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In the meme pictured above, Rajinikanth’s visage in a still form the Mani Ratnam film Thalapathy has been replaced by that of MK Stalin.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 second series of the Koboi Project includes an image of Koboi standing before his alter ego, SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth. This image was shot in Penang in 2013. This series which is titled Kedualan Si Koboi, was published in 2015.
In the course of my performances at the Singapore Biennale 2016/2017, I offered prayers to lord Murugan (also named Skanda or Kanthan) and salutations to Superstar Rajinikanth. I recited a stanza from the the nerisai venpas (closing verses) of the “Thirumuruhaattup-padai” – a hymn, to the Lord’s glory, composed by the poet Nakkirar. I ended my prayer with with the exaltation “Murugmikku Arohra!” I then praised the SUPERSTAR thus, “Thalaivar Vallha!” My bringing together of Murugan and Rajinikanth in this event, foreshadows the recent Tamil Nadu media spectacle ensuing from the Periyarist Facebook Channel Karuppar Koottam‘s denigration of Lord Murugan. The State authorities swiftly shutdown the offending site and arrested two parties who were allegedly responsible. Rajinikanth praised the crackdown tweeting , “At least henceforth, let there be an end to religious hatred and demeaning of gods. It should end,” ending his tweet … “Kandhanukku Arohara!”
Superstar Rajinikanth is one of the highest paid actors in Asia. He is a renowned philanthropist and an influential figure in Tamil Nadu public life who is respectfully referred to as Thalaiva or ‘leader’. The SUPERSTAR, who recently spoke up in the context of the Karuppar Koottam affair, was himself the first dark-skinned (Karuppu) leading man in the context of Tamil cinema.
Upon meeting Rajinikanth in the early 1970s, director K Balachander is supposed to have been struck by “the fellow’s fragile health and powerful eyes and his chiselled face… [a]nd of course, his skin colour, you know. The dark skin I thought was an advantage because again it is different from others. All the people who are very fair and all that, they have an easy entry into films. Why shouldn’t I take this boy, give him a good role, and see what can be drawn out of him?” While he seems today to be veering away from his promised Tamil Nadu political entry, this dark Dravidian cinema icon has thus far been showing signs of a decidedly ‘saffron’ or Hindutva leaning.
In my 2016 exhibit for the Singapore biennale I performed a ritual offering to both lord Murugan and to Rajinikanth, thereby attempting to articulate the relationship of Traditional Hindu iconolatry and contemporary Kollywood idolatry.
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.