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TitleTamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India's other Film Industry
ISBN 139780415492195
CategoryArts - Film
File Size2.0 MB
Total Pages218
Table of Contents
                            Book Cover
Introduction: The cultural history and politics of South Indian Tamil cinema
1 A good woman, a very good woman: Tamil cinema’s women
2 The Tamil film heroine: From a passive subject to a pleasurable object
3 Bringing the Amman into presence in Tamil cinema: Cinema spectatorship as sensuous apprehension
4 Politics and the film in Tamil Nadu: The stars and the DMK
5 The nurturing hero: Changing images of MGR
6 Tamil cinema in the public sphere: The evolving art of banner advertisements in Chennai
7 Encountering a new art: Writers’ response to cinema in Tamil Nadu
8 Cinema in the countryside: Popular Tamil film and the remaking of rural life
9 Imaginary geographies: The makings of the ‘‘south’’ in contemporary Tamil cinema
10 Encounters with ‘India’: (Ethno)-nationalism in Tamil cinema Vijay Devadas and Selvaraj Velayutham
11 The diaspora and the global circulation of Tamil cinema
Document Text Contents
Page 1


Page 2

Tamil Cinema

Hitherto, the academic study of Indian cinema has focused primarily on

Bollywood, despite the fact that the Tamil film industry, based in southern

India, has overtaken Bollywood in terms of annual output. This book exam-

ines the cultural and cinematic representations in Tamil cinema. It outlines

its history and distinctive characteristics, and proceeds to consider a number

of important themes such as gender, religion, class, caste, fandom, cinematic

genre, the politics of identity and diaspora. Throughout, the book cogently

links the analysis to wider social, political and cultural phenomena in Tamil
and Indian society. Overall, it is an exciting and original contribution to an

under-studied field, which also facilitates a fresh consideration of the exist-

ing body of scholarship on Indian cinema.

Selvaraj Velayutham works in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie

University, Sydney, Australia. His research interests include migration, trans-

nationalism, and Tamil cinema and cultural studies. He has published works

on South Indian diaspora, home and belonging, and living with diversity.

Page 109

Government policies become increasingly rationalised and less paternalistic

in the shift from a state-controlled economy certainly explains part of the

contemporary yearning for MGR. Even though a number of these respon-

dents are better off materially than they were twenty years ago (as measured
by income relative to inflation, housing, and consumption goods), they

claim that life was better before economic liberalisation when, somehow

not coincidentally, MGRwas in office. They see most of the economic gains

as having gone to others, or feel that Tamil society as a whole has been hurt

by processes such as increasing mechanisation leading to job loss, or crop

commercialisation resulting in increased food prices. In addition, their nos-

talgia serves to articulate current opposition to Karunanidhi and the DMK

party. It also, however, highlights their sense of abandonment by Jayala-
litha. Now almost twenty years gone in a political milieu that has changed

significantly, MGR is still being described as battling the evil villain and

supporting the upper-class heroine while he remains the hero of the tri-

umvirate. While MGR’s fans remain true to their party, they use a con-

tinuously evolving model of this hero to express longing for a time now

imagined as simpler, and for a leader more attentive to their needs.


1 Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers with backgrounds in cinema include C. N. Anna
durai, Mu. Karunanidhi, MGR, V. N. Janaki (MGR’s wife, who became
Chief Minister for a brief period immediately following MGR’s death), and J.
Jayalalitha. Since 1967, the only Chief Minister without a background in
cinema was O. Paneerselvam, who served briefly in 2001 when the Indian
Supreme Court barred Jayalalitha from continuing as Chief Minister because of
a previous conviction on corruption charges. The Madras High Court later
acquitted Jayalalitha of the charges, which enabled her to serve again as Chief

2 MGR’s year of birth is disputed. While official biographies list it as 1917, some
analysts and fans believe MGR was born five to ten years earlier. Presenting a
youthful, virile persona was crucial in MGR’s films. See Pandian (1992: 109 111)
for a discussion of efforts to protect MGR’s relatively youthful image and to
disguise his aging.

3 The DMK was founded in 1949, with roots in the rationalist Non Brahman
Movement in southern India. Over the years, its platform (and that of the
AIADMK) shifted to a more inclusive construction of Tamil cultural national
ism, dropping the anti Brahman and anti religion stances of rationalism, and
coming to rely on local economic issues more consistently than on ethnic ones.

4 In the 1980s, MGR fans referred to MGR as Anna (elder brother) and Jayala
litha as Anni (elder brother’s wife). Many fans now deny this, however, which sug
gests that Jayalalitha’s attempts to create a more ‘respectable’ image have been
relatively successful within the party. On Jayalalitha’s changing visual image, see
Jacob 1997.

5 Writing in 2000, Widlund argues that MGR’s name ‘became necessary to legit
imise the leadership of his successor. And the reason for this was in all likelihood
that both party workers and voters were ultimately motivated and mobilised by
MGR, and by no other person but him’ (2000: 153 154). Widlund also discusses

92 Sara Dickey

Page 110

party supporters’ belief today that Jayalalitha was MGR’s anointed successor;
see especially pp. 149 151.

6 As any fan can point out, MGR’s films also have plenty of sex and violence. In
addition to the fights that are an intrinsic part of the story, most films include
scenes of women in tight, revealing clothing (either as villains, or as heroines
who have yet to be reformed by MGR).

7 For a more extensive examination of the meaning of ‘heart of a child’, see
Dickey 2001: 233 34, 228 29.

8 On MGR’s women followers, and his association with women’s causes, see also
Washbrook 1989: 258 and Subramanian 1999: 256. On respect for the mother, a
frequent theme in his films, see Subramanian 1999: 249n and Pandian 1992: 83. On
MGR’s respect for and treatment of women in his films, see Pandian 1992: 79 84.

9 The state’s Nutritious Meal Centres also provide food to elderly pensioners,
pregnant and lactating women, and children too young to attend school.

10 Spending on nutrition has continued to increase substantially in Tamil Nadu
since 1982 (Harriss White cites a 100 fold increase between 1981 82 and 1994
95). By 2000, the state is said to have spent more on nutritional programmes
than did all other Indian states combined (Harriss White 2004: 51).

11 In 1982, this was roughly $137,500,000. I cannot comment on the figure’s accu
racy; the speaker’s point is the enormity of the obstacles that MGR is perceived
as having overcome.

12 See Washbrook 1989: 255, Harriss 1991: 3, and Rajivan 2001: 125 126 for
mention of different sources.

13 The Nutritious Meals Programme was also designed explicitly to create social
tolerance by having children of different castes eat together, and eat food pre
pared by lower caste cooks (see e.g. Harriss 1991: 19 20).

14 Jayalalitha is said to wear a bulletproof vest because she is on a ‘hit list’ of the
Sri Lankan separatist LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).

15 For an excellent overview of different themes in MGR’s films and their rela
tionship to his political messages, see Subramanian 1999: 248 252.

16 Fans’ primary criticism of Jayalalitha is as a leader, not as a woman; a male
leader who apparently failed to care for and mix with the people would also be
bitterly criticized. There is also, however, an underlying criticism of Jayalalitha’s
failure to be a proper woman, or at least, a proper mother. (See Keating 2001:
83 84 for denunciations of Jayalalitha as a bad mother in the 1990s, and Bathla
2004 for a review of press criticisms of Jayalalitha’s gendered failings.) Finally, it
must be noted that while these characterisations were made across gender, class,
caste, and religion in my sample, some other constituents especially educated
middle class women are more likely to see Jayalalitha as a positive role model
for women.

17 See Lakshmi 1990 and Keating 2001 for changing images of the mother in Tamil
literary and political history. Keating (2001: 74 85) notes that both MGR and
Jayalalitha abandoned the progressive image of womanhood advocated by their
forebears in Dravidian politics to embrace a much more conservative model of
women and mothers.


Baskaran, S. T. (1981) The Message Bearers: The Nationalist Politics and the Enter

tainment Media in South India, 1880 1945. Madras: Cre A.

Bathla, S. (2004) ‘Gender Construction in the Media: A Study of Two Indian Women

Politicians’, Asian Journal of Women’s Studies 10(3) (Sept. 30) (online text).

The nurturing hero 93

Page 217

traditions 109; early synergy between
film enterprises across India 156 57;
initial attraction of cinema 112, see
also digital computerised technology

television 96; access in rural areas 37,
126; global screening of Tamil films

Telugu language cinema 1, 3, 6, 7, 13n,
51, 114; consumed by diasporic
communities 183, 184, 187n; Tamil
films 173; version of Roja 154

Temple Entry Movement 159
terrorism 156; in Roja 154
The Terrorist 175
textile industry 111, 112
Thamarai (little magazine) 121, 122
Thamil Pathukappu Peravai 149
Thanjavur 7
Tharmayutham 36
Theeranadhi (journal) 122
Thenali 175
Thevar caste 12, 148; clashes with other
castes 149, 149 50

Thevar Magan 151
Thirudaathee 129
Thirumavalavan 149
Thirupaachi 145
Thoraval, Yves 3, 7, 160 61, 161, 164,
165, 166

Thottakkari 181
Thulluvathoo Ilamai 126
Thyagabhoomi 3, 118, 158, 158 59
Tiruchi 21, 21 22, 113
Tirunelveli 7, 142, 150
Tirupaachi 139
Trawick, M. 90
Trisha 40
Tukaram 117

Ullagam Sutrum Vallibhan 174 75
United Arab Emirates 179
United States of America: films
imported from 112, 114; initial
opposition to cinema 113; as major
market for Tamil films 185; North
Indian migrants 178; Tamil diaspora

Unnaippol Oruvan 25
untouchability 149
ur (native place), Amman films 54 55
urban life, films with backdrop of 4,

Urimaikkural 34

Uyir 181
Uyire 166, 167
Uyirmai (journal) 122

Vadakkattru 181
Vairamuthu 132
Valiba Virundu 24
Vallikannan (R.S. Krishnaswamy) 120
Vanangamudi 97
Varma, Ram Gopal 6
Varuvan Vedi Velan 175
Vasagam, S.K. 113
Vasan, S.S. 3, 97
Vasudevan, R. 129, 155
Vasuki (wife of poet Valluvar) 30, 31,

Vazhaga Nam Thayagam 73
Veerapandiya Kattabomman 162, 163
Velaikaari 4, 18 19, 62, 65, 120, 162,
164; Sinhalese adaptation 181

Velaikaran 124
Velayutham, Selvaraj 12
Vellore 60
Velusamy, P. 84
Venkaiah, R. 3
Venkatachalapathy, A.R. 122
Vijantimala 5
Vijay 126 27, 139, 142, 145, 165
Vijaya (film studio) 5
Vijayan, K. 38
Vijaykanth 4, 78, 127, 165
Vikram 142
vil pattu performances 45, 46
Vimochanam 160
Virumandi 175
Visnu 47
Viti 38, 39
Vivacayi 87

Waldman, Diane 27 28n
war: public opinion 112, see also
Second World War

Washbrook, D.A. 85
West Indies 178, 182
Widlund, Ingrid 92 93n, 162, 163
Willemen, Paul 5, 154, 157, 158 59, 160
Wolpert, S. 158
women: good and bad images 9, 16;
good and bad types in Tamil films
16 20; images in Parasakth 21 23;
importance of chastity 23, 29;
MGR’s devotion to issues important
to 82; and middle class’s selective
adoption of ‘‘modernity’’ 50;

200 Index

Page 218

narratives showing interchangeability
with goddess 46, 50 53; poets
threatened because of writings on
sexuality 27; portrayal of bold,
liberated type 24 26; secondary
position in Tamil film narratives 29,
39; status in DMK 32 33;
stereotypical representation of Tamil
diaspora 176 77; treatment in recent
films with family themes 26 27;
unconventional types in Tamil films
38 39, see also actresses; heroines

working class: emergence 111, 112;
intellectuals’ association of cinema
with 116, 117

writers: critics’ failure to see identity
issues in Roja 155; engagement in
film courses and workshops 121 22;

Manikodi group 119; negative
reactions to cinema 111, 113, 114,
114 15, 116, 119, 121; praise of
patriotic films 118; role in success of
DMK 62; shift to positive attitude
about cinema with music 117;
specialising in Tamil cinema today
122 23; use of pseudonyms for
articles on cinema 119 20, see also
film reviews

Yathra Film Society 121 22
Yejaman 186
Yogi, S.D.S. 119
Yogini, R. 85 87, 89
young people, film star fans in rural
areas 124, 126 28, 127

Index 201

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