Superstar Rajinikanth is reunited with stars Meena (Muthu, 1995) and Khushboo (Mannan 1992) in a rocking dance track titled Marudhaani for the upcoming film Annaatthe. Music composed D Imman and sung by Nakash Aziz. What a thrill!
Pa. Ranjith is the director I admire the most in mainstream Tamil Cinema. His ability to infuse this commercial medium with the messaging of an ascendant Dalit consciousness, as he did in Kabali and Kaala, while maintaining box-office success, is astounding. Ranjith is a fearless activist and provocateur. Ranjith hails from a cheri (ghetto) in Karalapakkam, Tamil Nadu and, according to wikipedia, he is from the Paraiyar community.
Pariah has become a slur and a derisive word in English and in Malay and Indians get upset and enraged when they hear this word. Why? Well, this name comes from the cast order that is Indian and Hindu. Attitudes towards it reflect the worst racial prejudice that is innate to Indian culture. The Pariyar are a community that is categorized as outside of the Brahmanical social order. While I deplore the use of the name of this community as a slur in English and Malay, I suggest that it is more important that Indians stop flinching when they hear this word, as that reaction comes from their own racist impulse.
Another film from 2019 (other than Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) that makes reference to Bruce Lee is the Tamil-language action film titled Petta directed by Karthik Subbaraj and starring the septuagenarian (well, he will be in December) SUPERSTAR of Indian cinema, Rajinikanth. In one flashback scene Rajinikanth, is seen sporting an old-school Indian moustache, wearing a traditional veshti and striding along a row tables with seated guests enjoying a banana-leaf meal. It is a wedding scene and the people are feasting in some kind of community hall on the rear wall of which is painted, rather incongruously, a mural of Bruce Lee!
It is interesting to note that Rajinikanth movies are just as referential as Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre, albeit with less pretension. If Tarantino’s referential play indexes the worlds of Hollywood and Spaghetti Westerns, Rajinikanth films refer even more reflexively to the realm of Rajinikanth movies (over 160 released to date), generating SUPERSTAR tropes that transcend specific films. Further, Indian cinema is, as a whole, filled with instances of pastiche, parody, piracy and praise – ranging from reverential remakes across the many indigenous language cinemas, to shameless ripoffs of Hollywood.
One reviewer of Petta explains just such a scene from the film, “In one moment Rajini actually takes out a nunchuck and starts doing fancy moves with it. I imagine a 10-year-old Karthik Subbaraj [who is so much younger than his leading man] watching Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon and thinking, ‘imagine how cool it would be if my Thalaivar did that?!’ and then writing it down on a piece of paper with a crayon. It’s kinda ridiculous, but that about sums up the fun, bizarre and complete Rajini mania world that is Petta.” This tribute to the Martial Arts master and first crossover Asian superstar in the global movie industry reflects the place he holds in the esteem and imagination of the populations of many Asian nations.
It is in the light of this place of honour that I suggest that Tarantino’s degrading portrayal is an egregious maligning not only of a man but also that of an icon which is esteemed by a wide global community. Bruce Lee is much more to us than just a great martial arts master and the first Asian cross-over movie superstar and … you know, although I loved Pulp Fiction, somehow, I could never get into the martial arts oriented Kill Bill set … now I understand why … Once Upon a Time in Hollywood seems to have revealed much more about Tarantino than it has about Bruce Lee.
Happy to meet with R Viriya the sponsor of the gant Anwar Ibrahim hoarding at Kampung Indian Settlement Batu Caves. This hoarding is the subject of my Naan Aanaiyittal image for the Dari Pusat Tasek exhibition at Percha Art Space which continues till 5 January 2020 (EXTENDED TILL 19 JAN 2020). The 12.2m hoarding was first erected in front of Wisma Keringat with council approval in 2008. The hoarding, which had been sponsored through community fundraising, met with accusations of wastage and idolatry from UMNO and PAS politicians. It was taken down at the end of the permit period and kept in storage to be erected again near the Dewan Orang Ramai, Kg Indian Settlement in 2018 for the GE14. According to Viriya the image was painted by a visiting Indian cinema hoarding painter and it certainly conveys the aura of an Indian media SUPERSTAR! I took my koboi photo in 2018 after the surprise Harapan win in GE14.
In the 3rd and concluding performance for the Pavilion Without Pavilion, Bangkok Biennale 2018, I made an impromptu photographic action on the 3rd of September at Wat Arun. This action was premised on the conflation of two gargantuan Dravidian icons that have attained global currency, Demon King Thotsakan (Dasakantha or Ravana) and contemporary SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth. They are both unquestionably giants of global Indic culture, one from the historiographical past of Farther India and Suwannaphum, and the other from the more immediate realm of Kollywood.
As we eagerly await Kaala, Rajinikanth SUPERSTAR’s first movie after his entry into Tamil Nadu politics, it is pertinent to reflect on the messages embedded in this and his last release, Kabali. Both films are the directorial works of PA Rajinth, the rising Kollywood auteur of Dalit origins who has successfully presented critical social messages with mass commercial appeal. Rajinth is vocal on Dalit issues off the screen and here is an important document evidencing his rage and articulating his core message – TAMILS ARE DIVIDED BY CASTE … ADMIT IT! – It is a message that is steeped deep in Ambedker Blue and, incredulously, one that SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth seems to be taking upon his crisp new political mantle whose own native hue is allegedly a Hindutva Saffron.