Tamil Movies's Realism - a Reality!

There was a time when international media and cinema’s idea of India was all but a bunch of shabbily dressed, turbaned men sleeping on pavements.

A lot of Indians took offence to Slumdog Millionaire too, and the latest in this list of international films is Avengers that shows Dr Bruce Banner (Hulk’s core) working in a slum in Kolkata.

In the past, even masters, like Ray, were accused of “exporting images of poverty for foreign audiences” for their work.

Poverty porn. But before we get up in arms about international cinema and western audiences, is it perhaps time for us to look closer to home and examine our films and ask if they too peddle the same poverty?

Films like Vazhakku En 18/9, for instance, have raked in the moolah and even won critical acclaim from several quarters, even as some sections continue to question their realism.
Filmmaker Sargunam, whose Vaagai Sooda Vaa won the National award for the best regional film argues that this, however, is the elite living in denial.

He says, “The truth is, we aren’t showing anything unreal. I don’t understand why people are ashamed of our reality.

When we show what is really happening people understand the other sections better and unless we talk about the poor and their problems how will anyone, even the government, think about finding solutions?”

His film is dedicated to the 21,50,00000 child labourers in this world and he asks if that number is not real enough.

He goes on to quote a famous line from the film Katrathu Tamizh and says, “When someone points out to the protagonist how much progress we have made with IT, he replies, every part of a human must grow at equal pace.
Imagine if your leg alone gets bloated. Is that growth? No it’s a disease called elephantiasis and it needs treatment!”

Mugil Chandran, a Professor of Direction, at the L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy says, “Earlier when filmmakers like Balachander were making movies, it was the reality of middle class but now we see cinema veering towards the reality of the poor.”

He argues that to talk about reality in fiction is actually funny. “All movies, including world classics are made purely as fiction,” he says.

Mugil believes that the element of voyeurism is another aspect that is encouraging this trend. “People who are watching this are largely middle class.

For them, it just purely voyeurism and they can walk out after the film knowing this has nothing to do with their reality.”

Over time, however, setting a film in this backdrop has also worked out to be cheaper production-wise as directors and producers, Mugil argues, mask the low production cost as ‘realism’.
National-award winning filmmaker, Thiagarajan Kumararaja, despite steering clear of this form of realism in his film, Aaranya Kaandam, which was also shot on a low budget, points out that if filmmakers were to simply show poor people they wouldn’t be making any money. “Avengers wasn’t a small-budget film, but they were making a point.”

“If your story and positioning requires the subjects to be poor then you do it. At the end of the day, a film works because of the story and not because it shows poor people!” he avers.

Filmmaker Leena Manimakelai, whose Sengadal (The Dead Sea) has been touring film festivals across the world, has another interesting perspective.
“What else can we hear about our cinema today, other than Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s wardrobe at Cannes this year?” she asks, “We are missing Rays and Ritwiks because we promote the wrong films, filmmakers and actors in India. Mediocrity has become the order of the day.

The moment one makes a film without song numbers and comedy track with subaltern characters and an artificial realism, he becomes a world cinema maker here.

I wonder which world, they are referring to! Some so-called directors here plagiarise scene-by-scene and even customise the posters of contemporary world cinema and claim they have arrived.

They even send the same stuff to film festivals abroad for exhibitions. I turn red in shame as an earnest film buff.”


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