The Koboi Project is an expression of my search for an integral identity, across the gaps of an inter-generational diasporic experience, in the context of the contemporary crisis of globalization. Among the imperatives of this photo-performative project is the development of a deep engagement with place and people. This involves an immersion in the social history, popular culture, language, and religion of the places involved. The Koboi Project integrates its own abiding tropes – the ‘black hat cowboy and the ‘SUPERSTAR’ with the idioms, myths, and contemporary issues of each place of performance or presentation. An important aspect of the work is the circulation of its messages via a range of media, beginning with the megaphone and the banner as primordial transmitters of word and image. The Koboi Project is realized and disseminated by way of photographic prints, performances, installations, and online images/ social media.
After 12 days, Rajinikanth’s Annaatthe has grossed 2,250,000,000 Rupees (30,204,000.00 USD) 5 at the box-office. This despite the film receiving almost universally dreadful reviews. I myself, despite being an eager Superstar fan, found the film dreadfully loud, sentimental, violent and unconvincing. In spite of excellent parts, not least of which is Thalaivar’s reunion with Kushbu and Meena, it just does not pull together as a whole. The Times of India review gives the film 2/5 stars and is titled, “Even Rajinikanth cannot save badly written Annaaatthe.” Well it looks like they were completely wrong. The Superstar, it seems, has saved the film single-handedly!
What is it about Rajinikanth that enables him to draw the faithful even as a 70 year-old playing his signature super cool and superhumanly heroic character? Does the answer lie in his indubitably unique persona and ability to connect with the masses? Or does it lie in the Tamilian culture of adulation, veneration and deification of exemplars, and the ease with which Tamils nominate living culture heroes !
The screening of a new Rajinikanth film (there have been 168 to date) always brings to mind the Tamilian (Hindu) notion of divinity – that God is everywhere and in everything. This immanent deity has two significant implications. In deep metaphysical terms it means that knowing or experiencing the attendant reality requires a transcendence of the egoistic self and recognizing the unity of all consciousnesses in one consciousness. This unification or oneness of the divinity is, counterintuitive as it might seem, analogous to the Islamic notion of Tawhid. On more mundane egocentric level, however, this immanence means that Tamilians might choose to designate any one of the innumerable parts. of the ubiquitous divinity, as the bearer of the presence of the whole. While some might deem this to be idolatrous or, in Islamic terms, Shirik. for Tamils separate parts of the divinity, ranging from rocks and trees to consecrated icons, can each stand for the whole. It is this synecdochic ontology that allow Tamilians to turn, the adulation of public figures into a form of worship. While this deification of living people, ranging from gurus to politicians, is widespread it is the ritualistic offerings made to movie SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth at the opening of his films that epitomizes of this phenomena in contemporary Tamil culture.
The Annaatthe official trailer is out and it is clear that the avenging aspect of Rajinikanth’s persona is modeled on the fierce Grama Deivam or village deity of non-Brahmanical rural Dravidian theism. In the trailer, as the Superstar threateningly vows to sacrifice his foe to his deity, he is shown in prayer before an icon of Madurai Veera Saamy. Madurai Veeran or Hero of Madurai is said to have been a warrior of low caste who was appointed to high military office in the Pandian empire and then and executed by dismemberment on the order the King in an honour killing for transgressing caste boundaries in his lovemaking. Following this, both Madurai Veeran’s faithful wife and his high caste lover committed suicide. To pacify the spirits of Madurai Veeran and his consorts, the King deified him in a shrine built on the grounds of the great Meenakshi Amman temple.
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.
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