In the sixteenth State legislative assembly elections of Tamil Nadu held on the 6th April 2021, the DMK won the majority of seats and its president M K Stalin, son of previous Chief Minister and DMK patriarch M. Karunanithi, will reportedly be sworn-in as the Chief Minister on May 7.
When Superstar Rajinikanth dropped out of of Tamil Nadu politics in December 2020 on the basis of ill health, he was in effect, acknowledging the impossibility of religious politics in Tamil Nadu. It seems that neither his spiritual politics nor the BJP’s Hindutva, for which he was allegedly a proxy, had a chance of victory in the political milieu of the South.
In the meme pictured above, Rajinikanth’s visage in a still form the Mani Ratnam film Thalapathy has been replaced by that of MK Stalin. This meme also presents Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in the place of Mammooty, who plays Rajinikanth’s friend in the 1991 film.
Both the Dravidian MK Stalin and the Communist Pinarayi Vijayan are avowed atheists.
After decades of anticipation in the Tamil Nadu polity, SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth announced his entry into politics on December 31st 2017. Despite much toing and froing since then, he never did launch his party and then, on December 29th 2020, he announced with finality not to enter politics. For those of us who admire his charisma and spirituality but disdain the Hindutva politics he seemed set to bring into Tamil Nadu by virtue of his patent alignment with the BJP, this is a happy outcome! Thailava Valha! (Salutations to the Leader!)
The above image from the series was shot at the Singapore Art Museum. It was shot during a performance at the site of my photographic installation which was part of the Singapore Biennale 2016. It is one of 12 images that make up the upcoming Kiasu Cowboys Series of the Koboi Project.
According to Nikkei Asia staff writer Kiran Sharma Rajinikanth said on the 3rd of December that he will formally announce the launching of his party to compete in the Tamil Nadu state elections on Dec. 31, 2021. This leaves a very short lead time to the start of voting which begins in April 2021. The SUPERSTAR is reported to have said “It’s now or never.” Indeed, time is of the essence! As D Govadran observes in the Times of India, his fans and followers have been waiting for over 24 years.
In the above image from the Momotaro San series, Takedawala meets Koboi Balik Kampung in Shinjuku! I was privileged to be collaborating with Takedawala (Hiroyoshi Takeda) who is an artist, a South Indian chef, and a renown Rajinikanth fan. With his support the performance included an Auto-rickshawas well as Mango PachadiDango, a Japanese dumpling with a South Indian filling, that was especially conceived and developed for this performance.
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’s Dravidian 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 days to go till the worldwide release of Kaala, SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth gets asked the metaphysical question of his life – While on a visit to the victims of what a UN working group has called a police atrocity in the context of the 100 day environmental protest in Thoothukudi, a young man among the injured asked him – Yaar Nee Ayah? or Who are you sir? In my reading, the perfectly pitched question interrogates the capacity in which the Rajinikanth visit was being made – that of the Kollywood hero, the renowned philanthropist or, indeed, the newly minted politician!
This question seems to have sent our Thalaivar into a tailspin. In subsequent interactions with the media Rajinikanth revealed a highly conservative streak … contrary to the image that the meticulous marketing campaign has built-up for the release of Kaala, whose revolutionary protagonist leads a ghetto uprising of the downtrodden, Rajinikanth seems to have a highly reactionary core. He blamed ‘anti-social elements’ amongst the protestors for the state violence – police shootings that left 13 protesters dead. He even seems to have said that continuous uprisings will turn Tamil Nadu into a graveyard … Yikes!
In this double whammy of self-infliction, Rajinikanth seems to have squandered his capital in mass perception – the a unity of person and persona, that he has painstakingly built up over decades of cinematic imagineering … and as a consequence, film Kaala and his character in it, which have been promising great heft, suddenly seem hollow and feather light … more significantly Rajinikanth has revealed his so-called ‘Spiritual Politics’ to be, on this matter at least, fully aligned with the State AIADMK government and the BJP Federal government. Sadly Rajni also lost his temper with reporters breaking yet another invaluable asset – the image of the unworldly and unperturbed sage. How will the upcoming film, the Kaala character, the aspiring politician and the man recover from this … I for one will be following closely!
As Rajinikanth fans anticipate the April 27th 2018 release of Kaala Karikaalan, the Koboi Project is glancing off the SUPERSTAR’s look for the movie. While as a fan, I relish the simple pleasure of ‘being’ the Thalaiva, as an artist, I am cognizant of the aesthetic and critical connotations of my play. Is this a pastiche or a parody, and if it is a parody – what is it a parody of? What is the measure of similitude, how much ‘looking like’ does it take to ‘look like’ or signify another person or persona? What is the threshold of sufficiency? Is such similitude founded on ethnic, even ethnocentric, notions of identity? What is the inner dimension of such a representation? Hoe does one actually form a meaningful image of another? When does homage become piracy? What, beyond context, is the difference between a popular and a fine art image in the contemporary taxonomy of the arts? Most poignantly and pertinently, Kaala may be the last of my easy and heartfelt appropriations of the SUPERSTAR’s image as, having launched his political party in Tamil Nadu, he is now on the cusp of announcing his manifesto. Along with Thalaiva’s long-time college in the Movie business, and now political co-aspirant, Kamal Haasan, I fear that Rajinikanth’s avowed ‘spiritual politics’ will take on the saffron hues of Hindutva.
As Rajinikanth invests his SUPERSTAR capital in the Tamil Nadu political arena, there is a lot of speculation about his future allegiances and alignments. For those, who like me lament the rise of Hindu Nationalism in Indian politics, the concern is that the waning post-independence secularism in Tamil Nadu politics will finally be dissolved in an alliance between our Thalaivar and Narendra Modhi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In his speech announcing his entry into politics, Rajnikanth is reported to have said, “We have to create a spiritual politics with no caste and religion barrier. My cornerstones would be honesty, transparency, secularity and spiritual politics. Spiritual politics according to me means fair and just politics.” This statement seems wide open in its possible interpretations. Rajnikanth could indeed end up being , wittingly or otherwise, a Trojan Horse bearing Hindutva cadres into the hitherto atheistic milieu of Tamil Nadu politics. On the other hand, it is possible that his statement carries within it the promise of a new post-atheistic post-traditional polity – one that sets the Tamil peoples inherent sacral tendencies within a trans-communal and multi-religious ethos. It might seem be too much to ask of a mere movie star, but in the story of Tamil Nadu there have been no leaders as powerful as Annadurai, MGR, Karunanithi and Jayalalitha …..movie people all!