Archive for the ‘Kollywood’ Category

Arai En 305il Kadavul [ God in Room No 305]


Modhi Vilayadu

Modhi Vilayadu (2009) narrates the story about Uday Vasudev and his tryst with  (borrowed) identity. The film raises the question: What if you have lived a lie all your life?

The film introduces Uday, Rajan Vasudev, Chanakya and Eswari and begin to feel sad for them. Why?

You feel sad for

  • Uday(for the lie he lived)
  • Rajan Vasudev (for the life he lived)
  • Chanakya (for the false life he loved)
  • Madan (for the life he never lived)
  • Eswari(for the lie she believed)

People spell LIFE as: I, IF, LIE, LIFE

Life has to be spelt as LIFE!

How do you face the truth about yourself?  How do you let go false identity? How do you let go ‘borrowed’ identity?

How do you live your life – in all its fullness?

The Dhanush starer Yaradi Nee Mohini got released in theatres last week.  There’s nothing new – just a retelling of a love story. You can’t tell a story without romance in it. Yaradi Nee Mohini is yet another boy-meets-girl story. We’ve seen it all! Just like any other movie it is

  • a dark boy meeting a fair girl
  • a non-english speaking boy meeting a english speaking girl
  • a rural boy meeting a urban girl

Perfect, for the movie to be a “smokescreen” – presenting unrealistic dreams and desires to young people. Yaradi Nee Mohini tells the story of the hero’s struggle with his father, with his circumstance and with his dreams. Stories of the “underdog” succeeding somehow wins our hearts and minds. It is stories like these that (s)tick. Is there something we need to learn from this?

Young people are looking for significance. They are looking for security in a globalizing world that increasingly marginalizes certain groups of people. Young people are in the look out for meaning in the midst of an assault on value, personhood, meaning and imagination. Can we find a lasting solution?

To me, Yaradi Nee Mohini does more damage than help young people find solutions for existential questions.

“It is a typical ‘Mills and Boons’ type of romance” – India Glitz


Banner: R.K. Productions PVT. LTD.
Cast: Dhanush, Nayantara, Raguvaran, Karthick, Karunas, Mano Bala, Viswanathan
Direction: Mithran R. Jawahar
Production: Dr. K. Vimalageetha
Music: Yuvan Shankar Raja
Website: http://www.ynmthemovie.com/

A discussion based on the Tamil movie song New York Nagaram (Sillunu Oru KAdhal)

  1. What is this song about?
  2. How do you describe lonliness? Why is facing lonliness a challenge to face? Why do you think this song describes it as torture?
  3. How does it feel to be away from family (and friend) and be caged in glass walls? What are you experiences of fighting lonliness?
  4. Any dislocation brings about an emotional crisis. How do people to travel to other cities (for study or work) face this emotional crisis? Is falling in love a natural thing to do then? Is this feeling true love or time pass (just something to help deal with the emotional vacuum)?
  5. Is the perceived feelings of affection a help or an hindrance? Why? Is Love a pain-killer or a solution?
  6. What did you like about the song? Is there any take-away lessons for life?

– by Samuel Thambusamy

Shivaji – The Boss

(1) Come Shivaji – the Boss (2007) and the Rajni-mania is back with a bang (Baasha style). Shivaji is the latest cinematic extravangza and Rajnikant -the Boss is here and here to stay. The movie is another opportunity for die-hard Rajni fans to meet their Superstar (after 2 years) and his latest on-screen persona – Shivaji,the one-man crusader against black money. Actor Rajnikant’s fan following got into celebration mood much before the release of the movie. Such is the passion for cinema in this part of the world. Shivaji- The Boss was marked for a big release ( in terms of screens and prints) to match both Rajni’s ‘Star power’ and the intensity of Rajni-mania worldwide.Surprisingly, even national News channels (like NDTV) presented Rajni-mania as a newstory and eventually made us believe that the movie is the next best thing waiting to happen. Such was the pre-release fanfare for Shivaji.

The Superstar goes global

(2) What is so big about Shivaji? For starters, Shivaji was shot at a massive budget of about 80 crores and it is the most expensive Indian movie ever made till date. It is estimated to gross about 150 crores.(1.5 Billion rupees) – the highest ever for a Tamil film. It has even hit the UK top ten – the first ever by a Tamil film. It’s commercial success is phenomenal. But much more than that the film is about Superstar Rajnikant. Rajni is Rajni is Rajni. If you don’t understand this, then you must surely belong to the uninitiated. Rajni-mania is a huge socio-cultural phenomenon in Tamilnadu. Believe me! Rajni mania is not a south-Indian phenomenon any longer. It extends beyond Tamilnadu to US, Canada, Italy, Germany, Japan and South Africa. Now, Rajni-mania is a global phenomenon. After /Shivaji/’s release, the Rajni-mania has already reached a near hysterical level.

Catch the Rajni-experience in the big screen

(3) What’s in it anyway? Ask the fans and they’d say, ” Go for it. It’s entertainment guaranteed”. Poor me – I couldn’t manage to grab a ticket. The queues are getting longer despite extra shows across the city. The movie, we are told is already a sell-out for the first three weeks and definitely for people like me Shivaji could only come after a long wait. And so, I decided to surf through movie reviews on the Internet – the world of information at your finger tips. Not surprisingly, ‘Rajini-the superstar’ is everything in the movie. Even the best among its film crew at best remain mere shadows.

(4) Shivaji’s story is pretty simple, straight forward and predictable. But who ever said Indian cinema is about story. Indian cinema, particularly regional cinema has always been (and will always be) about the “hero” who churns out a ‘tried-and-tested’ formula for both entertainment and (socio-cultural) enlightenment. It’s all about the hero’s invincibility as he fights for a just cause. It’s all about romance/love that defies socio-cultural conventions. Most of all, it’s all about a movie experience that provides either a ‘cathartic’ effect and /or fulfillment of spectatorial aspirations. Shivaji faithfully follows the beaten down track within Tamil cinema – one man’s crusade for self-respect, honour and larger public good. Shivaji is yet another ‘one-man-agent-of- change’ formulaic plot within Tamil Cinema. But what makes Rajni a celebrated superstar for the last 25 years? I suppose, in a Rajni- starer one must stop thinking and just allow the Rajni-experience to slowly envelope you. So wait for your chance to watch Shivaji – it may wake you up to the reality of Rajni-mania.

Rajni-mania: Is it our concern?

(5) Should an evangelical Christian worry about ” Rajni mania”? I think we must. Our context/s challenge us to “speak” the Christian hope within popular culture. Historically, the Church ( and her related Institutions) has been largely hesitant to engage with popular culture. Douglas Groothius painfully remarks, ” The evangelical world today suffers from apologetic anemia. Despite the fact that Holy Scripture calls believers to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15; see also Jude 3), we sadly lack a public voice for truth and reason in the marketplace of ideas. We do not have a strong intellectual presence in popular or academic culture”. Douglas’ words are painfully true about the Indian Church (and its related institutions)

Shivaji: The case for cultural apologetics

(6) Our Christian commitment (and calling) requires us to readily defend our “Christian hope” with reasons( I Pet 3:15). This is the apologetic task for every believer. Historically, our affiliations to traditions of “rationality” have led us to “speak” of ‘rational defense’ (why-we-believe-what-we-believe) rather than ‘defense of Christian hope (our-Christian-hope-makes-sense- and-we-can-show-you-how). Today, popular culture presents (actually promotes) a discourse of ‘desire’ and ‘despair’ and the apologetic task is to speak “Christian hope” within popular culture.

(7) If the apologetic task is to engage in a ‘persuasive’ conversation with contemporary culture – its needs, hurts, tastes and desires, then we must locate a ‘common’ ground from which to speak out the “Christian hope”. Theodore A. Turnau reminds us, ” The truth of Christianity is not just about its rationality, but also about its beauty, goodness, rightness – how Christianity connects with desire. Apologetics must relate the truth of the gospel to human desire”. We must be willing to locate the hungers of the human heart with the discourse of “desire” and “despair” within popular culture.

(8) Apologetics, if rightly understood, is engaging Christian hope (persuasively) with the discourse of ‘desire’ and ‘despair’ within popular culture. Theodore A. Turnau writes,” If we understand apologetics as persuasive dialogue, as conversation aimed at swaying human desire, then a robust, relevant apologetics must study popular culture. On the silver screen, or over the airwaves, or in the magazines: that’s where the current shape of desire is laid out for all to see (and for all to buy into)/”. It is imperative that we study popular cinema, TV Soaps and magazines etc. David Bruce, who runs the website hollywoodjesus.com contends, ” Being a Christian used to mean you didn’t go to Hollywood movies. Now it is seen as a missionary activity”.

Locating the discourse of desire and despair

(9) Shivaji – helps us to understand the discourse of ‘desire’ and ‘despair’ within popular culture. On the flip side, it is an opportunity to engage in “persuasive” cultural conversations that make the Christian hope count within a culture of ‘desire’ and ‘despair’. Theodore A Turnau exhorts Christian believers to engage in such persuasive conversations, “If a movie or singer or television show becomes extremely popular (what you could call “of cultural moment”), then the apologist ought to look into it, disentangling the strands of grace and idolatry”. In this way, you slowly become educated about the landscape of desire and despair in the inner terrain of young minds.

(10) Ever wondered “why” Rajni-the Super Star connects so well with an inter-generational audience. The Rajni socio-cultural phenomenon has not been taken ‘seriously’ by the church and its related Institutions. The formulaic Rajni movies are nothing more than a discourse of ‘desire’ and ‘despair’. The “Super star” symbolizes the hungers of the human heart for a crusader who would fight for the poor (socially marginalized), penniless (economically deprived) and the powerless ( politically oppressed). The souls of millions thirst for peace – justice and prosperity. This comes so close to the messianic expectations within the biblical paradigm. There is a kind of messianic desire already within the hearts of people and popular culture provides “icons/idols” to satisfy the hungers of the human heart and the thirst of the soul. Even the popularity of the yesteryear celebrated film icon MGR was due to the constant reel images that portrayed him as the ‘crusader for justice’. Indian cinema, at least the regional cinema is all about savior-myths. These messianic images coincided with the spectatorial expectation for a real life ‘crusader for justice’. The adulation for the reel crusader betrays the widespread desire for peace, love and justice ( Kingdom values) and despair about ‘corruption’, ‘conflicts’, ‘poverty’, ‘powerlessness’ and ‘deprivation’ (the public face of evil). Unfortunately, the reel-crusade against “evil” is a mirage. This explains the need for more and more “repetitive” storylines and “formulaic” plots rather than new stories.

The religious dimension of Rajni-mania

(11) Is ‘Rajni-mania’ – a religious expression? Paul Tillich’s description of Religion is very perceptive. Tillich describes religion as ” Religion is a state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to question of meaning of our life.” How is the “ultimate concern” communicated within a visual culture? It is in and through the “popular” and the “cultural” that visions of ‘ultimate concern’ are propagated. Robert K. Johnston, professor of theology and culture at the Fuller Theological Seminary, reminds us: “Film, especially for those under 35, is the medium through which we get our primary stories, our myths, our read on reality”. Cinematic myths permeate our reality and make us engage in meaning-making, patterns forming and significance giving. Thus, Popular culture becomes a religious expression

Speaking hope within a culture of ‘desire’ and ‘despair’

(12) If Rajni-mania is a religious expression that arises out of the desire (for peace, love and justice) and the despair (at the reality of evil all around), then Christian apologetics must engage in persuasive conversations with it. We must present the TRUTH – BEAUTY and GOODNESS of the Christian hope of a new world to come (and defend it too). We must “speak” the Christian hope of a redeemed cosmology wherein evil is both defeated and destroyed within a culture that is strangled by despair.

(13) How do we “speak” – THE CHRISTIAN HOPE – within a culture of ‘desire’ and ‘despair’? We must recognize that the way young people engage and/or disengage with “the world of ideas” has dramatically changed. Robert K. Johnson reminds us: “As the culture has moved from a modern to a postmodern era, we have moved from wanting to understand truth rationally to understanding truth as it’s embedded in story”. Shivaji – has the promise of a ‘fulfillment experience’ and ‘a hope message’ embedded in its story. As evangelical Christians we know that the answers it brings to the hungers of the heart for Peace – Love – and Justice are ‘illusory’ and ‘escapist’. How we “speak” the Christian hope within the discourse of ‘desire’ and ‘despair’ post-Shivaji is the specific apologetic challenge. Hopefully, we will learn to “speak” our apologetics as stories within a story-cuture – Samuel Thambusamy


– Samuel Thambusamy 

To the popular mind, Indian cinema is all about endless song and dance routine, predictable romance and formulaic storyline. However, Indian cinema is “firmly rooted in contemporary society, shaped by and shaping the political-ideological terrain of independent India [Prasad, 1998].The rise of identity politics has forced the intersection of political ambition and public consumption. Not surprisingly, the last two decades have seen a sudden proliferation of nationalistic jingoism, demonization of the ‘other’ and caste symbolism within the film narrative.

India cinema has learnt to craft politics through assertion of caste/nationalistic pride in public sphere. Films with an anti-Pakistan slant have done extremely well at the box office besides helping fundamentalist groups to gain political mileage. If Hindi cinema is obsessed with ‘Pakistan-bashing’, regional cinema (Tamil) has glorified rural violence. Caste, violence and geography conflate in an archaic manner within the narrative. Land disputes, family feuds, and love interests are resolved through an orgy of blood. Such an ethnography of violence prepares the viewer to anticipate, accept and perpetuate violence.
Such narratives of violence necessitate a new visual vocabulary and narrative to help correct Indian cinema.  However, some movies present reconciliatory theme both as a ‘discourse of desire and ‘despair’. Veer Zara (2004) and Thevar Magan (1992) present reconciliatory theme in the fictive arena to effect a perspectival change. Both films have made a departure from the usual trend of violence.

1) Veer Zara (2004) deals with the India-Pakistan relations very differently. Veer Pratap Singh, a rescue pilot for the Indian Air Force, meets a Pakistani Zaara Hayaat Khan and falls in love. Veer is arrested on charges of being an espionage agent and ends up spending 22 years in a Pakistani prison. Saamiya Siddiqui , a Pakistani lawyer, fights for his cause.

2) Thevar Magan (1992) deals with the western-educated Shakti doning the patriarchal mantle of his father upon returning to his native village. An accidental conflagration brings about a cycle of mindless violence. Shakti fails to understand the illogic of killing one another in the name of honor and caste pride. He fights to bring peace and reconciliation within this violent caste group.

Both films deal with the themes: a) the ideal of unity b) reconciliation as a value c) the truth-telling voice d) the costs involved e) self-sacrifice d) transformation. As we dwell on these themes and unfold them against the background of the ethnography of violence/conflict within contemporary Indian cinema we find clues to the way forward.

This is the study proposal for my presentation at the fourth International conference on Religion and Film – Samuel Thambusamy

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