Will this “Kamal” bloom in TN?

In his films, Kamal Haasan is not usually satisfied with wearing one hat or donning just one role. While his peers in the Industry were happy with double roles or at best triple roles, Kamal, in one of his own production – Dasavathaaram as the title suggests, took up 10 roles. And roles as varied from an elderly widow to a Sardar to a CIA Agent to a Japanese Ninja and even George Bush! So donning many roles comes to him easily. In the big screen, that is. However, I don’t recall Kamal playing the role of a full-fledged politician in any of the films but for that short gimmicky role as George Bush and I may be wrong here!!! So, it came as a surprise when all of a sudden from the year 2017, Kamal started making political noises initially as feeble as tweets! Gradually the tweets got louder culminating with the announcement of the formation of his own party this week in Madurai.

Surprise stems from not just this. Kamal has had a long and worthy career in films not just as a fantastic actor but also as an accomplished film-maker in Tamil Nadu. Unlike many other stars and also rans in TN who invariably ended up in politics, Kamal stayed far away from it. He has been repeatedly saying that the only thing he knows in life is films and nothing else but films. He is quoted to have said often that he has been extremely fortunate in life for getting “Karumbu thinna kooli”, a euphemism for having been possible to pursue his passion as a paid profession! And he is also quoted as being unfit for life in politics full of machinations and hypocrisies. While he claimed to be socially aware, he was happy to serve people in his own way rather than wearing the garb of a Neta.

Actors who take up politics seriously, do it in their twilight of their career when the lights around them start fading away. Though Kamal’s last few films failed miserably at the box office, as an actor or a film-maker few would dare to write his obituary yet. He still displays the passion for making meaningful cinema and as we speak, has 2 if not 3 films on the floor vying for his attention.

The sudden turn in Kamal’s life led to the forming of Makkal Neethi Maiam (Centre for Justice for people) early this week. In the last few months of twists and turns in the politics of “Turmoil Nadu”, this is the latest. As a film-maker he is known to be indulgent. He has also been an avid risk taker in the choice of some of his scripts. At many points he has risked his wealth and probably his career by throwing his weight behind risky subjects – his Vishwaroopam project being a prime example. So, the question is – “Is Kamal once again indulging himself and taking his biggest risk yet by jumping into the murky world of politics?”

It would appear to seem so, if one looks at the odds ahead of Kamal. I believe that for Kamal, there are battles to be fought within, before looking at the battles outside. Kamal has had an Ultra clean image thus far in terms of probity in public life. He is not known for entering into shady deals for the purpose of commerce and has been an honest tax payer. But being honest is only a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition to succeed in politics.  Secondly, as a film star and a film maker he has not displayed enough permanence of purpose. In the sense, he is known to announce grand projects and junk them mid-way and move on.  Cutting losses as a strategy may work in films or business but certainly not in politics where one expects a deeper commitment to a cause. Whether Kamal will show enough resilience to stay put and continue to fight the political battle even if there are initial setbacks is a big question.

As a film-maker he has never hidden his left leanings and public posturing towards atheism. Left as a philosophy is in the ICU worldwide and India is not an exception. Unless his left leanings are more reformed and tuned to the times we are in today, he will find it difficult to move beyond surging crowds in his rallies. Similarly in TN, atheism has of late become a matter of daily WhatsApp humour, thanks to the famed Dravida parties and their leaders reaching out to Gods in private! So, for Kamal to make these personal beliefs cornerstone of ideology of his new party is fraught with imminent risk.

Coming to external battles, there are many and are similar to any new comer trying to make a mark in politics. it is clear that Kamal is trying to fill a gap which presented itself after the death of Jayalalitha and her legacy. If one looks at history, MGR was successful as he could seamlessly morph his fan base into his loyal political base. No other actor in TN so far could manage that feat. Whether even our Superstar Rajini will be able pull that off remains to be seen. In the case of Kamal, in his prime days as an actor he was not a fan of Fan Clubs himself. So, how he will organize and use his Fan Clubs to be part of his political story will determine if the climax will have a happy ending or not!

Kamal has a good marketing bent. That comes across very well the way he has been able to create big hype over some of his films which turned out to be lemons. Hyped up films ending up as duds is not limited to Kamal only.  Just that in the case of Kamal, all the marketing ideas are his and only his. His marketing acumen could be seen through in his party launch event as well. The crowds were impressive. The media attention he could garner was even more impressive. However, I am extremely skeptical if these will lead to more fingers at the EVMs in the next election.

In the event, Kamal was idealism personified. He had Arvind Kejriwal by his side. And Pinnarayi Vijayan by the video link. The irony of the old and new symbols of Communism in his new avatar couldn’t be missed. His party’s flag displayed six hands which apparently were referring to the six southern states including Pondicherry. That showed that Kamal’s political ambitions are not limited to just TN. However what intrigued me was if that is the case, will a Tamil name for the party make sense in Telangana or Karnataka?  He should very well remember that even his Tamil film Indiran Chandran became Indrudu Chandrudu in Telugu!

While it is no denying that Kamal is a well-read man and an idealist with good intentions, his sudden decision to jump into politics raises many questions. As I had mentioned in one of my earlier posts, is Kamal on the path towards achieving Self Actualisation as per Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?  It seems Kamal said “Except for the two films which are coming out, there will be no more films for me,” in a recent interview. Well if that’s the case, it will be filmdom’s loss!  And nobody’s gain!

The original “Kamal” in politics of India namely the BJP though successful in other parts of the country is yet to bloom in TN.  Will this new Kamal bloom in Tamil Nadu? I have my own doubts. I have no doubts of Kamal stealing the show in Michael Madana Kama Rajan – II though!

Postscript:  Kamal got his 1st National award for Moondram Pirai, a film in which his co-star Sridevi was expected to walk away with the honours. However she didn’t, much to the disappointment, agony and sorrow of cinema followers in TN. Today, that sorrow pales in comparison to the news of Sridevi’s untimely, sudden and shocking death, 54 vayathinile!  Padma Sri Sridevi – RIP.

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“Turmoil” Nadu needs a Naidu!!!

The once prodigious state of Tamil Nadu (TN) has in the past few weeks earned a pitiable sobriquet of “Turmoil Nadu” and not without reason.  The state has been in a state of incapacitation ever since it’s Ex- Chief Minister the late Jayalalitha, was herself bed ridden for multiple health problems around the same time, last year. From then on, TN has been limping from one crisis to another. If it was uncertainty over Jayalalitha’s survival for few months since September, it was the crisis of her death in December for few weeks followed by the now done and dusted Jallikattu controversy in January.

When one thought that “Thai piranthaal Vazhi Pirakkum”, it is was the “Amma” of all leadership wrangles which ensued, resulting in the unceremonious exit of O. Panneer Selvam (OPS) as Chief Minister. The subsequent sentencing of Sasikala, the 24*7 resort drama that followed and the many heart to heart discussions various leaders had with the soul of Jayalalitha at her Samadhi consumed the state for few more weeks till Edapadi Pazhanisamy (EPS) was installed as Chief Minister. When one thought that the worst for the state was over, then came the cancellation of the bye election in R.K. Nagar constituency following brazen distribution of cash even at the peak of Demonetisation!

For political parties, fishing in troubled waters comes easily. BJP at the centre has been no exception in fishing in TN’s muddled waters. With the spectre of a drought looming large, this fishing expeditions so far have not yielded much results. Yet, it has not stopped the BJP from trying. Throwing the hat into the circus ring or rather posturing to throw have been two ageing star actors – Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, who of late have found the voice to raise against the not so new ills of TN. As I write this, it is yet uncertain if these will remain dress rehearsals sans a final stage performance! In the meantime, there has been coming together of the OPS & EPS camps while isolating the Mannargudi camp which has been camping in one of the resorts in Pondichery. Or may be Coorg. Or is it Kerala?  With the judiciary intervening almost on a daily basis on conducting a floor test, on disqualification of the defectors and generally everything, one can be certain that the state is in Coma and governance in suspended animation!

The Tamil Nadu I grew up was never like this. Even today, in spite of the lack of any meaningful governance, the state does still rank high on many social indices. But this is living in past glory and milking the once healthy cow.  The seeds for today’s rot have been systematically sown by the two Dravida parties who have been ruling the state alternatively since the death of MGR. To be fair, till the beginning of this century, things were not bad.  Almost ten years ago, a foreign visitor after visiting few states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, UP, the then AP, and in the end TN asked me why things were looking better in TN compared to the other states. And like all Indians who never say “I don’t know” to any subject on the earth, I gave my own theory. Which was that TN was the only state where the economy was quite balanced between Agriculture (Rice), Manufacturing (Auto, Textiles and small machinery) and Services (SW). Unlike other states even when growing well, the growth was not balanced between the sectors and hence created its own problems. For example, Karnataka had a high share of Services and less of Manufacturing while Punjab had a high share of Agri and Industry but less of Services. But if I look at the statistics today, this is indeed the case for TN and this has certainly ensured a very equitable growth in the state and no other state comes close to this balance.

Again, what TN is today is a result of some far-sighted thinking in the 70’s and 80’s by the then Governments. In the last decade or so, the state has been drifting away. While TN has been sleeping and slipping, the other states have been catching up. And this catching up has happened mainly due to some strong political leadership in each of these states. The neigbouring state of Andhra Pradesh ever since its bifurcation has seen some frenzied action. Both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are fiercely competing today to garner investments. And in the age of competitive federalism, one state’s gain is another state’s loss. When Kia Motors (a subsidiary of Hyundai Motors) decided to set up a new manufacturing facility they opted for Penukonda (Anantapur) in Andhra Pradesh. It is heard that the Chief Minster Chandrababu Naidu took personal effort in bagging the project for his state and ensuring painless and swift land acquisition. In his weekly Swaminomics column, Swaminathan Aiyar once hailed the AP model of land acquisition for developing the capital city of Amaravati as an ideal model for other states to follow. He wrote that “Other states must study Naidu’s example, and adapt pooling for their own use.”

In Telangana, K.T.Rama Rao, its IT minister and son of the Chief Minister, has been in the forefront of attracting investments in the IT sector. In my own resident state Maharashtra, the young and dynamic Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is focused on making Maharashtra the most sought after destination for manufacturing again. And he already has a few early wins. Among his other plans are big bang infrastructure projects like Mumbai – Nagpur Express way,… In Rajasthan, its Chief Minister Vasundara Raje has been the flag bearer for labour reforms for the entire country.

In the midst of such action, what has been TN up to?  Plunged in a serious leadership crisis ever since Jayalalitha went to jail in 2014, TN has been just a torch-bearer for sycophancy saddled between MGR/Amma anachronisms on the one hand and OPS/EPS/TTV acronyms on the other. So, for “Turmoil” Nadu to regain its past glory and become a “Thalai” Nadu once again, its needs a Naidu like leader! ASAP. No, as of yesterday!  Do you have any picks? I have none at the moment.

Cartoon courtesy: Surendran/The Hindu

The Making of Superstar’s 2.0!

Superstar Rajinikanth’s next film 2.0 is in the making. In fact it’s been in the works for a while. I heard that the shooting is over and post production is going on now. For a perfectionist filmmaker like Shankar, the bench mark is no more his own films like Enthiran/Robot but the recent magnum opus –Rajamouli’s Bahubali franchise.  Not just for its box office earnings but also for its making. Hence, not surprising that 2.0’s release got pushed to 2018. However what’s been making the news of late is not the film 2.0 but the “making” of Superstar’s career 2.0. That of his entry into the political theatre. While it is easy to speculate about his film 2.0’s success (considering the pedigree of the team and its prequel), predicting the success of Rajini’s career 2.0 is quite complex.

Before making an attempt to do that let’s step back and look at Rajini’s film career. As an actor he has been destiny’s own child. There is no doubt that he is one of the most successful actors ever to appear on Indian cinema screens. Rajini today has transcended the boundaries of Tamil cinema and is now an acclaimed National star. However, in his own admission he doesn’t check most of the boxes for an actor. He is not among the good-looking actors India has produced.  He never boasted of a sculpted body or “packs”! Rajini is not an accomplished dancer either. He makes some body movements which become dance steps. He doesn’t transform himself for a role à la Kamal Haasan or Aamir Khan. His make-up artists, costume designers and SFX team do that for Rajini. He is not a method actor like a Shivaji Ganesan too.

He does check a few other boxes, though. He has a screen presence which very few other actors can match. He shows tremendous energy on-screen. This over a period of time became part of his trade mark “Rajini Style”. He has a powerful screen voice and a way of dialogue delivery. Above all the one thing which stands apart is that he knows what he is good at.  He has constantly tried to play to his strengths and thereby gallery. He is extremely smart and I must say shrewd in picking up his scripts.  Particularly since the 90’s when he became the Superstar Rajinikanth we know of and big bucks started riding on him. He works hard the most on choosing the script, the director and his movie title in that order. If this meant shunning risks which came in the form of unconventional story lines or off beat roles, so be it.  If this meant rehashing the same template of “Riches to Rags to Riches” (R2R2R) so be it too.

Why am I laboring so much about Rajinikanth’s 1.0 (films) when actually this post is supposed to be on Rajinikanth’s 2.0 (politics)? In the past his entry into politics was more like ‘puli varuthu, puli varuthu’ story and was of 2 types. One, where he took a firm stand against a party during elections but soon withdrew into a shell. Second where he sent cryptic messages of his political leanings and his imminent entry through punch dialogues and song lyrics in his films. But these were more like gimmicks smeared in his movies by the dialogue writers. Lyricists and directors and seldom were his own design.  But this time around, there seems to be some firmness in purpose. So why exactly is he wanting to enter politics now???

From Rajinikanth’s point of view, may be now ‘Aandavan Sonnan’ (God commanded). Or he feels purely from an opportunity angle this is the perfect time for entry into politics. If there is a time where people can be provoked to try someone new it is this.  So probably his loyalists are pushing him to take the plunge now.

On the flip side, it is no longer a cakewalk for film stars in politics. Even in TN, from Vijayakanth to Sharat Kumar to Vadivelu it has been a rough ride. In the neighbouring states of Andhra and Kerala the likes of Chiranjeevi and Suresh Gopi – stars in their own right, have had mixed success. The youth of today are not so enamoured by a film star and don’t believe that a film star can change their lives. And certainly entering into politics and succeeding is not as easy as what Rajini’s character accomplished in the film Arunachalam!

In politics Rajini has only more to lose than gain. That’s why it will be good for him to take lessons from his filmi career and stay away from politics. Lessons like playing only to his strengths, not getting into experimentation and shunning risks of any kind.  And play again and again his own punch dialogues which will give him all the wisdom required. The likes of:

En vazhi, thani vazhi (My way is my own)

Kashtapadaama edhuvum kidaikaadhu. Kashtapadaama kedachathu ennikum nilaikaadhu. (You’ll gain nothing without hard work. And if you do, it won’t last for long)

For Rajini, there are always so many other ways of giving it back to the society if he wishes so. He can dip into his own movies if he needs ideas on that.  In his films he has often defied gravity. In his career 2.0 it will be difficult to do that.  Ask Amitabh Bachchan.  Amitabh 3.0 has been a revelation.

Postscript: While on Rajini, the other pillar of Tamil Cinema Kamal Haasan has also been in the news of late fueling speculation of his entry into politics. To me Kamal is a consummate marketer as much as an actor. He is doing his best to drive TRPs for his TV Show, guys. Period.

TN, TINA and the lack of Conscience!!!

In May last year, when Tamil Nadu (TN) was in the throes of election I had written a post titled ‘The NOTA Conundrum’ (read here) where I had said that in TN, people have to make a choice when there is actually none.  Between the 2 leading Dravidian parties namely the DMK and ADMK there has been so little to choose from in the last 2 decades. Both the outfits are bereft of any ideology or ideas, are equally corrupt, excel in competitive “freebieism” and have been consumed by family intrigues – one own and the other extended. In that sense TN has been suffering from “TINA” (There Is No Alternative) syndrome. Since NOTA (None Of The Above) was not an option, the people of TN did make a choice of electing ADMK under the leadership of Jayalalitha. (I hate the Amma, Chinnamma sobriquets).  However it would be a grave mistake to conclude that it was a Jayalalitha wave or a massive mandate for ADMK. In fact analysis (read here) shows that DMK actually pipped ADMK in terms of the “Contested vote share” and was actually weighed down badly by the poor performance of its allies. Be that as it may, unfortunately for TN since the elections and the return of ADMK, it has been bogged down by one crisis after the other – the demise of Jayalalitha, the Wardah cyclone, the Jallikattu ban controversy and now the ongoing reality show of Sasikala trying to usurp the reigns of the state. Governance in TN has been holidaying in some “Bay resort” or recuperating in Apollo Hospital for some time now.

That being the case, the question that begs to be asked is what was the hurry for Sasikala to take over as Chief Minister now? After Jayalalitha’s demise, she was able to smoothly appropriate the reigns of the party and became the General Secretary without much ado. In Panneerselvam (OPS) she had a man who has always been pliable and willing to toe the line as long as his interests are taken care of. So the best option for Sasikala was to follow the “Sonia Gandhi model”. Enjoy authority without responsibility by doing back seat driving of OPS from Poes Garden.  If the Government under OPS did well, Sasikala could have still got the credit diverted to her through her sycophant brigade of MLAs and Ministers. And if things went wrong, OPS could have been made the fall guy. This could have helped in moulding public opinion in her favour as a person who listened to her inner voice and made the sacrifice of not going after power. But all this was not to be.

In a very hurried and ill-advised move just when the state was returning to normal after seemingly scoring a win in the Jallikattu issue, Sasikala decided to ascend the throne by de-seating OPS. OPS after initially playing ball decided to run Sasikala out. After his well-choreographed chat with Amma’s Atma for 40 over minutes (not 5 or 10 mins but 40 which was the time needed for the TV cameras to reach Marina beach from wherever they were) spilled the beans on the machinations of Sasikala. He put paid to her ambitions and her so far crafted public image. From being the natural claimant to Jayalalitha’s legacy just a few weeks back to becoming the Villian No. 1, the descent for Sasikala has been steep.  And OPS morphed to becoming a paragon of virtue. Meme factories the best testimonials so far to the Make in India program aided the transition of OPS from a “starter” to being the “main course”!

What explains this Sasikala camp not following the “Sonia Gandhi model”?

Was it the chase for money? I don’t think so. In fact authority sans responsibility is the best way to get a share of the booty while dodging what our erudite CEA Arvind Subramaniam calls as 4cs – Courts, CVC, CBI and CAG which today torment politicians in power!!!

Could it be the lust for absolute power? That narcissist feeling of seeing your name prefixed with Chief Minister when the opportunity is at striking distance is certainly tempting for anybody. So, this could have been the reason though as per me, the headaches that come along may not be worth it. That too when you can still enjoy the fruits of power by wielding the remote control.

I think that there is more to than meets the eye. It is possible that OPS is in the know of the shenanigans of Sasikala in the last few years. So the most plausible reason could be the insecurity that OPS may let the Govt. machinery have a go at the Mannargudi Mafia as it is called now with the sleight of hand of the centre.  This would pose a 24*7*365 check on her aspirations while giving the impression of her wielding power when she is not.  I conjecture that this could be the reason for Sasikala & Co. in deciding to pull the plug on OPS as CM so early. More time could have only cemented OPS’ position.

What would have been a smooth transition had OPS played his usual submissive self, has turned into a pitch battle now. The “Game of Thrones” is now playing out on our TV screens for the past 1 week putting reality shows to shame.  Herding and hiding of MLA’s in luxury resorts an idea contributed to Indian polity by Chandrababu Naidu I think is past its prime. MLAs one by one jumping ship from Sasikala to OPS on an hourly basis only brings to the fore the need for a “Conscience vote”. In India, the Anti defection law originally meant for stopping the Aaya ram gaya ram politics of the 80’s has put a lid on the conscience vote totally. Today a MLA or an MP has no option but to toe the high command line lest he/she will be disqualified under the Anti Defection law. This has effectively stymied dissent in democracy. Though the lack of conscience vote is not an issue in the ongoing TN saga, I reckon lack of conscience is.

I feel that if our legislators are allowed to vote with their conscience confidentially on all issues may it be related to internal democracy (like electing their leader) or voting on a bill, our country will be a better place. Till such time, those honest people wanting to enter politics may have to wait.

ops-sasiPic Courtesy: Indiatoday.in

Untying the Jallikattu Ban!

First things first. I have not seen Jallikattu live in my life. My 1st exposure to this was in a Tamil film – Veerapandiya Kattabomman, a period film set in the British era. Known more for the histrionics of the Tamil Actor Shivaji Ganesan, the film has a memorable Jallikattu sequence. Gemini Ganesan, another popular actor of that time, who plays the part of Vellaya Thevan tames a supposedly very arrogant bull owned by a girl (part played by Padmini) after many others fail that too for many years. Going by that Jallikattu scene where it’s all fun and gaiety one would wonder what the fuss is all about! Gemini in fact gets to marry Padmini as a reward for the taming her bull.  These days though, there has not been a continuation of this aspect of culture and the rewards stop at cash offerings. Though there are other films with Jallikattu scenes, I would say that a very authentic portrayal of Jallikattu (watch here) was in Kamal Haasan’s film Virumaandi. Kamal who also scripted and directed the film used the setting in general and Jallikattu in particular as a metaphor to show the conflict ridden fault lines in that part of Tamil Nadu. Hence I was a bit surprised when he made a very flippant comment on the ongoing Jallikattu controversy last week. “Ban Biriyani if you want to ban Jallikattu”, he said. We are more used to hearing politicians make such frivolous statements but this coming from a man of intellect like Kamal was disappointing. I expected a more robust argument in favour of Jallikattu from him.

jallikattu_afp

The Supreme Court in its wisdom has banned Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu as it felt that the bulls are subjected to unnecessary pain and torture and hence against the law. So in the past 3 years, during this Pongal time when usually Jallikattu events used to take place, there is furore over the ban. Just for few days. This year has been no exception. Probably the noise has been louder. The ban on Jallikattu has created many more divides in our already diverse country. Tamil Vs Non Tamils, South Vs North, Animal Lovers vs Others, Human Rights activists Vs others and so on.

It has now boiled down to a “Culture Vs Torture” debate.  It is clearly documented that the bulls (may not be in all Jallikattu centres but predominantly) are subjected to all kinds of preparation (peppering the bull’s nostrils with chilly powder, squeezing lemon on their eyes, feeding them with alcohol,…) to get them lose their orientation before they are let out into the ring. From some of the visuals it is clear that it is an unfair “One bull Vs Many men” equation where the bull is subjected to all kinds of torture in the name of sport. I am not talking about the deaths/permanent injuries that happen to men who take part here as they participate fully aware of the dangers for their few minutes of fame and rewards. The moot question is why on earth would in a 21st century civilised society would we like to enjoy and have sadistic fun at the expense of a hapless animal?

The first answer from the “for Jallikattu” brigade is – “Jallikattu is part of our culture and tradition. It is ingrained in the psyche of Tamils for so many years. Animal rights or law cannot come in the midst of culture”. There cannot be another argument which is more specious than this.  First, in our own country we ourselves have disowned some aspects of culture and tradition which we felt are not correct and rightfully so. Second, our fall back on culture and tradition is more often than not “convenience” based and not stuck in a dogma. If tomorrow an educational institution bans “Jeans” for men – saying it’s against our Indian ethos, we will be the first to voice our opinion against such frivolous obsession with culture.  I am not for a moment saying that there is no place for culture and tradition in our lives. In dipping into culture we have to make our choices based on what is good and relevant in today’s times. Which also makes it necessary to make this cultural orientation a bit more dynamic and not written on stone.

The second argument is that “Jallikattu is also called ‘Eru Thazhuvuthal’ (Embracing the bull). Hence in a Jalli Kattu event there is no torture,.. but only an attempt to embrace the bull”. Well, if what happens to a bull in a real Jallikattu is actually called “Embracing”, then I can also say that Idli is a Gujju snack!!! In reality, it is more of “Manju Virattal” (Bull chasing) a name by which Jallikattu is also known where many men chase a rampaging bull to tame it.

The third aspect which is put forward when we talk of the ban on Jallikattu is “What about the other cruelty which happens to animals say during animal sacrifice,…??? What about Spain? What about that?” In India we now suffer severely from what I call as “Whatabouttery”! An incorrect practice being followed elsewhere or in another situation is no justification to continue with one incorrect practice. We have to wriggle out of this “Whatabouttery” and look at issues in isolation, the merits and demerits of the specific case to come to a conclusion rather than referring to other dubious practices. While on this, I must add that if there are other customs/practices which indeed are cruel to human beings and or animals I detest them as well.

The next point being made by the “For Jallikattu” group is that the Supreme Court with judges sitting in Delhi are in no position to judge on  Jallikattu – a sport which has been played during Pongal for eons in Tamil Nadu. In another words who are these high and mighty blokes sitting in Delhi and deciding on what I should do or not do in Tamil Nadu? Well, if we stretch this argument further we will come to a situation where for example to deliver a judgement on Cauvery water dispute, the judges should be from the Cauvery Delta region so that they have a “feeling” of the issue. This doesn’t fly. And I don’t think we can have one Supreme Court per every state!

It is not surprising that all the avatars of the Dravida Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu have ganged up against the Supreme Court verdict. As we speak, the state of Tamil Nadu is facing a severe drought like situation.  How would it be if all these parties come together to appeal in one voice to the Centre for assistance to get over this drought situation.  Will it not display more empathy to the farmers whose cause they claim to espouse by fighting for Jalli Kattu? Priorities anyone?

In Tamil Nadu where Politics and Films are Siamese twins, it didn’t take long for the film fraternity to throw their might behind this cause. I am not sure how many of the stars would send their sons into a Jallikattu ring every year so that their cultural connect is intact.

In general, I am not for banning this and banning that. If Jallikattu is indeed a sport which doesn’t entail cruelty or torture to the bull then we should very well continue the tradition. But that is a big IF.  The best option could be for the torch bearers of Jallikattu to come up with a set of Do’s and Don’ts which they will follow in the real spirit of the sport. That which will not cause any harm to the animal or the humans involved. The Govt. could then amend the law where necessary to allow the sport under such acceptable guidelines.  Jallikattu in its present form needs a reform.

Till then, there are other bulls to worry about. Let us (we men) tame the bull within us. It’s been having a free run of late. And let the “Bull Run” at the Stock Markets return!

The “Revenge of the Mamis”!!!

Ever since I wrote a piece on the Mamas“My close encounters with Mamas” (read here) – their counterpart, the Mamis stopped being kind to me. “Ennada, engala pathi ellam ezhutha maatiyo??” (You will not write about us and all??) – was the usual refrain wherever and whenever I met them. Though my immediate reaction was – “Oh so these people are reading my blogs😃”- I thought to myself that I must soon set this imbalance right. Hence this attempt. Typically in Tamil Nadu, any married lady from the Brahmin community is referred to as Mami sometimes in reverence, sometimes with scorn and sometimes in jest. For the purpose of contextualization, Mamis being referred so in this piece are ones who are now in their 60’s and may be early 70’s. And there is a reason for this funneling which will reveal itself at the end.

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For decades, the Mamis were generally a subdued lot – sacrificing their interests, their choices,..,… for the sake of the family and single mindedly pursuing their husband’s and children’s interests selflessly. They took pride in the achievement of their kids and remained contended in whatever they were doing. But since the late 90’s the Mamis started taking a different avatar. It would be tempting to attribute this change to the overall rise of India and the Indian Middle class post liberalization. But I would ascribe this change to the rise of India as an IT behemoth and the subsequent changes it brought to the typical Tambram household. In a book titled “Indian Express” by Daniel Lak, the author quotes Kris Laxmikanth – a headhunter specializing in IT in Bengaluru saying that the ascent of India in the domain of IT can be owed to the “revenge of the Brahmins”. And may I say that the ascent of IT in India has led to the “Revenge of the Mamis” in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere😃😃. This revenge saga manifests in few ways:

  • Far from being limiting their sojourn to pakathu veedus (neighbourhood), Kovil (Temple) and Kacheri(Concert), today the Mamis travel around the globe and if need be alone.
    • If its 1 year in the Washington in the US to meet up with the elder son, then its Wellington in NZ the next year with the daughter!!! “Ennoda passportla pages romba seekram theernthu pogarathu😓” (The pages in my passport get over very quickly) is a lament you can hear if you overhear 2 Mamis conversing. And the other Mami quipping – “Naan oru Jumbo passporta vaangi vachundurikken” (I have taken a Jumbo passport)

     

    • Recently I went to a concert of Sanjay Subramanyam, where the hall was filled with Kanjivaram saris of different hue, one could overhear Mamas discussing Modi Vs Manmohan while the Mamis were comparing Sanjay’s rendition in Thyagaraja Aradhanas at Cleveland Vs Austin. “Kalyani la antha “Bajare Re Chitta” Clevelandla pona varsham paadinaar paarungo,. Romba nanna irunthathu. Austinla Kalyani paadala,..,…,..(In Raga Kalyani, the song he sang in Cleveland was very good. But in Austin he didn’t sing Kalyani)
    • Gone are the days when Mamis used to talk about going to Srirangam temple for Vaigunta Ekadasi and cross the ‘Swarga vaasal’. Now its “Pona Vaigunda Ekadasi annikku Pittsburg Venkatachalapathi kovil poyittu apparam we had a Potluck party. Naan puliyodarai pannindu ponen😆. (Last year on Vaigunta Ekadasi we went to Pittsburg Venkatachalapathi temple and then we had a Potluck party. I prepared Tamarind rice)
  • In my general observations, I have noticed that the Mamis have far better comprehension of Geography compared to their counterparts. When the Mamas struggle to figure out if SFO was West coast or the East, the Mamis have no such confusion. “LA state na Louisiana state pa, Los Angeles illa” (LA state means it is Louisiana state not Los Angeles) – I heard a Mami clarifying to one MS aspirant the other day! And added in some measure “intha loosu payyan Bobby Jindal irukkaane – he is from there only” 😆😆 (This nut Bobby Jindal is from there only)
  • The other thing where Mamis completely overwhelm their better halves is in the domain of health.
    • Mamis are invariably troves of medical knowledge. Finding answers on complex health questions real time with any Mamipedia is more accurate and faster than any other “pedia” in the worldwideweb 😆
    • I can confidently vouch that most of the Mamas have very little clue on their ailments, dosage of their medicines,.. and are completely dependent on their Mamis to guide them on these. “Intha tablet saapaatukku pinnala. Itha poi saapaatukku munnala pottu karele”?? (This tablet is supposed to be taken after meal. You are taking this before???) – is a dialogue one can hear often in Tambram households.
    • On a visit to the Doc for routine checkups, it is mostly the Mami who does most of the talking. Young Docs have confessed to me that they get tensed and their BP starts shooting up when they see a Mama walking in with the Mami beside for consultation. “Dr, last time his LDL was 200 and still you didn’t prescribe any Statin! You better prescribe one this time!” (Why are you coming to me is a question the Doc usually avoids under those trying circumstances😜)
  • For long the Mamas have been masters of the Queen’s language, the kadichu thuppara (bite & spit) accent notwithstanding😜. Now it’s the Mamis who apart from being good at English, have mastered the accents as well. If they give the TOEFL today, they will come out with flying colous! Oops colors nope colours😜😜
  • In the age of social media, it is usually the Mami @ home who is more savvy than the Mama. While the tryst of the Mama in SM is by and large restricted to checking updates, it’s the Mami who is proactively active :). From sharing recipes of now extinct items like Thavala vadai to pics of their trip to Batu caves in Malaysia for Thai poosam to colourful and exotic Kolams (put in front of their daughter’s condo in Singapore for Onam😜)Mamis are in the forefront of the social media evolution and their own evolution.

In the times of Bahubali, the “Revenge of the Mamis” is happening full on. After years of being submissive, it’s their time of reckoning. And they are clearly enjoying it. And the Mamas have accepted it gracefully. Was there a choice??? What is that medicine post dinner???? 😜😜😜

Postscript: I mentioned that this piece is about Mamis in the 60’s and above. What about the younger lot? Ladies in the 30’s/40’s and 50’s?? Well, do I need to stake my personal future, writing about them in a post that too in the context of revenge,…,…??? 😝

Escape,………………………………………………………………………… 😝😝😝

Disclaimer: Satirical piece – hence pardon the sweeping generalisations and stereotyping with no intention to harm anybody.🙏

“Firrr wahi Bokwas Stereotyping???”

For the uninitiated, Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma’ is a very popular Hindi comedy caper which appears 5 days a week on Prime time and many more times through the day on SAB TV.  The long running show extolls the virtues of harmonized community living in a housing society in Mumbai. Therefore the central characters range from a Gujarati family where the husband is predictably a trader, a Maharashtrian family, a Sardar (Sikh) and Parsi couple – the Sardar expectedly runs an auto garage, a South Indian Iyer and Bengali couple where the man is a scientist and so on. The show takes stereotyping and caricaturing to Himalayan heights. The Sardar is shown as a loud, short-tempered and emotional type who breaks into a fight at the slightest provocation while being good at heart.  The Gujarati trader is shown as one who is money minded while being respectful to elders and of course good at heart. The South Indian Iyer is a scientist and supposedly intelligent, appears with a Vibhudi (holy ash) smeared face even early in the morning, talks in highly accented Hindi, drinks coffee all the time and of course is dark-complexioned.  One can excuse this daily opera as the title itself claims – “it views things with an oolta chashma”. When you are day in and day out watching this and learnt to ignore and  enjoy, other small inanities like what features in SRK’s latest journey ‘Chennai Express’ don’t bother you. But when the trailer for the same hit first and later the film hit the marquee, I could see some uproar in the online space not that these matter now as the film has more than collected its quota of crores. (Read this)

Frankly I’m not surprised by this noise. This is not the 1st time a SRK film sort of pokes at  South Indian sensibilities. We saw it in ‘Om Shanti Om – where SRK is shown appearing in a South Indian film and spitting some ludicrous Tamil dialogues like “Enna Rascala”,…,… Enna Rascala ??? In which part of South India can you hear this?? Then of course in ‘Ra One’, SRK is a Subramaniam and yes is a geek and stuffs noodles mixed with curd using his hand. And many more frivolousness like that.

The blame award for setting this stereotype of South Indians in Bollywood films and Hindi serials and therefore in the minds of Indians by and large must go to that talented comedian Mehmood in the movie Padosan. If you want one good example for comedy of errors – this could qualify well for it. Mehmood’s character is one Master Pillai (usually a Malayali surname), a Tamil music teacher who keeps saying “Aiyyaiyo”, his makeup is with ‘Pattai vibhudhi’ (lines of holy ash) and speaks Hindi in typical Andhra style. When this movie a good comedy became a super hit, no one could stop the ‘aiyyaiyo’ juggernaut since then. So much so that later in Amitabh’s Agneepath, Mithunda plays the role of ‘Krishnan Iyer YAM YAY(MA)’ and mouths Hindi dialogues in the same way as Mehmood in ‘Padosan’ and even waltz away with the National award for best supporting actor that year.  In both these cases and in fact many more to follow, film makers have just taken the easy route of painting all South Indians in one ‘Madrasi’ brush. That Hindi is spoken completely differently in the 4 states of South India seems to be a best kept secret.

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The second best award in this category must go to that Quick Gun Murugan” a character made of mostly inaccurate Andhra/Tamil/Kannada/Kerala clichés.

The response to the uproar to ‘Chennai Express’ was very much in expected lines. Why should South Indians take offence so much to this stereotyping? Don’t Hindi films regularly take potshots at Sardars, parsis, Gujjus,…,… Don’t you guys show Hindi speaking North Indians in poor light ever? So what’s the big deal in this?

My own issue is not with stereotyping or caricaturing per se. Comedy genres in general allow for stereotyping. But my appeal to all writers/ film makers whether from North or South is “For heaven sake, please do your research properly”

  • A white cloth worn by men around the waist in South India is called “Veshti” in Tamil Nadu, “Mundu” in Kerala and it’s never called a “lungi”!!! Lungi is a coloured version of the same. And both are completely different from a sartorial standpoint.
  • All South Indians are not the 24*7*52 vibhudhi smearing types.
  • “Tum aatha, mai jaatha” may be prevalent in Seemandhra/Telengana (with due respect to the upcoming new states) but not in Kerala or Bengaluru. Hindi accent varies from state to state in South India as much as Hindi dialect contrasts from Punjab to MP to UP to Bihar.
  • “Aiyyo, Aiyyaiyo” are not pan South Indian exclamations for God’s sake. They are restricted to pockets in Tamil Nadu/Kerala

I can go on and on.

Just yesterday I watched the newly released ‘Madras Café’ and came out very impressed by the whole film. Here I must add that the kind of detailing and research which have gone into casting, characterization, dialogues,… deserve special mention. Tamil characters are shown speaking in Hindi but not of the Deccan “aatha/jaatha” variety.  Of course this movie is no comedy caper.  My point is – go ahead with stereotyping and typecasting. But do that with some accuracy and after some research.  Watch out for changes happening in the horizon and don’t get stuck with age-old stereotypes. ‘Padosan’ was released in 1968 and this is 2013.  And I am a South Indian and I’m not a geek, Mr SRK.

Postscript: This was a joke narrated by a Parsi gentleman in my earlier company many years back and the joke goes like this. His brother a very accomplished chef associated with the Taj group of hotels was posted in Madras when Taj Connemara opened shop in the city. After quite a lot of research on the Tamil’s eating habits, they came up with the menu for the buffet dinner spread. Once the hotel kicked off the master chef was keen to hear people’s feedback on the food. So in the 1st few days he personally talked to patrons and what he heard was not music to his ears. They kept improving the food, dabbled with the menu,… and still the response was not exciting. Finally he decided to ask some of their own employees to taste the food and tell what is/are wrong. There he got the answer which was:

“Sir the food tastes fantastic, the spread is great, priced right but where is the thayir sadam (curd rice) Chef ??? “ 🙂 🙂 🙂