Selvaraj Velayutham :

" Tamil cinema is about Tamils with regular reference to Tamil identity, culture and language"


   Alors qu'il y a peu de temps, en septembre 2010, est sorti sur les écrans un nouveau film record avec Rajinikanth pour vedette (Endhiran, ou Robot), Selvaraj Velayutham a répondu à nos questions sur le cinéma tamoul, pour Indes réunionnaises et le site de La Nouvelle Revue de l'Inde. S. Velayutham est un spécialiste du sujet, auteur du livre  Tamil Cinema - The Cultural Politics of India's other Film Industry.

   Vous pouvez aussi accéder à notre dossier spécial consacré au cinéma tamoul...


  • LNRI/IR : Mr Selvaraj Velayutham, could your first introduce yourself to our visitors ?

SV : I am a lecturer in Sociology in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University which is located in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. I teach in the area of sociology of migration, race and ethnic studies and everyday life. I am also very interested in the study of contemporary Tamil society and culture both in India and in the diaspora.

  • LNRI/IR : What gave you the taste of studying and doing research on Tamil cinema ?

SV : While completing my doctoral research on globalisation and the nation-state, I became interested in studying the global circulation and consumption of Tamil cinema. Two things gave me impetus to publish a book on Tamil cinema. First, there was very little scholarship on Tamil cinema. There were a handful of books in English that examined  the history of Tamil cinema, the link between cinema and politics, role of cinema in Tamil society and fandom but none critically examined the various social facets of Tamil cinema. Second, about this time, ‘Bollywood’ was becoming a global cultural icon and at the same there was a string of academic publications on this cinema. At times, Bollywood (Hindi cinema of Mumbai) was hailed as representative of Indian cinema. What was missing in this story was the other cinemas of India. And so the title of my book – Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India’s Other Film Industry.

  • LNRI/IR : First I would like to talk about something very noticeable and famous when looking at the history of Tamil cinema: its connections and ties with politics. First when, how and why did these connections start ?

SV : One can argue that Tamil films came infused with politics as early as the 1930s. It was after the War that it became more explicit with key political figures such as Annadurai, Karunanidhi, etc. writing screenplays for a number of films which became box-office hits and subsequently, actors such as MGR started to deploy cinema to fulfil his political ambitions. Without a doubt, cinema was a new medium that enthralled the masses and was very rapidly adopted as part and parcel of everyday life.  With a growing audience, it also became an obvious vehicle for the transmission of social and political ideologies.

  • LNRI/IR : What are the main facts in Tamil cinema history that you would pick to illustrate these connections ?

SV : The often cited examples are the films Nalla Thambi (Good Brother, 1948) screenplay by Annadurai. It professed the principles of socialism, hard work and anti-classism.  Similar overtones and attack on religious dogma was highlighted in the film Velaikari (Servant Maid, 1949) screenplay by Annadurai. In Parashakthi (the supreme Goddess, 1952) screenplay by Karunanidhi, anti- Brahmanism, social reform and the self-respect movement were some of the main messages. These ideologies were very much the founding principles of the main Tamil Nadu political parties the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and AIADMK (All India Anna DMK).

  • LNRI/IR : Some say that nowadays these bonds are less: what is your opinion ?

SV : Yes, I would agree with that comment. In the first instance, I think there aren’t many film practitioners at present with a clear ambition of making it into politics. Some 50 years ago, in post independent India (especially Tamil Nadu), both the burgeoning political scene and the popularity of Tamil cinema presented practitioners with the opportunity of harnessing this medium as a political tool. That kind of revolutionary politics no longer exists. Now cinema must compete with television. Second, the cult of the celebrity appears to have more cache than political ambitions.

  • LNRI/IR : Let us now tackle another side of Tamil cinema: its artistic side. According to you, what is particular in Tamil cinema (its content, its aesthetics…) and different from Hindi cinema for instance? And what do they have in common ?

SV : Both Tamil and Hindi cinema (as well as other Indian cinemas) have lots in common,  the story line, aesthetics, etc. Where they differ significantly is in their positionality. Bollywood or Hindi cinema speaks to a pan-Indian audience (Hindu, Middle-class, almost always from Mumbai). Tamil cinema is about Tamils with regular reference to Tamil identity, culture and language.

  • LNRI/IR : Can we say that there are or there were different streams in Tamil cinema, today and yesterday ?

SV : Popular Tamil cinema remains the mainstay even though we have seen a small number of independent films been produced over the years.

  • LNRI/IR : Is there, in Tamil cinema, what we would call in French “cinema d’auteur” ? Could you please tell us more about it ? 

SV : The films of directors’ K.Balachander, Bharatirja and Mani Retnam can be categorised as “cinéma d’auteur” even though their films were aimed to the appeal a mass audience.

  • LNRI/IR : Personally, if you had to choose five Tamil movies to introduce them as the best ones in Tamil cinema history, which ones would you choose ?

SV : There are lots choose from:
             Parashakti (1952)
             16 Vayathinile (1977)
             Nayagan (1987)
             Roja (1992)
             Paruthiveeran (2007)

  • LNRI/IR : And the best films in the past two years ?

SV : Unnaipol Oruvan (2009) Vaaranam Aayiram (2008)

  • LNRI/IR : At last let us talk about the commercial aspect… What is the present situation ? Is Tamil cinema in good or bad health ? What are the signs of this situation ?

SV : Like other world renown cinemas – Hollywood, Bollywood, etc.  The South Indian film industry (includes Tamil and Telugu cinemas) is an economic power house. Already this industry has taken over Bollywood as the largest cinema industry in India and perhaps the world. Its commercial viability is totally intact but what remains a big question is whether Tamil cinema or for that matter Telugu cinema can have similar global reach and impact as the Hindi cinema of Bollywood.

  • LNRI/IR : What about a movie like Sivaji, The Boss ? Was it really a commercial success ?  Does Tamil cinema prepare something as expensive and commercially ambitious for future ?

SV : The actor Rajnikant is cult-figure and has a huge following in Tamil Nadu and all of his films are a commercial success including Sivaji. Whether we’ll see a similar film in the future remains to be seen only because there aren’t too many other mega-stars who can generate as huge a following as Rajnikant for producers to consider such an expensive venture.

  • LNRI/IR : Actually, what are the ambitions of Tamil producers, directors or other staff nowadays ?

SV : I don’t think I’ll be able to answer this question. Other than to say that Tamil cinema practitioners for the most part continue to produce popular and commercially successful films rather  than paying attention to the quality of the film. This is a big setback for Tamil cinema as many Tamil and international audience nowadays actually are looking  for  refine and intellectually stimulating films.

  • LNRI/IR : Have you anything to add ?

SV : Do have a look at my Tamil Cinema book:

Haut de page


Retour à la page précédente