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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
SV : Popular Tamil cinema remains the mainstay even though we have seen
a small number of independent films been produced over the years.
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.
SV : There are lots choose from:
16 Vayathinile (1977)
SV : Unnaipol Oruvan (2009) Vaaranam Aayiram (2008)
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.
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.
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
SV : Do have a look at my Tamil Cinema book: