Indeed, in spite of all of the above intrigue and conflict, Anwar and Harapan still back Mahathir as their prime ministerial candidate. Even after a massive box office failure, the SUPERSTAR still remains the SUPERSTAR!
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.
The magnificent Rajini Sir seems unable to avoid being the embodiment of mythology. Recently, he has been equated to the Trojan Horse from the Odyssey, suggesting that his appealing Dravidian cinematic persona may be packed with a BJP / Arya Samaj political intent, waiting to be let in past the Dravidian gates of Tamil Nadu governance. Now, with his own Mahabaratha reference in the context of the Modi government’s move to revoke Article 370, he has been equated to Abhimanyu the warrior son of Arjuna. In an open letter to Rajinikanth Arun Ram, Resident Editor, of the The Times of India, Tamil Nadu, writes, ” I am happy that you have found your Krishna and Arjuna in Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, though you are not sure who is who. That’s fine, as long you realise that you are the Abhimanyu the BJP badly needs in Tamil Nadu.”
Abhimanyu is the son of Pandava champion Arjuna and nephew of the Lord Krishna himself. At the tender age of 16 he was the most powerful, and perhaps vainglorious, of warriors. But despite wreaking havoc on the Kauravas in the battlefield he is killed and his role in the plot of the Mahabaratha seems to be much more as a catalyst of victory than as a victor. You see, his father Arjuna is ambivalent about using his powers to destroy the enemy. The Kauravas are after all the cousins of the Pandavas! With the killing of his beloved son, however, Arjuna is personally afflicted and is open to the martial wiles of the masterful Lord Krshna.
Abhimanyu was a dispensable element in the plot of the Mahabharata. I hope Rajini Sir will avoid the pitfalls of personifying such figures from Indo Aryan mythology as the dissembling Trojan Horse and the tragic Abhimanyu, on the political battlefield of Dravida Nadu.
We completed the last street intervention of Koboi Project in Belem at the Monument to the Discoveries on Sunday 30th June at 9pm. It was a glorious evening as the sun went down on Prince Henry the Navigator and his discoverers, on SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth and on the Koboi Project! Special thanks to Jane Frankish and Pedro Silva.
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.
Mass is Kollywood jargon for massive or hit or popular or something like that! Whatever it actually means, the one thing that is clear is that Indian cinema is all about a sense of scale! This is also the mechanism or mechanics of democracy … the majority of the people … mass!!! Tamil Nadu has been governed by Mass since the days of Annadurai … MGR, Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha ……
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!
The Koboi had been developing his look after the SUPERSTAR’s image in Kaala (to will be released worldwide on June 7th) for his performance at Courtyard Hiroo, Tokyo at 7 pm on 11th May 2018 I am a fan of Rajinikanth and, as such, I relish the simple pleasure of ‘being’ the Thalaiva. I am, however, also cognizant of the aesthetic and critical connotations of my play. 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? How does one actually form a meaningful image of another? When does homage become piracy? Is this a pastiche or a parody, and if it is a parody – what is it a parody of? What, is the difference between a popular and a fine art image in the contemporary taxonomy of the arts?
Most pertinently, Kaala may be the last of my easy and heartfelt appropriations of the SUPERSTAR’s image as, having launched into politics in Tamil Nadu, Rajinikanth has now placed himself in a different context of signification. Unlike his long-time colleague in the Movie business, and now political co-aspirant, Kamal Haasan, who has clear secular leanings, Rajinikanth’s avowed ‘spiritual politics’ seems to be taking on the pungent saffron hues of Hindutva (the Hindu Right)!.