017; Nakassis 2015). Studies have confirmed that Tamil films are mostly hero-centric, that is, primarily preoccupied with male and masculine perspectives of the world (Chinniah 2008; Karupiah 2015, 2016). The role of the lead female actor is by and large to satisfy the male gaze both onand off-screen. There is a high level of objectification of women in Tamil films expressed through the use of the camera, dance moves, or dialogues (Chinniah 2008; Karupiah 2016). The most cherished form of femininity in Tamil films follows traditional femininity very closely with a strong emphasis on purity, selfsacrifice, chastity, and acceptance of the phallic authority (Kaali 2000; Karupiah 2016). The male protagonists, on the other hand, are the symbol of hyper-masculinity. They showcase excessive use of violence and alcohol, lack emotional expression, and are the champions of benevolent sexism (Balaji 2014; Surendran and Venkataswamy 2017). There is also a lack of women’s voice in Tamil films because there are very few female film-makers in the industry and many actresses are not able or allowed to use their own voice in the films. This can be attributed to the lack of Tamil-speaking actresses, which may be due to the historical stigma of being an actress and the use of non-Tamil-speaking actresses mainly for their physical appearance (Chinniah 2008; Karupiah, 2016, 2017; Nakassis 2015). Given the nature of inequality in the Tamil film industry, it can be hypothesised that break-up songs serve as an outlet for misogynistic expressions. However, the more important question is whether the extent and type of hatred expressed in these songs resemble elements of hate music. Hate music refers to music that is used as ‘a medium to spread intolerance, bias, prejudice, and disdain for particular ‘‘groups’’ held in low esteem by certain segments of society. Such music can serve to label, devalue, persecute, and scapegoat particular groups of people— namely minorities’ (Messner et al. 2007, 513). Women may not be minorities in general society, but the Tamil film industry is male dominated, and inequality in the film industry (e.g. in terms of remuneration, plot of the films, and number of technicians) has been discussed in popular and academic literature (Chinniah 2008; Karupiah 2017, Surendhar 2018). The songs analysed in this study show elements of devaluing, blaming, and scapegoating women, which are seen not only in the lyrics of the songs but also through the dance moves, use of language, and other props used in the films. Therefore, this study contributes not only to the study of misogyny but also to the exploration and theorising of non-Western sexist hate music. Such exploration is important because of the high consumption of Tamil films and songs in India and the Tamil diaspora. In addition, break-up songs



appear in romantic or romantic comedy films that may have a U-certification; hence, they could be watched by viewers of all ages.

Songs in Tamil films Music is often said to be an important aspect of the lives of Tamils (Baskaran 1991). There is a long tradition of folk music and carnatic music in Tamil Nadu. While folk music developed based on the lives and experiences of the masses, carnatic music was the music of the elites nurtured in temples and palaces (Baskaran 1991). In the history of Tamil cinema, there are only a handful of films produced without songs such as Kurudhippunal (River of Blood, 1995) (Getter and Balasubrahmaniyan 2008). Songs and dance routines are a common feature of Tamil cinema. The number of songs in Tamil films is not fixed, but many films have about five to six songs which would take up about 20–25 minutes of the film. Film songs can be used as part of the background music or actively performed by the characters in the film and may be instrumental in the success of the movie (Getter and Balasubrahmaniyan 2008). In addition, the role of Tamil film and Tamil film music in sociocultural and political life in Tamil Nadu has been widely documented (Baskaran 1991; Getter and Balasubrahmaniyan 2008; Rogers 2009). Songs in Tamil films are often used to convey emotional sentiments, moral virtues, and social ills. Break-up or ‘love failure’ songs are typically meant to be an expression of frustration due to the hero’s break-up with or being ‘rejected’ by the heroine. Break-up songs are not a new element in Tamil movies and have been around since the 1950s. Earlier break-up songs expressed frustrations of betrayal by the beloved or ‘love failure’, e.g. Yaarukkaaga [in Vasantha Maligai2 (Palace of Spring, 1972)] and Kadavul Manithanai Pirakka Vendum3 [God should be born as a man in Vanampadi (Skylark, 1963)]. There were also a few songs of betrayal or ‘love failure’ by women, e.g. Kadhalil Tholviyutral Kanni Oruthi [The Girl Who Failed in Love in Kalyana Parisu (Wedding Gift, 1959)] and Yaaraithaan Nambuvatho [Who Should I Trust? in Parakkum Paavai (The Flying Woman, 1966)]. Unlike the male ‘love failure’ songs, these songs mostly describe the naivety and vulnerability of being a woman in love. Break-up songs since 2010 have some interesting patterns. These songs are mainly performed by the male protagonist with his friend/s accompanied by a group of dancers under the influence of alcohol. The dance sequence and lyrics of break-up songs showcase male solidarity through the sharing of suffering among males. It is a way of presenting the agony of rejection shared by ‘all’ males. It is also common to have female dancers who are scantily dressed or showcasing suggestive dance moves to satisfy the male gaze on- and off-screen. The female dancers (which sometimes include the female protagonist) are used to portray women as sexual objects and distractions that cause pain and suffering in a man’s life. All break-up songs are done by male actors and are from a male perspective. There has only been one contemporary break-up song featuring the female lead, and it happens to be in a satirical film called Tamizh Padam 2 (Tamil Movie 2, 2008).


Premalatha Karupiah

Many break-up songs are gaana songs. Gaana songs are fast beat, urban folk songs reflecting the experiences of the working class in Chennai; they may be an example of a cultural form that expresses experiences of marginalisation, truncated opportunity, and oppression based on class, caste, or both. They are a unique genre of Tamil music originating from North Madras, Chennai (Surendran and Venkataswamy 2017). Lyrics of gaana songs in Tamil films use common words and expressions in spoken Tamil and English. Colloquial language is used to emphasise the social class of the hero. A break-up song features a hero who is coming to terms with his rejection by consuming alcohol. The intoxicated hero is depicted as being vulnerable and the consumption of alcohol serves as a form of escapism from the rejection. Alcohol, colloquial words, and dance moves in many break-up songs are used to emphasise the ‘toughness and crudeness’ of the hero. It is a way of showcasing gettu – as a way of portraying a rough masculinity to show dominance and transgression through action and appearance (Nakassis 2010). Being tough and crude is portrayed as an important part of being a ‘hero’. A hero is often a man of action and when necessary would use violence to protect the people or achieve his goals (e.g. career goals, social goals, or pursuing the woman he loves). Hence, the crudeness of gaana songs is another way of emphasising a ‘rough’ hero and showcasing hyper-masculinity as the most attractive form of masculinity in these movies.

Methods In this study, lyrics and scenes of 11 break-up songs in Tamil films produced in India after 2010 were analysed (see Table 7.1). Even though break-up or love failure songs are not new in Tamil cinema, break-up songs after 2010 have received much attention in the popular media (Srivatsan 2016), particularly after the song, Why This Kolaveri Di? (Why this murderous rage?) from the film Moondru (3, 2012). It became the most popular song on YouTube in 2011 with more than 11 million views in November 2011 (Jackson 2011). While not all break-up songs are as popular as Why This Kolaveri Di? (Why this murderous rage?), break-up songs are widely watched and consumed among Tamil film viewers. To give an indication of the popularity of break-up songs, Vanganna Vanakkanganna (Come bro, greetings bro), Venaam Machan Venaam (Don’t bro don’t), and En Bittu Padam Ni (You are my short porn reel) has more than 4.4, 5.1, and 6.8 million4 views, respectively, after being released on YouTube by Sony Music. This does not include other forms of consumption such as being in films, music channels, radio broadcasts, and personal collections. Both quantitative and qualitative content analyses were performed on the lyrics of the songs listed in Table 7.1 to identify common words and themes used in these songs and scenes. Quantitative content analysis was used to explore the type of words used to describe women, the target of the songs, and use of alcohol or other substances. Qualitative content analysis was used to explore the meanings attached to the way a woman is described, the kind of language used in these



Table 7.1 List of songs Film


Mayakam Enna (What Is This Illusion, 2011) Kaadhal En Kaadhal Athu Kanneerile (Love, my love is in tears) Moondru (3, 2012) Why This Kolaveri Di? (Why this murderous rage?) Kalakalapu (Sociability, 2012) Ivaluga Imsai Thaangamudiyala (Can’t stand their torture) Prayer song Idharkuthaane Aasapattai Balakumara (Isn’t This What You Wished for, Balakumara?, 2013) Oru Kal Oru Kannadi (A Stone and a Venaam Machan Venaam (Don’t bro don’t) Mirror, 2012) Ethirneechal (Swimming against the Sathiyama Nee Enekku Thevaiye Ille (I Tide, 2013) swear I don’t need you) Varuthapadaathe Vaalibar Sangam (The Indha Ponnungala Ippadithaan (I Association of Carefree Youths, 2013) understand now what women are like) Thalaivaa (Leader, 2013) Vanganna Vanakkanganna (Come bro, greetings bro) Trisha Illanaa Nayanthara (If Not Trisha, En Bittu Padam Ni (You are my short Then Nayanthara, 2015) porn reel) Romeo Juliet (2015) Adiye Adiye Ivale (Hey girl) Rajinimurugan (2015) Yennamma Ippadi Pandringelamma (Why do you [all] do this?)

expressions, dance sequences, and the context of the songs. The findings from both these analyses are discussed in the following sections.

Findings The findings of this study show that all the break-up songs have misogynistic elements. This is clear when looking at the words that were used to describe a woman or women. In most of the songs, women were described in a degrading manner or as something that is harmful to a man (see Table 7.2). Even though the words used were not curse words, they were used in a derogatory manner and indicate that women were the source of all forms of misery in a man’s life. An example of this can be seen in the movie Romeo Juliet where the hero is rejected by the heroine when she finds out that he is not rich as she had expected. The song Adiye Adiye Ivale (Hey girl) is an expression of the hero’s frustration of this rejection. Here, the heroine is described as an araki (a demoness). In this dance sequence, the hero wears a t-shirt with rapper Eminem’s name and image on it. Eminem’s songs have been criticised in popular and academic literature as being misogynistic (Weitzer and Kubrin 2009). Therefore, this may be an additional indication of anger and hatred towards women. Similarly, in the song En Bittu Padam Ni (You are my short porn reel), the (ex) girlfriend is described


Premalatha Karupiah

Table 7.2 Words used to describe a woman/women Songs

Words used to describe women

En Bittu Padam Ni (You are my short porn reel) Vanganna Vanakkanganna (Come bro, greetings bro) Venaam Machan Venaam (Don’t bro don’t) Adiye Adiye Ivale (Hey girl) Kaadhal En Kaadhal Athu Kanneerile (Love, my love is in tears) Inthe Ponnungale Ippadithaan Purinju Pochuda Sathiyama Nee Enekku Thevaiye Ille (I swear I don’t need you)

Bittu padam (short porn reel); headache Torture Quarter (alcohol); sugar (diabetes, i.e. disease); figure (colloquial term to refer to a woman) Araki (demoness) Curse Grave (referring to their eyes) Poison (referring to their heart)

as a bittu padam (short porn reel) which is equivalent to saying that she is a slut or vamp. In addition to this, all songs highlighted a general mistrust of women. Mistrust of women can be seen in three themes: women’s body and sexual objectification; (insincere women’s) love versus (sincere men’s) friendship; vilifying all women. Under the first theme, women are objectified and a woman’s body is seen as a tool used to manipulate or harm men. The second theme highlights the destructive nature of a romantic relationship when compared to the supportive nature of male friendship. The third theme looks at the target in these songs. These songs not only express their hatred towards the woman who left them but to women in general.

Women’s bodies and objectification In more than half the songs, women were highly sexualised or objectified. Sexual objectification refers to the treatment of a person (mainly a woman) as a sexual tool. In the media, sexual objectification is identified with regard to the importance given to the overall appearance or body of females (Vandenbosch and Eggermont 2012). This is a way of humiliating her and a clear example of sexual objectification because she is identified as an object for men’s sexual pleasure. In the song, En Bittu Padam Ni (You are my short porn reel), the woman is described as someone making the hero horny by wearing a nightie showing that she is a sexual object. Sexualising women in songs or scenes are not uncommon in Tamil cinema, but the analysis showed that these songs emphasised how women used their body to harm men. The number of references made to a woman’s body in the songs analysed is listed in Table 7.3. In these songs, women were identified as vamps who used their sexual attractiveness to manipulate and exploit men. A woman’s body is her only capital to get what she wants and she is identified as being self-centred and would cause the destruction of a man’s life. In other words, a woman’s physical



Table 7.3 References to women’s bodies Reference to women’s body


Skin colour Voice Dressing and make-up Physical beauty

2 1 4 1

attractiveness masked the evil in her, and men were trapped by it. In two songs, references were made to a woman’s white skin which is generally seen as one of the most important ideals of beauty in India (Mishra 2015; Nadeem 2014). The song, Why This Kolaveri Di? (Why this murderous rage?) is presented as an expression of frustration by the protagonist, Ram, when he found out that his girlfriend, Janani, and his best friend, Kumaran, were moving overseas. He expressed his anger towards the woman by depicting her as evil. In this song, her white skin was contrasted to her black (evil) heart while in Venaam Machan Venaam (Don’t bro don’t), the lyric goes: Tholu mattum vella unna kavutthupputtaa mella Only her skin is white [but] she destroyed you. Another example is in the song Vanganna Vanakkanganna (Come bro, greetings bro). This song is performed by the protagonist, Vishwa, at a wedding under the influence of alcohol. Earlier, he was betrayed by Meera, a detective, who used him and his love to arrest his father, a benevolent don. In this song, a woman’s husky voice was identified as a form of intoxication that would make a man irrational. Whisky beer bothathaan moonu houril pogumna Husky voicele pesuva pogathu antha bothathaan Appa ni vizhunthana ezhunthida maataena. Intoxication from whisky or beer lasts only for three hours The intoxication from her husky voice cannot be treated If you fall then, you will never rise again. Furthermore, women’s make-up, e.g. wearing eyeliner, lipstick, face powder, was identified as ‘baits’ to trap, manipulate, and destroy men: Mogathukku naalum poosinaalae powderu Nerukkathil azhaga rasikka pona murderu She powdered her face everyday Going near her to admire her beauty would mean murder.


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While emphasising the physical beauty of a woman, these songs associated it with the harm that could be caused by her beauty. This shows the level of objectification in these songs, because the only positive aspect about women was her body. Her value was based on her body or other aspects related to her body such as dressing and make-up. The attraction expressed in these songs was towards her body and not her as a person because she was described as being destructive and evil in many different ways. Many lines in these songs de-individualise women either by using a plural pronoun or ‘it’ to imply that all women were the same or treat them as a ‘herd’ rather than a person. If the heroine who was one of the targets of misogyny appeared in the dance sequence, she usually danced in a sexually suggestive manner: another illustration of how women’s bodies are a distraction for men. This shows that a woman in a relationship was only appreciated for her body or physical appearance, hence she is seen as a sexual object. She was not seen as an individual but as an object that can be used for sexual gratification and can become addictive and toxic. This is similar to other studies that have identified objectification of women in Indian films and film songs (Jain et al. 2019; Karupiah, 2016; Datta, 2000).

(Insincere women’s) love versus (sincere men’s) friendship Other than women’s bodies, a love relationship with a woman is seen as harmful, and this is contrasted to the sincere and supportive friendship given by a man. More than half the songs analysed in this study have lines that highlighted that women’s love was insincere. It was motivated by their need for money or material things (e.g. cell phone, talk time, food). Other than that, women manipulate the ‘naïve’ men either to get their work done (e.g. buy foodstuffs from a ration shop, write poetry for her) or to pass time. In all these examples, men were described as the providers of comfort, money, effort, while women benefited out of it, reiterating traditional gender roles. The lines in the songs analysed in this study also highlighted that after getting some material benefit out of the relationship, women would easily end the relationship, emphasising on the ‘injustice’ done to men. His anger and hate for women is because he was rejected by the woman he loved very much. Therefore, misogyny here stems from his love and devotion to the heroine. In two songs, Yennamma Ippadi Pandringelamma (Why do you [all] do this?) and Kaadhal En Kaadhal Athu Kanneerile (Love, my love is in tears), insincere and harmful women’s love was contrasted with supportive and sincere male friendships. Male solidarity is shown as a source of support, and this is highlighted by showing the hero dancing with his best friend and other male dancers sharing a similar experience of rejection. In the song Yennamma Ippadi Pandringelamma (Why do you [all] do this?), women were identified as a disease which destroyed a man’s body, and male friends were seen as a form of ‘vaccine’ that cured a man’s broken heart. In the same song, other lines that conveyed a similar meaning are as follows:



Kanna kalanga vaikkum figuru vaenaanadaa Nammakku kanneer anjali poster ottum nanban pothundaa We don’t need women who make us cry It’s enough to have friends who would put up tribute posters for our funeral. These lines emphasised the harm done by women or women’s love and contrasted it with men’s friendship, which is expected to last throughout their life. Similar ideas are expressed in the song Kaadhal En Kaadhal Athu Kanneerile (Love, my love is in tears) where having a woman in one’s life is identified as difficult and it was better to be with male friends. The heroes in Tamil films are often portrayed as symbols of hyper-masculinity. Hyper-masculinity is an exaggeration of stereotypic masculine attitudes which include strength of the male body, rejection of subjective feminine experiences, a strong belief that violence is an important part of being a man, involvement in high risk activities, and emotional toughness (Corprew, Matthews, and Mitchell 2014; Vokey et al. 2013). Most of these elements were present in the songs or in the films related to this song. First, everything expressed about the relationship was based on the male experience and perspective and disregarded the female experience in the relationship. Also, all the break-up songs expressed anger and hatred towards women because women were responsible for making strong men vulnerable. These songs also expressed heartbreak and hurt, but this would not be accepted as a valid emotional expression for a ‘sober’ man; hence, these songs were sung under the influence of alcohol. These emotions that were considered more feminine could not be expressed by the hero directly and could only be expressed when he was drunk. This was also a way of maintaining gettu. In many of these films in Table 7.1, the hero was portrayed as a ‘good’ person who had important goals such as supporting his family, pursuing a career, or supporting a social cause. Other than that, romance is presented as another goal to be achieved by the man. He would use various tricks and strategies or execute plans to ‘win’ over the heroine. When all his hard work and effort goes in vain, it is expressed in the form of misogyny, so misogyny becomes part of the courtship. Hence, hyper-masculinity, which encompasses misogyny, is portrayed not only as the most accepted form of masculinity, but also as the most attractive form of masculinity in these films because the heroine would eventually fall for this ‘good’ man.

Vilifying all women Many lines in break-up songs in this study are used to show the harm or misery caused by women to men. Some songs highlighted that love is capable of destroying a man, but since all these songs were related to heterosexual relationships, ‘love’ here refers to a woman’s love. Women were so harmful that the lines in four songs expressed intention of violence or harm towards women. In two songs, Kaadhal En Kaadhal Athu Kanneerile (Love, my love is in tears) and Adiye Adiye


Premalatha Karupiah

Ivale (Hey girl), the hero would like to physically hurt her. In En Bittu Padam Ni (You are my short porn reel), the hero hoped that she died and in the Prayer song, the hero prayed for various mishaps to happen in the woman’s life. The target of vilification in some songs was the woman involved in the relationship, but in six songs women in general were the target of vilification. Excerpts from some songs that vilified all women are listed in Table 7.4. The above excerpts are not only misogynistic but are also examples of sexist hate speech; therefore, these songs have elements of hate music. Hate speech can be defined as any form of communication that denigrates a person or a group based on characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation (Nielsen 2002; Warner and Hirschberg 2012). Hate speech is often used to express hostility towards an oppressed group by degrading, maligning, and discriminating members of that group. It ‘expresses hostility to and about historically and contemporarily oppressed groups, and in so doing vilifies, degrades, discriminates, maligns, disparages, and so forth’ (Richardson-Self 2008, 2). Sexist hate speech is defined as speech that highlights gender inferiority, is degrading, and expresses hatred towards another gender (Nielsen 2002). The studies on hate music have focused mostly on lyrics and have been related mostly to racial hate speech even though there has been some discussion on sexist hate speech in music (Kahn-Harris 2003; Messner et al. 2007). Kahn-Harris (2003, 4) puts forward an important question related to hate music towards women: ‘when does hatred towards an other become hatred towards the other?’ (emphasis in original). This is pertinent in the context of break-up songs because these songs were meant to express one’s frustration and hurt after being rejected by a woman. However, the analysis of the songs in this study showed that in at least six songs, there were lines that vilified all women. In addition to this, in some songs, the lines that targeted women were sung by more than one person. An example of this can be seen in the song Kaadhal En Kaadhal Athu Kanneerile (Love, my love is in tears). This song is a duet sung by Karthik and his friend, but some lines were sung with more than one voice, indicating that more than one person is expressing intention to physically hurt a woman. Even if this was done for a purely aesthetic reason, the line Adida avale, othada avala (Hit her, kick her) means that he is asking someone else to kick or hurt the women he is angry with. Since this woman is not known to the others, this can be understood as an expression of hatred towards women and not one woman. Similarly, in the song Vanganna Vanakkanganna (Come bro, greetings bro), after the line in Table 7.3 is sung, we can hear a background voice saying ‘fact, fact’ to support that women destroy men’s life. The lines in the song, Venaam Machan Venaam (Don’t bro don’t), were also not sung by the person involved in the break-up, indicating that hate expressed here was not directed towards a woman who has affected one’s life but to all women. In addition to this, as suggested by Kahn-Harris (2003), even when the lyrics describe one woman, she is described as a generic version of women; hence, the song or part of the song shows elements of hate music because it expresses hate towards women in general. In the song Yennamma Ippadi



Table 7.4 Lines that vilify all women Song



Ivaluga Imsai Thaangamudiyala (Can’t stand their torture)

Love-kulla maatinaalum, stove-kulla maatinaalum, theenji povom Thalllunge yesamaan Thallunge – indha Ivaluga imsai thaangamudiyala Ivaluga ilaamalum, irukamudiyala Ponnunga ellam namma vaazhvin saabham

Regardless if we [men] get stuck in love or a stove, we will be burnt

Intha ponnungale ippadithan purinjupochu da Avanga kannu namma kallaranu theriniji pochu da Life oru boatungana safetya otungana Lovela maatikitta sethula sikkidumna Hitleru torture ellam history paesuthanna Ivalunga torture ellam yaarumae paesalana

I understand what women are like Their eyes are our graves

Kaadhal En Kaadhal Athu Kanneerile (Love, my love is in tears) Inthe Ponnungale Ippadithaan Purinju Pochuda

Vanganna Vanakkanganna (Come bro, greetings bro)

Venaam Machan Venaam (Don’t bro don’t)

Sathiyama Nee Enekku Thevaiye Ille (I swear I don’t need you)

Move boss move, women are like that Can’t stand their torture Can’t live without them Women are a curse in our lives

Life is like a boat, travel safely bro If you get stuck in [women’s] love, [your boat] would be stuck in the mud History talks about Hitler’s torture but nobody talks about their [women’s] torture Venaam machaan venaam Bro, we don’t need girls’ love intha ponnuga kaathalu Their love would destroy Athu moodi thorakkum you like alcohol bothae unna kavukkum quarter’ru Women are like sugar Figuru sugaru mathari (diabetes), would destroy Pasanga manasa boys’ hearts urukkidum Ponnunga manasu nanju Girls’ hearts are poisonous

Pandringelamma (Why do you [all] do this?), the lyrics described some misleading acts by the girlfriend, but the chorus ‘Yennamma ippadi pandringelamma’ used a plural form, indicating that these acts were generic acts of all women; hence, the frustration and hatred expressed was towards women as a group. Prior to the start of this song, there were a few lines of dialogue spoken by the hero. In


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this scene, the heroine clearly expressed her dislike and irritation about the hero’s action and speech. The lines were as follows: Love pandra mathiri paapingala, love pandra mathiri pesuvingala, ippa enga appavuku pidikalai, enga aadukkutti5 ku pudikalainu scene potta viduruvoma? Enaku niyayam kidaichavanum! You [all] look as though you are in love, you [all] talk as though you are in love, Now you are claiming that your father does not like it, your kid [baby goat] does not like it. Should we leave it? I demand for justice! This dialogue not only made fun of the reason given by the heroine for not agreeing to be in a romantic relationship with the hero, but the words used trivialise the experience of a woman. It shows the ‘no’ expressed by the woman as unacceptable. Her consent was irrelevant because her act of talking to or smiling at him was taken as a form of consent. So, when she later said that she was not interested in the relationship, she was seen as doing great injustice to the hero. To further add to the trivialisation of the consent of the heroine, at the end of the song, the heroine heard the same line Yennamma Ippadi Pandringelamma (Why do you [all] do this?), spoken by a comedian on the television and she smiled. This indicated that she was either pretending to be angry with the hero in the beginning of the song or was enjoying the ‘harassment’ by the hero outside her house. This is only to show that a woman’s anger or irritation does not mean anything. Eventually, a woman would accept the ‘harassment’ and anger expressed by a man as part of their romantic relationship or courtship as long as the man was persistent enough. The break-up songs in this study showed elements of vilifying, degrading, and maligning women. Parts of songs that directly expressed hate towards women in general or indirectly by de-individualising them were not only misogynistic but also showed elements of sexist hate music. The exploration of hate in music is vital because music is a social phenomenon and part of a human experience which is universal. It is also a way of communicating meaning and messages to its listeners (Messner et al. 2007). The consumption of music is an important part of everyday life in many parts of the world. Music and songs also perform various functions: ‘it has been used to comfort in times of need, to entertain, to seek spiritual connectedness, to help pass the time, to persuade, and to provide rhythmic continuity to various social causes and ideologies’ (Messner et al. 2007, 515). This becomes even more crucial because of the pervasive nature of Tamil film songs in the everyday lives of people in Tamil Nadu (Getter and Balasubrahmaniyan 2008) Since music is used to express various kinds of human experience and emotion, it is inevitable that it has been used to express hate and anger. However, music is also not produced in a vacuum, so while it can be a reflection of everyday life, it can also contribute to the shaping of everyday life as songs (such as break-up songs) can be consumed by listeners of all ages. There is much discussion in literature on the conundrum of hate versus free speech; hate speech in online media or the



public realm (Nielsen 2002; Stevenson 2013); and hate speech as artistic expression (Lillian 2007). This chapter gives some insights into how Tamil break-up songs as artistic and emotional expressions complicate the understanding of hate in music.

Conclusion and limitations The break-up songs chosen in this study clearly expressed misogyny. They are a reflection of misogynistic elements in the overall presentation of Tamil films, which often present a male perspective of love, romance, and rejection. However, break-up songs serve as an outburst of the ‘true’ self of the hero (in terms of demeanour, language, appearance), especially since the hero may have pretended to be different in the process of courtship to impress the woman. In addition to this, some songs also expressed hate towards women and show some elements of sexist hate music. The hatred, prejudice, and stereotypes towards women highlighted in these songs were presented as the ‘natural’ order of events because women were evil and destroyed men’s lives. Such portrayals imply that women should be treated negatively and were unworthy of a man’s love and devotion. This supports the normalisation of misogyny in everyday life because of the central role Tamil films play in the politics and culture in Tamil society in Tamil Nadu. It also normalises misogyny as part of love and hyper-masculinity as the most attractive form of masculinity. It would be hard to prove that these songs would directly affect the way women are treated by the viewers, but it normalises the expression of anger and hatred towards women in everyday life. One of the limitations of this study is that it focused mainly on the lyrics and the scenes related to the song as many studies related to misogyny and hate music. Future research should focus not only on the lyrics but the role of sound (music, different voices) in conveying a message in a song. Even though the same music could be used to convey different ideas or emotions, it would be interesting to explore how much music contributes to the expression of a particular idea or emotion, as suggested by Kahn-Harris (2003), that is, whether music itself can be used to express hate or what the role of music is in expressing hate.

Acknowledgement This study was supported by the Bridging Grant, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 304. PSOSIAL.6316061

Notes 1 Also referred to as soup songs. 2 Women are described as the message of death. 3 The lines of this song suggest that God should be born as a man to experience the agony of love of a woman. As the result of this suffering, He would end the creation of women. 4 Documented on 4 January 2019. 5 The word aadukkutti is used here because it starts with ‘aa’similar to appa.


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Religiously middle class Ammaṉ films and the new middle class in contemporary Tamil Nadu Lisa Blake

In the 1990s and early 2000s, a new genre of Tamil film developed that emphasised the interactions and religious tensions between the middle and non-middle classes. These films, known as Tamil Ammaṉ, or goddess, films (ammaṉ paṭaṅkaḷ), form a genre specific to the millennial era, wherein an idealised middle-class identity, blending affluent urban modernity with tradition, is negotiated. The rapid growth of India’s middle class and fears that its members would abandon Indian religion, culture, and language in favour of a Westernised existence form a major theme throughout the films. This is reflected, in particular, in the films’ focus on religious practices for the South Indian village goddess, Māriyammaṉ. Each film is predicated on dealing with the calamities that result when an upwardly mobile family neglects religious observance of the goddess; the protagonist of the film, a devotee of the goddess who has recently married into the family, serves as a counteracting force, maintaining her piety even as she becomes middle class. I argue that the films’ depictions of the middle class and middle-class worship serve a pedagogical purpose aimed at upwardly mobile female Māriyammaṉ devotees, in which they are taught how to be (and, perhaps more importantly, how not to be) middle-class women, wives, and devotees. The films demonstrate two alternative performances of middle-classness, with the clear message that it is the devotee who should be emulated. This chapter aims to situate Ammaṉ films within the context of the Indian middle class, particularly with respect to middle-class religious practices for the goddess Māriyammaṉ as they exist at the Melmaruvathur Māriyammaṉ Temple near Chennai, Tamil Nadu. I begin by defining Tamil Ammaṉ films, noting their history as well as the features which typify the millennial Ammaṉ film, before briefly discussing representations of the Indian middle class on television and in film. Next, using examples from two Ammaṉ films released around the new millennium, Kottai Mariamman (Māriyammaṉ of the Fort, 2001) and Raja Kaliyamman (The Stately Goddess Kali, 2000), I discuss the pedagogical function of the films as reflective of the desire to create an ideal middle class that is modern while remaining essentially Indian. I end by analysing Ammaṉ films in the context of the anxieties of and about the middle class, positing that the recent dearth of films in this genre is in part due to the successful legitimisation of the Melmaruvathur Māriyammaṉ Temple, where traditional rituals have been replaced

Religiously middle class 131 by those palatable to the middle class, and middle-class Māriyammaṉ worship practices as a whole.

Ammaṉ films Films focusing on the Sanskritic goddesses have been a part of Tamil cinema almost since its inception in the early twentieth century; however, it was not until the 1970s and 1980s that representations of localised village goddesses emerged and came to be known as Ammaṉ films (Ram 2008, 47). Reviewers and scholars alike have noted that the films qualify as B movies due to their general low-budget quality, weak screenplays, and an audience made up primarily of the non- and lower-middle classes (Ram 2008, 48–49; Bhrugubanda 2014, 22, 26). In the 1990s and early 2000s, Ammaṉ films attained a modicum of popularity when a number of films with similar narratives were released. In them, a powerful village goddess and her devotee are tricked into leaving their rural environment and, after a series of trials, become part of the urban middle class. The devotee, a rural woman defined by her intense devotional relationship with the goddess, is the protagonist of the film; her ordeals are related to her marriage into an urban middle-class family that is typified by their complete disregard for religious practice. Within this juxtaposition, the rural becomes symbolic of the ‘traditional’, while the urban is synonymous with the ‘modern’. The films invoke the tensions of middle-classness and the fine lines that are drawn between incorporating tradition as a source of social capital and, at the same time, risking moving away from this tradition in order to access the Westernised world of the middle class. The Ammaṉs of Ammaṉ films are local village goddesses recognised as manifestations of the powerful South Indian goddess Māriyammaṉ: ‘Though the goddesses have different names … as well as independent temples on different sites, all … are said to be the same power’ (Mines 2005, 129). In her localised forms, Māriyammaṉ is a fierce protector of her village and devotees, who tend to be primarily women. Although she has often been considered as a goddess of the non-elite, in recent decades a ‘middle-class’ Māriyammaṉ has developed, as characterised by her middle-class devotees, who, similar to their non-middle-class counterparts, ask for her aid when seeking children, jobs, husbands, medical interventions, and other healing actions (Smith and Narasimhachary 1997, 190). It is this middle-class Māriyammaṉ who is the subject of Ammaṉ films. Throughout Ammaṉ films, the mistreatment of the goddess by the devotee’s husband and the middle-class family constitutes a major plot point. This family is characterised as the ‘bad’ middle class, as evidenced by their active attempts to harm the goddess and her devotee. These attempts include everything from replacing the goddess’s ritual offerings with hazardous substances (e.g. milk replaced with kerosene) to physically injuring the devotee and her natal family, all of which are done in an effort to harness the goddess’s and devotee’s powers for the middle-class family’s own use. At the climax of each film, the middle-class family receives retribution for their misdeeds and ultimately comes to recognise and propitiate the goddess. By the end of the film, both the devotee and the ‘bad’


Lisa Blake

middle-class family she has married into have become a part of the ideal middle class; the devotee dresses and acts as a middle-class woman, while her husband and his family have returned to propitiation of the goddess. By contrast, the goddess herself has not undergone any significant changes; when the middle-class family recognises her, it is not because she has changed, but because they have.

The middle class of Ammaṉ films A singular definition which encompasses all aspects of the Indian middle class has been notably difficult to determine; salary, commodity ownership, level of education, and white-collar employment are variously utilised to define the group. With the liberalisation of India’s economy in the 1990s, televisions, VCRs, and washing machines, previously accessible primarily to those with foreign connections, became available to the middle-class family, and soon became necessities for projecting middle-class status, following the notion that ‘money will not only buy one pleasure, security, … [and] guarantee admission to the desired college, but will also buy you social recognition’ (van Wessel 2004, 100–101). For those who do not possess the other markers of the middle class, the purchasing of commodities becomes a way of accessing a status that ‘may otherwise seem too easily foreclosed by the linguistic politics of English’ (Fernandes 2006, 71). In print and media depictions, the middle class quickly became synonymous with the consumption of luxury goods and services; in both film and television, a focus on consumer goods is a clear signifier of middle-class status, with other aspects that contribute to middle-class life, such as a high level of education or white-collar employment, notably absent. In the 1980s, Doordarshan, India’s staterun broadcast network, ran Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi (Such is Life), a sitcom centred on the daily lives of the urban middle class. Plot points understood to be unique to the middle class, such as decisions concerning the purchase of commodities or scenes involving the characters eating in restaurants, were common. Scenically, electronics, Western-style furniture and décor, and the clothing of the main characters served as prominent markers of middle-class status (Punathambekar and Sundar 2017, 411–12). These depictions rendered ‘the emergent middle class and different aspects of its daily life (work, family, and notions of leisure and pleasure) as unremarkable, relatable, and, crucially, desirable’ (Punathambekar and Sundar 2017, 403). Hindi cinema of the 1990s struck a similar chord: ‘many of the audience were not able to participate in this world directly, but the films created ideas of social mobility, and fantasies of wealth and of the linkage of consumerism with romance’ (Dwyer 2011, 190). In both cases, scenic representations serve to legitimise the middle class, while simultaneously rendering it aspirational. Within Ammaṉ films, the main characters are signified as middle class through similar means, but to be middle class is not an unequivocally aspirational state. Rather, the films include two separate characterisations of the middle class, which roughly fall into notions of a ‘good’ middle class and a ‘bad’ middle class. Sankaran rightly notes that ‘goddess films attempt to present a simplified and simplistic world where good and evil are clearly identifiable and operate as polar

Religiously middle class 133 opposites’ (2015, 460). The good, or ideal, middle class is educated and cultured, fitting seamlessly into the modern urban milieu, while retaining a respect and appreciation for traditional Indian religion, language, and culture. Religion, in particular, becomes a primary mode through which this middle-class identity is asserted, in part as ‘a reaction to the need to confront an essentially non-spiritual West’ (Saavala 2010, 151). By contrast, the attributes of the ‘bad’ middle class are characterised by a lack of religious practice, an apathetic and lazy demeanour, and a focus on the attainment of commodities. While all are identified with Westernisation, consumer culture in particular becomes morally construed as ‘a condition in which people seek self-realization or self-expression through goods rather than through spiritual or social pursuits’ (van Wessel 2004, 95). The Amman film’s ideal middle class is represented by the newly middleclass protagonist, who is a devotee of the goddess. The family she marries into is clearly the ‘bad’ middle class; although their lack of religiosity is painted as the most egregious of their faults, they are also characterised by their penchant for lying and cheating, with the husband in particular often portrayed drinking alcohol or taking part in womanising. The home, replete with signifiers of middle-class consumerism, including colour televisions, European-style furniture, and servants, becomes the centre of much of the action of each film. In Raja Kaliyamman (2000), for example, the first entrance into the home includes shots of a fancy cabinet holding a large, flat-screen television set; while in Kottai Mariamman (2001), the living room television is shown alongside a statue of a knight in armour and other European-style statues and vases, indicating a globally connected cosmopolitanism that is also crucial to middle-classness. These commodities are not generally remarked upon by the characters, but nonetheless serve as a clear signifier of middle-class status for the audience.

Ammaṉ films as a pedagogical tool That Ammaṉ films may be understood as a pedagogical tool is dependent on the notion that women, in particular, are responsible for attaining (most often through marriage) and maintaining middle-class status, and that the primary audience of Ammaṉ films is made up of non-middle-class women. Although the films emphasise the importance of continued worship, the setting and situations of the film also teach the audience about middle-class modes of dress, speech, worship, and culture. Middle-classness is represented as a way of being, which is distinct from that of the ‘rural’ or ‘lower class’ population. The use of visual media as a source of pedagogy has previously been discussed by Mahadevan, who studied the effects of media consumption on women from low-and middle-income families in urban India. She argues that, for her informants: contemporary family dramas reconfigure and re-imagine Indian womanhood in and through a pedagogy of domesticated Hindu womanhood. The ‘invisible pedagogy’ of Indian television dramas draws on a set of affective ties


Lisa Blake originating in and defined by the institution of the patriarchal Indian family and grounded in ideas of middle-class respectability. (Mahadevan 2016, 194)

Ammaṉ films similarly present an image of ideal Indian womanhood that has been reconfigured within the context of the middle class. This is, however, secondary to the films’ primary pedagogical function as a manual for middle-class Māriyammaṉ worship. Middle-class Māriyammaṉ worship has become increasingly popular in the last few decades as upwardly mobile devotees seek alternatives to customary ritual practices. Substituting upper-caste rituals is common, as devotees ‘may try to emulate the ritual pattern of higher-ranked castes in the hope of raising their social status’ (Younger 2010, 71). In the context of Māriyammaṉ worship, the somatic nature of some traditional rituals, like hook-swinging, possession, and aṅgapradakṣiṇā (‘circumambulation with the entire body’), has rendered them inappropriate for the middle-class context, requiring that they are either modified or removed from the ritual milieu. In Raja Kaliyamman, the majority of worship practices are shown in a dance sequence just before the final climax of the film. At this point, the protagonist, Meena, is fully reconciled with her middle-class status, but still struggles to balance her devotion to the goddess with her duties as a middle-class wife. The included rituals are those acceptable for a middle-class devotee of Māriyammaṉ: while animal sacrifices, hook-swinging, and tīmiti (‘firewalking’) are notably absent, ritual implements like māviḷakku (‘rice-flour lamps’), tīccaṭṭi (‘fire pots’), and neem leaves symbolically index appropriately middle-class Māriyammaṉ rituals. The exceptions to this are short scenes in which aṅgapradakṣiṇā and ritual possession are shown. As she performs her rituals, Meena pleads with the goddess to save her life, a reference to an earlier scene in which it is made clear that the goddess aims to kill her husband as retribution for his continued maltreatment. Meena argues that in becoming a widow her life would end as well, and she and the goddess come to an agreement that so long as she is wearing a poṭṭu her husband will remain safe, thus placing the responsibility for avoiding this calamity directly on Meena. The dance sequence takes place in a village temple and begins with a string of punctuated drumbeats: the camera moves from the tip of the anthropomorphic goddess’s headdress to her face, changes to a close-up of the goddess’s eyes and poṭṭu, and then returns to the full face. The drumming speeds up and the camera switches to a wider-angled shot showing the full form of the goddess, carrying a trident and dancing in front of a large bust of her head. Her devotee, Meena, is easily identifiable, even in a large group, as her deep red saree contrasts with the yellow worn by the other women. Meena sings the many names of the goddess, standing between two lines of devotees dancing silently in formation, as the camera continues to quickly cut to images of the angry goddess holding her trident. As Meena finishes the first verse, the other devotees sing in response ‘Aṅkāḷaparamēcuvari, our goddess’.

Religiously middle class 135 Meena continues to sing, but the focus changes to the goddess, dancing in front of a seated statue of herself covered in kumkum, with flames and a smoking firepot in the foreground. Two garlands, one of flowers and one of lemons, hang on her neck, while an offering of a broken coconut and two lemons sits at her feet. The third verse begins with the group of women standing in two lines, shaking their neem leaves over Meena’s head as she walks towards the camera, still singing the names of the goddess. Before the next verse begins, the goddess is shown in a new location, standing in front of two golden full-size statues, where she dances Bharatanāṭyam in full costume as the music changes to a slower tune with a less pronounced drumbeat. The setting changes to an exterior as Meena makes her first plea to the goddess, singing, ‘This daughter’s problem is your problem. If you see, my problem will get removed’. Immediately after this dialogue, the women, including Meena, perform aṅgapradakṣiṇā in two lines, the film interspersed with the visage of the increasingly angry goddess. Following the aṅgapradakṣiṇā, the goddess lifts her hands, and shifts into the form of a trident, one of the most definitive aniconic symbols of the goddess, which switches back and forth with a close-up on the goddess’ face. The camera changes to a wider shot, in which we again see the goddess standing next to the bust of her own head. The music changes again and the goddess dances Bharatanāṭyam for approximately 30 seconds while Meena kneels in front of her, rapidly chanting her many names. Following the dance, the devotees are shown with a variety of ritual implements, including firepots, māviḷakku, and neem leaves. Meena walks through the dancing women, her hands empty, until close-ups of her holding māviḷakku, a firepot, and neem leaves are shown in succession. She once again pleads with the goddess, and says, ‘Open your eyes to save my life’, at which point the goddess dances with her trident while the devotee stands behind her yelling ‘Ammā’. Separate from the goddess and Meena, the devotees, still in formation, become possessed by the goddess. They frantically move, whipping their hair backward and forward, while waving their neem leaves in the air and screaming. This is not mimicked by the devotee, who continues to plead with the goddess but does not become possessed. The scene ends with her kneeling on the ground, looking to the goddess for help. Throughout this scene, Meena’s separation from the ecstatic religion of the village reifies her ascendance to the middle class. This difference is visually salient; the devotees are a sea of yellow sarees over a red blouse, whereas Meena is clad fully in a deep red. The devotees wear their sarees tucked in, whereas Meena’s is pinned to her shoulder, so it flows down her back. Meena wears a large number of red bangles and jasmine in her hair, while few of the other devotees have jewellery and none have jasmine. As the other women dance in formation with neem leaves, Meena walks among them, but is decidedly not of them; when she is imaged with ritual implements, she is pictured alone and fills the entire screen, her individuality existing contra the seriality of the non-middle-class devotees. Perhaps the most revealing moments of this scene involve the inclusion of Bharatanāṭyam, commonly understood as the ‘traditional dance of South India’,


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a popular hobby for middle-class women for whom ‘the dance serves as a social accomplishment, and as a means of learning about and expressing traditional Hindu social and artistic values’ (Gaston 2010, 277). Bharatanāṭyam has been associated with ‘an emphasis on religion that [is] markedly “middle class”’ (Soneji 2010, xxvi), and the goddess’s costume reinforces the middle-class reimagination of Bharatanāṭyam as a dance of gods and goddesses, while simultaneously rendering the essence of the goddess as ultimately middle class. Rituals classified as part of ‘lower class’ Māriyammaṉ worship are mostly absent here, with the exception of aṅgapradakṣiṇā and ritual possession, which are present in both non- and middle-class Māriyammaṉ worship. Aṅgapradakṣiṇā (‘circumambulation with the entire body’) is traditionally performed in exchange for the goddess’s help in anything from healing a sick family member to obtaining employment, but in many middle-class Māriyammaṉ temples, its importance has been greatly reduced, with offerings of money or jewels seen as sufficient in its place (Harman 2004, 120). To complete the ritual, the devotee lays on the stone floor of the temple and rolls her body clockwise around the entire space of the shrine multiple times, with the exact number dictated by the vow that has been made between devotee and goddess (Harman 2006, 33). This somatic ritual has come to be viewed as inappropriate for many middle-class contexts; in temples where it is still allowed, devotees are often forced ‘to reschedule or abandon their vow, or reduce the number of “rounds” they have committed to offer the goddess’ (Allocco 2009, 389). Here, however, Meena performs the ritual with the other devotees, directly after she asks the goddess for help, suggesting worship more in line with the village from which she has come. However, as pictured, the ritual is calm and methodical, with the devotees remaining in orderly lines. This is reminiscent of the annual performance of the ritual at the primarily middle-class Māriyammaṉ Temple at Melmaruvathur. At this temple, Māriyammaṉ is approached in a middle-class manner; offerings of the body and animal or blood sacrifices are replaced with monetary offerings, which are used for the charitable organisations run by the temple. The offerings serve the dual function of fulfilling ritual duties in a manner acceptable to the middle class, while simultaneously reinforcing that the middleclass devotees are not a part of the non-middle-class communities on which the charities focus (Harman 2004, 12). The ritual possession which ends the scene is an additional example of worship that is more common in the traditional context. The devotees’ possession is recognisable by their erratic body movements, vacant and unfocused eyes, and ecstatic screaming (Meyer 1986, 258). Although possession does occur in the middle-class context, it is heavily mediated; at the Melmaruvathur Māriyammaṉ temple, possession occurs regularly on scheduled dates, when the temple’s goddess incarnate, Bangaru Adigalar, receives the goddess (Harman 2004, 10). If a woman starts to experience an involuntary possession in this milieu, she is not celebrated, but is quickly stopped, either by her husband or the women around her, who smear ash on her forehead in order to end the possession (Waghorne 2004, 168). Here, although Meena is present, she does not take part in the ritual;

Religiously middle class 137 she is ‘untouched by the corporeal schemas of lower-caste devotional practices in which direct possession by the deity is a central feature’ (Bhrugubanda 2014, 27). Her contrast with the other, non-middle-class devotees who are possessed serves to reify her middle-class status. Throughout the scene, Meena’s clear devotion to the goddess is mediated through her middle-class status, based on a ‘conscious process of identification and dis-identification’ that allows her to develop new, middle-class meanings for her religious practice (Saavala 2010, 153). The devotee’s unflagging devotion is contrasted with the ‘bad’ middle-class family’s lack of worship and attempts to actively harm the goddess. In a scene from Kottai Mariamman (2001),1 the family’s actions result in nearly immediate retribution by the goddess. Following the protagonist’s new sister-in-law, the camera takes in walls adorned with artwork, before entering the family’s sitting room, eventually settling in front of a piece of Western furniture that has been placed next to a bronze statue of a knight in armour. A servant is asked to bring pistachio milk, and the sister-in-law becomes visibly upset when she is told that the milk has been taken by the devotee in order to perform an abhiṣekam, or ritual bath, for the goddess. The sister-in-law calls to the devotee who enters, carrying the milk, as the camera passes over a television set and a built-in shelving unit filled with European-style glass vases and statues. The devotee is questioned about her use of the milk and she responds that it is meant for the goddess’s abhiṣekam. The sister-in-law, angered, immediately yells for her servant to bring kerosene. As she takes the kerosene from his hands, she says to the devotee, ‘Today, for a change, you will do a kerosene abhiṣekam’. The scene dramatically cuts to a close-up of a sculpted image of the goddess, shown intermittently with flashes of lightning and underscored by heavy drum beats and thunder; the scene changes rapidly between the angry goddess, bolts of lightning, and the middle-class home, where we see the milk forcibly removed from the protagonist’s hands and replaced with the jug of kerosene. After a jump cut, the devotee enters the family puja room, with the drums and thunder replaced by calming sitar music. The camera, focused on a sculpted image of the goddess, slowly pans out to reveal several printed goddess images, as well as shelves containing a papier-mâché goddess image and European objets d’art. The sitar music continues as the devotee begins to speak in apology to the goddess. ‘Mother, what can I say, what can I do? I don’t know what to do. I must obey’. In resignation, she lifts the jug of kerosene, but as she begins to pour, the scene again quickly cuts to the image of the angry goddess, her signature music swelling. The scene returns to the devotee; as she pours the jug of kerosene, milk splashes out, covering the goddess’s statue. The music changes to a Sanskrit stotra, an aural indication of an upper-caste ritual, and the devotee’s formerly morose visage registers surprise and joy. The goddess, shown in her anthropomorphic form, is now calm and jubilant, with milk bubbling up from between her toes. The camera rests on her face for a brief moment, before the scene abruptly cuts to reveal the sister-in-law, sitting in the kitchen. As she lifts her glass of milk to drink, there is a cut to the angry goddess, complete with lightning and beating drums, now accompanied by the addition


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of an ominous violin. Although the liquid in the glass appears to be milk, as she pours it into her mouth it changes to the blue kerosene. Smoke is expelled from her mouth and ears and her face registers panic. Her father yells, ‘What is this goddess game?’ and the scene ends. By setting this scene within the home, it is possible to repeatedly reinforce the class status of the family. The focus on televisions, furniture, and even the family servant render the performed actions – and their consequences – middle class. The ills of the middle class, particularly with respect to religious practice, are emphasised, while the devotee represents the ideal middle class as a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law, marked as much by her religious practice as her deference to her husband and in-laws. Through the abhiṣekam, the scene marks a type of restrained worship with upper-caste overtones, but its primary purpose is in emphasising the middle-class wife’s duty to her husband and in-laws above all else. This is reinforced across Ammaṉ films, as a central plot point often involves the devotee being ordered to perform acts meant to harm the goddess. In the few cases where she does not obey, she finds herself the victim of violence and, in at least one instance, is murdered. As Partha Chatterjee (1993) argues, the role of the middle-class woman is directly related to fears that the Western world of men employed in the colonial milieu would cause the traditional religion, culture, and language of India to be lost. Women, therefore, become responsible for maintaining an essentially Indian home, which the husband would return to each night, where the children (India’s future citizens) would be raised. In sum, ‘in the world, imitations of and adaptation to Western norms was a necessity; at home, they were tantamount to annihilation of one’s very identity’ (Chatterjee 1993, 121). The devotee of Ammaṉ films successfully fulfils this role; it is ultimately her responsibility to avoid the pitfalls of upward mobility through maintaining her Indian identity and ensuring her husband and family do the same. The changing of the kerosene to milk emphasises the devotee’s success; it is not she who suffers as a result of the attempted kerosene abhiṣekam, but her sister-in-law. In putting her husband and his family above her own devotional practices, the devotee has performed her role properly; the goddess’s agreement with this conclusion is clear. As smoke erupts from the sister-in-law’s ears, it is reinforced that the devotee’s primary duty is to her husband and his family and, as long as she is fulfilling this role, she can trust in the goddess to right any wrongs.

Ammaṉ films as a reflection of middle-class anxieties Although there has not been a systematic study of the audience of Ammaṉ films, it has been noted that its spectators are primarily lower-class women (Ram 2008, 48–49; Bhrugubanda 2014, 22). For the upwardly mobile, the journey of the protagonist of any given film in this genre is metonymic of the realities of marrying into the middle class. A middle-class marriage can be both a boon and a hardship – middle-class lifestyles may be an improvement, but require adapting to middle-class attitudes, habits, and custom. In an ethnographic study, Dickey cites

Religiously middle class 139 Anjali, a non-middle-class woman anticipating marriage to a middle-class man, who says, ‘I will have to change to fit with the way they are. That’s all. It will be a bit difficult in the beginning. But I can observe what they are like, and I can change’ (Dickey 2002, 222–3). As Dickey notes elsewhere, non-elite viewers of Tamil films do not see attending films as a learning experience; however, ‘most of them believe that cinema can serve a purpose, or have effects, other than the immediate and conscious ones that draw viewers to the movies’ (Dickey 1993, 139). In the context of Ammaṉ films, the purpose is multifold: the films provide a cinematic interpretation of upwardly mobile realities, but also teach women how (or sometimes more importantly, how not) to be middle class. As with Tamil cinema as a whole, the Ammaṉ film also ‘provides viewers with a sense of utopia … first, through a portrayal of luxury … and second, through resolutions of many of the viewers’ most persistent and deep-seated anxieties’ (1993, 110). Within Ammaṉ films, these ‘deep-seated anxieties’ are twofold. The newly middle class exist in a precarious position, where the successful performance of an identity is a requirement to continued middle-class status. The second is a broader societal anxiety, extending beyond the lower and middle classes to the elite producers of Ammaṉ films, that traditional Indian nature, values, and religion will be irrevocably changed as a result of the Westernisation of the burgeoning middle class. The middle-class characters, with the exception of the devotee, represent this ‘bad’ middle class; their lack of faith and respect for religious practice is symbolic of their overall lack of traditional Indian values. Their example is not one to be followed, as the perpetrators are subject to great hardships due to the wrath of the goddess. The newly middleclass protagonist is the character audiences are meant to emulate; by the end of the film, she has become fully reconciled with her middle-class status and her role as a middle-class wife, but remains essentially Indian in her dress, language, and religious practices. At the end of the film, both the middle-class family and the devotee have reaped the ‘rewards’ of their actions, having successfully mitigated the fears and anxieties that are associated with the upwardly mobile. While the devotee’s situation has changed for the better, her husband and in-laws have been punished for their misdeeds. In the last few minutes of Raja Kaliyamman (2000), the goddess plucks the husband’s eyes from his head, leaving him alive, but blind. Although he repents and becomes a devotee of the goddess, his blindness stands as punishment for his actions.

Conclusions In the early 2000s, a number of Ammaṉ films similar to Raja Kaliyamman (2000) and Kottai Mariamman (2001) were produced, including titles such as Padai Veetu Amman (Mother of the Battle House, 2002) and Sri Bannari Amman (The Goddess of Bannari, 2002). Although there have been a few Ammaṉ films released in the past decade, the popularity of this genre of film has seemingly waned in recent years. In these newer films, the focus on the middle class and middle-class rituals remain, but the movies are more often billed as ‘supernatural thrillers’. This is in

140 Lisa Blake keeping with the general trend in Tamil cinema, where horror films have eclipsed nearly all others in popularity (Bhrugubanda 2014, 32; Pillai 2015). The millennial Ammaṉ films certainly contain aspects of horror, mainly predicated on the fear that upward mobility will irrevocably change traditional India culture, which ‘[mirror] the horror of witnessing an unravelling of a social order’ (Bhrugubanda 2014, 30). The general trends in popularity are surely a factor in the lack of recent production of Ammaṉ films; however, if we return to their pedagogical function, the reason may simply be that their purpose has been fulfilled. I have argued that the primary pedagogical purpose of millennial Ammaṉ films is to incite newly middle-class female devotees to continue their devotion of Māriyammaṉ in the middle-class context. In the 20 years since the millennium, middle-class Māriyammaṉ worship has been maintained and has grown exponentially. Fears of a middle-class abandonment of religion have, at least in the case of Māriyammaṉ, been unfounded, as the goddess has undergone a resurgence as a middle-class goddess. This has been remarked upon by a number of scholars, but one of the most arresting examples comes from Tulasi Srinivas’s fieldwork in Bangalore, India. Over an eight-year period, she witnessed the transformation of a Māriyammaṉ temple from a small, disused, shrine in need of repair to an extremely popular temple which required expansion as well as the creation of additional roads and entryways as the temple became famous for its car puja (Srinivas 2018, 196–8). She writes, ‘The revivification of Mariamman as a traffic goddess speaks not only to the dangers of hypercapitalism in a city of endless traffic jams but also to the endless reinvention and salvage of the portfolios of the deities’ (2018, 198). Likewise, although the Melmaruvathur Māriyammaṉ Temple, on which Ammaṉ films’ middle-class worship seems to be based, was already successful prior to the development of Ammaṉ films, it has continued to grow as a national and international movement. In 2019, Bangaru Adigalar, the founder of the temple, was awarded the Padma Shri, a national award understood to be one of the highest civilian honours for Indian citizens (‘Leaders differ…’ 2019). Although the suitability of his receipt of the award has been debated, it nonetheless reflects a knowledge and legitimisation of middle-class Māriyammaṉ worship on the national stage. In this vein, the lack of recent Ammaṉ films should not be seen as evidence that Māriyammaṉ worship is fading, that the middle class has completely abandoned religious practice, or even that the fears and anxieties of ‘middle classness’ have abated. Rather, middle-class Māriyammaṉ worship has become a recognised and normal aspect of urban middle-class life. Minna Saavala writes that ‘religion is among the major moral discursive fields in which the superiority of the middle class is enacted’ (2010, 152). In Ammaṉ films, the superiority of the middle class is interrogated and ultimately confirmed, but only for those who perform the identity correctly. As a genre, millennial Tamil Ammaṉ films reflect the often-conflicting messages aimed at India’s upwardly mobile communities: to attain middle-class status is ultimately a benefit on an individual and societal level, but it comes

Religiously middle class 141 with the danger of losing ‘tradition’ in the face of a modernity characterised by its Western nature. Ammaṉ films of this era created a narrative around these realities, despite the fact that many within the films’ audience will never be in the position to attain middle-class status. Sara Dickey argues that ‘Films … do not simply provide their audiences with a momentary experience of luxury and ease: they also suggest that wealth and the comfort it buys are within reach’ (Dickey 1993, 111). In Ammaṉ films, the devotee’s social mobility likewise suggests that middle-class status is in reach, but also indicates, and even exploits, the turmoil associated with attaining, and maintaining, this status. The films rely on the general notion that to be middle class is a highly desirable state. Sara Dickey writes: It is hardly surprising that being middle class in a population whose majority is impoverished is experienced deeply – both corporeally and cognitively – as good. It means being able to take part in practices that require economic or cultural capital and enhance one’s reputation in the local community, to participate in a consumer economy that is heralded in many public media, and to locate oneself in a position of moderate middleness that is socially and aesthetically desirable. (2016, 130) The luxurious middle-class home and associated commodities of the Ammaṉ film are positive signals of what can be attained. However, the films’ repeated warnings against placing an emphasis on this kind of materialism and excess contribute to the anxieties of being ‘in the middle’, where the public performance of status is necessary, but also contributes to a hyper-visibility. While the poor are excused because they do not count, and the wealthy are excused because their money and power make them less susceptible and less accountable to social judgments, the middle class feel the pressure of having to do things right. (Dickey 2016, 135) Ammaṉ films are predicated on these anxieties, playing on the palpable tensions between tradition and modernity, while presenting a pedagogical manual for the proper performance of middle-class identity. In the universe of the Ammaṉ film, the clear message is that to be properly middle-class is to offer continued worship to the middle-class Māriyammaṉ. For middle-class devotees who see themselves ‘as performing an identity’, this worship is necessary for maintaining a status that is constantly subject to scrutiny by the wider society.

Note 1 For a more detailed analysis of the plot of Kottai Mariamman, see Sankaran 2015, 460.


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References Allocco, Amy L. 2009. “Snakes, Goddesses, and Anthills: Modern Challenges and Women’s Ritual Responses in Contemporary South India.” PhD diss., Emory University. Bhrugubanda, Uma Maheswari. 2014. “Devotion and Horror in a Women’s Genre: Exploring Subalternity in Cinema.” Critical Quarterly 56 (3): 21–33. doi:10.1111/ criq.12135. Chatterjee, Partha. 1993. The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Dickey, Sara. 1993. Cinema and the Urban Poor in South India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Dickey, Sara. 2002. “Anjali’s Prospects: Class Mobility in Urban India.” In Everyday Life in South Asia, edited by Diane P. Mines and Sarah Lamb. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Dickey, Sara. 2016. Living Class in Urban India. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. Dwyer, Rachel. 2011. “Zara hatke (‘Somewhat Different’): The New Middle Classes and the Changing Forms of Hindi Cinema.” In Being Middle-Class in India: A Way of Life, edited by Henrike Donner. London: Routledge. Fernandes, Leela. 2006. India’s New Middle Class: Democratic Politics in an Era of Economic Reform. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Gaston, Anne-Marie. 2010. “Dance and the Hindu Woman: Bharatanatyam Re-Ritualized.” In Bharatanatyam: A Reader, edited by Davesh Soneji. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Harman, William P. 2004. “Taming the Fever Goddess: Transforming a Tradition in Southern India.” Manushi 140: 2–13. Harman, William P. 2006. “Negotiating Relationships With the Goddess.” In Dealing With Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia, edited by Selva J. Raj and William P. Harman. Albany: SUNY Press. Kottai Mariamman. 2001. Rama Narayanan Dir. Perf. Roja, Devayani, and Vivek. VCD. ‘Leaders Differ Over Padma Award for Bangaru Adigalar’. 2019. The Hindu, January 27. Accessed 28 March 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/leadersdiffer-over-padmaaward-for-bangaru-adigalar/article26101960.ece Mahadevan, Mahalakshmi. 2016. “The Pedagogy and Practice of En-Gendering Civic Engagement: Reflections on Serial-Viewing Among Middle-Class Women in Urban India.” In Gendered Citizenship and the Politics of Representation, edited by Hilde Danielsen, Kari Jegerstedt, Ragnhild Muriaas, and Brita Ytre-Arne. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Meyer, Eveline. 1986. Aṅkāḷaparamēcuvari: A Goddess of TamilNadu, Her Myths and Cult. Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GMBH. Mines, Diane P. 2005. Fierce Gods: Inequality, Ritual and the Politics of Dignity in a South Indian Village. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Pillai, Sreedhar. 2015. “Have Ghosts Taken Over Kollywood?” The Hindu, September 5. Accessed 19 May 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/have-ghosts-taken -over-kollywood/article7619470.ece Punathambekar, Aswin, and Pavitra Sundar. 2017. “The Time of Television: Broadcasting, Daily Life, and the New Indian Middle Class.” Communication, Culture & Critique 10 (3): 401–421. doi:10.1111/cccr.12164. Raja Kaliyamman. 2000. Rama Narayanan Dir. Perf. Karan, Kousalya, and Ramya Krishnan. DVD.

Religiously middle class 143 Ram, Kalpana. 2008. “Bringing the Amman Into Presence in Tamil Cinema: Cinema Spectatorship as Sensuous Apprehension.” In Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry, edited by Selvaraj Velayutham. New York: Routledge. Saavala, Minna. 2010. Middle-Class Moralities: Everyday Struggle Over Belonging and Prestige in India. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan. Sankaran, Chitra. 2015. “Materiality, Devotion and Compromise: A Study of Goddess Films of South India.” Material Religion 11 (4): 443–464. doi:10.1080/17432200.20 15.1103470. Smith, H. Daniel, and M. Narasimhachary. 1997. Handbook of Hindu Gods, Goddesses and Saints: Popular in Contemporary South India. Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan. Soneji, Davesh. 2010. “Critical Steps: Thinking Through Bharatanatyam in the TwentyFirst Century.” In Bharatanatyam: A Reader, edited by Davesh Soneji. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Srinivas, Tulasi. 2018. The Cow in the Elevator: An Anthropology of Wonder. Durham: Duke University Press. Van Wessel, Margit. 2004. “Talking About Consumption: How an Indian Middle Class Dissociates from Middle-Class Life.” Cultural Dynamics 16 (1): 93–116. Waghorne, Joanne Punzo. 2004. Diaspora of the Gods: Modern Hindu Temples in an Urban Middle-Class World. New York: Oxford University Press. Younger, Paul. 2010. New Homelands: Hindu Communities in Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad, South Africa, Fiji, and East Africa. New York: Oxford University Press.

Part 3



Will the real Kollywood fan please stand up? Tamil film fandom in the new millennium Roos Gerritsen

It’s four in the morning, before sunrise, at Chennai’s Rohini cinema, a singlescreen cinema in North Chennai.1 Petta (Hood, 2019), Rajinikanth’s latest film, is being released. Petta must share its first-day show with a parallel release of Ajithstarred Viswasam (Faith, 2019). A cloud of smartphones hovers over the crowd, taking selfies in every direction (Figure 9.1). The traditional media, including various news channels from Tamil Nadu and some national channels, cover the release, too. They pursue the crowd into the courtyard of the cinema where a small group of men commence to act like ‘real fanatic’ fans. Once the film is running, people come out again to watch the small video bites they have captured on their smartphones with their friends. The translucent green of WhatsApp messages lights up in the courtyard here and there. Then, for about an hour, the courtyard calms down until the next crowd starts to arrive: Ajith fans. Skilfully, young men climb up the structure of the billboards, tear milk sachets open with their teeth and pour it over one of the large billboards, treating the image of their star with actions that mimic temple rituals. They throw plastic bags full of flowers and paper snippets around and light firecrackers. The beat of the live drum makes several young men dance, and even more men capture the scene with their video cameras or smartphones. At 6:30, the crowd throngs inside the cinema and the excitement and energy of the courtyard dies out again: it has shifted to the auditorium. Two major movie stars, two major releases. Traditionally, Pongal, Tamil New Year, has been an important date for film releases, yet two fan groups crowding the same cinema at the same times still creates an unusual scene. The Ajith banners clearly outnumber those for Rajinikanth. Playfully, Ajith fans remove the balloons and flags that the Rajinikanth fans decorated the premises with, and the crowd cheers for these iconoclastic acts. A cleaning lady tries to sweep the courtyard but does not manage to clean more than a few metres: it is pointless. New flowers, fireworks, paper snippets, milk, and milk sachets keep being spread over the premises. After a few minutes, she gives up and goes back inside the cinema. In other cinemas in the city, I learn the next day, fans of the two actors fought verbally as they tried to tear each other’s banners; elsewhere, six young men got critically injured after a metres high cut-out of Ajith – a plywood structure following the outline of a person, in this case of a movie star – collapsed while they were performing a ritual bath with milk. The newspaper reviews of the two films


Roos Gerritsen

Figure 9.1 Capturing the celebrations of the release of Petta (Hood, 2019) and Viswasam (Faith, 2019) at Rohini Theatre, Chennai. Credits Roos Gerritsen, 2019.

and their reception at the cinemas are telling. The Hindu, Chennai’s main Englishlanguage newspaper, spends the entire second page on the release (11 January 2019). One article describes two weddings conducted at movie cinemas in Tamil Nadu around the release of Petta, organised by the Rajini Makkal Manram (Rajini People Association, the new name given to the state-wide fan clubs after the star’s entry into politics). Another mentions the Japanese fans2 seen dancing at a release, the happiness of fans for seeing their star again and the cut-outs and banners at the cinema premises despite the court-mandated ban on flex banners and cut-outs. And yet another one mentions the assault of two persons due to an argument over seats in the cinema hall. That article ends with the story of a young man, called Ajith Kumar (just as the actor) who set his father ablaze with kerosene after he refused to give him money for watching Viswasam. Overall, about two-thirds of the space in both English and Tamil language newspapers devoted to the two film releases focused not on the film itself, but on how the audience – and in particular extreme fans – reacted to the film. The review of the film itself gives a positive impression of the film as a welcome shift in direction, back to an older genre of films that Rajini used to play in. It is early 2019, and more than a decade after my initial research on fan club (rasikar manram), visuality had started. From 2006 until 2012, I have conducted ethnographic research in Puducherry, Villupuram, and Chennai on the visual traces of Rajinikanth in the everyday lives of fans. I have conducted participant observation; interviewed among others more than a hundred fan club members for different actors, banner artists, and cinema owners; and done extensive

Tamil film fandom in the new millennium 149 (offline and online) archival research on public imagery. In my research I have followed a group of Rajinikanth fans – back then in between their 20s and 40s – who engaged with Rajinikanth’s image in various ways (Gerritsen 2019). Private and public images played an important role in establishing a relationship with the star, fan club, and a wider audience. Fans collected and displayed photographs of their stars in their own homes; they also hired mural painters and banner artists to place life-size or larger images in public spaces, and interacted with images in specific ways, including (as described earlier) quasi-ritual lustrations and conflicts over placement of public images. I have traced the transformation in image technologies and how this spoke to a desire of politicking and building up fame. But I have also observed the disillusionment with the inability to move further into electoral politics, a move that, considering the history of cinema and politics holding close ties in Tamil Nadu, was seen as a natural move. Rajinikanth didn’t seem to be interested in politics for much of his film career, and many fans lost their interest in being active in the fan club. But then, on the last day of 2016, Rajinikanth announced his entry into electoral politics. This chapter is about this period of transformation of fandom and movies in the new millennium. Not only did Rajini announce his entry, Kamal Haasan did too. And this entry was mirrored by the nearly simultaneous disappearance of two of Tamil Nadu’s most persisting faces and presences. In 2016, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader Jayalalitha passed away. Her image used to be everywhere: on large billboards, posters, murals, water bottles, gas stoves, mixers, canteens, fans, television sets, and many other freebies that were distributed during her periods of power. Karunanidhi, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader and the other ever-present face of Tamil Nadu’s political landscape, passed away in 2018. The departure of these visible and dominant persons has left a vacuum in state politics. With the disappearance of both leaders, Tamil Nadu’s politics seem to have been emptied of the charismatic, personality-based leadership that it was known for, along with the persistent image battle between the two political parties that dominated the Tamil political scene. Are stardom and film still a path to power? In this chapter, I will not describe these recent political transformations and what this means for the kind of fandom that I have described elsewhere (Gerritsen 2016a, 2016b, 2019). However, they are important to identify as they might indicate a major future shift in the organised fan activity in Rajinikanth’s name. But the political path of Rajini is not the only transformation that has had an impact on fan activity. The short narrative that I started with indicates both a continuation and transformation of fandom. This chapter demonstrates how the gentrification of the film and cinema space took aim at new audiences and therefore detached fan activity from the cinema and fan club. Simultaneously, the figure of the fan, the figure that was once analogous to the excessive crowd (Srinivas 2007; Gerritsen 2016b), is being imagined as part of the real-film experience that belongs to Tamil film. I also demonstrate how the cell phone has played a role in new imaginations and realisations of the fan.


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In the following section, I will first describe the social configurations of Rajinikanth fan clubs, the figure of the fan, and the ways in which fan images and media were mediating star, fan clubs, and self. This will be followed by a description of three sites where I locate transformations – the cinema, the figure of the fan, and new media – that might say something about the changing face of fandom. While I am writing about fans, I am specifically referring to a generation of Rajinikanth fans and their experience of fandom.3

Fan club activity in the early 2000s The ‘superstar’ of Kollywood (as the Tamil film industry is known), Rajinikanth (1950, born Sivaji Rao Gaekwad in Karnataka) is probably the biggest star of Tamil cinema. He started acting in the 1970s and his popularity rose enormously in the 1990s. He grew into a ‘mass hero’, invoking the double sense of a hero to the masses and whose ‘mass’ power, charisma, and popularity attract audiences, film-makers, and political parties (Nakassis 2017; see also Pandian 1992; Srinivas 2009; Prasad and Madhava 2014; Rajanayagam 2015). Just like his cine-political predecessors MGR and Sivaji Ganesan and film stars like Kamal Haasan, Vijay, Ajith or Simbu, Rajni has fan clubs organised in his name. Fan clubs are widespread throughout Tamil Nadu; their number often runs into the tens of thousands dedicated to one actor alone. Fan clubs are male environments, dedicated to male stars.4 There are exceptions, but it is outside the scope of this chapter to address this in more detail. Fan clubs are organised per neighbourhood and village or town, depending on local activity of the fans and on how many fan clubs exist. Another dividing factor is location and caste and class (see also Srinivas 2009). Members were mostly from lower socio-economic classes, employed as autorickshaw drivers, bicycle and motorbike mechanics, and lower grade clerks in government offices; or they run a shop of their own, a tea stall, or a small business; and some young men are lower middle-class college students (Dickey 1993; Jeffrey 2010; Rogers 2009; Srinivas 2009). While fans said that everyone could become a member, in reality, the spatio-social hierarchies and divisions defined the membership of a specific fan club (see also Srinivas 2009). All major male Tamil film heroes have their own fan clubs. The number of fan clubs devoted to actors corresponds directly to their popularity. The older, established Tamil stars have a relatively stable base of fan clubs, whereas younger actors depend on their movies’ success as well as on their fan clubs’ activities. In the 1990s, Rajinikanth had restricted his fan club, the All India Rajinikanth Fan Club,5 to not grow above 20,000, but this did not prevent his fans from starting unregistered clubs.6 And these clubs, with an average of 10–30 members, were as much part of the entire fan club structure as the registered fan clubs were. When these clubs are considered as well, the number of his fan clubs probably doubles or triples.7 As a collective fan activity, Rajini fans go and watch film releases together; celebrate their stars’ birthdays; and share the latest news they have picked up about their star. However, stars have an ambivalent relation with their fans and

Tamil film fandom in the new millennium 151 have often asked them to focus on social welfare instead of celebrating themselves as actors. Therefore, for birthdays or other special occasions, the fan clubs commit to the distribution of food, clothes, or school utilities for the poor. This distribution of welfare goes together with the invitation of local political figures such as MLAs, who through their presence give value to the events fans organise but also build up fame for themselves and for fans. Fans, once they were in their late 20s and 30s, emphasised the relevance of their fan club participation as a vehicle for politicking, i.e. involvement in local branches of political parties, supporting parties and local politicians and consequently receiving benefits in return. Politicking cultivates a fan’s image and displaying this relationship on public imagery materialises the relationship to influential others. These relationships articulate another form of investment in a star and produce leverage within the everyday governing structures of urban South India and its class and caste hierarchies. The everyday politicking and modes of visibility were political responses to expectations beyond the cinema. Fans grow older and with their age, their expectations of the fan club change, from being a young fan who loves to watch movies and celebrate movie releases to later on being politically active and aspiring a political future with Rajinikanth as the cine-political leader. Throughout this trajectory, fans experience and bring out a level of ambiguity. Fans, echoing more general views on fan behaviour, had a double feeling towards the excessive behaviour at the movie cinema: on the one hand, one needs to behave excessively to prove one’s fandom; on the other hand, excessive behaviour is considered over the top (Gerritsen 2016b, 2019). In Tamil, the word for fan, rasikan, is derived from the Sanskrit word rasika, which means ‘man of taste, one who is able to appreciate excellence or beauty in anything’ (Madras University Tamil Lexicon 1924, s.v. rasikar). Rasa and rasikar have a long history of being used for the performing arts, literary theory, and philosophical speculation on aesthetics. In modern Tamil, it means ‘an admirer, a connoisseur’ and in the film context, ‘a fan’. However, in this latter context, the fan is seen as the fan-as-rowdy8 in contrast to the cultured fan-as-rasika (Punathambekar 2007, 199). Non-fans often use the term veriyar (fanatic) to describe fans in everyday speech. While fans utilise rasikar not in a pejorative sense of fanaticism, they do feel that the behaviour at the movie cinema can be out of control. ‘We know it is not right, but we do it because we cannot help ourselves’ was a phrase I often heard during my research (Gerritsen 2016b, 2019). In this way, the figure of the fan is a figure that one denounces, and that one needs to perform if one is a seriously dedicated fan. Let’s go back to another release to start identifying the transformations that I have indicated.

Cinema spaces In 2010, shortly after the film Endhiran (Robot, 2010) was released, fans in Tamil Nadu learned that the release was a worldwide phenomenon. The film indeed proved to be a worldwide success: it reached the top ten of popular films in the UK, and its music release scored high in the iTunes online music store. In India,


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it was the highest grossing film ever made up to that moment. The film’s visual effects were impressive. The multiplication of Rajini into many Rajinis, the robot, and the high-end action scenes were all unprecedented in Tamil cinema. Before the film was released, fans proudly linked their superstar Rajinikanth to these innovations. But these same innovations also indicated a shift: a shift to a loss of the electric atmosphere and enthusiasm of watching films. Non-fan-club members were able to buy tickets, and this was new: for previous releases, tickets for the very first show were available only through an official fan club. Sakthivel, a fan club leader and panchayat president from Vannur whom I got to know well, had until then always been assured of tickets for himself and the fans closest to him. Yet for Endhiran, it turned out to be difficult for the first time to actually get tickets. Then the next disappointment came. The film did not meet his expectations and that of many Rajini fans for a ‘true’ Rajinikanth movie: it was seen as too high-tech to express the character of Rajinikanth that fans liked so much. Moreover, the film seemed to cater more to a global Indian audience (Rajanayagam 2015). A few shifts come together in the Endhiran release, the first being the significant changes in the cinema-going experience. In the context of this chapter, I want to focus on three aspects of the cinema-going experience that have altered in the past two decades: the change in social composition of theatre-goers; the shift of performance space from single-screen cinemas to multiplexes; and the rise of ticket prices.9 Before this shift, the typical audience consisted of working-class and poor young men: Endhiran’s audiences were primarily middle-class families, men and women and children. The gentrification of the audience brought about a reversal and slowdown in the decline in visitor numbers experienced by movie cinemas as a result of the increasing availability of films through cable and satellite television, as well as on VHS, DVD, VCD, internet, and torrents. The gentrification of the audience went hand-in-hand with the transformation of the spaces in which an audience watched movies. Due to neoliberal state policies and the politics of city gentrification in the 2000s, the price of land has been on the rise (Beelen, Gerritsen, and Srivathsan 2010; Gerritsen 2015; Searle 2016), increasing the challenges for smaller cinemas. A competitive real estate market in cities like Puducherry and Chennai and rising maintenance costs resulted in the closing of hundreds of single-screen, stand-alone cinema businesses in South India in the 1990s (Srinivas 2016). Instead, distribution companies and other businesses took over single-screen cinemas and revamped them into comfortable multi-screen, airconditioned multiplexes (Srinivas 2016). Moreover, the increasing export market of the diaspora has professionalised the industry (Vasudevan 2004), leading to more sophisticated special effects such as the Endhiran ones that both impressed and repelled fan club members. But it also led to making film production more expensive and therefore required distribution networks and number of screenings to be expanded in order to recoup costs. As for Endhiran, which was released in many cinemas at the same time, such saturation releases were only possible due to the centralisation of businesses. Earlier, distributors relied on prints, which cost around Rs. 67,000 per print in

Tamil film fandom in the new millennium 153 2008, but now with digital projection, the cost for a theatre dropped once the initial costs for the digital projection system were met. Instead of 5 screenings in Chennai, there could now be more than 30 at the same time (Pillai 2016). This is the result of cinemas having been converted into multiplex cinemas that all shifted to digital technology. Whereas before the projection technology was less expensive relative to the print, the digital technology made the film itself become cheaper and thus easier to release simultaneously. The development of multiplexes illustrates a tendency that has been felt by single-screen cinemas and fan clubs alike. Single-screen cinemas were not able to buy the latest releases anymore because they did not have the right technology for digital projection, and the cost for older style prints was as high as ever. Hence, they were bypassed by the multiplexes that had the capital and technology.10 Apart from the difficulties this brings to the smaller cinemas as far as earning sufficient revenue is concerned, it has also caused fan clubs to lose their fan privileges. First-day, first-show tickets were no longer the privilege of the fan clubs as multiplex cinemas specifically do not allow for fan shows and sell their tickets online on a first come first serve basis. The humiliation that Sakthivel felt by not being able to distribute tickets to his fellow fan club members indicates that fans as an audience were not the public that multiplex cinemas aim to attract. Another change at the cinema is the ticket price. Multiplexes charge much higher prices for tickets. Even though the first-day shows are always sold for much more than for other shows, multiplexes’ basic prices are much higher than those of the B-grade cinemas that most fans attend. While a ticket for a multiplex cinema started at Rs. 90, a ticket at an ordinary cinema cost Rs. 10–50 in Puducherry, a substantial difference for the less affluent.11 Black market tickets for Endhiran rose to thousands of rupees. These transformations do not merely change who is going to which cinema, but they also transform audience practices at large, inside as well as beyond the cinema. With Endhiran, the gentrification of the audience and cinema hall was joined by a gentrified Rajinikanth. And the Rajinikanth they encountered was for the generations of fans that I worked with, not the Rajinikanth they appreciated. The film Endhiran is a continuous display of technological fireworks: the story features Rajinikanth in a dual role, both as a scientist and as his creation, the robot Chitti. When the robot falls into the hands of a competing scientist, he implants a chip into the robot and Chitti becomes a destructive force. The film turns into a high-tech sci-fi story with countless visual special effects. The film departs here from a ‘classical Rajinikanth film’ in which he, an outsider and a low-status person, fights the bad guys with his bare hands. Even though the film was a box-office hit in India and around the world, Rajinikanth’s fan club members were disappointed to meet this new Rajinikanth. Now Rajinikanth was not identifiable as the jovial character or the angry person fighting injustice with his bare hands that the Rajini fans that I have worked with liked so much. The music in this film, and even more so in Rajinikanth’s previous film Sivaji: The Boss (2007), also disappointed many of the fans I knew well. While the music was composed by Tamil Nadu’s most celebrated composer, A.R.

154 Roos Gerritsen Rahman, many fans that I have worked with could not repress the feeling that the music was a bit too ‘foreign’ (as they called it). In many respects, such criticisms of Endhiran echo the shift in cinema-going indicated earlier. The local hero is replaced by a star who is a member of a global elite, whose story is told amid a soundtrack that is ‘foreign’, and in cinemas that cater to a world-class-expecting and certainly more affluent audience.

Loss Gentrification of audiences, the move to multiplexes, and ‘high-tech’ or ‘foreign’ film content bring me to the second set of transformations, that of the ‘fan’ itself. Multiplexes come with rules that prevent fan enthusiasm in the cinema. Although single-screen cinemas have rules to regulate audience behaviour on the first-day shows, multiplexes are much stricter in the kind of behaviour that is allowed. Phones must be switched off and ‘fan behaviour’ such as dancing and singing is out of the question and completely banned (see also Srinivas 2016). Within the auditorium, audiences are observed by staff, and before the movie starts, a screen warns against the use of mobile phones. In addition, banners or posters made by fans are not allowed on the cinema compound. Fans and non-fans create and recreate, revise, and contest various ways of being in the world as fans and in relationship to their stars, films, politicians, and each other. There are certain strategies that they adopt for doing this, and the disappointment of fans in the ‘foreign’ and high-tech elements in Rajini films of the first decades of the twenty-first century as well as their dismay at the new constraints on fandom signal that earlier strategies do not work as well with Endhiran, for reasons that are partially due to the film (story, character of hero, soundtrack) and partially due to the circumstances of the screening (multiplexes, expensive tickets, no banners).

The figure of the fan revisited In the 2000s, fan club members considered the movie releases as an exclusive space of showing their dedication to the star. The first-day tickets, the firstday first shows, the images displayed in public, and the excessive celebrative mood were seen as part of the fan club. The fan itself however was a figure that Punathambekar aptly described as the fan-as-rowdy (2007). The fan-as-rowdy meant police presence at the cinemas, excessive fan behaviour, demolishing the cinema premises, and other undesirable actions attributed to ‘the fan’. However, recently, the figure of the fan has become a figure of nostalgia, sought after by others than the members of the ‘fan audience’ themselves. The fan has become an experience, an afterimage. For the film Kabali (2016), Air Asia, official sponsor of the film, offered total packages, including flights from Bengaluru, breakfast, and a film screening to those who could afford it.12 Some companies booked cinemas for their employees, and other employers gave their employees a day off on the first-day release, which is happening more and more. While I do not want to

Tamil film fandom in the new millennium 155 suggest that corporate film experiences have entirely taken over the film release, it is at least suggestive about how film audiences are changing. At the same time, Lakshmi Srinivas has observed that a section of the film audience in Bengaluru prefers the single-screen cinema as a space where one experiences ‘the electric atmosphere’ in contrast to the multiplex as sterile space (Srinivas 2016, 235). The fan experience here is not only observed from the outside as fanatical behaviour but is sought after, performed, and experienced by upper-middle-class men and women (see also Srinivas 2010, 2016). A few weeks after the 2019 release of Petta and Viswasam, a row started on a video released by actor Simbu in which he asked his fans to erect huge cut-outs and pour pots of milk on them. As a response, the Tamil Nadu Milk Dealer Association urged the police to protect milk dealers as milk sachets get stolen during the releases of films with high-profile actors, and they demanded an apology from Simbu (The New Indian Express February 4 2019). A commentary in The Hindu responded to this news, arguing that fan celebrations at the cinema hall are not what they used to be anymore (Pillai 2019). Will the real fan please stand up, Pillai asks? Where there used to be many such celebrations ‘on ground’, now they are muted compared to the early days and such ‘fan frenzy’ as Pillai terms it takes place online. Pillai observes how nowadays the ‘fan frenzy’ is toned-down in comparison with earlier days, whereas now people go specifically to cinemas such as Rohini cinema to watch fan celebrations and soak in the celebrative atmosphere that is unique to Tamil Nadu. So, while public fan celebrations of the movie are less frequent overall, fan watching by others who seek the fan experience has become a popular way to experience the film. In this way, the spectacle of fandom has become an object of nostalgia on the part of the middle-class and middle-aged people taking their teenage daughters to the multiplex, to the partial exclusion of fan spectacle itself. And to see still a part of the ‘real’ fan performance, people visit the peri-urban cinemas or cinemas in the city outskirts such as Rohini where Petta and Viswasam were released and where the ‘real’ fan show still takes place. I described in the introductory scene the masses of glowing phones and professional cameras that immediately flocked towards a spot where ‘real fan behaviour’ took place. Immediately, those moments were captured and as soon as they died out, the fans performing that behaviour were interviewed for the news channels that covered that release. Media coverage reiterated the notion of the fan that both fans and non-fans expected from a film release. Here, the figure of the fan is not, as I argued elsewhere, the observed figure that shapes the larger film experience in Tamil Nadu (Gerritsen 2019); rather, it is the fan as figure that must be re-enacted to experience the authentic film release. The figure of the fan takes over an idea of the past of cinema and fandom in Tamil Nadu, without linking it to the political frame through which fans are usually seen and discussed. In a similar fashion, Simbu’s video, in which he asked his fans to behave as typical fans, was according to him a reaction to a comment that he received about not having enough fans. In other words, he needed proof of his worth as a star by having fans that act as fans through ‘typical’ performance:


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erecting cut-outs and performing milk abhishekams. The mimicry of the fan at the cinema has become inseparable from the film-release experience.

New media, new desires? The third transformation that I signposted above lies in the materiality of the media itself. During the release of Petta and Viswasam, dozens of phones were lightning up; as soon as a group of men performed ‘typical’ fan behaviour, people flocked together to watch and capture such performances. During the screening, various men came out of the cinema hall, phone in hand, to share their smartphone footage of scenes from the film with their friends outside and in cyberspace. Scenes were watched over again, commented upon, and circulated via WhatsApp. The phone was now part and parcel of the release to record the figure of the fan and the first glimpses of the star. The experience of viewing a film has become a cell phonemediated experience focused on low-quality videos posted on social media. This indicates a new iteration of the older desire to perform one’s fandom and relationship with the star, but it also brings something new: the live mediation of star and oneself through a smartphone video camera and to a virtual audience brings a certain immediacy with it. I do not argue that newer media are sui generis. Rather, picturing the new allows us to ask new questions about the present (Hirschkind, de Abreu, and Caduff 2017, 4). And this present cannot be merely formulated in the technology or media, but also through the physical, digital, social, economic spaces and enframements in which these technologies move, as well as who these media move, in the transitive and intransitive sense of the word (Spyer and Steedly 2013; Hirschkind, de Abreu, and Caduff 2017). Public, through the recording and circulation of images such as that of the film release, constitute themselves ‘in anticipation of being seen – by others or by themselves – as media images’ (Spyer and Steedly 2013, 31, emphasis in original). Recording images and video on smartphones brings about a new subjectivisation of the self as celebrity (Dean in Spyer and Steedly 2013) that goes beyond the ways in which fans built up fame through the billboards, banners, and other imagery that they produce (Gerritsen 2019). What’s more, the circulation of such videos enlarges the public and moves beyond class and caste distinctions as they were perceptible in fan club structures, as also non-fan club members can imagine themselves in ways that were mostly limited to fan clubs back when fandom was performed through the material enframements of billboards and posters. The recent popularity of the app TikTok illustrates well how this can look like. TikTok is a Chinese app that has become increasingly popular in Tamil Nadu since 2017. One can record and share one’s videos and follow those of others. The lip-synchronisation feature makes it possible to act and dance scenes from films or popular songs. At first, it was mostly teenagers who used the app, but now more and more people from young to old use it. It is used for recording movie songs, but also for crazy actions and hate speech. Here I am discussing the first category – that of men and women mimicking film songs. It allows users, specifically women, to pursue dreams that they would otherwise not be able to express or see themselves

Tamil film fandom in the new millennium 157 in; dancing in a movie, seeing yourself as a famous actress or actor, dressing up as a film star. The app opens up a space for creativity and mimicry within the safe space of your home – but by sharing a video, it allows others to see you ‘as a star’. The combination of mundane settings of one’s bedroom, living room, or outside space inserted with memories and imaginations around sound and the images that belong to it – like film scenes, where one saw and heard these, how one connects to the star –makes the videos attractive. For people who like a film, an actor, a song, or a scene, the app gives the opportunity to impersonate a particular star or inhabit a particular scene. Hashtags of films, songs, or actors and actresses allow users to make their video visible to others doing the same. Stories circulate about people being spotted by the film industry and who are now acting in films and older housemakers who are now having popular streams of videos that everyone watches. The hope of being spotted and perhaps giving access to the movie industry make these dreams of stardom even more powerful. This reverberates with the pornographic webcams that Ernst van Alphen describes (Alphen 2013). He argues that new media uses such as through the webcam have heralded a shift from a passive consumerist voyeurism to an active attitude of self-positioning exhibitionism and hence a new kind of release of affect. Van Alphen describes how amateur webcam pornography is clumsily made and does not show particularly attractive bodies. But the attractiveness of such webcam images lies exactly there: amateurs show themselves and such images can be made by anyone, anywhere. Similarly, with TikTok videos, their very banality seems to make them attractive. The people recording and posting videos are like you and me, and if they can act, so can I. The videos are not edited, sometimes clumsily made, and we know by whom the videos were created, and all this engenders a stronger reality effect (Alphen 2013). We identify with the makers of the videos by seeing the desires of other people. We can pursue such dreams of acting, of mimicry, because we know the other people are real, just like us. TikTok is much criticised within popular discourse and in the political arena, and the app was banned briefly in 2019 on the request of the Information Technology Minister of Tamil Nadu M. Manikandan. He argued that the app is against the cultural values of Tamil Nadu and causes indecent behaviour (The Hindu 2 January 2019). The ban was temporary though and existing users were still able to use the app. After the ban was lifted, TikTok continued to be downloaded and had more than 120 million users in India in the first quarter of 2019 (BBC News 17 April 2019). I have observed during my research that the app has become a popular form of ‘time pass’ or leisure activity for those actively creating videos as well as for those just watching them. The temporality of the videos, capped at 14 seconds, changes the sonic and visual landscape of smartphones and their surroundings. The short soundbites of songs can be heard in buses, coffee bars, and at homes, repeating themselves with different visuals and competing with other streams of users, television, or music in the background. People sit at home or in coffee shops watching their own and other videos for hours on end. Social media and smartphone images are now part of the experience of the first-day first show, and of the ways people, from fans to non-fans, relate to a star.


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And this opens up a new path of investigation. How would a digital environment bring about the closeness that fans seek? If images are more easily made with the many apps available and images are more easily shared, what does that do to the attraction towards movie stars? If images are more to manipulate, adapt, and share through many apps and smartphone archives than they are to curate into a physical photo album, then what does this do to cinephilia? How does an app like TikTok, which allows users to record 14-second lip-synced videos, change the mimicry and intimacy that fans perform? If fan experience goes online, what will be the position of the cinema? And if images are no longer material, how do fans relate to their star? All these questions must await future study. If the image ecologies transform or are recreated, moulded into new technologies, materialities, and forms, they go hand in hand with new affects and subjectivities. They reshape class and caste distinctions as they instigate communal tension through synchronised songs lined with hate speech (Christopher 2019). To conclude, I am not necessarily prefiguring the disappearance of fandom. Social life is always in motion: fans still celebrate, fans still do politicking, yet the circumstances under which these activities take place have changed. Therefore, instead of seeing fandom as being replaced by a corporate, nostalgic, class-distinctive experience or transformed through social media, I suggest that we could see these changes as instances that could tell us something about the ways in which Tamil cinema bears meaning in everyday lives in the new millennium.

Notes 1 This chapter is based on the Epilogue of my book Intimate Visualities and the Politics of Fandom in India (Gerritsen 2019). 2 It is commonly expressed by fans and non-fans that Rajinikanth has a fan following in Japan and even fan clubs. This started in 1998 when the film Muthu was released in Japan. Recently, it has been announced that a re-release of the film is scheduled. Fans tell this fact proudly to indicate the height of Rajinikanth’s fame, seemingly making their own activities more important through this foreign acknowledgment. 3 My research also included fan clubs of other major stars, but I do not include these narratives here. There are overlaps but also differences that cannot be discussed within the scope of this chapter. 4 Fan club membership is a gendered activity: most fan clubs are male environments and most fans clubs are dedicated to male stars. While fan clubs for actresses do exist, the ways in which they operate and the ways in which their members relate to the actress is different (see Gerritsen 2019). 5 Agila India Rajinikanth Rasigar Manram. 6 Local fan clubs ask for official permission to start a fan club at their local head fan club, which sends the registration All-India Rajinikanth Manram in Chennai. 7 To compare, for Surya it is said that there were 25,000 registered clubs in Tamil Nadu (based on the numbers given by the leader of the Surya fan club, Madhavan, Chennai, 10 December 2009). These numbers are not reliable, though, as fans tended to quote higher numbers and official fan club documents relating to the main organisation were not accessible to me at the time. 8 The rowdy in India has been an evocative figure of inappropriateness in middle-class imaginations and has come to be particularly evoked in relation to cinema (Dhareshwar and Srivatsan 2010). 9 See Athique (2009; 2011) for a discussion on the rise of the multiplex in India.

Tamil film fandom in the new millennium 159 10 A more recent development is the rise of online platform media like Zee5, Amazon Prime, and Netflix that are side-lining ‘mainstream’ film ecologies organised around multiplex cinemas, blockbusters, and major stars. 11 These were the average prices in Puducherry around 2008–2011. 12 It is not very common to have a company sponsoring a film; hence this sponsorship has been covered repeatedly in the Tamil and Indian media.

References Alphen, Ernst van. 2013. “Affect.” In Images That Move, edited by Patricia Spyer and Mary Margaret Steedly. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research, Advanced Seminar Series. Athique, Adrian. 2009. “Leisure Capital in the New Economy: The Rapid Rise of the Multiplex in India.” Contemporary South Asia 17 (2): 123–140. Athique, Adrian. 2011. “From Cinema Hall to Multiplex: A Public History.” South Asian Popular Culture 9 (2): 147–160. Beelen, Karl, Roos Gerritsen, and A. Srivathsan. 2010. “Climbing Up the Rank Ladder.” MONU: Magazine on Urbanism. Christopher, Nilesh. 2019. “TikTok Is Fuelling India’s Deadly Hate Speech Epidemic.” Wired UK, August 12. Accessed 15 August 2019. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/tik tok-india-hate-speech-caste Dhareshwar, Vivek, and R. Srivatsan. 2010. “‘Rowdy-Sheeters’: An Essay on Subalternity and Politics.” In Subaltern Studies IX: Writings on South Asian History and Society, edited by Shadid Amin and Dipesh Chakravarthy. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Dickey, Sara. 1993. Cinema and the Urban Poor in South India. Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gerritsen, Roos. 2015. “Chennai Beautiful: Shifting Urban Landscapes and the Politics of Spectacle.” In Visual Homes, Image Worlds: Essays from Tasveer Ghar, the House of Pictures. New Delhi: Yoda Press. http://www.tasveergharindia.net/cmsdesk/essay/115/ index.html Gerritsen, Roos. 2016a. “Intimacy on Display: Movie Stars, Images and Everyday Life in South India.” Visual Anthropology 29 (4–5): 382–405. Gerritsen, Roos. 2016b. “Keeping in Control: The Figure of the Fan in the Tamil Film Industry.” Studies in South Asian Film and Media 7 (1–2): 5–23. Gerritsen, Roos. 2019. Intimate Visualities and the Politics of Fandom in India. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. The Hindu. 2019. “Ban TikTok Mobile Application: Ramadoss.” January 2, sec. Tamil Nadu. Accessed 3 January 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/ ban-tiktok-mobile-application-ramadoss/article25885031.ece Hirschkind, Charles, Maria José, A. de Abreu, and Carlo Caduff. 2017. “New Media, New Publics? An Introduction to Supplement 15.” Current Anthropology 58 (S15): S3–S12. Jeffrey, Craig. 2010. Timepass: Youth, Class, and the Politics of Waiting in India. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Nakassis, Constantine V. 2017. “Rajini’s Finger, Indexicality, and the Metapragmatics of Presence.” Signs and Society 5 (2): 201–242. The New Indian Express. 2019. “After Simbu Tells Fans to Pour Pots of Milk on His Cut-Outs, Milk Dealers Approach Commissioner for Protection.” The New Indian Express, January 23. Accessed 4 February 2019. http://www.newindianexpress.com/entertainment/tamil/ 2019/jan/23/after-simbu-tells-fans-to-pour-pots-of-milk-on-his-cut-outs-milk-dealersapproach-commissioner-for-1929119.html


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Pandian, M.S.S. 1992. The Image Trap: M.G. Ramachandran in Film and Politics. New Delhi: Sage. Pillai, Sreedhar. 2016. “Out With the Old.” The Hindu, February 27, sec. Cinema. Accessed 30 February 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/how-film-distribution -has-changed-with-times-in-kollywood/article8289535.ece. Pillai, Sreedhar. 2019. “Will the Real Kollywood Fan Please Stand Up?” The Hindu, February 1, sec. Movies. Accessed 03 February 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/enter tainment/movies/will-the-real-kollywood-fan-please-stand-up/article26146973.ece. Prasad, M., and Madhava. 2014. Cine-Politics: Film Stars and Political Existence in South India. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan. Punathambekar, Ashwin. 2007. “Between Rowdies and Rasikas: Rethinking Fan Activity in Indian Film Culture.” In Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, edited by J. Gray, C. Sandvoss, and C.L. Harrington. New York: New York University Press. Rajanayagam, S. 2015. Popular Cinema and Politics in South India: Reimagining MGR and Rajinikanth. New Delhi: Routledge. Rogers, Martyn. 2009. “Between Fantasy and ‘Reality’: Tamil Film Star Fan Club Networks and the Political Economy of Film Fandom.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 32 (1): 63–85. Searle, Llerena Guiu. 2016. Landscapes of Accumulation. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Spyer, Patricia, and Mary Margaret Steedly. 2013. Images That Move. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Advanced Seminar Series. Srinivas, Lakshmi. 2010. “Ladies Queues, ‘Roadside Romeos’, and Balcony Seating: Ethnographic Observations on Women’s Cinema-Going Experiences.” South Asian Popular Culture 8 (3): 291–307. Srinivas, Lakshmi. 2016. House Full: Indian Cinema and the Active Audience. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Srinivas, S.V. 2007. Is There a Public in the Cinema Hall? http://www.sarai.net/mediacity /filmcity/essays/srinivas.html. Srinivas, S.V. 2009. Megastar: Chiranjeevi and Telugu Cinema After N. T. Rama Rao. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Srinivas, S.V. 2016. “Rajinikanth and the ‘Regional Blockbuster’.” In Chicago Tamil Forum. Vasudevan, Ravi. 2004. “Disreputable and Illegal Publics: Cinematic Allegories in Times of Crisis.” In Sarai Reader 04: Crisis/Media, edited by Monica Narula, Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Ravi Sundaram, Ravi S. Vasudevan, Awadhanedra Sharan, Jeebesh Bagchi, and Geert Lovink. Sarai: The New Media Initiative, CSDS.

10 Post-millennial Tamil cinema Transitional generation and the traces of continuity Swarnavel Eswaran

The transitional generation One of the significant trends in contemporary Tamil cinema is the straddling between the centre and the fringes in mainstream cinema by some of its significant and prolific directors of the new millennium. This trend marks the period from 2000 onward, the last two decades of Tamil cinema, which I refer to as the post-millennial Tamil cinema. There are two broad trends which are noticeable: the first one is the continuity of the traces of the Tamil cinema of the last millennium, particularly in terms of the storytelling that privileges the classic three-act structure-driven narrative where the hero’s journey is propelled by linear plot progression to have a climax that enables the interrogation of values and ethics in a globalising world, apart from the resolution of the narrative conflict(s). The second one, however, challenges the relatively classical structure of the first one by privileging a non-linear narrative style, often predicated on dystopic/absurd characters imbued with dark humour. Besides, there are major technical shifts due to the transition to the digital. A modest-budgeted independent film like director Mysskin’s Onaayum Attukuttiyum (The Wolf and the Lamb, 2013), which is mostly shot at night, relies on the possibilities afforded by digital technology to shoot with minimum lights for its many long shots. Nonetheless, the post-millennial Tamil cinema is also marked by its significant directors’ investment in straddling between the centre and the margins within the mainstream. The major focus of this chapter, due to consideration of space, is on the popular directors who signify the two major trends described above through the narratives of their significant films and their aesthetics. For instance, Karthik Subbaraj, the director of modest budget and innovative films like Pizza (2012) and Jigarthanda (Heart-Cooler, 2014), has recovered the Tamil superstar Rajinikanth’s charisma through the stereotypical in the film Petta (Neighborhood, 2019) which, as one can guess, is a high-budget film. This is not unlike his peer Vetrimaaran’s straddling of the centre and the fringes of the mainstream in his significant films like Visaranai (Interrogation, 2016) and Vada Chennai (North Chennai, 2018). Nonetheless, Subbaraj belongs to a younger or succeeding generation to that of Vetrimaaran, and even between Vetrimaaran’s debut film Polladhavan (The Ruthless Guy, 2007) and Pizza, Subbaraj’s


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inaugural film, there is only a difference of five years. Vetrimaaran’s style, however, recalls an earlier Tamil cinema due to his focus on landscape, dialect, and culture, whereas Subbaraj’s films exemplify a more recent trend in Tamil cinema where the focus is on surface and style, and the eclectic borrowing from the contemporary films of the Global South, particularly from Korea, often without overt reference or acknowledgement (IANS 2014). Nevertheless, Vetrimaaran’s films like the modest-budgeted Visaranai or the big-budgeted Vada Chennai are very different in their ethnographic impetus to cinematically showcase a certain group of people or community from the films of earlier directors like Bharathiraja or Mahendran who were also invested in interrogating Tamil village life through their films by straddling between the typical and the offbeat within the mainstream. Thus, Vetrimaaran could be argued to be a conduit to the next generation who emblematises continuity as well as change. A focus on directors like Vetrimaaran, who are successful contemporary Tamil directors but at the same time whose cinema recall an earlier cinema in terms of its preoccupations or carry some of its vestiges, shed light on the transformation of Tamil cinema after the millennium. The aim of this chapter is to interrogate the works of a generation of such significant directors who are caught between two distinct periods. The transition from celluloid to digital technology marks a major shift during the last two decades of Tamil cinema regarding production, distribution, and exhibition; for instance, the phenomenal increase in the number of films per year and the multiplex theatres which have created a space for niche audiences. But those trends could be perceived in almost all major cinemas across the world. However, a careful attention to the works of significant directors who have straddled both the periods enable us to understand through their transition the traces of history that linger, thereby shedding light on the specificity of Tamil cinema during the first two decades of this new millennium. The focus of this chapter is, therefore, on the significant directors from the transitional generation whose work carries the traces of the pre-millennial Tamil cinema which, nonetheless, resonates with the younger generation and contemporary audiences. I will engage with significant film-makers who signify the transitional generation: Bala, Mysskin, Ram, and Vetrimaaran. I selected these directors because of their relatively prolific output and visibility due to the commercial as well as critical reception of their films. Focusing on their trajectory, I believe, which combines some of the classical elements, like the traditional format of a relatively linear narrative, and juxtaposing it with a modern style, particularly in terms of stylised long-duration shots, which often includes a dystopic or a darker vision even as they conclude with some kind of redemption, will enable us to understand the shift from the pre-millennial to the contemporary Tamil cinema. Towards this end, I will focus on the similarities and changes in the narratives, as Tamil cinema transforms from the celluloid to the digital era, in the context of the centrality of the hero, significance of the family, authorship of the directors, who emblematise the transitional generation, and the continuing relevance of realism in contemporary Tamil cinema.

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The key signifiers of the transitional and markers of the contemporary Tamil cinema Contemporary Tamil cinema has transitioned from Thevar Magan (Thevar’s Son, 1992) and Bashaa (1995) to computer-generated image-driven Vishwaroopam (The Magnificent Incarnation, 2013) or the locale of Malaysia or Mumbai as the backdrop for Kabali (2016) and Kaala (2018), which is far removed from the locales in Annamalai (1992) or Padayappa (1999). Even in Baasha (1995), arguably Rajnikanth’s most successful and quoted film, most of the film was shot in the studios in Madras, including the flashback which is set in Mumbai. Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan have continued to play the lead in their films during the digital era. However, such contemporary star-vehicles are cultural artefacts and products of globalisation and the digital-technology-inflected distribution–exhibition network which extends far beyond South India. One could also perceive the absence of relatively modest budget films which were critically acclaimed like Gunaa (1991) and Mahanadhi (The Great River, 1994) in Kamal Haasan’s repertoire in the last two decades, particularly after Kuruthipunal (River of Blood, 1995). One could argue the middle-of-the-road aesthetics of such films which sit between art house and mainstream commercial films was redefined by the works of the transitional generation. Nonetheless, as in culture, in cinema nothing fades away distinctly. For instance, Kamal’s oeuvre Anbe Sivam (Love is God, 2003) recalls his earlier straddling of the art house with the mainstream, at least in terms of its content. Nevertheless, over a period, there is a gradual transformation and change in trends which dictate the course of its history. Certain directors could be argued to be trendsetters, who were more influential than others; for instance, directors like A. Bhimsingh and Bharathiraja. Undoubtedly, to talk about distinct influence and marked trends, one needs distance and time; but my objective in this chapter is to shed light on directors who I claim to be the conduit that enables our understanding of the distinct changes in the post-millennial Tamil cinema. For instance, director Bala’s trajectory from Sethu (1999), Mysskin’s from Anjathey (Do Not Fear, 2008), Vetrimaaran’s from Polladhavan (Ruthless Man, 2007), and Ram’s from Katradhu Tamil ([I] Learned Tamil, 2007) onwards were instrumental in diffusing the rigid boundaries of the mainstream even if their films incorporated major elements of the commercial cinema like songs and action sequences. They rearticulated their hero’s journeys by redefining their goals that resonated with the sociocultural milieu of the contemporary audiences. Their films while remaining true to the classical norms of Tamil cinema in relying on melodrama as the base reinvented the genre to engage with darkness and dystopia (Bala), crime and redemption (Mysskin), personal relationships and identity (Ram), gangsters/ warring groups, and locales/law (Vetrimaaran). The films of other significant directors, like Selva Raghavan’s Kaadhal Kondein (I Fell in Love, 2002) and Pudhupettai (New Hood, 2006), are also significant in setting a trend among later love and gangster narratives but because of the consideration of space and the diversity of Selva Raghavan’s output, I am not going into the details of his films


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here. Besides, the socially committed Balaji Sakthivel [Kaadhal (Love, 2004) and Vazhakku Enn 18/9 (Case Number 18/9)] has set new benchmarks with his penchant for realism in Tamil cinema. Similarly, Vasanthabalan has made significant contribution with his investment in literature and atypical characters, for instance, in Veyil (Sun/Heat, 2006) and Kaaviya Thalaivan (The Epic Hero, 2014). The diversity of his repertoire is also marked by the inconsistency of authorial preoccupations and themes. Similarly, one could argue with the works of Ameer Sultan and Sashikumar, among others. The last decade has seen a young crop of directors whose works mark a distinct trend among the influx of films made in Tamil due to digital technology. Consider, for instance, the mixed genre and innovative crime thrillers and detective/cop dramas, like director H. Vinoth’s Sathuranga Vettai (Chess Hunt, 2014); Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru (The Courageous: Chapter One, 2017), Sri Ganeshs’s 8 Thottakkal (Eight Bullets, 2017), and Karthick Naren’s Dhuruvangal 16 (Extremes 16, 2018). Nonetheless, directors like Pa. Ranjith (Attakathi/Cardboard Knife, 2012; Madras, 2014), Karthik Subbaraj (Pizza, 2012; Jigarthanda), and Nalan Kumarasamy (Soodhu Kavvum/Guile Traps, 2013; Kadhalum Kadanthu Pogum/ Love Shall Pass Too, 2016) have been the centre of the discourse surrounding the transformation in form and content of Tamil cinema, through the critical and commercial success of their films. For the purposes of this chapter, I consider them as key signifiers of the new generation of young film-makers, who have made a significant impact during the last decade. They also come from diverse backgrounds like fine arts school and engineering and event management, unlike the members of the transitional generation who had assisted experienced directors in the field before making their debut as directors. Nonetheless, their films, despite being different, share certain similarities in seeking a form to cater to the contemporary Tamil audiences that favour the melodramatic narrative, albeit with modern sensibilities in a hurried and speedily globalising world, like the reduced length in terms of the number of songs and the climax sequence. A detailed reading of the films of the transitional generation, therefore, can help us understand how their distinctness lies in their being conduits of the previous generation to the next in the context of the increasingly dark narratives posited in a dystopic world, and the simultaneous investment in realism and the critique of (the emptiness of) rhetoric and the intricacy of relationships tied to technology in the digital era.

The hero and the family ‘Last year (2018) there were 181 films released in Tamil’ (Dinamalar, 1 January 2019). The average, therefore, was more than 3.5 films per week. This figure, however, is less when compared with those of the previous two years: 193 in 2016 and 198 in 2017. With more than 15 films being released every month, Tamil cinema complicates our understanding of its general trends. For instance, while it is true that horror and comedy as genres seem ubiquitous in contemporary Tamil cinema, some of the biggest hits still are star vehicles where the narratives serve the purpose of cashing in on the cultural capital of the stars and their

Post-millennial Tamil cinema 165 charisma. Nonetheless, as Tamil cinema scholar Rajan Kurai has convincingly argued in his book Kathanayaganin Maranam/Death of the Hero (2012), there is a distinct change in the trajectory of the hero. For instance, the 2018 film 2.0 with Tamil cinema’s superstar Rajinikanth has the villain Pakshirajan (played by the Bollywood star Akshay Kumar) essaying a more interesting and relatively sympathetic role as a bird lover who wants to protect birds from the attack of the indiscriminate cell phone signals in their natural space/abode in the sky. Such a plot that privileged the villain by giving him a reason to protect the species and the environment rather than pursue his selfish agenda, which would resonate with the audiences, was unthinkable in big-budget Tamil cinema till recent years. As sociologist and astute observer of popular Tamil culture, the late M.S.S. Pandian detailed in his book The Image Trap (1992) on Tamil cinema’s unparalleled star MGR, the narratives of mainstream Tamil films generally revolve around the tropes which entrench stereotypes. MGR’s charisma and context were unique and, as Pandian convincingly argues, his films could directly address and mobilise his film audiences and harness them for his electoral politics, initially propelled by the DMK (Dravidian Progressive Federation) and later fuelled by his ambitions to start his own party and the success of the ADMK (Anna Dravidian Progressive Federation). One could argue that the spectre of MGR is still haunting Tamil cinema in the aspirations of its contemporary stars as they gear towards politics and power, including Vijayakanth, Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, and Vijay, to name but a few. But when we think of contemporary Tamil cinema, the continuity of such heroism is but only one aspect among the many trends, as revealed by the quotidian heroes on the fringes in most of the films discussed here. If we shift our focus from such over-the-top characterisations of hero figures to genres, one could sense the departure from the earlier focus on family melodramas in which kinship played a central role to mixed genres like horror and comedy wherein melodrama still provides the canvas, but the significance and the nature of the family is reinvented in diverse ways for serving the purposes of the plot. For instance, the family itself could range from the classical joint family as in Sundar C.’s Aranmanai (The Palace, 2004) to the nuclear family in Nayagi (The Heroine, 2016); both, however, are rendered dysfunctional. The Indian cinema scholar Sangita Gopal’s (2011, 105) observation on the link between the nuclear family and contemporary horror genre in the context of the interior/psychological and exterior spaces resonates with many such Tamil films of the last decade. The other important aspect in some of the significant horror genre films in Tamil is the spectre of cinema itself, as in Nayagi. Just like the hero-driven big films, melodrama also coexists with other genre-driven films in Tamil. For instance, one of the recent biggest hits was Kadaikutty Singam (The Lionlike Youngest, 2018). It recalled the joint family melodramas of the studio era where marrying the muraiponnu (maternal uncle or paternal aunt’s daughter) or the customary bride was the main issue that the hero had to contend with and overcome to marry his beloved who was not a close relative. Though Kadaikutty Singam was a huge box-office success, it was criticised for its ‘television serial

166 Swarnavel Eswaran flavor’, particularly by the Vikatan Vimarsanakuzhu/Vikatan Review Team (Vimarsanakuzhu 2018). The stereotypical family melodrama, once the staple of Tamil cinema, is today associated with the supposedly low art of an average Tamil television serial which is verbose and predictable. Such a critique sheds light on the deconstruction and reinvention of the family in much contemporary Tamil cinema. There is undoubtedly a transformation in the staple of Tamil cinema – the melodramatic plot centred on the family as signified by films like Baaga Pirivinai (The Partition, 1959), Chinna Thambi (Little Brother, 1991), Thevar Magan (Thevar’s Son, 1992), and Pandavar Bhoomi (Land of the Pandavas, 2001), to contemporary films starring Vijay Sethupathi, such as Pannaiyarum Padminiyum (The Landlord and the Fiat Padmini, 2014). Such a change informs us of the gradual transition in the structure of the closely knit family in the larger Tamil society, particularly in these times of globalisation. Apart from the characterisation and genre, if we look at the third significant aspect of screenplay, the plot, to dissect the trends in the unwieldy contemporary Tamil cinema, one of the significant differences is the penchant for dark comedies, often piggybacked on Korean films or other contemporary successes from world cinema, marked by non-linearity and non-classical closures where the group family photograph or the ‘happily ever after’ cliché is challenged/done away with. For instance, the critically and commercially successful film Jigarthanda is ‘loosely based on the 2006 South Korean Film “Dirty Carnival”’, as noted in the Business Standard (2014).

The transitional generation and traces of continuity Bala’s debut film Sethu heralds the transition I am arguing for as it has all the classical elements surrounding the Tamil cinema canon. The hero falling in love with the daughter of a priest – the non-Brahmin male falling in love with the Brahmin female and vice versa – has been a trope in many Tamil films, including Bharathiraja’s popular Alaigal Oyvathillai (Waves Do Not Rest, 1981) and Vedam Puthithu (The New Vedha, 1987). Additionally, the hero as the college goon or rowdy who later goes through a transformation in his behaviour after meeting the heroine is also not new to Tamil/Indian cinema. But where Bala’s film differs is when the hero loses his mind on not being able to get the girl he loved and is sent to the asylum. The dark realism surrounding the space of the mentally ill underscores what would later become Bala’s authorial theme – his investment in subterranean spaces on the fringes littered with violence, darkness, and dystopia. Furthermore, the unhurried and languorous pace of storytelling, which Bala inherits from his mentor Balu Mahendra, particularly from films like Veedu (House, director Balu Mahendra, 1988) and Sandhya Raagam (Tune of the Twilight, 1989), is predicated not only on the long takes or the long duration shots but also on the focus on the interiority of the character whose world seems to have come to a standstill. Bala’s films, as he acknowledges, are ‘not about issues, [but] are about characters and a story’ (Kamath 2003). So are films like Karthik Subbaraj’s Iraivi (Goddess, 2016) and Nalan Kumarasamy’s Kadhalum Kadanthu

Post-millennial Tamil cinema 167 Pogum (Love Too Shall Pass, 2016). However, in Mercury (2018) when Subbaraj tried to experiment with the genre of horror with a message about the environmental issue of mercury poisoning, it did not mix well and was criticised: Subbaraj tries to dress up a routine horror film with a social theme. The connection drawn between the lack of vital human faculties and the poisoning incident ultimately proves to be as feeble as Prabhudeva’s attempts to portray a malevolent spirit who stalks the hapless friends for no fault of their own. (Ramnath 2018) Although Kumarasamy’s authorial domain is in the realm of absurd comedy and romance, he shares Bala’s predilection for a relatively decelerated narration. Furthermore, Subbaraj and Kumarasamy, like Bala, have a penchant for unfamiliar spaces on the fringes to interrogate the alienation of the quotidian protagonists in these times of all subsuming globalisation with its imperatives of erasure of differences. The difference is in their comedic take on darkness and absurdity in contemporary life, whereas in the films of Bala, the characters are often set in rural spaces and excluded by the speed of the globalising world. The darkness in Bala’s universe often borders on the mythos and the ubiquity of oppression and discrimination. For instance, Pithamagan (Son in the Lineage, 2003) has the protagonist who works in the graveyard. The influence of Bala’s ability to dwell on such spaces for the narration of the dystopian lives and times of his unique characters who, nonetheless, exhibit great perseverance in combating the evil of an unjust society and its prejudices and violent institutions has been seminal in terms of the way it changed the storytelling and characterisations in the post-millennial Tamil cinema, particularly of the last decade. Bala has unarguably darkened Tamil cinema’s trajectory and landscape in terms of both violence and characterisations, as exemplified by Naan Kadavul (I am God, 2009). Consider, for instance, the significant films which followed Sethu in the darker love story mold: Balaji Shakthivel’s Kaadhal takes this intervention of Bala further by foregrounding caste as the bane of Tamil society through a love story. However, Kaadhal differs from Sethu in its subtler sentimentality and through its narration in a highly realistic mode in an urban space. Similarly, Vasantha Balan’s Angadi Theru (Market Street, 2011) uses the lens of class and exploitation in the backdrop of the mall or supermarket culture in Chennai to foreground the exploitation of workers and gender. Angadi Theru, like Kaadhal, narrates a love story between people on the fringes, and its protagonist Jyothi signifies the vast majority of adolescents who come to Chennai from the South for survival and struggle due to poverty. The dissection of the underbelly of the megalopolis of Chennai recalls Bala’s engagement with the anxieties surrounding the inhumane treatment at the mental asylum in Sethu. Naan Kadavul, which won the coveted national award for the Best Director, stands at one end of the spectrum in Bala’s oeuvre, along with films like Paradesi (Vagabond, 2013) in invoking a milieu, which is oppressed, and on the fringes, vastly different from much Tamil cinema. On the other end are typical mainstream films like the recent Nachiyaar (2018). Such a


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trend of straddling unfamiliar themes in some and mainstream action in others can be seen in the trajectories of Pa. Ranjith in his films like Attakathi and Madras, and Kabali and Kaala, and in Karthick Subbaraj’s Pizza and Jigarthanda, and his recent Petta.

The transitional generation and authorship Mysskin who assisted director Kathir before debuting as a director in Anjathey is another significant director of the transitional generation, who is primarily known for his visually driven narration. As an auteur, he is invested in the genre of crime and has his unique style in terms of sparsely using close-ups and predilection for angles other than the eye-level. More importantly, he is known for his worldview regarding guilt and redemption where the binary between the good and the evil is blurred. Anjathey draws from the classical buddy film trope of the friends becoming foes like in many of the Sivaji Ganesan starrers like Padithal Mattum Podhuma? (Is Education Alone Enough?, 1962) and Aalayamani (The Temple Bell, 1962) but retools the trope for contemporary audiences by realistically detailing the space of the police colony where the protagonists live and the sinister darker world of perversion of the villain which is dystopic in its tones. The labyrinthine sugarcane field where the climax is set recalls films like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). Mysskin’s influence on the younger generation in the post-millennial Tamil cinema could be argued to be in his investment in urban spaces and crime. Onaayum Attukuttiyum (The Wolf and the Lamb, 2013) engages with a wounded and bleeding psychopathic killer (Wolf) who is a fugitive on the run and the Lamb he encounters in the form of a young medical student (Sri) who tries to help him. By staging the main events during the night in Chennai city, the urban space of a global city is drained of the romantic corporate imagery and substituted with the apprehensions and fears of its darker underbelly which is sprawling with heightened violence where any quotidian person, even the one who tries to help someone bleeding to death, could be in grave danger. It exposes the entire family to unexpected ordeal, as in the case of the young and conscientious medical student. On the other hand, the panic and discomposure surrounding a psychopath on the loose but who is still able to navigate through familiar spaces, like the hospital, police station, and the subterranean parking lot, signifies the existential threat of the city that has grown vertically and unevenly in a very short span of time, where the familiar has become unfamiliar due to its vulnerability to unexpected and extremely violent intrusions. An increasingly lop-sided development, predicated on corruption, has led to spectres which haunt like the roads that are dug up and the metro railway under construction and a night life wherein people on the fringes, like the people whom the fugitive encounters, are rendered helpless bystanders. The nocturnal quality of Onaayum Aatukkuttiyum also showcases the indifference of the society in an urban space like Chennai. The film opens with the unattended bleeding Wolf on the road and people going about their lives. Additionally, we see a Facebook enthusiast who is only invested in posting the grave incident

Post-millennial Tamil cinema 169 on his page. The corruption of the state is also symbolised by the cop who takes away the wristwatch from a victim on the road and the crooked cop who denies the possibilities on the part of the Lamb to catch the Wolf. The city at night is thus rendered as a space enabling violence and criminals and is marked by the spree of killings and the absence of law or justice. The use of the names of animals for the characters also signifies the primeval instincts which permeate the city and its nocturnal life. Mysskin’s authorial theme of redemption, which symbolises his penchant for classical themes, even on the part of such a hardcore psychopath like the Wolf propels the narrative to a level above the well-crafted film in the serial killer genre. While with the digital camera, shooting at night has become easier because of its ability to capture reasonably good images with low light, like in the case of most of the sequences in Onaayum Aattukuttiyum which have been shot with available light and a few fillers, Mysskin’s preoccupation with the city and its desolate spaces during the night for staging the lives of his forlorn characters on the fringes could be argued to have influenced the current crop of successful films invested in crime thrillers/drama like Maanagaram (Metropolis, director Lokesh Kanagaraj, 2017) and Ettu Thottakkal (8 Bullets, director Sri Ganesh, 2017). Besides, the focus on crime in an urban space to illuminate the subconscious of the society/state can be seen in many critically acclaimed and commercially successful recent Tamil films like Duruvangal Pathinaaru. Other important classical element in Mysskin’s films is the intricately knit family, which is predominantly absent in post-millennial Tamil cinema, particularly in most of the significant films that challenge the stereotypes. The scenes with parents or siblings are minimal and they are not woven into the narrative as characters of significance. The narratives are often about nuclear families that live in urban spaces/apartments which cannot accommodate the kith and kin due to the constraints of space. The other reason is the necessity to have young friends surrounding the hero and his girlfriend to cater to the mostly young/youthful audiences frequenting the theatres in contemporary times of multiplexes and dwindling single screens. However, Mysskin’s transitional placement could be dissected in his attention to the portrayal of the family in his films, for instance, his debut film Chithiram Pesuthadi (The Picture Speaks, Dear!, 2006). In one of its major turning points in the narrative, the heroine comes to know the truth about her father, whom she idealised, of having visited a brothel and being charged by the police, along with the prostitutes, during their raid. While preserving the umbilical cord of the Electra complex in a typical conservative Tamil family, Chithiram Pesuthadi deconstructs the holiness of the parents trope in most Tamil films, particularly during its golden era of the 1950s and the 1960s. During the 1970s and later, father and mother often lost their centrality as sacred figures but still lingered on the fringes with their ideal ‘character’ intact. But by making the father the psychological anchor of his middle-class heroine, the narrative uses the major turning point of the heroine’s recalibration of values, on knowing about her father’s visit to the brothel. It comes as a revelation to her as she had misunderstood the hero, who was the ‘wrong man’ caught by the cops at the brothel and flashed on the media. Substitution of the hero not by the villain, as is the norm, but


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by the ideal figure of the father in a way could be argued to be the rite of passage for the Electra to trust the young hero, whose life gets caught in the urban space and the uninvited/unforeseeable crimes associated with it. Released in the same year, Selva Raghavan’s Pudhupettai had a protagonist who rose from humble beginnings to become a ruthless mafia lord. Early on in his life, the hero kills his oppressive and drunkard father, thus justifying the hero’s later trajectory of violence and lawlessness. However, Chithiram Pesuthadi by depicting a widowed father, who might be in his mid-50s, as visiting a brothel for his needs questions the idea of parents as asexual beings who have stepped right out of the mythos of religion. Such an inversion within the familiar backdrop of the family continues in Mysskin’s oeuvre. In Pisaasu (The Ghost, 2014), the hero is implicated in the accident wherein the heroine dies. As the hero and the heroine’s father are haunted by her spectre, Mysskin unravels a world which is possessive of the woman even after death, albeit in the name of love and affection. In a culture which boasts of elaborate rituals for the smooth passage of the souls into the Other world after death, women are often portrayed as spectres, for instance, the popular myth of Neeli, lingering in the in-between space as ghosts, seeking vendetta for the injustice and violence done to them during their lives. Mysskin inverts the equation by positing the female ghost as Pisaasu-Deivam/Ghost-Goddess (Figure 10.1). Mysskin’s deconstruction of the family has import for contemporary Tamil cinema as it has gradually moved from the portrayal of the ideal family in many of its movies, for instance, Kurangu Bommai (Monkey Doll, 2017) has the father working for the gangsters. While the father figure is reflective of the hero-oriented

Figure 10.1 Screenshot from the film Pisaasu (Ghost, 2014). Courtesy of Director Mysskin.

Post-millennial Tamil cinema 171 Tamil cinema wherein the Oedipus was often pitted against the father, as exemplified by the iconic Manohara (1954) and Padikkatha Medhai (Illiterate Genius, 1960), onwards through Thanga Pathakkam (Gold Medal, 1974) and Thevar Magan, contemporary Tamil cinema has diluted the binary through the decentering of the father figure by grounding him in reality and on the fringes. In most cases, he is also rendered as the enabler of the hero’s dreams or as instrumental to the hero’s journey, for instance, the mute father Murugan (Karunaas) who immolates himself to protest against the pollution of the environment through mercury and the endangering of people’s lives in Kodi (The Flag, 2016). This is unlike the physically challenged hero figures in Baaga Pirivinai or 16 Vayathinile (At the Age of 16, 1977). However, one could argue that the spectre that haunts is not the family but the world at large in these times of globalisation. The law of the father which controlled the family/community/village once is now at the centre of the world which has shrunk into a global village. Consequently, the spaces outside the home have increasingly become the stages for showcasing the mise en scènes of conflict and confrontation. Think of the ubiquitous shots of violence on the streets and in the backdrop of high-rises, for instance, in Velayilla Pattadhari (The Unemployed Graduate, 2016). Instead of offering solace, the home has become the abode of ghosts, like in Raghava Lawrence’s Muni: Kanchana series (Muni [2007); Muni 2: Kanchana [2011]; Muni 3: Kanchana 2 [2015]). The space outside too is not free of spirits, as in Maya (2015) or Dora (2017). Like the popular Muni series, much contemporary Tamil cinema is marked by its investment in the horror genre, unlike the Tamil films of the last century when horror was a rarity as a genre, and its often mindless or occasionally well-crafted dark/absurd comedies. However, significant directors of the transitional generation, like Bala, Mysskin, Vetrimaaran, and Ram’s characters, who are generally on the fringes, signify, as Jacques Derrida explicates in his Specters of Marx (1994), phantoms and specters as haunting reminders of the victims of historical violence, of those who have been excluded or extinguished from the formation of a society. The notion of spectrality is not, however, exhausted by these ghosts that question the good conscience of a state, a nation, or an ideology. Rather, Derrida’s aim is to formulate a general ‘hauntology’ (hantologie), in contrast to the traditional ‘ontology’ that thinks being in terms of self-identical presence. What is important about the figure of the specter, then, is that it cannot be fully present: it has no being in itself but marks a relation to what is no longer or not yet. And since time – the disjointure between past and future – is a condition even for the slightest moment, Derrida argues that spectrality is at work in everything that happens. An identity or community can never escape the machinery of exclusion, can never fail to engender ghosts, since it must demarcate itself against a past that cannot be encompassed and a future that cannot be anticipated. Inversely, it will always be threatened by what it cannot integrate in itself – haunted by the negated, the neglected, and the unforeseeable. (Hagglund 2014, 47)


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If the protagonists in Bala’s Sethu, Pithamagan, and Naan Kadavul, Mysskin’s Onaayum Aatukkuttiyum, Ram’s Katradhu Tamil, and Vetrmaran’s Visaranai and Asuran (2019) symbolise the spectre of the ‘negated, the neglected, and the unforeseeable’ that haunt them, contemporary Dalit icon Pa. Ranjith’s significant characters emblematise the spectre of the inhumanity of casteism in a democratic society, predicated on the equal rights of the people in an egalitarian society as promised by the Indian Constitution. Ranjith’s larger than life heroes and Dalit protagonists of Kabali and Kaala are driven by hopeful narratives (revolving around oppression and containment) which have their provenance in a spectral space, of Tamil gangsters in the diaspora (Malaysia) and workers on the fringes in Dharavi (Bombay), marked by its ties to ‘what is no longer and not yet’. Their provenance is in the liminal space between despair and hope.

Realism and relationships Vetrimaaran, though from the Balu Mahendra School, is far removed from his peer Bala. Though Vetrimaaran has a style of realistic narration and penchant for lowkey lighting which aligns him with his mentor Balu Mahendra, his preoccupation with ordinary people who get involved with hardcore gangsters is far removed. While Polladhavan and the recent Vada Chennai focus on urban space and the ubiquity of crime through the quotidian lives of gangsters, and the rivalry among them, the shift is from the plastic nature of gang fights in much Tamil cinema by grounding them in spaces which are uncommon, whether in the underbelly of the stolen goods market in Chennai or the (economically) excluded spaces of North Chennai wherein struggle for survival also means exposing oneself to violence and encountering sudden death. In Polladhavan, the sibling rivalry is shifted to the antagonists in a sustained way and the family of the protagonist is forced to suffer the cost and disappearance of the motorcycle of the protagonist. Like in the iconic Bicycle Thieves (1948), Vetrimaaran uses the search for the motorcycle, which is the procurer of the job for its protagonist as an agent for a bank, as the means to get a glimpse of the underbelly of Chennai with its macabre market flourishing on violence and theft. But the difference in Polladhavan is the later shift in focus from the social reality of post–World War II Italy in Bicycle Thieves to the domain of gangsters in contemporary Chennai and how the soft hero is transformed into a hardcore killer by the milieu he finds himself in. Polladhavan’s influence could be argued to be in the aesthetic of realism Vetrimaaran privileges in his fictive universe where the hero and his family get entangled with the gangsters and their henchmen. Vetrimaaran’s choice of locations, for instance, the market of stolen parts wherein motorcycles are expeditiously dismantled, and parts quickly transferred, besides the casting of actors, with a regional flavour/ specificity, particularly the ones belonging to the violent gang of theft and brutal killing, marks Polladhavan as a significant film in the crime genre (Figure 10.2). Aadukalam (Playground, 2011), Vetrimaaran’s critically acclaimed and commercially successful film, pushes the limits of his investment in locations and casting further. In an ethnographic mold, Vetrimaaran engages with Madurai and

Post-millennial Tamil cinema 173

Figure 10.2 Screenshot from the film Aadukalam (Playground, 2011). Courtesy Director Vetrimaaran.

its unique rooster fights. He carefully constructs the local culture in his narrative universe through accents and the particularity of language, as an avid listener, unlike say in the earlier films of Bhagyaraj wherein the Kovai or Coimbatore dialect was recycled mainly for humour or sexual innuendo or for branding someone as a misfit in the city due to their inadaptability. Three years before Aadukalam, in 2008 Sashikumar (Subramaniyapuram) explored Madurai as the space pregnant with violence by focusing on friends who turned into traitors. Sashikumar’s film, along with Ameer’s Paruthiveeran (2007), layered the way for the ‘Madurai Genre films’, as explicated by Rajan Kurai in his astute interrogation of the cinematic geographies down south of Chennai (Krishnan 2008). Subramaniyapuram and Aadukalam shed light on Krishnan’s claim regarding ‘the normative dichotomy between a modern, civic Chennai and a backward, less civic South that is portrayed in Tamil film narratives’ (2008, 141). The Tamil cinema scholar Sundar Kali, in his seminal theorisation of the ‘neo-nativity’ films in Tamil, points to the trends in the 1970s Tamil cinema, as epitomised by Barathirajaa’s 16 Vayathinile, as instrumentalising the lack on the part of its rural hero who is found wanting despite the efforts of the dominant girl on his side, who is trying to help him fill the void (Kaali 2000). Aadukalam too has the rooster-grower hero, naively trusting and waiting for his mentor’s approval and acknowledgment before belatedly knowing the truth about his evil designs and eloping with his Anglo-Indian girlfriend at the end. Vetrimaaran shifts the focus from excessive violence and deceit in the backdrop of political ambitions in Polladhavan to the competitive


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spirit and betrayal between and within two warring groups through the cultural signifier of the rooster fight in Aadukalam. Thus, by invoking the archetype of Tamil manliness through the rooster, Vetrimaaran is able to retool the mythos surrounding Madurai as a place where the wagers surrounding Tamil/masculine pride was commonplace. It also recalls Krishnan’s claim regarding ‘the constitution of the geographical identity of Southern Tamil Nadu which serves as a metonymic extension of the caste identity of Mukkulathor’ (2008, 141). Later, the narrative focus shifts from the binary of the rooster fight between the warring camps to the one between the insecure mentor and the talented but naïve disciple. Significant contemporary films have shifted the focus to the interiority of the characters in what appeared to be a run of the mill crime thriller; for instance, Kadhalum Kadanthu Pogum has the henchman giving up his gangster ambitions and working in the gas station during the resolution: the narrative works on the change of heart through the predicament of a young apprentice who is brought in as the fall guy to assist the hero in his attempt to kill the corrupt cop and take the blame. Gandhi Babu, the skilled conman in Chaturanga Vettai (Chess Hunt, 2014) too has a change of heart at the end when he leaves the money he had conned from the dubious public to the cops. Vinoth’s subsequent film Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru (Braveman Chapter One, 2017), while recycling Rajasthan as the space for its action during the later portion of the film, avoids the clichéd locale of Jaipur palaces and stays in a village and gives us a sense of the real as the hero, along with the other vigilant officers and cops, waits for the dacoits. The villagers, nonetheless, want to protect their local man. The traditional binary of the villagers and the hero against the villain/dacoit is thus disavowed. Similarly, Rangoon (director V.Z. Durai, 2017) tries to engage with Burma and its ethnicity for its significant action sequences which play a vital role in the narrative. Unlike the pastoral landscapes of Europe providing the spaces for romance in earlier Tamil films, in Rangoon, Burma becomes a signifier of a space of anxiety and uncertainty. Vetrimaaran’s investment in the caste equation/politics could be read as playing through the increasingly fair looking villains and relatively darker looking protagonist(s) from Aadukalam onward. Visaranai (Interrogation, 2015), paced languidly like an art house film, is in the corrupt-cops and the torture-cell mode, as seen much earlier in Hindi films, particularly of director/cinematographer Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya (Half Truth, 1983) and Droh Kaal (Times of Treason, 1994), but Vetrimaaran localises the plot by drawing from the real-life experiences of the writer Chandra Kumar and posting the conflict as predicated on the differences in language in a neighbouring state and the predicament of people at the lower rung who are incapable of speaking in a language other than their mother tongue or unprivileged to be bilingual. Pa. Ranjith could be argued to extend these binaries based on caste and language in his recent films Kabali and Kaala. The other important director from the Balu Mahendra School is Ram who has directed four films: Katradhu Tamil, Thanga Meengal (Gold Fish, 2013), Taramani (2017), and Peranbu (Enormous Love, 2018). If Bala emblematises Balu Mahendra’s investment in the existential crises of his characters, Vetrimaaran

Post-millennial Tamil cinema 175 has imbibed his mentor’s investment in locales and affect. Consider, for instance, the misty Ooty in Moondram Pirai (The Crescent Moon, 1982) and the forest region in Yathra (The Journey, 1985). Unlike Bala and Vetrimaaran, Ram could be argued to have inherited Balu Mahendra’s legacy of the preoccupation with relationships. However, Ram too departs, like Bala and Vetrimaaran, from his mentor by disavowing infidelity and focusing on the intricacies of communication and camaraderie. If films like Veedu and Sandhya Raagam showcase an aesthetic of realism which permeates the works of Bala and Vetrimaaran in their depiction of quotidian characters who encounter a dark and violent world, Ram retools such an aesthetic of realism for his palimpsestic narrative universe which overwhelms the protagonist due to the social and emotional/psychological problems he encounters. The plight of a graduate who had his education in Tamil medium in a hypocritical Tamil society, with its one foot on the greed generated by the increasingly globalising world and the other on the empty rhetoric of Tamil-ness, predicated on electoral and consensual politics of convenient coalitions, is the subject of interrogation in Katradhu Tamil. The system of education for children with its tedious and disconnected syllabi and callous examinations become the object of inquiry in Thanga Meengal that weaves a nuanced and tender narrative surrounding the life and times of a poor father and his smart and vivacious but ‘average’ girl at school. Ram’s recent Taramani is an intriguing and intense love story which is at the same time a critique of the emptiness surrounding contemporary life with its dependence on and anxieties surrounding technology as a means for bonding as well as blackmail. Taramani uses the classical backdrops of the rainy day in a bus stop and the night at a rail station and juxtaposes the contemporary life of WhatsApp messages and telephone sex, thus announcing the transitional state

Figure 10.3 Taramani (2017) film poster. Courtesy Director Ram.

176 Swarnavel Eswaran of its film-maker who is conflicted about the need for love and its redundancy in a neoliberalism-driven consumerist society of high rises and self-centredness. Ram’s profound and often poetic foray into conflictual relationships to analyse and critique the violence inflicted on individuals marks his uniqueness as a conduit of the traces of the old into the contemporary and ever-changing. Selva Raghavan is another director who is preoccupied with intimacy in relationships and (mis) communication, particularly in films like Thulluvadho Ilamai (Exuberance of Youth, 2002) and Mayakkam Enna (Oh! This Illusion, 2011), but he is not as much invested in larger systemic violence of the society and the state. Ram’s influence could also be traced to his predilection for melodrama and songs with poetic lyrics (with his regular collaborators, music director Yuvan Shankar Raja and the late lyricist Na. Muthukumar) and their reinvention for a contemporary audience in terms of images and sound. Ram’s investment in music recalls Balu Mahendra’s predilection for Ilayaraja’s music.

Conclusion Thus, Bala, Mysskin, Vetrimaaran, and Ram, through their significant films discussed above act as the conduits of traces of an earlier Tamil cinema to the new generation of young film-makers in the post-millennial Tamil cinema. Their commitment and relative consistency, in my opinion, underscore them as the icons of the transitional generation. As discussed in detail above, Bala has influenced much of the dark and shady/grey protagonists of contemporary Tamil cinema, and Mysskin’s mark can be felt in the preoccupation with redemption and unconventional closures due to the ambiguity of the divide between good and evil in the urban space–driven crime genre. Similarly, Vetrimaaran has inspired the investment in realism while recovering characters living on the edges/fringes of the society who are generally rendered invisible, while Ram’s work has been influential through its foregrounding of the necessity/inevitability of relationships despite the challenges posed by an increasingly alienating and non-inclusive society/world. These four directors could thus be argued to be instrumental in shifting the locus of an earlier Tamil cinema, marked by landmark films like Velaikkaari (The Maid, 1948) and Parasakthi (Goddess, 1952) of the young Dravidian ideologues, from its preoccupation with the binary of the subnational and the centre to the assertion of the regional during the times of the all-subsuming global in contemporary Tamil films. The post-millennial Tamil cinema is certainly remarkable for its underscoring of the specificity of Tamil cinema as invested in the region/local, unlike Hindi cinema, the other major cinema of India along with Telugu in terms of output and box-office collection, which shifted its focus to cater to diasporic audiences after the huge success of the film Dilwale Dulhaniyan Le Jayenge (The Big-Hearted Will Take Away the Bride, 1995). Over the last two decades, the realistic depiction of village life, as seen in the parallel cinema icon Shyam Benegal’s Ankur (The Seedling, 1974), Nishant (Night’s End, 1975), or Manthan (Churning, 1976), has waned in Hindi cinema. The rich legacy of films shot in rural spaces

Post-millennial Tamil cinema 177 in landmark mainstream films like Mother India (1957), Naya Daur (New Era, 1957), and Gunga Jumna (1961) is sporadically invoked by films like Swadesh (Our Country, 2004) and Dangal (Wrestling Competition, 2016). The correlation between the increasing multiplexes and niche audiences in urban spaces driven by a neoliberal economy explains the relative absence of narratives posited in villages. Tamil cinema, however, could be argued to be swimming against the current. Along with the regular staple of mainstream films produced in urban spaces and studio interiors during the last two decades, significant Tamil films shot in isolated suburban spaces and remote village locales coexist. In fact, the commercial and critical success of films shot away from Chennai in a pastoral backdrop like Bala’s Pithamagan and Ram’s Thangameengal have inspired the generation next, as exemplified by Mari Selvaraj’s Pariyerum Perumal (The Horse-mounting Deity, 2018) whose narrative revolves around a Dalit college student from a small village, Puliyankulam in Tirunelveli. Selvaraj has pushed the envelope further: the protagonist Pariyan in Pariyerum Perumal is distinctly marked as a Dalit, unlike in Pithamagan where the protagonist’s caste is left to our imagination. Nonetheless, Bala’s draining of the utopian drives of an earlier Tamil cinema and darkening of its landscapes could be argued to have influenced Pa. Ranjith’s films, though the investment in the rising curve of the drama as well as the melos from an earlier cinema continues, as exemplified by the antakshari (the game of the ending letter) of songs in Pithamagan, which is a homage to an earlier Tamil cinema tradition of singers/actors, and the urban gaana song that is juxtaposed with hip-hop in Madras. In contrast, most of Mysskin’s films are associated with urban spaces, particularly the main streets. But the landscapes in his films are stylised: the city in his films is not the signifier of the stereotypical car culture and traffic, recalling the globalising metropolis of Chennai of the last two decades. Rather, the sodium vapour–lit Chennai, which is rapidly transitioning from its yellow glow to the bland white of the LED lights, is rendered generally tepid and dark in keeping with the nocturnal aesthetics within which he is invested for exploring the subconscious of his characters and their community (Dtnext.in 2019) – for instance, in Onaayum Aatukuttiyum and Psycho (2020). Mysskin’s rendering of the city as a desolate landscape for interrogating the ethics of a hypocritical society has inspired many young Tamil directors who are invested in the genre of the crime thriller, including his assistant Sri Ganesh whose 8 Thottakkal/8 Bullets also loosely borrows from Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (1949) for its narrative revolving around a lost pistol. A similar take on the city could be seen in the works of his friend and collaborator, the prodigiously talented Thiagarajan Kumararaja (Aranya Kandam/Jungle Chapter, 2011, and Super Deluxe, 2019). Through his nocturnality and his investment in forlorn spaces, Mysskin has not only inverted the earlier utopia surrounding the city, emblematised by the height of the LIC Building on Mount Road, the Madras Central Station, and the Marina Beach, but also has paved the way for the younger generation to deconstruct its stability and security through the ruptures rendered by his psychopathic serial killers who inhabit its dark and neglected corners.


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Thus, the transitional generation of the post-millennial Tamil cinema, epitomised by Bala, Mysskin, Vetrimaaran, and Ram, has not only acted as the conduit of storytelling and aesthetics from an older generation to the younger one, but has also reinvented the classical narrative structure and subverted the heroism of the protagonists to shake the soporific Tamil cinema out of its slumber and awakened it to the possibilities for introspection and inclusion.

References Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Specters of Marx. Translated by P. Kamuf. London: Routledge. Translated of Spectres de Marx. Paris: Galilee, 1993. Dtnext.in. 2019. “Power-Hogging Sodium Vapour Street Lights Will Soon Be a Thing of the Past.” Dtnext, January 30. Gopal, Sangita. 2011. Conjugations: Marriage and Form in New Bollywood Cinema. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hagglund, Martin. 2014. “The Necessity of Discrimination: Disjoining Derrida and Levinas.” Diacritics 34 (1): 40–71. IANS, Chennai. 2014. “Southern Cinema’s Uncredited Film Adaptations.” Businessstandard .com, November 12. Accessed 28 May 2019. https://www.business-standard.com/articl e/news-ians/southern-cinema-s-uncredited-film-adaptations-114111200512_1.html Kaali, Sundar. 2000. “Narrating Seduction: Vicissitudes of the Sexed Subject in Tamil Nativity Film.” In Making Meaning in Indian Cinema, edited by Ravi Vasudevan. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Kamath, Sudhish. 2003. “Making Films for the Real World.” Thehindu.com, January 2. https://www.thehindu.com/lf/2003/01/02/stories/2003010206620200.htm Krishnan, Rajan. 2008. “Imaginary Geographies: The Makings of the ‘South’ in Contemporary Tamil Cinema.” In Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry, edited by Selvaraj Velayutham. London: Routledge. Kurai, Rajan. 2012. Kathanayaganin Maranam/Death of a Hero. Chennai: Kayal Kavin Pathippagam. Pandian, M.S.S. 1992. The Image TRAP. New Delhi: Sage Publications. Ramnath, Nandini. 2018. “‘Mercury’ Film Review: Karthik Subbaraj’s Film Doesn’t Walk the Talk.” Scroll.in, April 13. Accessed 20 February 2019. https://scroll.in/article/8754 77/mercury-film-review-karthik-subbarajs-thriller-doesnt-walk-the-talk Vimarsanakuzhu, Vikatan. 2018. “Kadaikutty Singam: Cinema Vimarsanam/Kadaikutty Singam: Cinema Review.” Vikatan.com, July 25. Accessed 24 February 2019. https:/ /www.vikatan.com/anandavikatan/2018-jul-25/cinema-news/142672-kadaikutty-singa m-movie-review.html

11 A rumble in the movie halls Cinema in the ‘orphaned’ state Maya Ranganathan

Introduction On 9 November 2018, Tamil film director A.R. Murugadoss moved the Madras High Court for anticipatory bail. He had tweeted earlier that police had landed at his house late at night and ‘banged on the door’ several times. They had left as the director was not at home. The action was perceived as the state government’s reaction to some scenes in the movie Sarkar (Government, 2018) released the previous day. Ministers and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party men protested against the ‘objectionable references’ to their leader Jayalalitha and her schemes in the film. The film featured Vijay, who incidentally had hinted at political ambitions in the audio launch of the film in October 2018 (Express Web Desk, 2018). Interestingly, the actor’s earlier outing in Mersal (a slang meaning ‘anger’, ‘irritation’, and even ‘awe’, 2017), directed by Atlee, had also been criticised for erroneous depiction of the government’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) scheme. These incidents follow several in the past of political intervention in release of films. It is widely believed that the state government headed by J. Jayalalitha was responsible for preventing the release of actor Kamal Haasan’s Viswaroopam in 2013. Although the actor’s earlier films like Virumaandi (2004) had been attacked for upsetting sensitivities, Viswaroopam went into history for being banned in the state even after it was cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification and despite it being released in other states with few issues. The film was first attacked for its Sanskrit title by the Hindu Makkal Katchi (Hindu People’s Party) and later by some Muslim groups for the film’s depiction of Muslims. It was released after Kamal Haasan reached an accord with the Muslim groups on Jayalalitha’s advice, as noted in The Hindu article of 31 January 2013. The incidents related to the release of the film have been catalytic in Kamal Haasan’s plunge into electoral politics. He announced a political party, Makkal Needhi Mayyam (Centre for Justice for the People), in February 2018. Following the controversies relating to his films, Vijay too has indicated his interest in politics as reported by The Hindu on 4 October 2018. The state government’s response to their films seems to have pushed at least two film stars into politics. At the outset, these developments flag yet again the ‘symbiotic relationship’ between Tamil cinema and politics,1 well

180 Maya Ranganathan documented in the past. I point to some fundamental differences in the cinemapolitics nexus in the state then and now, following the significant changes both in the political and cinema landscapes and argue for a relook into the relationship. Tamil Nadu is known as the state which represents ‘the most intimate and vibrant connections’ between cinema and politics in the country (Jacob 2008, 9). The five chief ministers who have headed the state from 1967 to 2017 have had very close connections with the film industry. Much of the ‘synonymisation’ of cinema and politics is traced to the rise of M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) from actor to the AIADMK party founder-leader and then to a successful chief minister (Rajanayagam 2015, xv-xvi). The ways in which the DMK employed films – initially to promote a distinct Tamil nationalism based on ideologies opposed to the Brahminical outlook of the national parties, and later to contain and dent the AIADMK’s popularity – have been the focus of extensive academic analysis (Baskaran 1981, 1996; Dickey 1993; Hardgrave Jr 1973: Hardgrave Jr and Neidhart 1975; Pandian 1992; Pratt 1994; Sivathamby 1981). However, the present relationship between cinema and politics is complex, defying characterisation as a mere continuation of a historical relationship. Recent developments indicate that political aspirations have not waned among actors; but as Rajanayagam establishes, the problematisation of ‘“the cause-and-effect” “symbiotic” “nexus”’ (2015, xx) does not adequately explain the ways in which Tamil cinema relates to politics now. In the following sections, I map the changes in political discourse in Tamil cinema in the context of the developments in the political landscape in Tamil Nadu to argue that it remains a mild rumble, limited in its aim, constrained by the economies of film production and distribution, and bounded by the politics of the times. Despite efforts to emulate the phenomenal success of MGR, actoraspirants are unable to employ films as much more than an expression of displeasure with the political dispensations. In these much-changed times, Tamil films are a far cry from becoming catalysts for transformative politics.

Cinema politics post-1990s2 The assertive Dravidianism of the political parties in the state shaped the film landscape from the 1930s through to the 1970s (Subramanian 1999). The 1990s witnessed a ‘pacified public sphere’ (Ramani 2017). This was mainly because the ‘anti-establishment’ that had till then used films to voice its angst had become the ‘establishment’. Consequently, as observed by Anand in Outlook dated 30 May 2005, ‘politics’ was reduced in Tamil cinema to a tool to draw in audiences. The death of MGR in 1987 led to factionalism in the AIADMK. The uncertainty in the AIADMK paved the way for the parent political party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) to win the elections and form a government after 12 years. However, in two years the party found itself out of power. The 1991 elections led to the formation of the first AIADMK government under former actress J. Jayalalitha, who had by then consolidated her position as the successor and leader of the party. Her victory drew attention yet again to the deep nexus between cinema and politics in the state. Like her mentor MGR, Jayalalitha owed her

A rumble in the movie halls 181 popularity to her hugely successful film career spanning over two decades; but unlike MGR, her image was not one carefully crafted on celluloid. In her first term as chief minister, she earned the reputation for aggrandisement of power and ostentatious show of wealth and a scarcely concealed disdain for the press documented in detail by Ajith Pillai in India Today dated 31 January 1995, all of which silenced the public sphere. In the meantime, the DMK with just two members in the 234-strong Assembly had found in private television an effective tool of political communication. Karunanidhi’s nephew Kalanadhi Maran, an early entrant into the liberalised media sphere, set up Sun TV in 1993. It grew into a 24/7 private television channel in 1995 and is now the most widely watched network in India, according to Broadcast Audience Research Council, India. Primarily an entertainment channel comprising film-based programmes, the channel reflected the DMK’s world view in its news and current affairs segments (Ranganathan 2015, 34–64). The videos of the extravagant wedding of Jayalalitha’s foster son in Chennai in 1995 that were played repeatedly ahead of the 1996 Assembly elections contributed significantly to the rout of the AIADMK, which won a mere two seats out of the total 225 seats. Jayalalitha herself lost the seat she contested in. Although Sun TV’s contribution to DMK’s electoral gains in the subsequent elections remains a matter of debate, the ways in which it has helped leverage the DMK’s cause has completely changed the media landscape in Tamil Nadu. Every political party since then has attempted to set up a private television channel. Karunanidhi continued to pen film scripts in the 1990s and the 2000s. However, unlike in the earlier era, these films that were a mix of instruction and entertainment met with lukewarm response at the box-office. Tracing the changes that swept the Tamil cinema landscape in the 1990s, Chinniah attributes them primarily to the growth and reach of television (2008, 37). Television, particularly cable television, offered a range of entertainment programmes, the most popular of which were film-based. The easy accessibility to films in the convenience of their homes impacted upon the number of theatregoers. Film-makers were forced to incorporate elements that could not be easily appropriated by television. These included elements of glamour and technical grandiosity that soon became characteristic of cinema of the period. It is little wonder then that the spatio-perceptual configuration of television which replaced the ‘aesthetics of gaze’ with the ‘aesthetics of glance’ proved more effective than films as a tool of political communication (Hansen 1993, 198). While the transition from cinema to politics continued in the Tamil film industry during this period,3 it was also the time that a breed of film artists devoid of political ambitions or affiliations grew in number and popularity. Film-makers such as Mani Ratnam and Shankar in search of wider audiences, including nonTamil speaking viewers outside Tamil Nadu, drew on national events and issues. Two of Mani Ratnam’s great successes during the 1990s were Roja (Rose, 1992), which was a story of a newly wed Tamil couple inadvertently caught in terrorism in Kashmir, and Bombay (1995), the story of a Hindu–Muslim Tamil couple’s family torn by the religious violence in the city in 1993. A few years later, the


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critically acclaimed Iruvar (The Duo, 1997) that Mani Ratnam claimed to be a work of fiction, hit the screens. Interestingly, the film bore similarities to the lives of Karunanidhi and MGR and traced the relationship between cinema and politics in the state. All these films remained focused on the emotions of the characters, assiduously steering away from strong criticisms or condemnation of their actions or ideologies. Corruption in public service, misguided ambition, and scant regard for democratic principles and practices that had by then come to be associated with politics in the subcontinent became fodder for Indian cinema. The vigilante films that followed were box-office successes. There was Shankar’s Gentleman (1993), Anniyan (Stranger, 2005), and Indian (1996)4 and Dharani’s Dhil (Courage, 2001) and Dhool (Super, 2003). They all dealt with systemic corruption; however, the one-dimensional construction of the corrupt evoked no strong response for the depiction of the political class. Shankar’s Mudhalvan (The Chief Minister, 1999), a huge grosser that drew attention to the DMK party men at the time of release, featured a journalist crossing swords with a chief minister and eventually replacing him. The ruling DMK took objection to the depiction of the chief minister which they thought alluded to the then Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. Yet opposition to the film died down in the face of the film’s popularity. Soon after, A.R. Murugadoss’ Ramanaa (2002) that dealt with corruption in society won the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Film. The roles that Vijayakant played as the upright cop in several films helped him in his political career when he launched his political party Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK). The period also marked the rise of ‘the don’ in Indian cinema, a ruthless operator with a penchant for mindless violence who also cultivated political patronage for their illegal activities; they were hunted down and vanquished by the protagonists, who were often upright police officers. Some film-makers of the genre such as Hari of Saamy and Singam film series-fame used specific dialects and locales that anchored them to the political milieu in the state (Pandian 2008; Krishnan 2008). Yet these films’ contribution to political discourse was minimal. The films represented the public to the public, rather than the political class to the public (Shimpach 2007, 137). To borrow Shimpach’s words, the films were attempting ‘a form of mediation between private individuals and public participation’ (2007, 137). Despite the content and the focus on social consciousness, references to political parties or ideologies were conspicuously absent from the films. Burning political issues of the time were alluded to, if at all, in subtle ways. Kamal Haasan’s portrayal of Thenali, a mentally disturbed Sri Lankan Tamil refugee in the film by the same name (2000), is a case in point. The film that bagged three state awards is described as a comedy with the central character Thenali providing the comic relief with his phobias and mannerisms. The film allows a reading as a critique of the Indian government’s policy relating to the Sri Lankan Tamil issue (Ranganathan and Velayutham 2012, 874–8). The process of film certification considerably influenced by the State and Central governments and the ambivalent stances of the two major political parties, the DMK and the AIADMK, on some of the issues

A rumble in the movie halls 183 concerning the Tamil population led to cautious representations that would not displease political dispensations. Political parties were often ruthless in the face of criticism as can be gauged from attacks on critical media houses during the time (Cody 2016, 299–304). In this context, I draw attention to two further dimensions: the Dravidian parties’ growing role in national politics and their stranglehold over the Tamil cinema landscape. Since 1990, the Dravidian parties have exerted considerable influence on national politics. While the two major national parties – the Indian National Congress (Congress) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – have had to ride piggyback on the DMK and AIADMK for even a notional presence in the Tamil Nadu Assembly since 1967, the emergence of coalition governments at the Centre allowed regional parties to play a significant role in national politics. Both the DMK and AIADMK have been part of the national coalitions led either by the Congress or the BJP. The DMK was part of the United Front that was formed by the non-Congress parties following the inconclusive results of the 1996 general elections. The party’s long-standing Member of Parliament, Murasoli Maran, nephew of DMK President M. Karunanidhi, served as the Union Minister for Industry from 1996 to 1998 under Prime Ministers H.D. Geve Gowda and I.K. Gujral. The AIADMK was part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP that was formed after the 1998 elections. It was an uneasy alliance with the period marked by Central ministers and BJP functionaries flying down to Chennai to pacify party secretary and Chief Minister Jayalalitha who regularly threatened to withdraw support if her demands for Tamil Nadu were not met. Indeed, the government collapsed in 13 months because the AIADMK withdrew support. In the elections held in 1999, the BJP-led NDA emerged victorious and formed a government. This time the DMK was part of the NDA and three of its members enjoyed ministerships till the party pulled out of the alliance in 2003. In this context, reasons for why some films critical of Central governments’ policies were stalled are not too far to seek. Gandhi Krishna’s Engineer (1997) was about a dam constructed across a village that would eventually lead to its destruction, at the time of Narmada Bachao Andolan.5 This film is yet to be released. Azhagam Perumal’s Udhaya (2000) that dealt with the dangers of nuclear energy had a delayed release in 2004 due to problems in certification, among other issues. This was the time that India was facing international censure following the 1998 Pokhran nuclear bomb test explosions.6 Such instances help understand Tamil cinema’s reluctance to take cognisance of contentious contemporary issues such as the people’s opposition to the Koodangulam Power Plant even when they featured prominently in public discourse.7 The DMK’s role in national politics has been particularly significant since 2004. In the 2004 general elections, the DMK was part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that came to power and its members T.R. Baalu and Dayanidhi Maran were made incharge of important portfolios of transport and telecommunications, respectively. The DMK continued in the UPA for the 2009 elections and in 2011 six ministers in the Union Cabinet belonged to the DMK (The Hindu, 13 July 2011). In 2009, film director Seeman began the Naam Tamizhar Iyakkam (We Are Tamil Movement), which


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later transformed into Naam Tamizhar Katchi (We Are Tamil Party). However, he became a full-time politician, forsaking his film career. The enormous influence in national politics and the power enjoyed at the state level tempered the political public sphere. The dominant spirit of the time was one of covert political control that left little room for consistent political discourse in cinema, let alone establishing the contradictory positions in dominant attitudes and values that Chopra-Gant details in films in post-war America (2006, 11). In early 2010, Tamil film star Ajith hinted at the ways in which political parties drew on the popularity of film stars to galvanise public opinion in support of their stances on sensitive issues. In the function to felicitate the then Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi’s 60 years of contribution to the film industry, he stated that film actors were threatened if they failed to oblige requests to participate in partyorganised protests (The Hindu, 18 February 2010). Later in the year, actor Vijay’s film Kaavalan (Protector, 2011) was embroiled in a series of controversies that stalled the release of the film.8 Interestingly, Vijay’s father, S.A. Chandrasekhar, a film director and a known DMK loyalist, met Jayalalitha who was then gearing up for the Assembly elections to be held in 2011 to reportedly complain about the harassment meted out to his son by the DMK family-run film production houses (The Hindu, 12 December 2010). One of the fallouts of the overthrow of the DMK government in the 2011 elections and the AIADMK’s massive victory was the ‘DMK’s fade-out’ in the Tamil film industry as reported in Business Line, 13 May 2011. During the DMK rule, Sun Pictures, a division of Sun TV Network owned by the Maran brothers, Red Giant Movies owned by Udayanidhi Stalin and Cloud Nine of Dhayanidhi Azhagiri, both grandsons of Karunanidhi, had dominated film production, distribution, exhibition, and sale of rights to the extent that other producers were unable to find theatres. The bonhomie of the film industry with Jayalalitha, however, was short-lived. For reasons not clear, Vijay fell afoul of Jayalalitha as became apparent when the actor and his father’s request for a hearing with her failed when his subsequent outing Thalaivaa (Leader 2013) faced problems in release (The Hindu, 12 August 2013). Today the production houses have grown in strength and are formidable players in the industry. These incidents point to a complex relationship between cinema and politics in Tamil Nadu underscoring the need for placing the study of political discourse in films in the contexts in which they were produced and consumed, rather than considering them simply as an outcome of the cinema–politics nexus in the state.

Cinema politics in the ‘orphaned state’ The epithet ‘Amma’ that was used to refer to Jayalalitha during her lifetime led to her death in December 2016 being described as having rendered the people orphans (Scroll.in, 6 December 2016). The BJP’s phenomenal victory in the 2014 general elections considerably reduced the regional parties’ domination in national politics.9 However, Jayalalitha shared cordial relations with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi (The Hindu, 14 June 2016). The expression ‘orphaned

A rumble in the movie halls 185 state’ gained currency in the aftermath of the events relating to the succession battle within the AIADMK. Several of her associates and family members staked claim for the leadership of the party; two political factions emerged soon after her death, though they merged into one. The party split in April 2017 leading to the formation of yet another party, Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam led by T.T.V. Dinakaran. It was also believed that the BJP was exploiting the intraparty disputes to gain a foothold in the state. The political landscape in the state changed beyond recognition in less than a year after the Chief Minister’s demise (Muralidharan, 2017). In 2016, DMK supremo Karunanidhi had fallen ill and had cut down on his political activities and public appearances; he passed away in 2018. The absence of the two leaders who strode Tamil Nadu politics like a colossus led to laments of the state having become ‘an orphan’ giving rise to several new initiatives (FBJ Bureau 2017; Deeksha 2017). Two events further strengthened the perception. One was the suicide of Anitha, a medical college aspirant, who despite having scored high in the state school examination failed to meet the cut-off percentage in the National Entrance cum Eligibility Test (NEET) for admission to medical colleges. Tamil Nadu had been resisting NEET, but the state government led by Edapaddi Palanisamy (who took over after Jayalalitha’s demise) caved in to Central Government’s pressure in 2017, thus reneging on its earlier assurance that the exam will not be enforced that year.10 Anitha’s death led to widespread protests in the state. The second incident that showcased people’s scepticism of the government’s ability to protect the interests of the state was the Supreme Court’s ban of ‘jallikattu’, a bull-taming sport associated with Tamil culture. Sporadic demonstrations against the verdict snowballed into large-scale protests by apolitical youths in several parts of the state. Notable citizens, including film personalities, participated in the protests in order to lend support to the youths. The protests were leaderless movements, borne out of disenchantment with the current top-down politics which are seen as ineffectual in protecting people’s interests. The anger was particularly directed at the ‘failure of politicians in addressing issues that are quintessentially “Tamizh’’’ (Jayakumar 2017). Since these incidents, actors and film-makers have begun to make known their stands on political issues on social media. One needs to consider whether Tamil films reflect this consciousness or indeed reinforce its modus operandi. Quite a few films critical of the current state of politics and politicians have emerged in recent times as detailed below: ··

Joker (2016), a political satire directed by Raju Murugan, was awarded the National Award for the Best Tamil Film at the 64th National Film Awards in 2017. The protagonist is a mentally unsound villager who declares himself the People’s President of India and deals with the absurdities of administration. Interestingly, the film set in Pappireddipatti in Dharmapuri district, Tamil Nadu, alluded to contemporary figures and referred to current events. Although the central theme was ‘sanitation’, the movie criticised the culture of freebies, religion, Tamil Nadu government’s policy on sale of alcohol, the legal system, and society’s indifference to mental health issues.

186 ··


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Maya Ranganathan Pa Ranjith’s Kabali (2016) starring Rajnikanth could be categorised as a political film, but it was set in Malaysia and touched upon the plight of Malaysian Tamils. The movie had two endings. The ending that showed policeman hand in glove with the killers was changed to comply with the requirements of the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia that does not allow portrayal of policemen as encouraging violence (ETimes Entertainment, 16 January 2017), indicating the compulsions faced by film-makers in catering to a wider market. Mersal (2017), the Vijay-starrer that ran into trouble with politicians, was a mass entertainer and not a political film. BJP cadres took offence to scenes in which the actor mouthed dialogues criticising the GST and Digital India schemes of the Central government, leading to demands for re-censoring the film (The Indian Express, 14 December 2017). The song alapoaraan tamizhan … (a Tamilian will rule) tuned by A.R. Rahman implying that the time has come for a Tamilian to dominate politics at the federal level, became a youth anthem. The issues relating to the film spiralled into one relating to freedom of expression, with the BJP and the film industry crossing swords. Gopi Nainar’s Aramm (Good Deed, 2017) portrayed the life of a district collector and was critical of the government. It was a critically acclaimed commercially successful film. Karthik Subbaraj’s silent film Mercury (2018) alluded to the protracted agitation in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu against Sterlite Industries. The film that begins with the dangers of mercury contamination caused by a fictitious ‘Corporate Earth Factory’ and its devastating effects on the residents, however, was a horror-thriller. It met with a lukewarm response at the box-office and was noticed more for the technical aspects rather than the content.

These films contributed to the political public sphere by drawing attention to issues in ways not done earlier. That a change in the political consciousness of the people has led to the emergence of politically critical films is an easy and rather simplistic argument. The heightened political consciousness in the state relates to the void created by the passing away of two strong leaders who had tremendous influence over the political public sphere and, more importantly, wielded unquestionable influence in the national politics. What is significant is that the criticality can only be read as attempts to capitalise the public sentiment for immediate gains. Unlike in the past, there is no concerted effort to accumulate a cultural capital aimed at political gains predicated on ideology. Despite the several controversies, there is no recent parallel to the ways in which Karunanidhi or MGR encountered the state’s opposition to their films (Pandian 1991). I pause here to consider the successes of two of the films listed earlier: Joker and Aramm. For one, despite their content, they did not invite censure from the political class and for another, they ran contrary to the Utopian projections in cinema, a trend that has been traced to the economic liberalisation of the 1990s (Gupta 2018). These two films dealt with the everyday social, economic, and physical issues that people grapple with and offered no solution. They were

A rumble in the movie halls 187 devoid of the escapism that is at the core of commercial films. There was no heroic intervention to save the people from their misery, nor was the way ahead clearly established in the two films. They were critically acclaimed and did not evoke negative responses from the political class. Yet they did not set a trend. The films that followed continued to cushion political issues in escapism, the story built around a messiah who transformed the system to deliver justice, the best examples being Anand Shankar’s NOTA (None of the Above) and Sarkar (Government), both released in 2018. NOTA refers to Rule 49-O in ‘The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961’, which specifies the procedure to be followed when a valid voter decides not to cast his vote in favour of any candidate but wishes to record the fact. The film had several references to Tamil Nadu politics such as the chief minister facing a jail term for corruption appointing a trusted person, in this case his own son, as a proxy, the culture of erecting flex boards of political leaders, TV channels owned by political parties, a flooded city and propaganda as part of the relief work, hospital scenes reminiscent of Jayalalitha’s stay in hospital, and horse-trading of elected representatives. Sarkar too was replete with references to contemporary politics and drew attention to Section 49-P in ‘The Conduct of Elections Rules’, 1961, that allowed individuals to cast a vote even if their vote has been cast by an impersonator. It was particularly critical of the culture of freebies prevalent in the state. The state government accused the production company Sun Pictures, director Murugadoss, and actor Vijay of attempting to incite violence. Parallels could be drawn between some of the characters to real-life political players in the state. The two films had digs at contemporary politics and peddled the fantasy of a saviour rising to cleanse the system, a theme dealt with time and again in the past. Yet NOTA faced almost no resistance, while Sarkar continued to be in the news for days for its supposed criticism of the AIADMK. What follows from the account above is that political discourse in Tamil films remains by and large generalist, and specific political parties or ideologies are targeted but rarely. Films continue to ‘satisfy the wish to reject authority and reverse gender, age and economic hierarchies’ but seldom challenge the established order (Derné 2000, 84). None of the films initiated political rebellions, and only some of them evoked a response from the political class. What singled out Sarkar from the other politically critical films was the cast, the scale of production, and reach. Unlike Joker, Aramm, or NOTA, Sarkar had a notable cast and crew, which brings commercial considerations or the cinema business into focus.

The economics of Tamil cinema It is to be noted that Sarkar dealt particularly with Tamil Nadu politics. It grossed over Rs. 225 crore worldwide and was received well in the overseas market (Upadhyaya 2018). The success of the film clearly owed more to the cast than to the content. Sarkar was produced by Sun Pictures with affiliations to the DMK and featured film star Vijay who had made his intentions to get into politics clear on earlier occasions. The film was assured of a ‘grand opening’, a term that refers


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to the potential to earn significant revenue in the first three days of its release. This has become a crucial aspect of Tamil cinema as many films are rendered unprofitable before release. Explaining the tremendous transformation in the cinema business since 2010 when the celluloid gave way to the digital, journalist and industry observer Sridhar Pillai states that where MGR, whose films were the highest grossers of the time, could hope to release his film in a maximum of 40 screens across the state, today’s superstars’ released their films in over 500 screens in Tamil Nadu.11 Sarkar opened in 3000 theatres across the country (Pillai 2018). I steer away from the temptation to evaluate Tamil films in the context of ‘cinema as new media’ encountering all the challenges of an evolving communication landscape (Manovich 2001) to place Tamil cinema within some of the developments unique to Tamil film industry. Iconic single-screen theatres in Chennai have closed down. The distribution zones in the state have grown to nine from three and digitisation has meant simultaneous worldwide releases. While theatres are readily available for the films featuring about 5 actors who enjoy the ‘super star’ status at any given time and about 10 actors who are considered saleable, the rest of the films made struggled to find screens.12 This has been made more difficult with the rise of monopolies who dominate the film business. It is not uncommon for individuals and groups to have a stake in production, distribution, and screening of films. A film’s opening depends not just on the product but also on a strong distribution network and publicity generated prior to release. In fact, production and distribution networks and a film’s cast determine a film’s success more than the content. Sarkar had all of them: it was bank rolled by Sun Pictures and featured Vijay who has repeatedly hinted at his political ambitions and also made a provocative speech at the audio release function. Together, they set for a grand release, and hence evoked a strong response from the political class and audiences. The actor has taken no further action with regard to his statements on entering politics; there have been no statements or efforts to form a party or lend support to any existing party. Given the circumstances, it can only be concluded that ‘politics’ in Tamil cinema is but a bait to draw the audiences – audiences who perhaps disenchanted with the political environment will lap up the hero-as-saviour who will lead them from bleakness and obscurity to prosperity and prominence. The commercial potential of controversies and confrontation with the state led to a spate of political films to be announced in 2018. Of them, director Selvaraghavan’s NGK (Nandha Gopalan Kumaran, 2019), a political thriller, created no buzz. LKG (Lalgudi Karuppiah Gandhi) scripted by R.J. Balaji was a satire on the current state of politics and politicians in Tamil Nadu, an entertaining spoof of what have now become stock political aspirants. Venkat Prabhu’s Maanadu (Conference, 2020) promoted with the tag line ‘A Venkat Prabhu Politics’ is still in the making. Film actor and academician Yugi Sethu places the developments within the macro-developments in the political environment in the country and argues that much like social media platforms such as Twitter, political discourse in Tamil films help today’s youth express their angst. 13 Film critic Ashameera Aiyappan recounts how young audiences waved their mobile phone flashlights

A rumble in the movie halls 189 at the screening of NOTA and Velaikaaran (Worker, 2017) and during film star Vijay’s speech at the audio release function of Mersal as a mark of agreement and appreciation. At the peak of the protest against the ban on ‘jallikattu’ in January 2017, protestors used their mobile phone flashlights to keep a vigil. The gesture has come to signify Tamil youth’s political and social consciousness. It is this consciousness that the films are tapping into. The logistics of film distribution thus add another dimension to the cinema business. The last-minute cancellations of theatre releases and delayed releases so frequent in recent years point to a deep-rooted problem facing the Tamil film industry that has had considerable impact on the kind of films produced. It is not uncommon for producers to be taken to court for defaulting payments on loans just prior to the release of a film. The lack of proper institutional financing and rising costs of production have resulted in several film producers carrying their debts from one venture to the next (Pillai, 2019). The cancellation of release of a film affected small- and medium-budget film-makers. A big-budget film could negatively impact all other films released on the day. The economies of production and the logistics of distribution shape the content. As such the relationship between cinema and films needs evaluation in the context of these developments.

Conclusion The discussion in the previous sections has established that circumstances today are vastly different to the times when political films roared causing governments to tremble and tumble. Understandings of the relationship between Tamil cinema and politics must move beyond the cinema–politics nexus. Even though film actors continue to aspire for political careers, Tamil cinema can no longer be the vehicle of ideological representations for them. It would be facetious to argue that actors do not wish to employ films for this purpose. Viswaroopam II (2018) contained a lengthy segment on the launch of Kamal Haasan’s political party and the actor’s travels through the state as a politician. The film was produced by the actor himself. The commercial viability of such films is in question, firstly because of the changed political environment and, secondly, because of the ways in which the business of Tamil cinema has evolved. However, the growing interest among the youth who are the theatre-goers allows for ‘politics’ to be employed as a ploy to draw attention and to ensure a buzz which could potentially help the film be commercially successful. This perhaps best explains the noticeable resurgence of political discourse in the aftermath of the death of the Dravidian stalwarts. While they make a contribution to the political public sphere, the nature of their contribution and their consequences remain highly questionable. More than a year since the announcement of film star Rajinikanth’s entry into politics, there has been no announcement of a political party nor clear plans for a political career till early 2020. Kamal Haasan, the only actor to have announced a political party which unsuccessfully contested the 2019 general elections is yet to employ the medium particularly for political gains, while Mersal and Sarkar have not quite launched Vijay’s political career.


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There is no indication of the actor forming a political party, let alone making an entry into electoral politics. It is in this context that political discourse in contemporary Tamil films needs to be evaluated. That their films owe their popularity to issues other than content and have neither fuelled sustained discourse on ideological or even political changes nor helped consolidate their position in politics proves that the Tamil cinema–politics nexus need re-evaluation.

Notes 1 The reference here and throughout the chapter is to performative politics, the use of cinema to launch a political career, to use the popularity gained as an actor to win elections, and to be part of the government. 2 This section does not provide an exhaustive list of films or film-makers during the period. It focuses on box-office successes that predominantly dealt with themes or incorporated elements relating to electoral and democratic politics. The focus of the chapter being Tamil cinema and its relation to direct politics, the choice of films for analysis were based on the narrative, the representation of political parties, and their operations. 3 Actor T. Rajendar, a supporter of the DMK, founded the All India Latchiya Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 2004; Vijayakanth who essayed roles as a village do-gooder and as upright police officer founded the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) in 2005; actor Sarathkumar launched the All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi in 2007; and actor Karthik launched Akila India Naadalum Makkal Katchi in 2009. It was also common for actors and directors to join the DMK and AIADMK and campaign for them during elections. 4 Indian (1996) was a blockbuster that had Kamal Haasan playing two roles: an elderly upright former army officer who does away with corrupt officials and his ambitious son with questionable morality. Following his entry into politics, Kamal Haasan has announced a sequel to the film, Indian II to be directed by Shankar. 5 The Narmada Bachao Andolan was against the number of large dams being built across the Narmada River, which flows through the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. During the time of the completion of the film, the Andolan’s activities protesting the constructions were at its peak. 6 India’s Pokhran blasts had impacted another film, Kamal Haasan’s much publicised Marudhanayagam, a film inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II on her visit to India in 1997. To be based on the life of a eighteenth-century warrior Mohammad Yousuf Khan who fought against the British, the film was budgeted at `85 crore then. It is believed that international production houses that had agreed to fund the film withdrew from the project, following worldwide censure on India’s nuclear tests. 7 In 2011, following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, villagers in Koodangulam, the site of the nuclear power plant in Tirunelveli protested the expansion of the plant’s capabilities. The protests continued during 2012 and 2013 and occupied prominent space in the regional media. Tamil Nadu farmers led a protest to New Delhi in 2017 against the inadequate allocation for relief to the state which was reeling under a drought. The protest ended after the Madras High Court ruled in favour of waiving cooperative farm loans. 8 Tamil film industry has seemingly been led by two stars, placed by their fans in competition with each other. It started with P.U. Chinnappa and M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar in the 1930s; it was MGR and Shivaji in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s; Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth dominated in the decades since and now it is Ajith and Vijay who are seen as the top stars of Tamil cinema. 9 The DMK and the AIADMK stayed out of the two alliances, the United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress and the National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP.

A rumble in the movie halls 191


11 12


The DMK was completely routed in the state, while the AIADMK won 37 out of the 39 Parliamentary constituencies it contested in. It emerged as the third largest party in Parliament. Following Jayalalitha’s death, the party is seen as supportive of the BJP. ‘Education’ is in the concurrent list of the Constitution falling within the purview of both the Central and the state governments. The Centre’s move to enforce a common entrance examination, NEET, was opposed as it was feared that it would disadvantage students passing out of the Tamil Nadu State Board of Education. The state government’s plea in the Madras High Court to reserve 85% of the seats in medical colleges for students passing out of the Tamil Nadu State Board was dismissed. The government sought time to prepare the students and promised exemption from NEET for one year. However, the Supreme Court of India dismissed Tamil Nadu government’s plea. The Central government refused to support Tamil Nadu’s ordinance seeking exemption from NEET for one year and NEET was held in haste in 2017. Personal interview in Chennai, India, in January 2019. In the era of multi-screen theatres, distributors rule. According to a cinematographer who spoke to the author in Chennai in February 2019 on condition of anonymity, the successful release of a film today rests on the distributors who do not take up films that they do not think will enjoy audience patronage. This has led to just two categories of films hitting the screens, the big-budget and small-budget films, the former being those that feature mega and saleable stars and are assured of an ‘opening’, while the latter category comprises the experimental films that aim to recover at least the costs of production. Films like Pariyerum Perumal (2019) and 96 (2019), small-budget films that are picked up by distributors following word-of-mouth appeal are few. See: https://silverscreen.in/news/word-of-mouth-appeal-sees-pariyerum-perumaal-get-in creased-screens-and-shows/. Unlike Bollywood, film collections are still shrouded in mystery with reported figures relating to Tamil Nadu collection being guesstimates at best. Personal interview in Chennai, India, in February 2019.

References Baskaran, Theodore. 1981. The Message Bearers: The Nationalist Politics and the Entertainment Media in South India, 1880–1945. Chennai: Cre-A. Baskaran, Theodore. 1996. The Eye of the Serpent: An Introduction to Tamil Cinema. Chennai: East West Books. Bureau, F.B.J. 2017. “Tamil Nadu: A Virtually Orphan State.” The Free Press Journal, December 29. Accessed 14 February 2019. https://www.freepressjournal.in/editorspick/ tamil-nadu-a-virtually-orphan-state/1195447 Chinniah, Sathiavathi. 2008. “The Tamil Heroine: From a Passive Subject to a Pleasurable Project.” In Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry, edited by Selvaraj Velayutham. London: Routledge. Chopra-Gant, Mike. 2006. Hollywood Genres and Post-War America: Masculinity, Family and Nation in Popular Movies and Film Noir. London: I B Taurius Publishers. Cody, Francis. 2016. “Populist Publics: Print Capitalism and Crowd Violence Beyond Liberal Frameworks.” In Media and Utopia: History, Imagination and Technology, edited by Arvind Rajagopal and Anupama Rao. London: Routledge. Deeksha, Johanna. 2017. “Inside Rajmohan’s Mind: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Man Who Asks the Questions on Tamil Nadu’s Mind.” Edex, September 26. Accessed 5 April 2019. https://www.edexlive.com/live-story/2017/sep/26/presentingrajmohan-arumugam-the-man-from-put-chutney-who-makes-you-sit-up-and-listento-him-1221.html


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Derné, Steve. 2000. Movies, Masculinity, and Modernity: An Ethnography of Men’s Filmgoing in India. Westport: Greenwood Press. Dickey, Sara. 1993. Cinema and Urban Poor in South India. London: Cambridge University Press. Express Web Desk. 2018. “Sarkar Director AR Murugadoss Applies for Anticipatory Bail: Reports.” The Indian Express, November 9. Accessed 9 January 2019. https://indiane xpress.com/article/entertainment/tamil/sarkar-director-ar-murugadoss-anticipatory-bai l-5438833/ Gupta, Vishnu. 2018. “What”s Driving Our Taste for Explicitly Nationalistic Cinema?” Wire.in, December 12. Accessed 3 February 2019. https://livewire.thewire.in/out-andabout/whats-driving-our-taste-for-explicitly-nationalistic-cinema/?fbclid=IwAR0 kMjzR0UVuKhVFxmoPPKsHotnAVKbuCpAfWJxTUS1_-vldXMR4AC-9C6U Hansen, Miriam. 1993. “Early Cinema, Late Cinema: Permutations of the Public Sphere.” Screen 34 (3): 197–210. Hardgrave Jr, Robert. 1973. “Politics and the Film in TamilNadu: The Stars and the DMK.” Asian Survey 13 (3): 288–305. Hardgrave Jr, Robert, and Anthony C. Neidhart. 1975. “Films and Political Consciousness in Tamil Nadu.” Economic and Political Weekly 10 (1–2): 27–35. Jacob, Preminda. 2008. Celluloid Deities: The Visual Culture of Cinema and Politics in South India. Lanham: Lexington. Jayakumar, Babu. 2017. “Jallikattu Protests Are an Uprising Against a Failed Political System.” Hindustan Times, January 21. Accessed 21 March 2019. https://www.hin dustantimes.com/analysis/jallikattu-protests-are-an-uprising-against-a-failed-political -system/story-tJIsgWFZRyhmpvKBWav6HO.html Krishnan, Rajan. 2008. “Imaginary Geographies: The Makings of ‘South’ in Contemporary Cinema.” In Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India”s Other Film Industry, edited by Selvaraj Velayutham. New York: Routledge. Manovich, Lev. 2001. Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press. Muralidharan, Kavitha. 2017. “Seven Tectonic Shifts in Tamil Nadu Politics After Jayalalithaa”s Death.” Hindustan Times, December 5. Accessed 19 January 2019. https:// www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/a-year-after-jayalalithaa-s-death-tamil-nadu-s-p olitical-landscape-is-all-topsy-turvy/story-xR5gGWk6gWDAqvlTwbinAK.html Pandian, Anand. 2008. “Cinema in the Countryside: Popular Tamil Film and the Remaking of Rural Life.” In Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India”s Other Film Industry, edited by Selvaraj Velayutham. New York: Routledge. Pandian, M.S.S. 1991. “Parasakthi: Life and Times of a DMK Film.” Economic and Political Weekly 26 (11): 759–770. Pandian, M.S.S. 1992. The Image Trap. New Delhi: Sage. Pillai, Sreedhar. 2018. “Vijay’s Sarkar Eyes Blockbuster Opening With Massive Advance Booking, Shows in 3000 Screens Across India.” Firstpost.com, November 2. Accessed 15 April 2019. https://www.firstpost.com/entertainment/vijays-sarkar-eyes-blockb uster-opening-with-massive-advance-booking-shows-in-3000-screens-across-india-54 92371.html Pillai, Sreedhar. 2019. “‘Ayogya’ to ‘100’: Why Financial Issues Continue to Plague Tamil Cinema.” The Hindu Metroplus, July 23. Accessed 18 February 2019. https://www.the hindu.com/entertainment/movies/ayogya-to-100-why-financial-issues-are-plauging-t amil-cinema/article27127856.ece?homepage=true Pratt, David B. 1994. “‘We Must Make the Government Tremble’: Political Filmmaking in the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu.” The Velvet Light Trap 34: 10–39.

A rumble in the movie halls 193 Rajanayagam, S. 2015. Popular Cinema and Politics in South India: The Films of MGR and Rajinikant. New Delhi: Routledge. Ramani, Srinivasan. 2017. “The More Things Change… Comment.” The Hindu, March 2. Accessed 12 May 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-more-thingschange/article17388869.ece Ranganathan, Maya. 2015. “Television Politics: Evolution of Sun TV in the South.” In Indian News Media: From Observer to Participant, edited by Usha M. Rodrigues and Maya Ranganathan. New Delhi: Sage Publications. Ranganathan, Maya and Selvaraj Velayutham. 2012. “Imagining Eelam Tamils in Tamil Cinema.” Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 26 (6): 871–881. Shimpach, Shawn. 2007. “Representing the Public of the Cinema”s Public Sphere.” In Media and Public Spheres, edited by Richard Butsch. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Sivathamby, Karthigesu. 1981. The Tamil Film as a Medium of Political Communication. New Delhi: New Century Book House. Subramanian, Narendra. 1999. Ethnicity and Populist Mobilization; Political Parties, Citizens and Democracy in South India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Upadhyaya, Prakash. 2018. “Sarkar Box-Office Collection (Worldwide): Vijay-Keerthi Suresh Starrer Ends 14-Day Second Weekend on a High Note.” IBT, November 19. https://www.msn.com/en-in/entertainment/southcinema/sarkar-box-office-collectionworldwide-vijay-and-keerthys-film-ends-14-day-second-weekend-on-high-note/ar-BB PRugc

12 Tamil platform cinema Vijay Devadas and Selvaraj Velayutham

Introduction In keeping with global trends, Tamil cinema is undergoing a major transformation enabled by digital technologies, an emerging digital sociality, and platform multiplicity. A recent Google search for ‘Tamil short films’ generated some 102,000,000 results of video clips ranging from 5 to 45 minutes running time produced by students, enthusiasts, and independent as well as established film-makers. The films were shot on smartphones, mobile devices, or sophisticated digital video cameras. Thus, they are markedly different in terms of their visual and aesthetic qualities, directing, acting, script, and plot, depending on the experience of film-makers and resources available to them. The digital platforms of choice for these film-makers are video-sharing websites like YouTube, Vimeo, and Dailymotion. Similarly, the emergence of on-demand video-streaming platforms in India such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, HOOQ, ALTBalaji, JioCinema, and BigFlix have provided opportunities for the development of Tamil web series and platform dedicated Tamil films.1 A quick scan of Google Video using the search term ‘Tamil Web Series’ reveals in excess of 13,400,000 results, which attest to the proliferation of this genre enabled by streaming platforms. What we are witnessing is not only an explosion of Tamil language media content via the internet, but also the emergence of a Tamil screen ecology that has moved beyond the established networks of stars, producers, directors, film studios, and financiers that dominate the Tamil film industry. In this chapter, we examine the digital technology–Tamil cinema interface focusing on YouTube as a key platform and other web-based productions that have enabled the emergence of what we term platform cinema. We argue that digital developments have engendered new modes of production, distribution, and consumption, a proliferation of films and amateur creativity, thus enabling a rethinking of the Tamil screen ecology. This process itself is worthy of attention because it signals an expansion of the mode of film practice and experience of cinema (Casetti 2012) never seen within Tamil cinema before. We propose that although the hegemonic practices of the Tamil film industry persist and have infiltrated the digital media landscape, platform cinema in itself has democratised production, circulation, and consumption of films like never before.

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YouTube India screen ecology The media studies scholar Stuart Cunningham (2015) proposes the notion of ‘new screen ecology’ in order to make sense of global internet screen entertainment platforms, most prominently Google/YouTube, Apple, Amazon, and Netflix that have proliferated alongside conventional media. By adopting an ecological approach, Cunningham points to the increasing interdependencies amongst the various industries, actors, networks, and users; a shift in the political economy of the media and the nature of work; the dynamic interplay and interconnectedness between amateur content producers and professional, established outfits; and the role of multichannel networks (MCNs). The notion of screen ecology thus alludes to the complex, evolving interdependency of the social and economic worlds and actors, and the intended and unintended trajectories that emerge in and through these new platforms. In charting the screen ecology of YouTube globally and in Australia, Cunningham (2015) observes that in terms of its operations, it is a global hegemonic distribution platform and revenue generator and reproduces one node of power, centred in the United States that is symptomatic of media globalisation. At the same time, it relies on content that is ‘generated from local and regional markets even as they travel relatively seamlessly on the new global platform’ (Cunningham 2015, 278). In that sense, the local plays a key role in sustaining YouTube’s hegemon but has also contributed to producing a culturally heterogeneous global media scene. Beyond the homogenisation–heterogenisation polemic, the relationship between the local and global has become much more complex. Cunningham (2015, 281) suggests that it is important in a global, platform-based, digital media world to think ecologically because a micro–macro, local–global, homogeneous–heterogeneous mapping of media globalisation is insufficient. An ecological approach necessitates the consideration of the meso-level, where interesting and unanticipated encounters take place. Doing this would mean ‘break[ing] down the macro– micro (global platform individual content creator) dyad, and show[ing] some of the institutional machinery whereby globality is constructed and located’ (Cunningham 2015, 281). Following this approach, we would like to foreground the rapidly expanding online entertainment platforms that embody India’s new screen ecology, and in particular we focus on the arrival of video-sharing platform YouTube in India in 2008. The YouTube India story is the vexed story of globalised India. At the March 2018 Brandcast event, held to commemorate a decade in India, YouTube announced the following: It had 225 million active monthly users in India, which accounted for 80% of the country’s internet users. Additionally, YouTube said its viewership in India grew 1.8× over the last two years, and noted that the country’s users are more engaged than other parts of the world (65% subscribe to channels). (Brouwer, 2018)


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The Indian market is, without doubt, large, growing, and important to Google, estimated to ‘increase to 500 million by the year 2020’ (Rhea, 2018). The rate of content production, consumption, and circulation is staggering. Here is a potted summary: YouTube … ads here have a very high reach and a viewability rate of as high as 95%: … 65% of YouTube viewers subscribe to their favourite channels while 85% of them watch newly uploaded videos within two days; 7 out of 10 viewers watch ads on YouTube with the sound on; [and] more than 50% of female professionals watch YouTube videos for more information before making a purchase in categories like beauty, automobiles and real estate. (Rhea, 2018) This rise and penetration of YouTube mirrors the story of ‘global India’ – its meteoric economic rise and transformation into a digitally connected consumerist society. The other side of the story of global India is the uneven consequences of globalisation within the country, namely unequal access, poverty, and precarious work. YouTube is also, circuitously, part of this story. Recognising that the Indian market is besieged by uneven digital and mobile data access, and poor infrastructure, the organisation developed an application called YouTube Go released in April 2017 specifically for the Indian market. It is essentially a version of YouTube that allows users with limited data or slow internet connection to watch, share, or download videos. YouTube Go is available in 130 countries, mostly in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. This geopolitical spread clearly demonstrates that Google is invested in developing mobile applications that would enable people in the global south with less established infrastructure, high rates of poverty, and uneven access to data and technologies to be part of the YouTube community without actually investing in the development of these regions. Mohan and Punathambekar observe that ‘platforms like YouTube are able to address the concern about local relevance at an infrastructural level through moves such as offline availability of videos, sharing videos through mobile internet hotspots, and so on’ (2018, 3). The expansion of the YouTube Go platform is aimed at attracting more users into the network and furthering data extraction without needing to address critical infrastructural issues, lack of access, and affordability within these countries. To that end, it can be argued that YouTube India does not seek to redress the modalities of inequalities, but rather perpetuate these implicitly. The tension we are alluding to is also reproduced in the way YouTube entered India, built connections, and set up its foundation. On the one hand, YouTube is promoted by its management as a community-driven platform, ‘as being cocreated, as a more or less ‘empty’ platform to be filled by the YouTube community with originally produced content of various kinds’ (Snikars and Vonderau 2009, 10). Indeed, as noted in the Economic Times, ‘in 2014, only 16 Indian content creators on YouTube had more than a million subscribers. Last year [2017], 145 channels reached that mark’ (Laghate 2018). And according to Satya

Tamil platform cinema 197 Raghavan, director of content partnerships at YouTube India, who is cited in the article, ‘now we have more than 300 creators with one million subscribers. Two creators are crossing one-million milestones every week on an average and 2,500 creators are touching their first 1,000 subscribers milestone every day’ (Laghate 2018). To that end, one could say the following: YouTube has led to a burgeoning of creative individuals, communities, and entrepreneurs in India; it has fostered a digital producing and consuming public; it has enabled the expression of voice and the performance of agency; and it has fostered new types of work opportunities and established an emergent digital industry; and from an end user perspective a plethora of social media platforms, applications, and websites to consume video clips whenever and wherever. This is part of what Cunningham et al. (2016: 376) call the ‘accelerated evolution of the new screen ecology’. On the other hand, when it entered the Indian market, YouTube focused on institutional partnerships with top Bollywood content providers … and lined up a series of partnerships, including those with television news channel like NDTV, state institutions like the Ministry of Tourism and the Indian Institute of Technology, and sports content providers like KrishCricket. (Mohan and Punathambekar 2018, 6) In this instance, YouTube’s collaborative initiatives targeted existing media and cultural, educational, and sporting institutions, thus renewing and augmenting public interests in them. A quick response to this history would be to suggest that this goes against YouTube’s framing of itself as a community-driven platform; however, this misses the point because YouTube’s commercial imperative and community-initiative are not contradictory. Rather, they are symbiotically related such that ‘community and the market pair perfectly in its own operational self-conception’ (Snikars and Vonderau 2019, 12). This is because ‘YouTube has transformed not only the very notion of “platform”, but also the character of its “community”, and will continue to do so in a neat competition for industrializing “usage’’’ (Snikars and Vonderau 2009, 10). Within the Indian context, it should be noted that connecting with these established content providers enabled YouTube to become culturally significant to start off with, albeit mainly with Hindi content. In December 2016, YouTube India extended its catalogue of content and made available the option for non-Hindi speakers to discover and consume content in their own languages. This led to an exponential growth in regional language content and users. Two years later, in December 2018, Google hosted YouTube’s Tamil Day to highlight the massive demand for regional Indian language content and to celebrate the success of the fast-growing creators from Tamil Nadu. As detailed by Raghavan, the director of content partnerships, ‘in 2014, only 16 YouTube channels had more than 1 million subscribers in India but today it has gone over 300 [and] 44 out of the 300 channels are Tamil channels’ (Anon 2018). The 44 Tamil channels are a mix of established media industries (Vikatan TV and Sony Music South): dedicated infotainment channels (Black Sheep), Tamil Rhymes channel for


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kids (Chellame Chellam), and amateur content (Village Food Factory). According to one report, as of 2018, ‘there are 230 million regional language [YouTube] users online, compared to 175 million English users’ (Krishna 2018). The YouTube India screen ecology that we have charted illustrates that this ecology is multifaceted: it perpetuates a ‘dialectical relationship with hitherto dominant industries’; enables ‘agentic subjectivity revealed when common citizens … appropriate its technological and aesthetics affordances to carve out a space for themselves’ (Kumar 2016, 5608–9); continues to reproduce a centre– periphery model in its operations; fosters cultural heterogeneity; and enables new digital industries and initiatives. In other words, conceptualising the YouTube India screen ecology requires us to do away with a macro–micro distinction, and embrace the notion of platform localisation, that is ‘the contingent outcome of the interaction of algorithmic and representational logics that structure the operations of platforms like YouTube’ (Mohan and Punathambekar 2018, 2). The role and impact of YouTube and other digital media platforms in India have real consequences on the development of India’s screen ecology. We demonstrate in the next two sections, through a meso-analysis, that these developments are transformative and have enabled the emergence of a multifaceted, complex, Tamil screen ecology; at the same time, the structural constraints and the hegemony of the Tamil film industry continue to play a key role in the Tamil screen ecology. Tamil screen ecology Having schematically charted YouTube India’s screen ecology, we now examine how the digital platform has transformed Tamil cinema. In other words, we show how platform localisation compels us to rethink Tamil cinema at the level of production, distribution, and consumption. It can be argued that Tamil feature-length film-makers are generally risk-averse (e.g. concerned more with financial viability and mass appeal) and rarely challenge prevailing ideologies, social norms, or cultural mores (Velayutham 2008). On the contrary, platform cinema, which is typically low-cost productions, made by lesser known entities and aimed at narrow audiences, have the potential to challenge the discursive regulations that govern Tamil cinema. One of the key transformations enabled by the digital platform is the business of cinema itself. The Tamil film industry, which relies on theatrical release as its principal means of monetisation, has to now contend with the digital platform, reorganise its screening practices to accommodate shifts in viewing practices, rethink the relationship between theatre and digital platforms, develop newer business models, reconsider the star-celebrity image, and open new relationships between established film studios and content-generators. The case of the short film Idhuvum Kadandhu Pogum (This Too Shall Pass, 2014) is instructive in that regard. It is credited as the first Indian film produced by an established Chennaibased film studio, AVM Productions, exclusively for the internet and released on YouTube. The 55-minute film directed by Srihari Prabaharan and Anil Krishnan was shot in 12 days and according to news reports, the granddaughters of the

Tamil platform cinema 199 founder of AVM Productions were impressed with Prabaharan’s previous short film on YouTube and approached him to oversee this project (Vikas 2014). In a review of the film Udhav Naig (2014) comments: while the attempt to produce an ‘Internet only’ film itself can be construed as ambitious, Idhuvum’s content is yet another improvisation of themes that we have often encountered in several popular short films: first love, break up and coping with heartbreak. Indeed, the narrative is not novel, it reproduces themes that occupy Tamil commercial cinema. The film is also part of an established Tamil cinema industry (large production houses, family connections, star power), but there are key differences that the platform has enabled. This includes the development of new circuits of distribution (platform-based), consumption (on mobile and computer screens), and production (industry–amateur partnerships). The use of mainly unknown casts, which is part of the YouTube story of giving amateurs visibility and opportunities, the encounter with Prabaharan’s short ten-minute film on YouTube that enabled the partnership between AVM Productions (industry professionals) and amateur content-generators, the creative energies of the amateurs; and the transformation of the film form itself that is part of Idhuvum Kadandhu Pogum’s story underscores the significance of platform cinema in transforming Tamil cinema. In an interview with The Hindu, the AVM Productions sisters affirm this, commenting that for the last five years, their eyes have been firmly fixed on streaming media … [that] they are thrilled about the huge demand for content in the Over To Top media (OTT) space [and that they] are part of the millennial crowd and … understand what youngsters are consuming. (Kandavel 2019) The views expressed by established and emerging directors and production houses are that there will be a significant push into making platform-based media: S.R. Prabhu, producer of Dream Warrior Pictures, the granddaughters of AVM Saravanan, Hema Rukmani, CEO of Thenandal Studio Limited, Sashikanth of Y Not Studios, and Dhananjayan of BOFTA Media Works, collectively affirm platform-based media as the future of the Tamil film industry but at the same time point out that this does not spell the end of Tamil feature film (Rajendran 2018). Opinions about the relationship between platform and commercial Tamil cinema remain divided. Some view that they appeal to different markets and platform cinema especially marks a shift in the social practice of consumption and viewing habits. For instance, a set time and place and being in the company of others become less relevant because platform cinema consumers are typically watching alone while commuting or at the workplace or when they are out and about. For some, platform cinema is very much dependent on Tamil cinema celebrity culture. Dhananjayan, for example, notes that ‘just like in films, people look out for

200 Vijay Devadas and Selvaraj Velayutham known faces. That’s why Breathe [an Indian crime drama web series which premiered on Amazon Video on 26 January 2018] that starred Madhavan turned out to be successful’ (Rajendran 2018). At the same time, established celebrities are turning to platform content generators to maintain and diversify their celebrity status. Sivakarthikeyan, a Tamil cinema celebrity, recently commented that his next film production Nenjam Undu Nermai Undu (You’ve Got a Heart, You’ve Got Integrity, 2019) will be directed by Karthick Venugopalan and the ‘Black Sheep’ YouTube team and that ‘the opening song of the film … [brings together] all the YouTube stars’ (TNN 2019b). Other celebrities have moved seamlessly into platform cinema – Bobby Simha, for instance, starred in the 2018 web series Vella Raja (White King) made for Amazon Prime; feature film director Balaji Mohan, of Maari and Maari 2 fame, has directed a ten-part Tamil web series titled As I’m Suffering from Kadhal (As I’m Suffering from Love, 2017); and Amala Akkineni, a prolific actor in the 1980s–1990s, has made a comeback to the Tamil film industry with a role in the web series High Priestess (2019) (Murali 2018). And there are others who suggest that platform cinema has compelled theatre screening times to be reconsidered. Pillai (2018) points out that ‘for the first time this Pongal [2018], the first day first show of new Tamil releases started only at 6.30 am in Chennai suburbs, against the normal 4 am or 5 am shows’. Relationships between producers and exhibitors are shifting and this has contributed to greater experimentation with regard to feature film releases. Again, as Pillai (2018) notes: Take, for example, 2018 Pongal releases … theatre owners refused to pay distributors Minimum Guarantee (MG) amounts and instead preferred paying only an advance that could be recovered in the opening weekend. The practice of paying huge MGs usually leads to losses for theatres, and only helps superstars increase their salaries. Earlier, during festival season, theatres outside of Chennai city used to charge premium for superstar-driven films. Almost all films slated for release in the next two months are not going to be given an MG or a payment advance. Additionally, it has seen professional, established Tamil creative entrepreneurs contribute to developing the organic creativity of amateurs and by extension contribute to developing the creative base for Tamil cinema. For example, Harija, a young, amateur content-generator who developed her YouTube star personality through her channel Eruma Saani (Buffalo Dung) which she started in 2017 has been asked to star in SK13, a Tamil commercial feature alongside Sivakarthikeyan and Nayanthara (TNN 2019a). And established director Karthik Subburaj has set up a distribution platform, Stone Bench, for aspiring short film-makers. Stone Bench is made up of three ventures: Bench Flix will assist those making short films and documentaries, helping them to find a distribution channel and generate a revenue model. Bench Cast will work with creators and actors in tandem and help them make the process of casting more professional. Bench Subs will take care of subtitling to help

Tamil platform cinema 201 the film reach newer markets. … Bench Flix will market films through online channels like YouTube and in-flight entertainment. It also helps in releasing short films in theatres. (Saravanan 2016) What these comments and initiatives suggest, collectively, is that platform cinema, which has numerous forms ranging from short films, short-features, and web series, transforms the Tamil screen ecology: the production, distribution, consumption, and viewership, and the form and content of the Tamil screen ecology is reconfigured in anticipated and unexpected ways. The Tamil screen ecology has moved beyond the established network of stars, producers, directors, film studios, and financiers that dominate the film industry. At the same time, Tamil cinema’s hegemonic practices are extending to this new platform space. The examples of popular established actors, who feature in Tamil platform cinema, the setting up of platforms by established film directors, and the emergence of Netflix and Amazon as major content producers demonstrate that Tamil cinema’s hegemon continues to play a significant role in the Tamil screen ecology. The meso-level analysis that we have engaged demonstrates the shifts in industry culture and confirms that the Tamil screen ecology has, because of digital technologies, become a much more complex network of (ex)changes and developments. Tamil platform cinema We end this chapter with a brief exploration of the notion of Tamil platform cinema, a key part of the broader Tamil screen ecology. This is a term we have advanced to capture a broad range of media content and forms that employ digital technologies, platforms, infrastructures, and digitised data for the production, circulation, and consumption of Tamil media content. Media content such as short films, documentaries, web series, digitally remastered films, and digitised songs, comedy clips, and action scenes uploaded on online streaming platforms constitute what we are calling Tamil platform cinema. This includes, but is not limited to, media content, including computer-generated digital characters and environments produced on mobile devices (cell phone/tablets/laptops) to handheld video cameras which are then edited on a software and formatted for uploads and/or streaming for particular platforms and devices. Here social media, streaming platforms, and video-sharing websites operated by global technology companies and coded algorithms serve as the interface between producers and consumers. In turn, consumers equipped with similar end-user devices and technologies are able to access (either through free or paid streaming platforms) an entire catalogue of media content. This media content, which we call platform cinema, is conceptualised along two theoretical axes: firstly, the notions of digitisation and digitalisation (Brennen and Kreiss 2016), and secondly, the concept of relocation (Casetti 2012). Digitisation offers us a conceptual signpost to understand the radical transformation of Tamil cinema enabled by digital infrastructures and technologies, conceptualises the

202 Vijay Devadas and Selvaraj Velayutham emergence and circulation of digitally produced media content, and entrenches the importance of platform as a site of screening and consumption. The concept of digitalisation enables us to signpost the ways that Tamil platform cinema intersects with various social structures and practices associated with mainstream Tamil cinema. And the concept of relocation, as we discuss below, enables us to argue why Tamil media, despite its migration into other infrastructures and subsequent changes to production, distribution, and consumption, is a continuation of ‘our experience of cinema’ (Casetti 2012, 18). Digitalisation and digitisation are two distinct but interrelated concepts. ‘Digitization [refers to] … the material process of converting analogue streams of information into digital bits … digitalization [refers to] the way many domains of social life are restructured around digital communication and media infrastructures’ (Brennen and Kreiss 2016, 1). The first refers to practices of digitising analogue information into digital codes, and this has both symbolic and material dimensions: ‘symbolically, digitization converts analogue signals into bits that are represented as 1s and 0s’ to produce digital information and materially this ‘is ultimately stored on and communicated through configurations of physical materials’ (Brennen and Kreiss 2016, 2). The practice of remastering and digitally restoring milestone Tamil films for screening in theatres, the availability of MGR or Sivaji songs and the films of Saroja Devi or Sree Devi on YouTube, and the circulation of these on mobile phones, are examples of the digitisation of Tamil cinema. These examples articulate the symbolic and material dimensions of the impact of digitisation for Tamil cinema which is now available through various devices, can be stored in multiple locations (cloud, mobile phone, or data cards), and is accessible on multiple platforms (YouTube, Amazon Prime). These further demonstrate that digitisation also refers to ‘the replicable, interactive, and distributive affordances of digital media’ (Brennen and Kreiss 2016, 4). The availability of mainstream Tamil film scenes which have been meshed and recomposed, the culture of supplementing amateur short films with mainstream film songs, the critique of politics in Tamil Nadu and India forged through visual mash-ups from Tamil films and news reports, all of which are uploaded on a platform, in these cases YouTube, accentuates the replicability and interactivity that is constitutive of Tamil platform cinema. Importantly, the distributive affordances of digital media enabled by digitisation provide an insight into the significance of online streaming platforms in the contemporary Tamil cinematic experience. The platform economy and network has enabled the production of diverse Tamil content from a diverse Tamil sociality, democratised production, challenged the institutionalised hierarchies in Tamil cinema industry, cultivated amateur creativity, enabled the accelerated circulation of Tamil media content, and offered creative content producers and distributors other alternatives to circulate their work. Examples of these abound and include the following: ··

The short film format and genre which is relatively new to Tamil audiences has exploded with the advent of smartphone technology and social media apps. Tamil short films directed by amateurs and professionals are uploaded

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on YouTube, Vimeo, and Dailymotion on a daily basis, which includes creative work by Tamils in the diaspora (e.g. Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, South Africa, Norway, etc.) and Eelam Tamils. In Tamil Nadu itself, in the last decade, there has been an explosion of short films circulating online (Tamil Short Cuts, Second Half, Being Thamizhan) which have made their way into short films festivals and competitions, including the Chennai International Short Film Festival, Reel Desires: Chennai International Queer Film Festival (CIQFF), and BehindWoods Gold Short Films Contest, to name but a few. These examples come from a much longer list of popular Tamil short films, festivals, and competitions, and in our view, this genre and format are set to grow exponentially and will contribute to expanding the Tamil screen ecology. Emergence of amateur content producers such as those involved in the Tamil web series Ctrl Alt Del (2016) made through Culture Machine’s YouTube channel Put Chutney. Forging of amateur–industry partnerships such as the web series Half-Boil (2019) funded by a corporate organisation, KPV Media, and made by the amateur collective Madras Central. Social media applications such as FaceBook, TikTok, Twitter, Whatsapp, and Instagram have enabled the proliferation of amatuer creative media content that mimic, cannibalise, and appropriate popular Tamil film dialogues, scenes, and song and dance. Content producers do more than circulate cinematic content; they reformulate and reimagine Tamil cinema so as to capture private emotions and feelings and share them with their social network. #tamilcinema is now a popular hashtag to encounter amatuer video content on social media applications. Professionally produced Tamil web series on subscription platforms such as Vella Raja (White King, 2018) on Amazon Prime includes stars from mainstream Tamil cinema (Bobby Simha, Parvati Nair) and established film producer (S.R. Prabhu of Dream Warrior Pictures). Dedicated, made-for-platforms films such as Sila Samayangalil (Sometimes) which was released exclusively online through Netflix on 1 May 2018 and engaged with the issue of HIV and AIDS or Kalki (2017) a 40-plus minute short sci-fi film by debutant director Dhilip Kumar for Netflix. Films that have migrated from festival circuits and/or established Tamil commercial cinema circuits (mainly theatres) into the platform circuit. This includes festival films such as Radiopetti or Radio Set made in 2015 by firsttime director Hari Viswanath, a civil engineer by profession, which won the KNN Audience Award at the 2015 Busan International Film Festival. Two years later, the film was added to Netflix. Likewise, Revelations (2016), directed by debutant Vijay Jayapal, was the only Tamil film for the 2016 Busan Film Festival, and was added to Netflix the next year. Platform cinema also includes commercial Tamil films released in theatre first before migrating to online streaming platforms. The time between theatre and platform is compressed, around four to five weeks as compared to a decade ago when it took 100 days to recover an investment in a film (Pillai 2019). Commercial Tamil

204 Vijay Devadas and Selvaraj Velayutham




films from 2018 such as Kadai Kutty Singam (The Youngest Lion), Kaala (Black or Death), U-Turn, Nota (None of the Above), and Tamizh Padam 2 (Tamil Film 2), to name but a few, have had a short-lived theatrical run before all appearing on Amazon Prime. Kadai Kutty Singam, for example, premiered on Amazon Prime Video 30 days after its theatre release. The formation of bottom-up online collectivities dedicated to fostering a Tamil creative community such as Missed Movies and Abiman Tube. These amateur-driven YouTube channels provide in-depth multimedia analysis of Tamil cinema, discuss the production and aesthetics of films, make short films, and seek to ‘build a community of independent film-makers to screen, discuss and crowdfund movies’ (Sudevan 2019). The circulation of amateur digital mash-ups uploaded on YouTube that function as visual political critiques of key issues in the state of Tamil Nadu and India by individuals and groups such as Thakkali Chutney (Tomato Chutney) which started in 2017 and ST Entertainment which began in 2018. These channels produce visual critiques of power at the state and central levels by meshing together comedy and action scenes from Tamil commercial cinema with news reports, interviews, and computer graphics and digital environments to suture a people-centred narrative that exposes the ways in which people, resources, and environments are exploited by industries, State and Central Governments, and local institutions. The memes and videos parody power, make visible the operations of hegemony, and seek to foster citizen awareness. Tamil cinema’s business model has altered significantly. As Pillai (2019) writes, earlier, Tamil film producers used to bundle satellite TV and internet rights and give them to the television broadcasters. Now, a smart producer sees greater monetisation in dealing with digital platforms separately. It’s reckoned that now Tamil Internet rights, which were 10 percent of satellite rights in early 2017, are valued at almost 50 per cent of satellite television rights for a movie with a big star. The platform economy has enabled Tamil cinema producers a different revenue stream, and greater visibility and circulation by reducing their dependency on theatrical release. As Abirami Ramanathan, the head of a theatre owners’ association notes, ‘movie-going is only a weekend business and occupancy during weekdays has fallen miserably with some theatres even cancelling shows due to lack of audiences’ (Pillai 2019). And according to another report, while the platform ecology in India is still nascent, a number of global media organisations have entered the Indian market, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar (Disney-owned Star), Zee5 (Zee), SonyLIV (Sony India), and Voot (Viacom18) (Keshavdev 2019). And of these, three companies, Hotstar (27%), JioTV (23%), and Amazon Prime Video (11%), have cornered 61% of the streaming market.

Tamil platform cinema 205 And in the same report, it was observed that the lowering of data cost ‘spurred a boom in the video streaming space … [and] over 70% Indians with smartphones subscribe to one or more streaming apps’ (Keshavdev 2019). In other words, the consumption of Tamil media content has shifted radically.2 The above examples though not exhaustive explicate the point that digitisation has been instrumental in restructuring the political economy of Tamil cinema and these transformations are linked to ‘macro-level changes in social structure and practice caused by digitization’, which scholars refer to as digitalisation (Brennen and Kreiss 2016, 5). Tamil platform cinema, that is media content, produced, circulated, and streamed through a digital network and infrastructure as we have illustrated has had a significant impact on diverse aspects of Tamil social life, structures, and practices. A caveat here is the role of the Indian government in regulating platform cinema content. While platform cinema still has a ‘free rein’ on content, in 2018 the Indian government proposed to amend Section 79 of India’s Information Technology Act ‘which would require internet companies to take down content deemed inappropriate by authorities … within 72’ (Bahree 2019). If this law is passed, it would have a significant impact on the content of Tamil platform cinema. We now turn to the second theoretical axis that constitutes platform cinema. We have employed the term ‘cinema’ throughout this chapter rather than media to capture the diverse range of visual image production and circulation that characterise what we are calling Tamil platform cinema because these visual texts continue our experience of cinema. In deliberating the contemporary status of cinema, the noted film scholar Casetti (2012) argues that cinema as we know it has relocated. As he explains, the migration of cinema into the digital infrastructure ‘occurs not only for purely functional reasons but also brings drives and connections into play’, and relocation thus ‘implies a question of place and a set of drives’ (Casetti 2012, 16). In the long arc of cinema’s development, the concept of relocation enables us to understand that the space, location, and infrastructure of viewing and screens have changed, that the production and circulation of the moving image has altered, that consumption practices have shifted, and that the very idea of a film has transformed. However, the experience of cinema endures because what we encounter in the digital screen ecology ‘is an experience of cinema-beyond-cinema’ (Casetti 2012, 17). What Casetti means is that the idea of cinema remains and this ‘emerges from our habits, memories, and also from our intuition of what it means to “see a film”’ (Casetti 2012, 8). And our experience today involves reconfiguring our past experiences of cinema to make ‘it compatible with the present, and perhaps also with the future’. Casetti refers to these new experiences as ‘cinematographic’ to allude to the ‘permanence of the cinema’ (2012, 7) at a time when the images, sounds, screens, and practices associated with cinema are profusing into other domains and devices.


Vijay Devadas and Selvaraj Velayutham

What Casetti offers through his mediation on the notion of the cinematographic experience enables us to legitimise why we use the term ‘cinema’ in advancing the notion of Tamil platform cinema. The various examples we have cited above confirm that Tamil cinema has migrated; more importantly, the examples also affirm that the experience of cinema, the permanence of Tamil cinema as ur-text remains. Tamil cinema’s drives and connections remain in Tamil platform cinema. The cinematic experience prevails in terms of the collaborations that take place between established film producers and amateur content developers, the intertextual references to Tamil cinema that are employed, and the continuation of narrative, form, genre, and themes from Tamil cinema. This is also visible in numerous interviews with Tamil platform film-makers who turn to Tamil cinema as a point of reference for their work: for narrative, inspiration, content, history, and so on; or amateur content producers who use various aspects of Tamil cinema to articulate their visual imagination. In short, the spectre of Tamil cinema continues to haunt Tamil platform cinema and the broader Tamil screen ecology. It is for this reason that we have opted to use the term cinema in advancing the notion of Tamil platform cinema.

Conclusion In this chapter, we examined the digital technology–Tamil cinema interface to advance the notion of Tamil platform cinema. What we are witnessing, as we have suggested, is a transformative moment in Tamil cinema: the cultures of production, distribution, and consumption are changing, where textual forms are shifting, where creativity is democratised ushering in a Tamil screen ecology that radically transforms Tamil cinema while being connected to it. Platform cinema in that sense has not only liberalised film-making, but has also put a dent in the ‘Kodambakkam’ monopoly. This is highly significant in the context of the Tamil film industry as a whole where a cartel-like structure and hereditary succession operate. And so, it is too risky for newcomers and those with a shoestring budget to enter the industry without endorsements from established players. At the same time, there are structural and infrastructural constraints, meaning that the hegemony of Tamil cinema still holds sway. It is within this tension that Tamil platform cinema operates. In making this argument, we are proposing that scholarship on the dispersal of cinema enabled by digital platforms and technologies, the proliferation of micro-screen cultures, must be tempered: the example of the Tamil platform cinema tells us that it is dispersed and yet connected. It goes without saying that this is an emerging space that requires much more work. Our focus has been on the industry and somewhat around consumption: we have yet to untangle and closely examine the textual forms that are part of Tamil platform cinema. This is an important area which we hope to examine in the near future. Suffice to say that in bringing together the digital and Tamil cinema, we hope to have contributed to furthering discussion about platform culture broadly and Tamil platform cinema specifically.

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Notes 1 These developments coexist with thousands of audio/video uploads of full-length films, short clips, music and songs, and other Tamil cinema content on the internet. In this chapter, we are primarily concerned with new content emerging on the digital platform. 2 The dominant competition to theatres presently come from television channels and not the emerging platforms, and film-makers earn substantially by selling rights to satellite channels even at the time of release. That said, the influence of new platforms on the theatre business is just emerging and its impact is yet to be fully played out in the present Tamil media industry. This is affirmed by Pillai’s (2019) figures, in the example of Thaana Serndha Kootam (A Crowd That Gathered on Its Own), where the ‘movie’s internet rights were sold for Rs. 6.5 crore and its satellite rights reportedly fetched Rs. 12.75 crore’. The battle for theatre is now also coming from platforms.

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Laghate, G. 2018. “3 Indian Content Creators Cross 10M Subscriber Mark on YouTube.” December 7. Accessed 10 March 2019. https://tech.economictimes.indiatimes.com/new s/internet/3-indian-content-creators-cross-10m-subscriber-mark-on-youtube/66980461 Mohan, S. and Punathambekar, A. 2018. “Localizing YouTube: Language, Cultural Regions, and Digital Platforms.” International Journal of Cultural Studies. https://doi. org/10.1177/1367877918794681. Murali, A. 2018. “Amala Akkineni to Star With Sunainaa in a New Web Series.” Silverscreen India, November 29. Accessed 10 June 2019. https://silverscreen.in/news/ amala-akkineni-to-star-with-sunainaa-in-a-new-web-series/ Naig, U. 2014. “Net Gain for Short Film.” The Hindu, April 16. Accessed 12 June 2019. https://web.archive.org/web/20140416193729/http://www.thehindu.com/features/cine ma/cinema-reviews/net-gain-for-short-film/article5918894.ece Pillai, S. 2018. “With Emerging Digital Platforms, Tamil Cinema Scrambles to Adapt.” The Hindu, January 16. Accessed 19 April 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/entertainm ent/movies/with-emerging-digital-platforms-tamil-cinema-scrambles-to-adapt/artic le22450764.ece Pillai, S. 2019. “Digital Streaming Has Disrupted the Tamil Cinema Business.” The Telegraph, March 14. Accessed 15 March 2019. https://www.telegraphindia.com/ente rtainment/digital-streaming-has-disrupted-the-tamil-cinema-business/cid/1686828 Rajendran, G. 2018. “Streaming Success: Tamil Film Production Houses to Look for Web Series.” The New Indian Express, April 21. Accessed 20 April 2019. http://www.newi ndianexpress.com/entertainment/tamil/2018/apr/21/streaming-success-tamil-film-pr oduction-houses-to-look-for-web-series-1804220.html Rhea. 2018. “What Brands Can Learn from YouTube Brandcast 2018.” Social Beat, March 28. https://www.socialbeat.in/blog/youtube-brandcast-2018/ Saravanan, T. 2016. “Karthik on a Roll.” The Hindu, September 8. Accessed 20 April 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Karthik-on-a-roll/article14628542.ece Snickars, P. and P. Vonderau. 2009. The YouTube Reader. Stockholm: Kungliga Biblioteket. Sudevan, P. 2019. “For the Love of Tamil Cinema.” The Hindu, April 11. Accessed 19 April 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/for-the-love-of-tamilcinema/article26807768.ece TNN. 2019a. “Sivakarthikeyan Assembles YouTube Stars for a Song in His Production.” March 1. Accessed 21 April 2019. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/ tamil/movies/news/sivakarthikeyan-assembles-youtube-stars-for-a-song-in-his-prod uction/articleshow/68220626.cms TNN. 2019b. “YouTube Star Harija to Be a Part of ‘SK13’.” February 1. Accessed 21 April 2019. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/tamil/movies/news/youtubestar-harija-to-be-a-part-of-sk13/articleshow/67794803.cms Velayutham, S., ed. 2008. Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India”s Other Film Industry. London: Routledge. Vikas, S.N. 2014. “On AVM Productions Releasing Direct-To-Internet Movie on YouTube.” Medianama. Accessed 14 April 2019. https://www.medianama.com/2014/ 04/223-avm-productions-direct-to-internet-movie-youtube/


7G Rainbow Colony 110 96 191n12 Aadukalam 172–173 Aaranya Kaandam 26, 84 Adams, Terri M. and Fuller, Douglas, B. 115–116 Adi Dravidar Sangam 56 All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) 1, 12, 183, 184, 190n9; and Jayalalitha’s leadership of 107, 149, 179; and MGR 180–181 Ambedkar 32, 59 Amma (Jayalalitha) 107, 184 Amma Makkal Munetra Kazhagam 185 Anniyan 59 Aramm 186–187 Asuran xvi, 4 Attakathi 3, 55 Attu 26 Avaiyaar 36–37 Bala 39, 166–167, 172, 176–177 Balaji Sakthivel 48n2 Balan, Vasanta 48n2, 71 Barathiraja 37, 38, 163 Baskaran, Theodore S. 23, 117 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 63, 183, 190n9 Bhooloham 24 Bombay 181 Bourdieu, Pierre 25 Brennen, Scott and Daniel Kreiss 201–202 Casetti, Francesco 205–206 caste 3–4, 8–10, 54, 58, 63, 172, 174; in Chennai 20–21; conflict 3, 56–57, 41, 43, 45, 52; and criminality 39, 43, 45; and masculinity 90; politics 56–58;

representation 29, 32, 36–37; and space 20, 26–27, 29–30; and tertiary education 88; and whiteness 103; see also Dalit Central Board of Film Certification 179 Chakravarthy, Venkatesh xv, 49n11 Chandran 49n15 Chatterjee, Partha 59, 138 Chatterjee, Tupur 116 Cheri 45, 49n14 Chinna Gounder 55 Chinniah, Sathiavathi 72, 101, 116, 181 conscripts 40–44, 46 content producer 202–204 criminality 40–44, 169, 172, 182 Cunningham, Stuart 195 Dalit 9–10, 23–26, 30, 59, 62–63, 177; identity 30–3, 321; particularism 63; politics 30–32, 53–55, 57–58 Dalit Cinema 2–3, 9, 19, 28–29 Damodaran 4 Damodaran and Gorringe 4, 9 Datta, Sangeeta 122 de Certeau, Michel 28 Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam 182, 190n3 Deepavali 24, 30 Devadas, Vijay 8, 13 Devar Magan 37 Dharavi 59, 60, 61 Dhil 182 Dhool 182 Dickey, Sara xv, 139, 141 digitalization 7, 201–202 digitisation 201–202 Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (DMK) 1, 12, 26, 59, 63, 149, 182, 183, 184, 190n9; and influence on Tamil cinema 100, 105, 180–181; and MGR 165



Dravidian Cinema 37, 38, 53–54 Dravidianism 52–53, 57, 60, 100, 108, 180, 183 Dwyer, Rachel 132 Ethirneechal 119 Facebook 168, 203 fan club 148–149; and caste 150–151; and politicking 149, 151, 158 fandom 12, 154–156 feminist 5; film theory 72, see also male gaze; and women-centric films 69–72, 81 femininity 72–73, 77; and spatiality 73; Tamil 73, 90, 107–108, 111, 116; and whiteness 10, 106, 108, see also Jackson, Amy Foucault, Michel 19, 44, 92–93 French New Wave 37 GST scheme 179, 186 Gaana songs 23, 31, 32n3, 118, 177 Ganesan, Sivaji 49n9, 76, 81, 86, 168 Gemini 23–24 gender: and discrimination 122, 124; violence 3, 10, 115, 124; representation 76, 78–79, 116, 119; inequalities 5, 80; politics 10; trouble 76–79 Gentleman 59 Gethu 100, 103–106, 112 Ghilli 71 Goripalayam 48n1 Haasan, Kamal 7, 49n15, 81, 149, 163, 179, 189, 190n4, 190n6 Hardgrave, Robert xv, 1, 107 Harriss 20 Harvey, David 89 Hindu (religion) 3, 11, 40, 61 Hindu Makkal Katchi 179 identity 9, 31, 138, 139; and caste 40–41; class 105, 109, 139–141; and spatiality 22; Tamil 38, 59, 62; gender 77–78 (see also gender trouble), 100, 104 Idharkuthaane Aasapattai Balakumara 119 Indian 182, 190n4 Indian National Congress 183 Iraniyan 53 Irudhi Suttru 10, 69, 71–80 Iruvar 182

Jackson, Amy 99, 100, 103, 105–106, 107–108 Jayalalitha, J. 1, 12, 106–107, 149, 179, 180–181, 183–184 Jallikattu 185, 189 Joker 186–187 Kaala 3, 6, 10, 52, 59–62, 163, 172 Kaali, Sundar 21, 173 Kabali 3, 52, 154, 163, 172, 186; and politics 55–59; and Dalit identity 62 Kadaikutty Singam 165, 204 Kadhal 37, 39, 40–41, 44–46, 47 Kalakalapu 119 Karunanidhi, M. 59, 63, 149, 181, 182, 184 katã-nãyaki 101 Kottai Mariamman 130, 133, 137–138 Kovilpatti Veeralakshmi 53 Krishnan, Rajan 36, 49n9 Kumar, Ajith 148, 184 Kumar, Sasi 48n2 Lefebvre, Henri 21 LKG/Lalgudi Karuppiah Gandhi 188 M G Ramachandran (MGR) 4, 107, 165, 180–181; Thalaivar 42; and caste politics 52–53; and Dravidianism 88; and Sivaji’s dominance 75, 81, 190n8 Maanadu 188 Madras 3, 9, 19, 28–31 Madrasapattinam 99 Madras Music Academy 20 Madurai 9–10, 36–37, 39, 41, 47, 87, 172–173; and third wave cinema 44–46 Madurai Veeran 37, 52–53 Madurayai Meeta Sundara Pandiyan 37 Mahabharata 124 Mahadevan, Mahalakshmi 133,134 Makkal Needhi Mayyam 179 Malaysian Tamils 58, 59, 60, 172, 186 male gaze 74, 77–78, 104–105, 107, 113n14, 116 Manohara 100, 171 Maradi Pattu 32n3 masculine/ity: characterisation 79–80; discourse 4, 90–91, 116; hyper- 123; new forms of 4, 12, 81, 85, 87–88, 92, 94–96; performance of 77, 90, 118; spaces 19, 73 Masilamani 62 Mayakam Enna 115, 119 Mercury 167, 186

Index Mersal 97n6, 179, 181, 186, 189 Mishra, Vijay 111 Moondru 118, 119 Mudhalvan 182 Murugadoss, A.R. 179 Naam Tamizhar Iyakkam 183–184 Naam Tamizhar Katchi 58, 183–184 Naan Kadavul 167 Nakassis, Constantine V. 90–91, 104, 105, 110, 111, 113n16 Nandha 39 Naradha Gana Sabha 20 National Democratic Alliance/ NDA 183 Nayakan 59 Neo-Nativity 21, 38–39, 40, 84, 87 New Madurai Genre 36, 47 New Media 150, 156–157, 188, New Wave 36, 37, 84; of women-centric films 70, 81 NGK/Nandha Gopalan Kumaran 188 Nield, S 19 Niranjana, Tejaswini 49n11 North Chennai 9, 19–22, 69, 72, 75; and territorial stigmatisation 23, 25–30 NOTA 187 Oor 45, 45n14 Oppari 32n3 Oru Kal Oru Kannadi 119 Osuri, Goldie 103 Padai Veetu Amman 139 Pandian, M.S.S. xv, 19, 165 Parasakthi 38, 76, 100 Pariyerum Perumal xvi, 4, 6, 33n9, 33n10, 177, 191 Paruthiveeran 6, 37, 39, 40–41, 43, 47, 84 Pattali Makkal Katchi 53, 58 Periyar 56 Pillai 54, 155 Pithamagan 39, 84, 87, 167, 172, 177 Polladhavan 13, 24, 161, 163, 172 Poompuhar 36–37 Prasad 38 Pudhupettai 23, 24, 75, 170 Put Chutney (website) 203 Raavanan 6, 60 racism 55, 59, 61 Raja Kaliyamman 130, 133, 134–136 Rajinikanth 2, 56, 75, 150, 163, 172; and fandom 147–148


Rajinimurugan 119 Ramanaa 182 Ramayana 60–61, 62 Ranjith, Pa. 3, 10, 28–29, 32, 47, 52, 58 Ratnam, Mani 59, 71, 181–182 Red 48n1 Red Giant Movies 184 religion see also Hindu (religion); and class 133, 135, 139, 140 Roja 38, 40, 181 Romeo Juliet 119 Rule 49-O 187 Saamy 182 Sandaikkozhi 48n1 Sarkar 97n6, 179, 187, 188, 189 scopic regimes 22 screen ecology 7–8, 195, 201 Selby and Peterson 20 Sethupathi, Vijay 26, 81, 91, 97n5, 97n6, 179; and DMK 184 Shankar, S 38, 48n2, 59, 81n1, 87, 91, 93, 181, 182, 190n4 Singam 87, 182 Sivakaasi 102 Sri Bannari Amman 139 Srinivas, Tulasi 140 Srinivasan, Rettamalai 62 Srinivasaraju, S. 20 stigma: and female actors 106–112; and whiteness 103, 104 Subramaniapuram 37, 39, 44–46, 47–48, 84, 173 Sultan, Ameer 48n2, 164 Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board 32n2 Tamil nationalism 30, 52, 53–55, 56–57, 62 Tamil Reform Committee 56 Territorial Stigmatisation 2, 9, 20, 22–25, 28 Thaas, Iyothee 62 Thalaivaa 119, 184 Thangamagan 100, 108–112 Thenali 182 Thevar Magan 33n10, 55, 163, 171 Third Wave films 10, 36, 37, 38–39, 44–46 Thirumavalavan 53–54, 63 Thiruvillaiyadal (1965) 36–37 Thraupathi Vastraapaharanam 108 Tiktok 156–157 transgender: in Tamil (Thirunangai or Aravani) 6; see also Super Deluxe Trisha Illanaa Nayanthara 119 Type-Hero 36, 39, 40, 49n9, 84



Udhaya 183 United Progressive Alliance/ UPA 183 Vadachennai 27, 161, 172 Varuthapadaathe Vaalibar Sangam 119 Vasudevan 21, 27, 29, 38, Velaikaaran 189 Velaikaari 101 Velayutham, Selvaraj xv, 2, 7–8, 10, 13, 58 Venkatachalapathy 23 Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu 71 Vennila Kabbadi Kuzhu 48n1 Veyil 37, 39, 40–42, 44, 47 Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi 53, 54, 59, 63 vigilante films 182

Vikram Vedha 26, 71 Virumaandi 179 Viswaroopam 7, 163, 179, 189 Viswaroopam II 189 Vivasaayi 102 Wacquant, Loic 19, 25, 31 Whatsapp 156, 175, 203 whiteness 10, 100, 103, 106, 111–112; and the male gaze 113n3 Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi (television show) 132 Yennai Arindhaal 24, 33n5 YouTube Go 196 YouTube India 195–198 Zizek, Slavoj 57