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Police in Tamil Cinema

Note: Publishing the draft of a post that I started writing in 2013. I think I stepped in a few times in 2014 but was discouraged by the sheer work required to make concrete assertions as opposed to sloppy bullshit. Sometimes I wish I could give up some intelligence to gain disposition for hard work/discipline (especially in academic endeavours). 5 years later, I have not made any progress on the research side of this topic. It's sad that I have a note within the draft. Fuck.

From the 2013-2014 draft:

Note: I would like to be forthright about some things before you continue on to the post. I wanted to write a some what researched essay on Mysskin's movies vis-a-vis his portrayal of the police and other civil servants in his films. I wanted to discuss it within at least two contexts: a. the perceived reality of the role of police in law enforcement, crime and corruption by the people [1] and b. the evolving, constructed, fragmented reality of the above on screen. Ideally, I would like to have (re)watched at least parts of a dozen films each from the last 4 decades, read a book or two and several journal articles. But I couldn't quite get around all of it so what follows is an attempt to present some of my views as coherently as possible purely based on my recollection of things. Think of this as an open draft that begs several revisions. Time and interest permitting, I'd like to open it up to include other films such as Kuruthi Punal and Kadamai Kanniyam Kattuppaadu.

Corruption among civil servants in India has been known and often accounted for by anyone who had to deal with them -- and people, in general, do not want to -- since the early years of the colonial era. As it has been argued convincingly elsewhere, colonization is a corrupting force in itself. It is one of the unshakeable residues that most post-colonial societies, especially in Asia and Africa, are reeling from[1]. But the police is unique in that colonization is not a necessary component to explain its corruptive nature. Any group ordained with the responsibility of enforcing the law, be it the police or the military in  'graver' circumstances, is in essence given the subjective power to judge events and execute actions.

Now, let's focus on the police. It's hard for me to say if the films of the first three decades post-independence were ever explicitly critical of them even though they have always had bad name. Barring a few exceptions, the police in Tamil films of the 50s and 60s mostly enforced law in its strictest sense. After all, the mock phrase "police'nale kadaseela dhane varuveenga!" (after all, the police shows up only in the end) was inspired by numerous Tamil films that end with the 'hero' beating up the villain to pulp only to be arrested by the police with a note of gratitude. Police roles played by MGR and Sivaji Ganesan, like any other, were centered around being unimpassioned (while being compassionate, of course), dutiful and working for the greater good. It was probably in the latter half of the 70s that we see the police taking more antagonistic roles. When the likes of SA Chandrasekhar came on the scene, in the 80s, the police were 'elevated' from being mere participants of a corrupt system to those who perpetrated the crimes to serve their direct ends. The complexity of the mix progresses from distant and symbolic to ambivalent or good to the damned. In the last three decades they are mostly kept within a good vs. evil binary.

An over-simplified contrast between Shankar and Mysskin's approach to crime could be summed as follows: One is about an upright and all-powerful individual overcoming a corrupt system and the other is about an upright system overcoming corrupt individuals. It's safe to say that neither of them tread close to reality in any sense.


in light of the 7 people shot dead and several suspects killed in custody mysskin's police's purported vulnerability and victimhood is perverted.

will prolly never venture into the caste angle (it's alluded to in Virumaandi).


[1]The argument is simple: the bureaucracy under the colonial rule had no qualms about engaging in 'illegitimate' activities because the government they were 'stealing' from had little legitimacy to stand on. So when the government was handed over to India, not much changed in the civil servants' psyche, presumably.

End of draft


Bicycle Thieves

Note: Publishing a draft from 2012. Since then two more bikes have been stolen. So the count stands at 11 as of today (May 5, 2018). But the last bike was stolen back in 2013. I've had a good run since. I probably wanted to talk about my very first bike in Canada, in 2005, and how it got stolen in about 10 days of having it. I didn't bother locking that bike because I thought, well, it's Canada. Why would anyone steal bicycles here? Anyway, 13 years later, I still don't fault myself for being that gullible. I was a product of that stupid, presumptive generation (as opposed to this stupid, presumptive generation).

From the 2012 draft:

When I came to Toronto about 4 years ago, I spent quite a bit to bring my somewhat expensive bicycle from London, ON. It would have made sense to sell it and buy a new one instead of spending so much on shipping it, but it had become 'mine' already. It got stolen the first week. Unfazed, I bought another one. It got stolen the first day - when I took it to the store near by to get a lock. Left the bike out and came back to find nothing. I didn't give up (read "learn my lesson"), I got another one. This one was stolen too, the second day. So in a matter of 2 weeks, 3 of my bikes were stolen. It might be worth mentioning that I already had 2 bikes stolen when I was in London. In the years since 4 more bikes have been stolen from me bringing the total count to 9.

End of draft.

The dirty fight

Note: Publishing the draft of a post that I started writing back in 2010, I think. I might have revisited it once or twice since. I'm still not sure if I should expand the lazy cryptic here: t'ism. I decided to not use the actual t word then because I was a little paranoid about being tracked and watched over. I still am to a certain extent.

From the 2010 draft:

I was not able to view t'ism as black and white as many of my friends and the adults around me did when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. My earliest memory of thinking about t'ism is one of "why don't I feel so bad about it?" It was only in my late teens was I actually able to articulate why I seemed to 'understand' where the t'ists came from. I didn't necessarily sympathize with them. But the idea of a disproportionate force was definitely featured in my discussions about war and the options available for the weaker side. It resonated with some bitter experiences from my childhood -- one that many kids who grew up with an older brother could relate to.

When I look back, my brother wasn't a bad guy in the general sense. He was supposed to be the kid who's good at studies, disciplined, responsible, quiet etc. I hated him for all that, of course. Also I knew him differently. He knew that I could see through what many others couldn't, so there were no pretensions of keeping up that good, quiet persona when it came to a fight between the two of us. Being the bigger guy he would always win a scuffle. My best options were to wait until he least expects it and deliver a painful blow. But we were on equal footing as far as this strategy was concerned. He would do the same to me. The only thing he seemed to shy away from, due to his psychological predisposition to avoid the sight of blood or some such, was that use of sharp objects. To me, it was fair game.

I've stabbed him with a compass a few times, thrown a knife at him, slashed him with razor blade, and thrown stones at him (none of this after I turned 12). I would have some sense of guilt after the fact but in the heat of moment I had no qualms. To his credit, he maintained a 'bro code'. We both did. He's never outed me to my mother unless the damage is so severe or visible that she found out herself. The physical altercations stopped in my early teens and after a few more years of hating on each other we became 'proper' brothers in our early 20s.

I was a relatively small guy throughout my school and college days but with a big mouth. I had a flair for taunting people and delivering deeply hurtful insults on the go. Didn't matter who was at the receiving end -- the weaklings or the bullies. Now, the bullies will invariably retaliate and a physical altercation would ensue every now and then. And my go to move is to punch them right in their face. Many thought it was below the belt, so to speak, because you could leave their face permanently damaged with cut. Didn't matter to me because I knew that's not a bar that I could respect and still survive the fight [1].


1. The last time I had a proper school-yard fight was in my 8th standard. It was also the time when WWF was very popular and we were stupid enough to try to incorporate those moves in our fights and end up badly twisting our ankles or dislocating our shoulders.


End of draft. 

Sense (false) of elevation

Note: Publishing the draft of a post that I started writing back in July 2007. A few days after I returned from ooru. Basically, I wanted to talk about one might feel all important, loved etc., when they're visiting a place after quite sometime and you're there only briefly; and how all that might create a false sense of elevation and might contribute to delusions of grandeur that could fuel other more serious issues. Like, deciding to move back because things are so good over there. I'm sure this topic has been explored in greatly by 'expats' and such. So I'll leave it here.

From the 2007 draft:

It's been over a week since I got back from Madras. I've spent most of the time watching and organizing all the videos and photos that I shot there. I hadn't been there after close to two years. So everyone was obviously happy to see, well, mostly.

End of draft.

Zoned Out: Ideas for a film that will never be made - 1

The protagonist is not quite an adrenaline junkie in that he doesn't obsessively seek out avenues to get his fix, but someone who'll push it if the 'right' circumstances present themselves. The only things he's afraid of are being arrested by the Indian government on drug possession charges and full body paralysis. He rides his motorcycle like a maniac and has a cyanide capsule in his mouth -- the idea is that in case he crashes into something he'd bite the capsule and die rather than live through the unsavoury aftermath. And the prospect of him accidentally biting into the capsule makes his bike rides that much more maniacal. Equally terrifying is the possibility that as he's approaching certain death -- about 200 microseconds into the slide off the bike -- the cyanide capsule pops out before he could bite and he's left paralysed as result of the crash.

PS. No, this protagonist is not a woman.

Vetti post - 15

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babu_(actor)
Following a stunt sequence gone wrong when shooting for a film, Babu suffered spinal injuries and became paralysed in the early 1990s. He subsequently stopped working as an actor.[3] In 1997, he worked as a dialogue writer for the unreleased film, Smile Please starring Prakash Raj, which would have marked the debut for filmmaker Radha Mohan.[4]

A Clear Canvas

Note: This post was written in bits between Nov 2016 - Oct 2017. Publishing in its half-assed draft state because I've lost any hope of finishing it properly.

Is it just a coincidence that a small place like Goa gets to be the setting for so many Hindi films off late? No, this is not a genre that could be likened to those 'Vegas films' (in some ways, it is). This is about the special individual or a set of special individuals for whom money is not an everyday concern. They're trying to deal with 'post-money' life and and it's only natural that they take the story to a post-money space [1].

The literality of the space might be 'natural' for the film maker for s/he, perhaps, imagines his characters existing in void interacting with one another and discovering whatever save a few instances where the canvas exhibits character. Otherwise, it's just there to aid an uninterrupted flow of the narrative while the audiences aren't 'distracted' by the milieu but remain primed for a semi hypnotic experience. The literalness -- of being in Goa, Spain (or Ooty as it used to be, for Tamil film makers of the 70s and 80s) -- is probably superfluous and is either overlooked or actually considered integral, but rarely critiqued. I say probably because the audience isn't just from the subcontinent.

Consciousness of the 'backdrop' for the Indian film consumer has to be paradoxical or at least wildly inconsistent. For the individual who grows here learns to either divorce the objects and stories that occupy his/her house, neighbourhood, daily commute, the work place etc., from those that from their respective countours or exists in a state of constant mental turbulence and indignation;  usually, though, swaying between the two ends of the spectrum. The situation is not peculiar to India by any means but the disparities and injustices are particularly stark here.

An interesting contrast could be made with advertisements for cars and automobiles in general. The global format, going by most ads, is to select roads and streets that carry no semblance of its normal existence -- devoid of other cars, pedestrians and denizens of the city -- and have the car ply through it. There's no secret as to what the viewer should focus on; even distractions that could be deemed subliminal are seldom identifiable.(Just that Honda or a Lexus sold in France has its ads shot somewhere in Europe -- with cars zooming through the streets of Paris at night or the mountains of Italy -- as are cars sold in India.)

If Aamir Khan is crying over his unrequited love while sitting inside an air-conditioned Mercedes Benz S-Class stopped at a busy junction in Bombay while a 5 year old is panhandling outside in hot sun, nobody would give a fuck about Aamir Khan and his rich-man tears, would they?


Plato said that a society cannot exist meaningfully if a significant part of the people are 'checked out', in relation to drug/alcohol use -- existing in world of chemically induced sense of pleasure, disconnected from the goings on of the immediate, 'real world'. The truthfulness of this assertion then has a strong bearing on a people who are largely checked out -- by way of otherworldly religious beliefs (Marx did call religion the opium of the masses), weariness of existence worsened by the mundane etc. So people are already checked out. They have a boket vision of the background already. They're immersed into the immediate signifiers while those in the contours decay into non-existence no matter how active and dynamic, anything but still. A literal emplacement of a hazy background -- like the blue water and the sandy beaches of Goa or the green mountains and yellow fields of Europe -- is an exercise in redundancy.




1. The term post-money need not necessarily be pejorative at all times. There are issues that affect the human condition that are beyond the everyday economics of existence. Nevertheless, most earnest renderings of a narrative cannot but have it running as an undercurrent somewhere (as in, you insert money and at least some problems are solved).

On Tamil 'regionalism'

Context (you can skip it):
Sometime last year an acquaintance had asked my opinion on this piece: http://www.popmatters.com/column/from-yugoslavia-to-south-india-the-rise-of-tamil-turbo-folk/

I had known this guy (Kumuthan Maderya) before through another friend who mentioned a shitty book chapter he had written. He just came across as a complete idiot with an attitude of a dickhead. Fret not, it was all a coincidence, this guy is not all that widely known. He's just eking out a living dishing out niche sub-par academic garbage that people wouldn't find worthwhile to contest -- as many arts and humanities PhDs without a tenured position do.

Anyway, I wanted to leave a comment countering some of the asinine conclusions he had arrived at -- on the Dravidian movement and Tamil nationalism -- while trying to make a claim that was even more so. He promptly got my comment removed and I forgot about it. But the whole reason I wrote that comment was so I could use that as a placeholder for my views on the topic. So republishing here.

On Tamil Chauvnism or Regionalism

“Among the most prominent in the Indian body politic, Tamil language zealots mobilized public support for self-determination through exaggerated fears of cultural genocide under North Indian hegemony.”

I don’t care much for the article except for this ridiculous, ill-informed, prejudicial statement. It’s as if the author didn’t learn anything from MSS Pandian or Ashish Rajadhyaksha, except that quoting these names would render a faux scholarliness to an article that is mostly bullshit.

It is as tiring as it is common to come across writings that are devoid of any socio-historical understanding of the political demography of the subcontinent. It’s also equally frustrating to see people parade simplistic majoritarian views of a (united) nation and its purported virtues juxtaposed against the ills of ‘regionalism’. The author conveniently forgets the fact that the state of Tamil Nadu – a state with its own unique history and language not unlike any major European country – was de facto ruled as ‘India’ by the British empire and the independent ‘India’ wanted to whitewash it by imposing homogenized identities on it primarily through the agenda of a ‘National Language’ in the form of Hindi. The so called chauvinism was an organic opposition to an undemocratic, authoritarian decree by the ruling Congress government post-independence.

The above scenario was no different from this: Germany wins world war-2. A century passes, Nazis get diluted and gradually disappear (or there’s Gandhi 2.0 to make it happen). They’re replaced by a government that’s ‘voted in’ by all of Europe but run mostly by Germans, and one fine day they figure it’d be easier to run the ‘country’ of Germope (well, the Germans renamed Europe) if it had one national language of, guess what, German! If the English or the Spaniards protested against this, they’ll be dutifully labelled ‘language zealots’, ‘chauvinists’ and ‘separatists’. Because, you see, Europe was mostly Christian, there are old books and shit that make references to parts different parts of Europe as if it were a singular nation etc. Besides, united is always better than separated. No exceptions. Status quo is always better. Also, bigger is better.

Only bigots and nationalists (btw, if nationalist doesn’t sound insulting, how about fascist?) would even try to slander any campaign for self-determination. It’s amazing how some of these people casually categorize calls for self-determination as guided by “exaggerated fears of cultural genocide” while the status quo would be anything but.

It’s the worst kind of farce when insular status-quoists try to masquerade themselves as progressives or worse, revolutionaries.
 

People eat people world

Been trying to catchup on some of the docs from 2016. I used to be religious about it until 2011 or so. Same with electro songs too. Laziness and general dissociation from many things set in around that time and I haven’t ‘recovered’ from it since. What I’m doing now is just a consciously driven exercise to re-establish that life bit by bit, although I’m aware that it’s futile.

Anyway, random docs have started to show up in my recommended list in Youtube and among them was one on Mao Zedong (Tse Tung as many of us were taught in school, in India). I had seen this documentary when it was on TV several years ago.

It didn’t strike me as an objective or particularly coherent documentary then. Nevertheless it had some chilling details that I was able to verify to an extent from other sources. One such detail was about the ‘wide spread’ cannibalism during the Great Chinese Famine.

A few months later I brought it up in a casual conversation with my grad school colleague from China. I have to admit that I showed no seriousness or sensitivity when I mentioned it; in a manner of talking about something that’s supposed to have a happened a long time ago and that is common knowledge. Ok, I might have joked about it: “we may have to eat one another like the Chinese did during the famine, haha!”. I’m not sure (I’m not sure because I’ve joked about it several times without the Chinese famine part). But she was completely taken aback. I don’t think she called me a racist but she was visibly offended and very upset, and said something like “we’re colleagues here, it’s important that we be respectful towards our cultures and not throw such preposterous allegations and that too so casually.”

She stopped talking to me for a few weeks but I wasn’t too bothered by it. I knew what I said would have shaken her up and driven to do her own research. Being the scholar she was, she did. She spoke to me after a month or so and expressed her regret. I did too.

We spoke for long time that day. She spoke about how she felt ashamed for not knowing her own country’s history and how these revelations have got her completely confused about her identity etc. I said I sympathized with her and gave a long list of examples that applied to me vis-à-vis my right wing past. But I also reminded her that I was only 24 and she was 31.

She didn’t talk to me for a few weeks, again.

 
©2009 english-tamil