The revivification of religion in contemporary society leaves me with a sense of foreboding with regard to the future of humanity. There has been a resurgence of religious values in the politics of the 21st Century as theocratic and quasi-theocratic modes have made an impression, even in what were once staunchly secular democracies. The Christian right has brought socially conservative positions to the forefront of the politics of the USA. The Hindu right has turned India’s avowedly secular democracy into a nation-state steeped in Hindutva (Hinduness). Before these developments, there were the theocentric formulations of Islamic fundamentalism and Zionism. Tragically, all of these ‘post-traditional’ hybridizations of religious truths with modern politics have resulted in the division and alienation of peoples.
There are, however, examples of a more integrative incorporation of religious values at the forefront of human affairs. Canadian politician and leader of the NDP (New Democratic Party), Jagmeet Singh, is an exemplar of this more inclusive post-traditionalism. In a 2017 interview with GQ magazine, he articulates his religious approach to contemporary secular society, “My Sikh spirituality … influences my political style. We strongly believe in social justice as an element of our founding philosophy—that there is one energy and that we are all connected, kind of like the force. So if I see someone else suffering, as a Sikh I see that as me suffering. There’s this morality that flows from this idea that we are one and connected, and we celebrate diversity and people of different backgrounds, cultures, and religions..” He underscores his point by citing a Sikh mantra that wishes for the “betterment of all humankind.”
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.
While Rajinikanth seems generally to have, as the myth goes, eschewed all commercial product endorsement. the above Palm Cola advertisement is a notable exception. It was made for the Tamil Nadu Co-operative, some say (see comments accompanying the above Youtube video) to support the Palm climbers. The advert seems to have been made during the shooting of Thillu Mullu in 1981. The ad features Thalaiva, Mahdevi and even director Balachandar. The sheer magnetism of the young Rajinikanth gives us a sense of the brute force he might have wielded in the endorsement of products, had he deigned to deploy his brand to this end. The fact that he has not done so is clearly a testament to his integrity with regard to his fan base, his ambition to partake in public life, or both.