Aug 5, 2002

The star and the actor
On Sun TV yesterday, one more film-centric programme. But this one promised to be the mother-of-all; with an impressive roster of names from the past and the present in a 4 hour extravaganza designed partly to show to the world what an united clan the Tamil film industry (or Kollywood if you like these -woody names) was. Which it obviously isn't, or they wouldn't need to demonstrate it; the very act paradoxically disproves it. But it did give an insight into the workings of a very intriguing industry that boasts of some of the most creative forces in Indian films (though this goes mostly unrecognized) with the huge undercurrent of politics that has distinguished from the other city-filmdoms for over half a century now. The show put together by the Actors association, has most of its office-bearers holding political office: there are various MPs, MLAs, who, true to tradition, are still in the acting business. And unlike their counterparts in the North, they are in the fray at getting-younger-each-generation ages, at the peak of their histrionic powers. Somehow, the DMK & AIADMK affiliates among the actors carry on together on stage, a feat not to be expected of their respective thalaivis & thalaivans.
And for some reason, Tamil cinema has always revolved around 2 complementary and often contradictory stars at the centre of their galaxy, two stars around which most attention spins, unlike the trios/singles of Bollywood. First, Shivaji Ganesan & MGR, then Kamalahassan & Rajanikant (just committed blasphemy - he is the Superstar). Now it probably is Ajit & Vijay, but they still have to go a long way - both in terms of talent and charisma that characterised their predecessor pairs. But the parallels are intriguing between Generation One & Two: Sivaji and Kamalhassan, characterised by their stunning natural ability, defining singlehandedly the paradigms of acting for their industry, attaching an almost bhakt-like reverence for their craft, and Kamal likes to call himself the natural heir to the Shivaji's throne (and for all his cockiness/confidence, one will grant him that, and probably pay him the compliment that he has gone more steps forward). And the parallels between MGR & Rajanikant are striking: not naturally talented, not classically hero-material, but thrust into the role of folk-hero, partly because of the roles they took (first by accident, then by carefully crafted design) and the inexplicable identification the masses seem to have for them, their adayen, their styles (though seemingly crude to the classes), and their espousal of the causes of the downtrodden. But Rajani is, IMHO, a much better actor and for some reason, hugely ambiguous about his political ambitions.
With personalities like these, naturally we are interested in learning how-and-why. Iruvar by Mani Ratnam was a pointer, albeit about another pairing, MGR & Karunanidhi. But more about the current badshahs of Tamil Cinema (now that Sivaji Ganesan is no more) tomorrow.

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