Where governance is a matinee show

(From the archives)

If the entire world is a stage, as a wise bard put it, then our beloved TN with its unique reputation as a theatre of rational absurdities would easily upstage it. I mean, no other place on this good Earth can hold a candle to this State, wherein celluloid is the life, breath and soul, and rajas and prajas alike find untold bliss and perfect harmony from the moment the censor certificate appears on screen, big or small, or when actually in the physical company of filmstars, which then is bonus bliss.

Here, successive rulers have routinely taken the short-cut via Kollywood to Fort, while for the people at large movies are ever a staple diet, despite it constipating their minds no end. Let’s face it, not one of us, that includes you, I and our in-laws and even outlaws like the notorious V, has been spared by the film bug. To us cinema is a genetic obsession and is embedded in our psyche, a fact that movie critics as well as psychologists have unanimously testified to through studies and surveys. Tamils, they say,  habitually see life itself through the prism of cinema, often assuming reel for real. Not just our culture or  chronology but even daily chores are driven by cinematic hangovers, minus probably the background score. Social messages find relevance only if lip-synced by a movie star, while punch dialogues become political philosophies and even public policy.

So, given such a wide-spread proclivity, for the ordinary folk to be enamoured of film stars is no big deal. But what if the rulers themselves are star struck? Well what you get is what you saw a few days back, when the entire film industry rose as one star to felicitate the ‘Sun’ among them. This function is a watershed, and in many ways, a culmination of a trend, often decadent, but surely with several high points too. When Sivaji Ganesan, Kannadasan and  a few others took a contingent of film personalities to the battlefront during the 1965 Indo-Pak war to perform for our jawans, it was hailed and rightly at that, as a spontaneous display of solidarity and sensitivity by those who were normally associated with fun and entertainment. But forty years later, when the tinesel world came to a standstill to pay tributes to one of its leading lights last week, such lofty thoughts were the last thing on anyone’s mind. Instead what was on parade by no means befitted a thanksgiving to the  much ‘revered’ Kalaingar.  And worse, the Kalaingar himself did not seem to mind.

More than the speeches, the ‘cultural’ extravaganza that unfolded at the  function was the biggest talking point, not just in the media but also amidst the DMK chief’s co-borns who were in full attendance. But they can be forgiven for enjoying the eyefuls which should have come as a big respite from the dreary baritones of political platforms. But should not the CM in his much acclaimed capacity as the sole Thaanai Thalaivan of the Tamils and their culture too have objected to what was essentially a sleazy show? Rather, the rational question as to what the celluloid dolls, many of whom were non-Tamil nymphets, dancing to peppy numbers, had to do with Tamil culture was lost in the maze of glitzy costumes and shaking limbs. Or probably the sole custodians of Tamil culture have silently amended it to accommodate the gyrations and hip-hip-hurrahs of such sizzling sirens and scantily-clad starlets, we do not know. Whatever,  but the people would have no problems if such fare were part of some awards function or a fund-raiser, but the ‘show’ sure was a bit too queer and even quirky to qualify as an entertainment for a Chief Minister who incidentally is well past the eighties, not to mention the Governor of another State who came in tow. How we wish PMK’s Ramadoss too was part of the audience along with his self-styled moral cops! There might have even been a political realignment in the State right on the stage!

Filmdom, as an industry and with the fate of several thousands dependent on it, has its own axes to grind. Indeed, the filmi lobbies would be foolish to miss out on the opportunities offered by their own ilk coming to power in the State. And fraternal sentiments as well as flattery have both been potent tools in their armoury to elicit and extract concessions from the sympathetic CMs though one cannot also dispute the genuine sense of pride and happiness of filmdom. MGR was feted at a grand function sometime in the mid-eighties, while Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi have alternatively been ‘honoured’ during their stints. Indeed, despite the frightening personality politics of TN, driven by vanity and vendetta to the accompaniment of vitriolic rhetoric, wherein if you are with K, you are not with J and vice versa, filmdom has been walking a tricky tightrope managing the two all through even as it faced an existential crisis wrought by pirated VCDs. But with the function got up to felicitate Jayalalithaa last year, things took a turn for the worse. All speakers went overboard in praise of J and were promptly dubbed as ‘crows’ by K. But since every climax has an anti-climax, the same ‘crows’ are now crowing his name no end in DTS surround, and little wonder K finds it music to his ears. Call it poetic justice, or better still, a script writer’s justice.

Successive CMs and even aspiring ones  from Kollywood seem to deem endorsements by their filmi brethren as a profound ratification and a matter of great personal satisfaction. But this trend of unabashed soliciting of tinsel town and the projection of a cinema friendly face as a State sponsored programme is at a peak now. Ever since he took charge, the current CM’s most visible moments have been in the company of film personalities. Either they come calling or he reaches out to them, day in and day out. It is rumoured that film disputes like censor problems are routinely taken to him and he seems to have all the time for them. Film previews are as much a part of his ‘official’ engagements and if a producer or director or actor is lucky, he may even be favoured with a review in Murasoli by the ultimate script-writer himself. Tax concessions and subsidies are for the asking if stipulations of ‘Tamil’ orientation are met. Little wonder several much publicised movie titles have suddenly and silently been ‘Tamilised’. Jillu became sillu and even Godfather has reportedly turned over a new leaf. The themes and depictions could be anti-Tamil culture which is no problem, but not the name for sure.

And topping them all come the announcements that the CM is set for a question-answer session on satellite TV with this much favoured constituency of his. All those free CTV were after all worth the expense… to the exchequer though. Gandhi Jayanthi day… wow… is the D-Day on which K would clarify the profound doubts of all those who matter in the State: From Rajini to Rahasiya to Nila to Namitha to Kamal to Khushboo. And since they represent the people’s vice, pardon, voice, the CM, by obliging them, would have discharged his constitutional duties too.

Indeed, in this land of Periyar, true social justice reigns wherein there is no distinction between the CM and cm, read Chief Minister and common man respectively, all forming a part of one huge fan club!

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Jawahar T R