“The borders are blurring through art!” – A. R. Rahman retweeted Will.i.am, who as appears Rajinikanth (Chitti) from Enthiran in a new music video titled ‘Action’ using what he calls ‘deep fake technology.’ Other films reprised in this music video are Singham, Maryada Ramanna, Aambala and Kopps.
I have, in my Koboi Project (2013 -present), been using the image of Rajinikanth as a signifier for just this kind of cross-boundary cultural communion. Please see –
I have loved Quentin Tarantino for his Reservoir Dogs and for Pulp Fiction and I have forgiven him for many a tedious and pretentious flic on the podium of these two groundbreaking works. More significantly, I have given him, and his celluloid surrogate Samuel L Jackson, licence to skate thin ice with regard to the ‘N word’. I gave this M_ _ _ _ _ R F _ _ _ _ _ R license on the basis that his oeuvre was A _ T; because rigid political correctness is tedious and damaging to culture, and even to the justice it purports to prompte; because I believed that Quentin’s ‘heart’ was in the right place on the questions of race in America; and most of all because ‘perhaps I did not get it yet’ but that ‘maybe I would on the next viewing’! Now, after viewing the jaded and reactionary Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (just once is all I could possibly bear!), I have clarity, and a correction to make – I was wrong! Quentin was wrong, QUENTIN IS WRONG! … Hey Academy of Motion Picture Arts … Dont give the C _ _ _ _ _ R an Oscar! It will only confirm your ensconcement in that quintessential, or should I say Quentinessential Americana of racism! … Kabali Da!
In a post titled Indian Vote: Entha Kabali? made before the Malaysian federal election in 2018, I wrote, . … “Whatever happens in the voting, it looks like it is indeed going to be close and, perhaps, the Indian vote is going to be important.” Further, I asked, ” … does the opposition look like they will treat us any different [from Barisan]? Just look at how they made unholy exaggerations and unfulfillable promises on the Stateless Indians issue … should they not be shown that the Indian vote, just like the vote of the other communities, has to be earned?” While I was skeptical about the outcome for Indians, I did, as indicated in my post titled Kabali Da!, cast my lot with the new Malaysia promised by the Pakatan Harapan opposition led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Well, it came to pass that Mahathir and Harapan did win and, in the 2 years since, many have become disillusioned and dissatisfied with New Malaysia for their many unfulfilled promises. One such promise pertains to the Indian statelessness problem. Indeed, in this matter Harapan has been deeply disappointing. They promised a complete solution within 100 days, but their re-branded ‘Indian affairs’ body, the Malaysian Indian Transformation Unit (MITRA) has not solved the this problem as yet. As far as I can ascertain, the last statement issued by the minister responsible states that MITRA was still working “to outline a comprehensive solution to the stateless issue, in line with the PH government’s manifesto promise”.
Since then another issue has arisen to affect the Indian community at an equally deep symbolic level – the spate of LTTE related arrests and charges. I have discussed the apparent pervisity of these arrests and detentions under SOSMA of 12 Indians including 2 government MPs previously in this series (beginning with On Being a Malaysian Tamil 1) and the question I explore here is how one might understand the implications for the Harappan government visa vis the Indian vote. The perceived involvement of government, even if it is misplaced, will surely be detrimental to their ability to garner Indian votes in the next general elections
In principle the police act independently of the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Judiciary and the government is distant from the decisions of all these bodies. While the judiciary is independent by virtue of the separation of powers expected in Malaysia’s Westminster based legal system, the police and the AG’s chambers are extensions of the executive. They too, however, are expected to act independently of executive interference and without improper collusion with one another. If all is running as it should be in our nation’s governance, no blame can be laid at the feet of the Harappan government for these LTTE arrests, detentions, changes and for the eventual judicial outcomes, whatever they might turn out to be. However, the history of the relationships concerned in Malaysia is such that it will be very difficult for the people to believe in the integrity of the system, even if it were true.
There is no question that the majority of Malaysian Tamils, like most of their fellows throughout the world support the Elam struggle, regardless of their misgivings about the terror tactics of the LTTE. Certainly, most of us feel there was an equal amount of state terror being deployed by the Sri Lankan government in this conflict and that the Terrorist organization designation applied to the LTTE, however justified it might be, is ultimately a political assignation. Indeed, the evidence for this suggestion is the fact that the Tigers were not so designated in Malaysia till 2014, years after the war ended and all acts or terror had ceased. Given this fact and the fact that our Malaysian institutions of state are known for being questionably interdependent, it is going to be difficult for Harapan to win the hearts of the Indian community and, of course, this may have a bearing on their votes in the next elections.
The second Koboi Performance went well today (8th July) in Belem, Lisbon. Among the highlights is meeting Amir Kabani and his family at the site of the Discoveries Monument. Amir gracefully and effficiently facillated the paperwork involved in enabling me to participate as Faculty at the International Art Gallery of the Diamond Jubliee celebration of the global Ismaili community. Thank you Amir and the team at the International Art Gallery.
In, arguably, the most significant vignette of PA Ranjith’s Kaala (a film that is essentially a collection of rhetorical set pieces), a minor character named Shivaji Rao Gaikwad (Rajinikanth’s actual name), speaks up for the protesting slum-dwellers that he, as a policeman, is tasked with repressing. ‘Shivaji Rao’ who, one might reasonably assume, is a signifier for the ‘real’ Rajinikanth, concludes his revolutionary speech with the Ambedkarite cry – ‘Jai Bhim’. This conjunction of speech and speaker, of message and context, of the text and its tag, presents, in a nutshell, the conundrum of Rajinikanth’s political entry. Are we being given insight into Rajinikanth’s intended political direction and allegiance … or is this merely Ranjith’s cinematic fantasy – aligning the voice of an illusory SUPERSTAR with his own fervent Dalit cause, without any grounding in Rajinikanths’s actual politics … Indeed, as the upcoming Tamil Nadu elections unfold, it will be fun reading and re-reading this scene in the light of that moving political context! Indeed, the Gaikward vignette appears to be a most intricate double, perhaps triple, feint, made in the course of a momentous Kollywood engagement between rising director and risen SUPERSTAR – the highlight of an exchange between two powerful agendas in Tamil Cinema … Tamil politics even!
The SUPERSTAR hoardings are back. Kaala, the ‘man in black’ is walking tall on cinema walls all over Chennai. It seems that PA Ranjith’s second collaboration with Thalaivar is doing fine at the box office regardless of controversies in Thoothukodi and in Karnataka. There were relatively poor advance bookings and even now there are mixed reports about the first days takings but at least one heralds an all-time record take across Chennai cinemas and cineplexes of 17,000,000 rupees which is over 250, 000 USD. Reviews suggest that Director has struck a better balance between the SUPERSTAR persona and the serious social and dramatic ambit of his work. Ranjith is an outspoken champion of the left in Tamil Nadu. By left I mean Periyar’sDravidian movement, whose colour is the black of Kaala, and Ambedkar’s Dalit movement, whose blue is equally prominent in the film. While the pairing of actor and director pairing holds up well in the fictions of Kabali and Kaala, there are signs however that this unity of actor and auteur is unraveling. How Rajinikanth will square this new politicized SUPERSTAR persona with his, apparently not so slightly saffron tinged (saffron being the colour of the Hindu right) real life ‘spiritual politics’ remains to be seen ….
With PA Rajinth’s Kaala, staring Thalaivaa Rajinikanth due to open on the 7th June 2018, and with all the controversy around Rajinikanth’s encounter and intervention in Thoothukudi recently, I feel it is timely that I release this video of my own little intervention on the streets of Tokyo as a part of Cowboys and Indians: Tokyo Edition on May 11th 2018. Rajinikanth’s outburst brings into focus the liminality of art and life, and indeed the ultimate severality of these categories. Rajinikanth the politician came out quite harshly against the culture of protest and resistance in Tamil Nadu. While his character in Kaala is a rabble rousing revolutionary, real life Rajinikanth has come off looking rather reactionary. This self-inflected break between person and persona threatens to eviscerate not only the credibility of Rajinikanth’s politics but also that of his highly developed artistic identity. Still, I will be there at the Hollywood 3 Cinema in Surrey for the opening night in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia, Canada!
I have always liked Mahathir Mohammed … the way I liked Muhammed Ali I guess … whether it is against great fighters like Frazier or Foreman or underdogs like Bugner … I was always with Ali … same with Mahathir … I like his style, his guts,and his perfect poise … like a surfer or Jazz improviser .. he reacts with the most natural grace … To paraphrase or restate an idea from Miles Davis ( I think it was Herbie Hancock who explained this lesson from the Master) … its not the right note or the wrong note … its just the next note … and its up to you to make it work … Good Luck Dr M.
Kuninju nendra Kabali endru ninechengala? While I see myself as a Malaysian first and an Indian second in the cultural aspect of my Identity, in the political sense I insist that I am an Indian first. There is not as yet a possibility of a post communal political identity for Malaysians! Even the opposition has to be organized on the basis that to beat the race card of Barisan you have to play the race card yourself. Yes communalism seems to be a necessary pragmatism, an underlying reality even! … anyway this reality leaves me no choice but to look at the present situation as an Indian. While, it is technically not correct for me as a Jaffna Tamil to say, within the categorization of our national apartheid, that I am an Indian. I have claimed this identity in spirit and untill my Indian brothers and sisters insist I stop, I will continue to do so …
So with polling day around the corner and a Malay, nay Malaysian Tsunami is an imminent possibility. The vote looks like being really close. Many good Malaysians are crying out for change at any cost and by any compromise … I too feel that, at the very least, it will establish, in practice, the democratic principle of ‘the limited term of office’, something that Malaysians have enjoyed only in theory since Merdeka. Whatever happens in the voting, it looks like it is indeed going to be close and, perhaps, the Indian vote is going to be important. The highly respected activist and former leader of Bersih, Dato Sreenevasan, recently wrote in Malaysiakini, “In my view, not one Malaysian Indian or Orang Asli* vote should go to the BN”.
Although the sentiment rings true and the logic is sound this idea has a familiar aroma to it … Indians being herded again… being told how to think and what to do one way or the other! … it smells like cow dung (this is not an insult to Indians, certainly not to Hindus anyway) … While the Indian vote owes Barisan sweet Fuck All … does the opposition look like they will treat us any different? Just look at how they made unholy exaggerations and unfulfillable promises on the Stateless Indians issue. Please lah! Annai, Thambi, Acca, Thangachi, realize that your vote is your most important right. It is a right to exercise as you will … and even not to exercise it at all … what if neither side is looking worthy … should they not be shown that the Indian vote, just like the vote of the other communities, has to be earned?
Decades of Barisan promises … yet nothing achieved, Hindraf ‘s absurd promise of fighting for compensation from the British and now the opposition claims and promises on the all-important stateless Indians issue – If we are to be pragmatic in our voting as Malaysians to achieve the best result for the nation … then Malaysian Indians might likewise consider being pragmatic in their voting as a community … At least Barisan has an electoral inducement blueprint of some kind … and a budget is promised (yes, promises have been broken before!) …. while it stinks (unlike cow dung … which does not smell bad!), for what its worth, it seems to be real. In this light … I prefer what commentator Gokula Kumar Appalanaido said (6/May/2018 at 3:41:12am) in response to the Malaysiakini article …. “We will vote according to our conscience”! Kabali Da!
* I am not forgetting the Orang Asli … but that is another sad Malaysian story of injustice that needs to be addressed on its own terms.