The Politics of Moral Panics and Tamil Cinema
What triggers moral panics in Tamil Nadu and who triggers them for what can possibly be taken up as a good PhD level dissertation. There are so many interesting variables and so many hidden variables. This week’s moral panic story concerns the beatings one Tamil film director, Mr Samy, got along with his friends while going to watch his new release, Sindhu Samaveli (The Plains of Sindhu). The director’s name is synonymous with beatings and controversies. Mr Samy first became famous for getting a reprimand from the fraternity for slapping an actress, Ms Padmapriya, on location of his first film. He is accused of making films having “depraved” characters and story lines. His second film, Mirugam (Animal, 2007) highlighted the sexual exploits of the lead character, Aiyanar, and how his wife takes care of him even after he contracts HIV. His first film, Uyir (Life, 2006) had a female character in love with her husband’s brother. His current release has a father-in-law in love with her daughter-in-law. All this seemed anti-cultural and anti-social to the people who gave Mr Samy, the director of SS, a few thrashings in their self-styled role as moral guardians of Tamil culture and society.
Remember the travails the Tamil actress, Ms Khushboo, went through for airing her personal opinions on pre-marital sex in the not so distant past.
There are lessons to be drawn in these and other incidents involving the victims of moral panics and the perpetrators of violence against individuals who want to walk the extra mile in their expressions of their socio-cultural environments.
The first pointer is the victims are almost always individuals. And not even once the self-styled guardians of Tamil culture could raise their fingers against media organisations which have gone zillion millions ahead of the extra miles walked by Mr Samy and Ms Khushboo. All the tamil channels, barring Makkal TV, are now into the business of airing the most culturally degenerative programme content possible in their prime time slots. After what Sun TV did in their infamous soft-porno coverage of the infamous godman, Nithyananda on March 02, 2010 in their prime time evening news programme, the acts of individuals like Mr Samy and Ms Khusboo do not merit comparison. The lurid commentary and soft porno video of the godman with a woman in bed in what was a main news slot in a mainstream channel was too much to stomach for the shocked and pulverised children and drawing room audience members in the homes of lakhs of Tamil television viewers across the world. Something more depraved than this can not be committed by individuals like Ms Samy and Ms Khushboo as their films were not targeting vulnerable drawing room audience members like children. There were not even whimpers of protests from the self-styled guardians of cultural police against the irresponsible behaviour of Sun TV. As far as I remember there was only a quick reprimand from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M Karunanidhi about the limits exceeded by the channel in its coverage of Nithyananda and a stray story in the Tamil newsper, Dinamani against its coverage on that infamous evening. And more shockingly, for several weeks, one Tamil weekly, Nakkeeran, sought to up circulation figures by putting in its issues and wall papers soft-porno images of Nithyananda and his alleged partner. I saw school going children gazing deeply at those images in many newspaper shops. The weekly also posted what Sun TV aired on its website and went on a publicity drive to highlight its doings on the website as if it was a noteworthy contribution to Tamil culture and society. This weekly took to another culturally depraved plane what Sun TV telecast in loops for days together. As these are media organisations with their innate clout, political and otherwise, the moral panic whistle blowers do not have the courage nor the willingness to take to protests against them. They were silent as a stone when Nakkeeran and Sun TV went to town with their soft-porno coverage of Nithyananda. But they could pounce easily and merrily on individuals like Samy and Khushboo as they are as vulnerable as any individuals in society.