Dominance of a few Rasas in Tamil Cinema

Tamil cinema, from its earliest days of silent films, maintained a ‘Cinema of the Other’ stance in the Indian film scenario. The industry started in 1917, with the silent film Keechaka Badham (The Slaying of Keechaka), Produced and Directed by R Nataraja Mudaliar. He made another film, Draupadi Vastrapaharanam (Unrobing of Draupadi), in the same year. It is significant to note the first two films made in South India concentrated on particular portions of Mahabharata that dealt with the obnoxious, producing an emotion with Bibhatsa rasa in the audience’s mind. However, the ventures met with applause and were financially successful.

In the other two hubs of Indian Film making, Bombay and Calcutta (as they were called then), the stress was on the mythological and sometimes historical, but never so much on the portrayal of the grotesque and the abhorred. Does this point to a particular tendency of Tamil Cinema, and in general to Tamil cultural psyche?

Tamil people, even under the British, were keen to keep their identity separate from the people of the North. And any part of India, northern to Madras in the east, Hyderabad in the Central and Mysore in the Western side, was considered as North India, except some southern portion of Bengal (modern day Orissa) and Southern portions of Konkan and Bombay. During the British period, specially before World War II, modern Tamil Nadu became pro-British and actually helped in motivating Indians to join the War by making propaganda features favouring the rulers. Films like Manasamrakshanam (1944) or Burma Rani (1945), represented a common trend in Tamil film industry those days.

The politics of we and they was always a part of Tamil civilization, that raised its head in a big way immediately after independence. In 1949, the germ of Tamil independence took a bigger form in Periyar Ramsami’s pro-Dravidian (and anti-Aryan) identity movement, culminating the formation of DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam). A new batch of filmmakers joined the industry then, who would appropriate the pro-Dravidian sentiment in their own ways for political gains. Among them, the most notable ones were the charismatic scriptwriter and playwright C N Annnadurai, story and scriptwriter M Karunanidhi, Matinee Idol M G Ramachandran and his protégé, Screen Goddess J Jayalalitha.

It’s a general tendency among humans to search for a leader. Once begotten, the leader is unquestionably followed till the individual is a part of the mass-hysteria. Organized religions work on this principle. So do magic and politics. South Indians rarely came under any foreign ruler before the British. Even the Maurya or the Gupta Empire never directly influenced them. And everyone knows how the the Mughal Emperors’ attempts at capturing South India kept failing for over six hundred years. So it wasn’t surprising that the Tamil would want an autonomy after their sole conqueror in history, the British, left. When that did not happen as per their choice, they revolted. Part of the revolution centered on creating a strong cultural identity in the name of Tamilalakam (Tamil land) which upheld Dravidian culture using stage drama, poetry, literature, myth, history, musicals, dance and, most importantly, cinema.

Tamil society, an ideal example of an unchanged patriarchal one, maintained a very strong identity of the male, almost opposite to the one maintained in the rest of the Indian movies. Who is the ideal Tamil hero? He must have moustache, physical prowess, authority, sexual virility and the capacity to control women. It must be noted that except for the moustache, the other character traits are not very different from the rest of the heroes in India. However, the portrayal and the political purpose were very different.

Tamil hero of the pro-Dravidian camp rejects all finesse that he considers to be part of the Aryan culture, and hugs the grotesque instead. In that way, Tamil heroes can be equated with the villains of the North-Indian myths and epics. An obsession with the denial of the other and embracing the grotesque and violent uprooting of all non-Dravidian values from culture led to a cinema of sophisticated violence and other basal instincts in Tamil Nadu.

While in films like Velaikari (1949) and Ratha Kanneer (1954), both penned by Annadurai, showed the hero’s faults as the result of his encounter with other cultures, especially North Indian culture (the vamp had to die in the second film, as she was trying to get into a relationship with a Hindi-speaking character from Bombay). It was Parashakti (1952) which was made to show the superiority of Tamil culture over others. In this film women were given an unambiguous role of being the knowledgeable, spirited and intelligent support to their male counterparts. That never meant women were independent. They were just supports, like obedient servants, who should find their place inside the home.

This made a great difference between the progressive heroine from North India and the Tamil heroine. While the former wanted equality and freedom with education and free will, the latter accepted the choice of her family. In effect, this made the outside world a jungle for man-hunting for the Tamil hero.

And the heroines, unlike their North Indian counterparts, went through literal purification, punishment or death if they chose liberation. In Rudraiah’s 1978 film Aval Appadithan (That’s the Way She Is), the heroine ends up homeless in the end and her journey throughout the film is portrayed as obnoxious. So we see a very strange concoction of Shringara and Bibhatsa rasas at work even, sixty years after it started.

In modern Tamil Cinema, the trend continues through a different guise. In a celebrated film like Veyil (2006) or the Kamal Hassan starrer Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu (2006), the hero achieves his target through extreme violence. But is it not violence and grief that lead to the purification of the soul? Maybe future Tamil Cinema will answer this question more directly.

Angry Young Man and His Troubled Relationship with his Father

Indian cinema’s Angry Young Man surfaced in the 1973 blockbuster Zanjeer. It also hailed the end of a generation of cinema that celebrated the stability and status quo India was facing in the late ‘50s and ‘60s.

The Angry Young Man, in the avatar of Amitabh Bachchan in Bollywood and Rajnikant in Tamil Cinema, was a superhero of the common man’s dream. He was just an aam aadmi (common man), with powers and weaknesses of a regular human being, who has decided to act. As normal Indians are afraid of challenging their fate in reality, the Angry Young Man fulfilled the dream they could vicariously live.

However, the Angry Young Man, especially the roles played by Amitabh Bachchan, has a special distinction. He is almost always with an absent or a dead father. And when the father is present, he is in a deeply troubled relationship with him.

Let us probe this issue a little more. In more than fifty films, from Zanjeer (1973) to the recent Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap (2011), the Angry Young Man’s character tries to restore justice, honour and dignity for himself, his family and the people around him. Except for Inquilab (1984), his fight concerns the personal space of family. And in India, who is the archetypal head of the family?

Modeled on a feudal outlook, the post-independence Indian Government framed all types of taxation, laws and governance policies, primarily on the basis of an undivided family; be it Hindu or Muslim. The unquestionable authority of the Prime Minister, other Ministers, the Supreme Court, its Judges and the Police entail from such an outlook.

The tapering figure of the father figure is central to a society and its citizens. In America, there may be a faltering loyalty to Uncle Sam. But in India, it is the father who wields the law.

In Lacanian Psychology, a male child constructs his identity throughout his growing years, by internalizing the name of the father. In short, the name of the father can be equated to the child’s position in the lawful order of the society, in its norms and customs. In contrast, an imaginary father is the figure that sets the child out to the world, alone and cut off from the peace of his mother’s lap… the blissful security lost after the child becomes adult.

In all the films from the Angry Young Man genre, Amitabh or Rajnikant, crave to return to their mother’s lap. In Deewar, the character Vijay, in his last words to his mother, says “Tujhse dur rehkar mujhe kabhi neend nahi aayi maa! Main kabhi nahi so saka maa! Aaj phir mera sar tumhari god mein hai maa. Ek bar phir mujhe sula do maa!” (I could never sleep staying away from you mom! I could never really sleep. Today, again, my head is in your lap. Put me to sleep once again!). By killing or compromising the imaginary father, and making peace with symbolic father, the Angry Young Man finishes his journey in his mother’s lap, thus finishing a cycle of action with his real father.

When the real, imaginary and symbolic fathers can not be separated, the Angry Young Man emerges. In a very simplistic, almost fairy tale overview of life, this almost always happens in Bollywood.

Among all the Angry Young Man films, Amitabh’s character actually has a real but a flawed father only in Laawaris (1981), Sharaabi (1984) Aakhree Raasta (1986) and most significantly Shakti (1982). Only four out of around fifty films where he played the role of an Angry Young Man. In almost all other films, the father is dead, mostly killed by an enemy, thus setting Vijay (meaning Victory, Amitabh’s name in most of the movies belonging to this genre) on a road to vengeance.

But that does not make the Angry Young Man’s disturbed relationship with the father a myth. In the absence of a real father, the child clutches the imaginary father in a very ambivalent way and makes it a friend and an enemy both. In officially first film of the Angry Young Man genre, Zanjeer, the hero (Vijay, again) grows up to be a police officer who’s obsessed with upholding the law (the imaginary father’s one side) and wiping out evil(the imaginary father’s other side). To complete the journey, the hero must know the name of the father. Hence, in Zanjeer, as in Shahenshah (1987), he decides to punish the bad on his own. However, it is significant that he never negates the law. He merely supplements its execution.

In this way, the Angry Young Man’s journey never collides with the ideology of the powerful class or that of the State. In fact, it is not surprising that this character was nurtured more carefully in the post-emergency India, as he talks in favour of tradition, a classless society and power structure. The hero rarely talks about bigger issues. Even when he does, as in Coolie (1982) or Inquilab (1984), he is more concerned about solving his personal problems. That actually made the character a sociological stereotype and called for a change in Bollywood’s prime genre at the end of the ‘80s, which gave birth to the dark hero, as in Baazigar (1993) or Khalnayak (1993).

The hero wants to salvage his pride (because of birth), bad karma (for good means) and lack of security as he grows up. Hence, even in a romantic film like Mili (1975), the Angry Young Man’s psyche surfaces, and the reason is the same – a shame of father’s (or parents’) deed. The ultimate goal is always to be at peace with the father, real or symbolic, by the end of the film.

Hence, it’s not surprising that nowadays the Angry Young Man comes back as the father figure himself. From a Fruedian point of view, that is how it should happen. At the end of the journey the child succeeds in becoming the father himself.

Shine Bright in Tinsel Town

Just like there is no sureshot formula to making a box-office hit, there is none real formula to making it big in the film industry. The path can be, and usually is, unclear, difficult, competitive and unpredictable. At the same time, there are plenty of opportunities, and a place for many. If you have talent and the sheer grit to stick out, stardom may just be yours. Here are a few tips to steer your spectacular journey to tinsel town:


Have clear goals: Decide right at the start what is it that you want. Whether your aim is to direct, to act, to choreograph, to edit, or to script. It takes time to understand the workings of the industry, and hence, it’s best to identify what you want to do, and start early.

Create a niche: Once you decide where your passion lies, move ahead and decide the genre of filmmaking that you would like to be associated with. Some actors or directors make comedy films, while others action, and still others, documentaries.

Build a portfolio: No matter what resources or opportunities are available, start doing what you love, and keep building on it. If you like to act, do college plays, theatre, even home videos. If you wish to direct films, use any camera available, and start filming.

Participate in film festivals/film groups: Every city has film clubs that watch movies and discuss them. And if you are adventurous enough, you can also participate and screen your films in regional, national, or international film festivals.

Take care of all audiences: It is essential as an artist to not get slotted in one kind of role/films. You should not do only low budget films, or stick solely to big budget films. You must strive for a combination, so that you can reach out to all audiences.

Network with people from the trade: Business is about networking – go out there, actively talk to people about yourself and your work. Approach all your ‘filmy’ contacts, and see if anyone can help you in your rise to the top.

  1. Improve your skills: Take up a course for the skills that need working, whether acting, speech delivery, writing, editing, dance, etc. Many film schools and academies offer these courses.
  2. Assist a good director: While you are still waiting for your big break, it is a good idea to get some work experience interning with a good production house, or under a good director.
  3. Watch, read, absorb: Watch as many movies as you can spanning genres and nationalities. Read film trade magazines, and follow industry trends. Moreover, keep absorbing the life around you, as films are nothing but an interpretation of life.
  4. Embrace the media: The media is both a friend and a foe to the film industry, but the sooner you accept and embrace it, the sooner it’ll become your strength. Woo the media, and half your battle to stardom is won.

Saurabh Shukla speaks to students of Mumbai University

Speaking on the topic of ” Careers in Cinema “, Mr Shukla said that to be a Film Maker, one should obviously know the art of Direction but should acquire knowledge of all aspects of Cinema or at least have the working knowledge in areas of Cinematography, Writing, Editing, Acting and Production Design. He recalled his own days as a student in Delhi when he was studying for his M.Com when he was trying to be a ” Nobody ” He said that that was the time when he sensed a certain calling towards theatre and dramatics.He said that he was never formally educated in anything that is part of his profession.Those days, he said, when I look back, I worked very very hard but it was not work….everything that I did gave me a lot of joy…Every morning , after waking up, I felt the eagerness to go to the theatre for rehearsals, I read and analysed a lot of literature..and tried to analyse great works to the best of my ability….but had I been formally trained, I would have gone further and at a much quicker pace.Mr Shukla said ” The greatest thing that formal education gives you is a way, a much richer scientific and methodical path. I never had an opportunity that you people are getting now.

He said that the if a person is talented and works sincerely, he is bound to be successful in the world of Film and television which could not only pay very well, but also give enormous satisfaction and recognition. As a parting note, he said that in the journey that the students were about embark upon, he suggested to make the best use of all that they will get and wished the students all the very best .

Filmmaker of ” Harishchandrachi factory ” (The Factory of Harishchandra) visits Digital Academy – The Film School


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Paresh Mokashi , Writer, Director of the Marathi film ” Harishchandrachi factory ” or ” The factory of Harishchandra’, India’s entry to the Oscars, while on a visit to Digital Academy – The Film School, surprised the students when he said that he had never assisted any Film maker before he started making this film and also revealed that the first time that he ever visited a Film set was for this debut film of his. He had been part of Marathi theatre for a long time as an actor, writer and Director . He said that the greatest two qualities that any Film Maker should have apart from the know how of the technique of Film Making is clarity of mind and stubbornness. He said that most of what he learnt about Film making was by seeing films, many made by the masters of Cinema. He said that he did spend a lot time watching the treasures of world cinema in the National Film Archives in Pune and it is by watching these films that he enhanced his visual sense and knowledge. He said that this is what helped him have clarity of mind as to what he wanted the film to look like and this was most of the battle won. If a Director is confused, then the crew will take over the decision making and ultimately the look of the film will reflect that. Once a director knows what he wants, stubbornness helps in sticking to his decisions.


Speaking about the film’s journey, he said that patience is a necessary quality in this business. He said the the budget of this period film was about 3.5 crores , an unusually high figure for an Indian regional film whose recovery in the box office is very difficult. He said the when he selected his crew, all of them ie the cinematographer, costume designer etc had never done a single film independently before.After the wait for finance of almost three years, he was the only person in the crew who was making his debut…all of the other technicians were experienced by a few films…


Paresh then spoke about research he had to do for a period subject such as this. The film concentrates about a period in the life of Dadasaheb Phalke, the father of Indian cinema, when he made his first film ” Raja ( King) Harishhandra”. The entire story deliberately was chosen not to be a biographic but about the time when Phalke was Directing and producing his first film. It was also given a humorous touch because Mr Phalke, according to many sources did have a good sense of humor. Research was an exciting part of the process because not only the city and costumes looked different, also the sound of the rickshaws operating then had to be sourced and or produced to get as close as possible to the original.

Speaking on the Oscars, he said that I am not surprised the my film did not make it to the final list of the Oscars as the final five were much better than my own film.He was happy to inform that the next film revolves around an archaeological treasure hunt and is linked to the journey of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata .

The students were very enlightened by the visit of Mr Mokashi and after being given a tour of the Film School, Mr Mokashi was delighted with the facilities of the school, its vision and objectives of creating visionary Film makers of tomorrow.

Dale Bhagwagar, renowned Bollywood publicist and PR, holds a guest lecture, at Digital Academy – The Film School

Dale Bhagwagar began his journey as a journalist twenty-three years ago, when he was just 14 years old. He contributed articles, poems to local newspapers and magazines in his hometown, Nagpur. Six years later, he joined a local newspaper as a trainee Sub-Editor and Reporter. After completing his graduation in English Literature he moved to Mumbai and was soon hired as the Chief Sub-Editor cum Reporter for the Bollywood gossip magazine “Cine Blitz”, which dealt with yellow journalism. That was the turning point in his life where he learnt the trick and trade of manipulating “Star images”. He is instrumental in shaping the careers of many celebrities. He has handled the PR for the likes of Hrithik Roshan, Shilpa Shetty, Priyanka Chopra, Esha Deol, Shiney Ahuja, Randeep Hooda and Vivek Oberoi, among 50 others.
 
 
He informed the students that the transition phase from the learning world as students to the real world as filmmakers in the “Big Bad Bollywood” would involve lot of effort, patience and an ability to adapt to situations and people. Commenting on this, he said, “When you are in the real world, when you are going to get out in the so called big bad Bollywood, the first thing one needs to do is unlearn certain things you learnt in schools and colleges. Schools and colleges teach you the basics but people work according to their experiences along with their team and it is very important to adapt to that team, their culture and their style of working”
 
He strongly believes that media has an upper hand in creating a perception in the minds of people and that is exactly when a publicist steps in. Elaborating on this, he said, “Publicists need to spin a very strong web of protection otherwise the media goes ahead to massacre brands and images the way it likes. That is why a publicist needs to be very firm and cautious while handling the Media sensibilities.
 
Throughout the session he emphasized on the line “We are living in a world where perception is reality” and that is exactly what PR does, it creates a perception in the minds of people propelling the image of a celebrity from downright negative to acceptable. His suggestions to the students about the benefits of PR and Media were, “Understand how the media functions, because ultimately you all are going to be made by your talent and then by media. How much ever talented a person is, if not projected properly, the career may not take that pace, and it could have taken”. 
 
Talking further on PR skills, he said, “Good news is Good, but Bad news is even better…. Ugly publicity is the best as it travels faster and hits the hardest… The worst of all is no publicity, as you need to generate the buzz because without which it becomes difficult to grow faster in today’s world. You will grow with your talent but with a PR marketing mind, luck comes faster”.
 
His advice to the beginners was to change their mindsets about the way he or she thinks of PR. It’s very important to project yourself the way you want others to perceive you.
 
Mr. Bhagwagar also advised the students to have dreams and then create roads to reach for those dreams. He said that you must be sure of your goals and then set a basic pattern and time frame to achieve those goals and carve a niche in the field you are interested in. He cited that “You have to stick to your roots, think of the sky and grow”. He also said that PR is just 10%, the remaining 90% is the talent you possess, you should be better filmmakers and the rest follows.
 
In his parting lines to the students, he said that “Start thinking of yourselves as brands. Subtle branding plays a huge role in the anticipation of your films. Though talent is what really matters, good support in PR skills takes any budding filmmaker to higher levels of success.
 
 
For more information contact:
Tel. no.: +91-22-28257009/+91-22-28257008

Guest Lecture by leading Filmmaker, Mr. Mohit Suri at Digital Academy – The Film School, Mumbai

Mohit Suri is an Indian Film Director, mostly known for his films, like Kalyug (2005) and Awarapan (2007). His uncle is Producer/Director Mahesh Bhatt and his cousin is Actor Emraan Hashmi who has starred in three of his films. He started his career as an Assistant Director, and made his debut as a Director with the film Zeher.
 
It was followed by Kalyug, which is his biggest success so far, was both a critical and commercial success. His third film Woh Lamhe (2006) was critically acclaimed overall. His next film Awarapan (2007) was both critically and commercially appreciated.
Mohit’s latest film Raaz – The Mystery Continues (2009) was a Box Office Hit. His next film, Crook – Its good to be bad starring Emraan Hashmi again is set to be released shortly.
 
Mr. Suri commenced the lecture with a discussion about being successful Filmmakers; to which he said that there are no such formulas for being successful, nobody is aware about it. There are certain things that can lead you towards the path of being prominent Filmmakers but no guidelines as such has been laid down for anyone to follow. Make your own guidelines with a flexible outlook.
 
 
Elaborating on this, he said, being innovative in this industry is essential but by being innovative does not mean you need to be outlandish, it does not mean presenting the audience with something that they don’t comprehend. Innovation involves being relevant and enterprising. Usually it’s about rediscovering the old truth, which has been in oblivion for a long time, which goes beyond your regular showreel.
 
 
As a Filmmaker you have to constantly read and keep yourself updated about all the latest events taking place in the world. True education starts once you get out of the institute and start living with people, sharing the same passion for filmmaking. Research is involved with every Film and a Filmmaker is expected to be well versed with the subject his Film is based upon and then present it to the audience. Commenting more on this, he said, “Education does not end here, if you don’t read, don’t write constantly or be alive and see around, you would not be able to make good films”.
 
 
He acknowledged that direction is about your own sensibilities; it’s more about your feelings. The basic idea should be yours, the day you confirm to someone else’s sensibility you will fail and even if you succeed with that, you might not last very long. Being a Film Director changes you lot as a person from within. It’s vital to invest your emotions and feelings in your Films.
 
Another thing about Filmmaking is to collate as much experience as you can; it is crucial to have hands on experience to gain eloquence and be better Filmmakers with each Film. Speaking further on this, he added, “There are no set rules to be a Filmmaker, you learn by being there…just make films”. Sometimes even experience acts as your biggest rival. The more the experience, the tougher it gets, your upcoming or current work will always be judged by your previous work. The more successful you get, you tend to invariably repeat yourself thinking it will work but it does not. Being a Filmmaker is not just about telling story, it’s beyond that”
 
Mr. Suri further said that direction is not about technical skills alone, it’s about your feelings. Mere short taking is not the basis of a good Director. A Director should know to pen down his views. His suggestion to the students was to write for an hour about anything that comes to their mind. Talking on this, he said, “Best Directors are Writers. When you pen something down it’s inertia in the beginning but eventually you would enjoy it. You are halfway through to be a good Director”
 
 
In his parting lines to the students, he said, “Failure is inevitable but what counts is how quickly you get up and figure out what went wrong and start working on it. Don’t get intimidated by anyone, remember there is no such thing as a wrong shot”.
 
 
 
For more information contact:
Tel. no.: +91-22-28257009/+91-22-28257008
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