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Ayan! What’s in your Name? II

The chaste Tamil word Ayan is made to suspend its real aura3 and enact a performative and false aura for the sake of lending a unique flavour to a film which is not unique and which is of a run-of-the mill kind. The word Ayan has its aura fixed in the realism of the Sangam age. Not long ago, Zizek remarked that the “the fetish is the embodiment of a lie that enables us to endure an unbearable truth.4 Invoking the Zizekian notion of fetish, one can come closer to the post-colonial problematic of Ayan as the title of a masala Tamil film. The film Ayan has its unrealistic grandeur as the real (the truth) and claims to be realistic in terms of the title and plot as the fetish (the lie). The word Ayan assumes fetishist function in the title of a mainstream Tamil film which seeks to live in every frame the unbearable truth that it is not real and it can not be real as it is yet another mindless exercise to claim “difference,” “excellence” and “realism” in what is supposedly a 100% star-driven and mainstream narrative practices driven film. The fetishistic function of the title becomes more glaring when one reads the claims of the Director (K V Anand) and the star (Surya) of the film. In a recent interview, Surya said in response to the question How Ayan has turned out?: It has come out well. The story has not be written for me. Writer Suba has written the story. Director K.V.Anand has embellished it beautifully and has made a realistic and grand film. Ayan would be telling a different life of Chennai.5 Let’s listen to what the director of Ayan has to say about realism in Ayan. Be patient to go through the following rigmarole of one of the Q&As on the film (These have become mundane features in the entertainment supplements of mainstream media and these are what I would call as co-producing sites of the fetish). What does Ayan mean? A chaste Tamil word, it stands for excellence. Surya, my hero, does various things in an outstanding way. Therefore, the sub-title, “stunningly unique.” …Kana Kanden caused ripples. So you’ve been cautious while choosing this project… True. But I believe in doing things differently. Suba, the writer and I discussed several plots and settled for Ayan, because it was different. I had decided my next film would be a big entertainer. That meant money and that the producer should be happy to finance the project. So I made sure Ayan had all the ingredients to draw the masses and become a box-office hit. But that’s not to say the film lacks realism. It has drawn heavily from real life – in fact, I’ve an entire room full of newspaper cuttings of important incidents.6 So much for fetishising the unbearable truth that realism can not exist in what was planned as a big entertainer with all the ingredients to draw the masses to become a box-office hit. The director of Ayan wants us to believe that realism pervades the newspaper cuttings stacked up in his room and made to find application in his film. If newspapers are the windows on reality because of their ability and function to report events and incidents in a given environment, what becomes of reality that gets ignored on a daily basis by the same newspapers in that environment. What slice of reality enters the pages of newspapers, for what reasons and what slice gets shunned out and for what reasons are worthy questions that are still baffling those who are interested in how Indian, Tamil Nadu and Chennai newspapers are giving vent to their political, social and economic sources of control. Moreover, it does not take the mediation of newspapers to experience the social reality of north Chennai. It takes only a sincere attempt to spend a few hours in the lanes and by lanes of North Chennai to come to terms with the abject conditions of reality in the poor neighbourhoods of north Chennai. These abject conditions do get their representations in Ayan, but only as doses of grandeur making a mockery of even the purported slices of reality K.V.Anand’s newspaper cuttings may have contained even in their flawed states of existence.

The moot question, once again, is why mainstream filmmakers and actors labour hard to seek a fetish of realism when their whole exercises are geared in favour of the conventions and practices of the mainstream industry that eschews the real in favour of the grand unreal? The answer to this question is provided by the author of fetish in Ayan himself. When K.V.Anand says … I believe in doing things differently. Suba, the writer and I discussed several plots and settled for Ayan, because it was different, he provides the answer in a discursive manner. The fetish of realism attempted by both K.V.Anand and Surya is rooted in their inability to do things differently in the mainstream industry film after film. Just as advertisers of toothpaste seek to add a fetish value by claiming that their products are new, refreshing and more natural (when all of them contain essentially the same major ingredient), commercial filmmakers and actors have to invent new forms of fetish to position their present films as different from their previous ones and what others of their ilk produce.

How can the real be made grand? The real can be made grand only as an illusion of just what Ayan attempts. In the film, what unfolds is not the different life of a Chennai youngster (supposedly from north Chennai), but an unrealistic filmic journey of a supposedly college going student dabbling in international smuggling networks spanning a host of countries from India to Malaysia to Congo. In all these spatial and temporal journeys what is missing is the real. South Africa comes alive as Congo and garish sets masquerade as neighbourhoods of north Chennai. Surya and her heroine Tamanna can exist beautifully not in the reality of north Chennai, but only in the grandeur of the impossible realism made possible by Ayan director, K.V.Anand.

In a quote published in a Tamil diasporic site, K.V.Anand takes pains to establish the difference Ayan embodies in terms of his star material. Says he: You can see a different Surya in this film. He will not be the usual stiff faced but will be jubilant and gala in this film. He has donned various get ups in this film. There will no artificiality in his acting in this film. There will be a total difference. There will be no James Bond and superman stuff in this film. He will be seen as a boy you know in your neighborhood.7 Surya, no doubt, looks as jubilant as he is artificial as he seeks to put the characters in James Bond and Superman films to shame in his cliffhanger type stunts in the landscape of Africa. More than the different social reality of Chennai, what Surya and his director succeed in doing what the big studios of Hollywood stopped doing long back – capitalizing mindlessly on the panoramic and landscape realism of canyons, mountain cliffs and expansive plains that meet a horizon point. Ayan attempts the same with an heightened sense of falsity as the hero hops on and off planes in India, Malaysia and Africa to do duets with his heroine, duels with his detractors and still struggling to keep intact his location in the narrative as a product of the different reality of Chennai, that is the poor family background in a poor neighbourhood infested with the scheming rivals in the illegal trades of piracy, smuggling et.al

1.’Ayan Posters in American Railway Stations’,
2.Ashok Kumar S.R. ‘High on Entertainment’, The Hindu Cinema Plus, April 03,2009.
3.Walter Benjamin made a stellar contribution by advancing the concept of aura in his short essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ published in 1936.
4.Zizek,Slavoj. The Fragile Absolute, London: Verso, 2000
5.Sundaraputhan. ‘Ayan Anubavangal,’ The Sunday Indian (Tamil), April 19, 2009.
6.Ashok Kumar S.R. Op.cit
7.’Ayan Posters in American Railway Stations,’ Op.cit.


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