It’s Time to be Clear 8

The King is Dead, Long Live the King (also lets not forget the Queen). As Paul Street puts it, “It’s hard to get overly excited about Joe Biden on the Left.” as his ascendency to the Presidency of the highest power on the world stage, is premised on an “extremely low bar : he’s not a malignant fascist sociopath.” Street goes on to explain what he describes as Biden’s “corporate, imperial, white-supremacist, and patriarchal record.”

Biden’s second in command, Kamala Harris is, like me, Tamil. She is also African American. Indeed, she represents the present inclusive phase of the ever cycling identitarianism of American exceptionalism. However as Fawzia Afzal-Khan suggests, the identity politics of her election as the first female vice-president of the United States of America has, thus far, been only skin-deep. It is not, she insists, something we should “tout as a badge of honor or pride.” She furthers asserts that what we need instead, is an affiliative identity politics, rather than one that is merely skin-deep. While I sincerely wish America and Americans well in this dawning presidential cycle, I am not very optimistic.

The Eclipse

blackAnd then …. at the height of the offering, as I was deep in my incantation of Kata Prha Rahu Kam Duang and just as I was placing my  Black Jelly Suriyan down on the altar of Phra Rahu the lord of eclipses, I heard a loud crash. It sounded like an explosion as it echoed under the umbrellas that protected worshipers from the sun (Suriyan!)

I was shaken out of my immersion in the moment and, as I turned towards the source, I was shocked to find that it has been the sound of my photographer, Durga Rajah’s massive 24-70mm Nikon lens crashing to the floor…. falling off the camera body … mid-photo! Durga speedily returned the lens to the camera body and tried to resume the shoot as I carried on with the proceedings but the first few images were black, the next set were overexposed and finally she got the damaged lens working, albeit performing poorly.

The whole temple crowd had been startled and Durga and I were deeply disappointed. We left the scene after completing an otherwise wonderfully successful performance, wondering how two serious professionals had been so unprofessional, … wondering if indeed events had been beyond our control … if, in fact, we had experienced the wrath of Rahu, who might have been displeased by our antics!

As I reviewed the images from the shoot late that night trying to salvage a series, I found my hands going up, almost autonomously, in a gesture of prayer … an epiphany …. I got it … Rahu had accepted my offering … He had eaten the sun! And in my realm of activity … in my medium of representation … in the photography of the event … there had been an eclipse … and a return of a queer penumbral light,  and that, only as Suryian passed through Rahu, as we always knew he would!


Rajini’s Black is Blue!

The boss is back and his colour is Black but it seems a to be a Black tinted with strong hues of Blue. The eagerly awaited trailer for Kaala is out and for me, and most of the 10 million other early viewers, the thrill ain’t gone! SUPERSTAR adulation aside however, there has been a lot of talk about Rajinikanth’s colour in the context of his recent entry into Tamil Nadu politics. The concern has been, as his friend and rival in life, art and now in politics, Kamal Haasan, has put it,  that Rajinikanth’s hue is Saffron. Saffron is the colour of the Hindu nationalist (Hindutva) politics of India’s ruling BJP, with whose values Rajinikanth has shown some affinities.

In my own view the equation of nation state with religion, that Hindutva represents, is a tragic and disastrous misunderstanding and misuse of both religion and nation. Nevertheless, there is still hope that Rajinikanth is not on the Hindutva page and that his colour may not be saffron after all! Kaala is the followup to Rajni Sir’s earlier collaboration with activist director PA Rajinth. Rajinth is a ground breaking mainstream Kollywood director who is of Dalit origins, and who brings Dalit issues to the central forum of contemporary Indian cultural life. In their previous collaboration, Kabali, this dark duo addressed the caste issue both with external references and reflexive dialogue that deconstructs character roles in Tamil cinema.

In the Kaala trailer Black is presented as the colour of class resistance, but the colour of our hero’s the Mumbai ghetto is clearly blue. Blue is the dominant roof colour in an ariel shot of the ghetto. As observed in an commentary,  it is also the colour of the hero’s ghetto flag, the colour of co-star Huma Qureshi’s dress, and also of the drapery that surrounds her in a dance sequence. Blue is the colour associated with the great Indian and Dalit leader B R Ambedkar, who always wore blue suits. Indeed, Blue is the colour of Buddhism and, symbolically speaking, the opposite of the aforementioned Saffron. Blue has become the colour of the Dalit resistance that Ambedkar set into motion at the time of Indian independence. While it must be noted that the hero’s own spouse (one presumes) is seen dressed in a saffron saree, one is not unjustified in hopefully speculating that Rajinikanth’s Black is, indeed, just the darkest shade of Blue.