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Ayan! What’s in your Name?:The Zizekian Fetish and the Post-Colonial Problematic of Realism and Language Use in Tamil Cinema

Ayan is the name of a popular Tamil film doing the rounds in theatres in India and abroad (one Tamil diasporic site talks proudly that Ayan is the first Tamil film to have its posters inside an American railway station)1. It is starred by Surya, one of the current star favourites, as Ayan. Ayan (rhymes as Iron in English) opens up immense possibilities to serve as a fit case to apply a host of theoretical perspectives to Tamil cinema as a site of post-colonial markers.


The film’s title, like other current crop of Tamil films, has a sub-title in English, ‘stunningly unique.’ Among the several relevant approaches to the problematic of the titles and sub-titles of Tamil films as post-colonial markers, the political economy approach to the study of titles and sub-titles of Tamil cinema can be undertaken as an interesting piece of research, given the enormous populist linkages the Tamil film industry has with the governments of the day. Not long ago, the present government introduced a tax sop for Tamil films with Tamil titles, ostensibly to promote the use of Tamil language at a time when majority of the Tamil films had their titles with English words. Thanks to the lure of the lucre the tax sop for Tamil titles entailed, Tamil films now sport titles in Tamil, chaste Tamil (which you and I can not understand) and poetic Tamil! But the post-colonial longing for the supremacy of English persists as the glamorous appendage in the sub-titles of the films. While Tamil words in the titles resonate with a false love for the language and a true love for the tax sop from the government, the sub-titles in English scream aloud about the post-colonial identity crisis fueled by their unfulfilled and problematic desire to master English. This becomes more problematic when it gets projected on the psyche of the subaltern fans. The message that gets across through such a projection is “it ought to be better, because it is in English and not in my language.” What is at work in the interface of the Tamil titles and English sub-titles is the falsity of a game played by the producers and directors of Tamil films, majority of them make no bones about their glamour for things foreign (be it location, actresses, equipment and even words in songs and titles) on behalf of their prospective audience in multiple trajectories of mistaken sets of beliefs about fans and their likes and dislikes. More often than not, Tamil film fans are mistakenly tied by the producers and directors of Tamil films to their own problems as the post-colonial subjects in matters of language, social relationships, human relationship, perceptions of the world and political affiliations. Such a post-colonial problematic of the language is made much worse in its circulation at other levels of post-colonial markers such as the impossible realism in the post-colonial settings of Tamil cinema. According to K.V.Anand, the director of Ayan, Ayan is a chaste Tamil word, it stands for excellence.2 If you take a poll among the Tamil film fans or even the general Tamil speaking population in India and abroad, only one in a million would probably relate to the true meaning of the word Ayan. The word is not in the domain of everyday language use and belongs to the auratic past of the classical period in Tamil literary history known as the Sangam age (300 BC – 300 AD). That one in a million person is probably the one soaked in Sangam literature and language. But film fans are ordinary folks like you and me who are made to content with mundane words and their usage in our everyday non-literary routines. What then is the problematic of a title of a commercial entity like Ayan? This umbrella question leads us to raise several moot questions? The important ones are: Are mainstream Tamil filmmakers turning out be great lovers/promoters of classical Tamil? Are they trying to hoodwink their audience to fall in line with their unique way of naming a film that reeks of the mundane and masala flavour? Are these to be seen as what Adorno labeled as strategies in pseudo-individuation? The answers to all the three questions appear to be in affirmative, if one takes a deeper look beyond the semantics of the titles and sub-titles of Tamil films.

1 comment

1 lenny Dickens { 10.12.09 at 8:03 pm }

i see nothing but the indulgence and interests of economic capital in a ‘cultural’ domain. This indulgence is interesting because it happens much actively in cinema which is popularly considered as ‘low’ and ’emotive’ spaces of culture and art.

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